In 1903 the American colonial government of the Philippines passed two major land acts designed to turn landless peasants into freeholders. Yet a mere two years later, US administrators declared the law a failure. This article asks why support for land redistribution changed so quickly. By setting the law in the context of state building and wartime pacification, it shows how administrators like William Howard Taft believed landownership would turn unruly agrarians into loyal subjects. The end of the war, coupled with changing political circumstances and the challenges of implementation, ultimately weakened the US commitment to redistribution. That prevailing inequalities of rural landholding and wealth multiplied during American rule did not deter the US faith in commercial agriculture. Rather, administrators blamed peasant resistance to landownership for the law’s failure and argued that large plantations and sharecropping was the Philippines’ best path to development.

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