Home » Articles » In like a lion, out like a lamb, May 13, 1939

In like a lion, out like a lamb, May 13, 1939

May 13, 1939
In Like a Lion, Out Like a Lamb

ON APRIL 26, 1937, a tall, energetic incredibly handsome Hoosier named Paul V. McNutt landed in Manila as second U.S. High Commissioner to the Philippines.

Not much was known about him in the Philippines, except that he had the reputation of being the “Hitler of Indiana,” where he had recently completed a four-year term as governor and was not eligible for reelection.

But typhoon signals were definitely flying so far as relations between the High Commissioner and the President of the Commonwealth were concerned. President Roosevelt had appointed Mr. McNutt while President Quezon was on a train en route to Washington. This was an obvious slight of Mr. Quezon, who had become accustomed to having American presidents consult him before naming a governor general. In Washington Mr. Quezon had called on Mr. McNutt, but it was evident that there would later be a showdown in Manila as to who was Number 1 in the Philippines.

Who’s Who in P. I.

In his first press conference, held a few minutes after he had landed in Manila, the new High Commissioner gave even more ground for suspecting that he took the first part of his title seriously.

“Do you expect to cooperate with President Quezon?” asked a reporter.

“I’m easy to get along with,” said Mr. McNutt.

Recalling that High Commissioner Murphy had sought clarification of the powers of his office, another reporter asked Mr. McNutt, “Do you believe that you have ample powers under the law?”

“The provisions in the law supplemented by the President’s letter, give me ample authority,” replied the commissioner confidently. Just what the President’s letter did contain, was never made public. But Mr. McNutt didn’t need it. He soon established himself as the undoubted ranking official in the Philippines.

The chance came a few days later, when the Japanese consul in Manila gave a reception celebrating the birthday of the Emperor of Japan. The climax of the party came when the Japanese consul asked his guests to join him in a toast, first to the Emperor of Japan, then to the President of the Philippines. This was a decided affront to both the President of the United States and the High Commissioner. Mr. McNutt promptly went into action.

He told his administrative assistant, Wayne Coy, to send a letter to all consuls in Manila informing them that the following order of toasts should be followed at all official functions:

1. To the head of the sovereign state in whose honor the function was held;
2. To the President of the United States;
3. (If further toasts were desired) To the High Commissioner;
4. To the President of the Commonwealth.

The Coy circular was heard ‘round the world. The American press had a field day at the expense of Paul V. “Toast-Me-First” McNutt.

Undismayed, the white-manned Man from the Banks of the Wabash went right ahead establishing his authority. He learned that foreign consuls in the Philippines were dealing directly with the Office of the President. Once more Administrative Assistant Coy got out his pen and ink, and this time the consuls were told to route all official correspondence to the President of the Commonwealth through the Office of the High Commissioner.

At this the New York Sun published the following verse on its editorial page:


I am the High Commissioner—
My name is Paul McNutt;
For form I am a stickler, and
I will not stand a cut;
All letters to officials of
The Isles I must see first,
And Glasses must be raised to me
By all men with a thirst.

Oh, form is form and dignity
Must not get in a rut,
For right is right and fair is fair
And Paul McNutt’s McNutt!
So three loud cheers for Uncle Sam
From palace, home and hut,
And Four loud cheers for Franklin D.—
And five for P. McNutt!

If Mr. McNutt objected to the ribbing, no one ever knew about it. What really mattered was that foreign consuls followed his instructions to the letter.


From then on, the President and the High Commissioner worked together with a maximum of mutual respect and teamwork. The Commissioner didn’t meddle in local affairs, and was always ready to fight the Philippines’ battle in Washington. The man who had come in like a lion, went out like a lamb.

In the long run, however, Paul V. McNutt will be remembered as the man who advocated the “realistic reexamination” of Philippine-American relations, political as well as economic. In a radio speech delivered in March, 1938, during his visit to Washington, he said, “Without too great a loss of time and with the cooperation of the leaders among the Filipinos we should proceed to a realistic examination of the needs of these people and the long range interests of ourselves. If this study results in a policy favoring a permanent political and economic relationship with the Philippines it shall be, I trust, because the Filipinos want it and it is in aid of our national purposes. America will not impose her sovereignty by force on any people. The enduring welfare and safety of both countries are to be the paramount consideration. It is my conviction that they are not far apart and that they can be harmonized—harmonized for the salvation of the Philippines, for the larger interests of America and for the peace of the Pacific.”

If the “realistic reexamination” proposal is not dead, it certainly is quiescent. Although Assemblyman Carlos Tan advocated it in the National Assembly last week, the Philippine mission in Washington has made not a single move in that direction, and repeatedly the isolationist senators on the insular affairs committee have insisted that the date of independence (1946) should not be reconsidered.

Impatient Exile

Mr. McNutt, of course, has little use for isolationists. “I do not see how any nation could live alone any more than an individual could isolate himself in a community,” he has said on various occasions. He also believes that withdrawal of American sovereignty will bring exactly what the isolationists wish to avoid: war in the Pacific. “If the flag comes down these Islands undoubtedly will be a battleground within a generation,” he told Jane Howard, staff writer of the Honolulu Advertiser.

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