Remembering Francis Burton Harrison


Photo Credit: Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division


Credit: Personal Collection


Credit: Personal Collection

We remember Francis Burton Harrison, who is buried in the Manila North Cemetery.

He served as Governor General of the Philippines from 1913 to 1921. He was “tall, trim and handsome,” according to Stanley Karnow, had a “pedigreed blueblood” and traced his ancestry to Lord Fairfax, a prominent Cromwell ally during the English Civil War. In the Philippines, however, he presided over the rapid “Filipinization” of government administration, according to Karnow, as the number of American officials dropped from 3,000 to a few hundred, just as the number of Filipino officials more than doubled to over 13,000.

In DC, he and his family lived at Scott Circle while he was a member of Congress. Not too long ago, we found an invitation to a “Doll Sale and Tea” that took place in December 1908 at their Scott Circle residence for the benefit of a nonprofit society. He lived what seemed to be a fairly quiet life as a representative of New York, until Manuel Quezon nominated him to become the next Governor General. Almost as soon as he arrived in Manila at the start of his term, he immediately announced that “every step we take will be with a view to the ultimate independence of the islands and as a preparation for that independence.” America, he once said, “had no justification for holding those people in bondage.”

Many years later, he returned to the Philippines to become Adviser to the Commonwealth Government. Sometime around September 1936, he brought his young son “Kiko” to meet Commonwealth President Quezon. In his diary he wrote, “Kiko, having born here, could upon reaching the age of 21, choose whether he wished to be an American or a Philippine citizen—in which respect he had a wider choice than myself.” About a month later, at Quezon’s prodding, the National Assembly passed Commonwealth Act No. 79, conferring Philippine citizenship to Harrison. “It is not necessary for me to state that no American has contributed more to the cause of Philippine self-government and independence than the Honorable Francis Burton Harrison and that he deserves the eternal gratitude of our people,” Quezon wrote to Gil Montilla, Speaker of the National Assembly.

Harrison would continue to serve the Philippine Commonwealth Government in formal and informal capacities over the next few years, including during the war years while the government was in exile in DC. In his last will, he left instructions that he be buried in the Philippines. Following his death in the US in 1957, his remains were transferred to the Philippines.

Love of country comes in many forms; sometimes it is in the form of a stranger who loves fiercely his adopted country. Like other loves, it is, everywhere and always, a choice–reflected in how one lives, how one dies, and, at least in Harrison’s case, where one seeks (and maybe finds) endless rest.


One comment

  1. Greetings!
    We are in search of the next living kin to Gov. Francis Burton Harrison inline eith the proposed inauguration of the Musrum of Muntinlupa on Dec 19 2018. In gratitude of his contribution to what Muntinlupa is today ee eould to invite any of the members of his family on the said date.
    Should you find this credible and worthehile i can b reached at
    Thank you


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