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26 June, 2013
The Great Republic by the Master Historians
The Conditions Leading up to the Crisis
by Bancroft, Hubert H.


[Cuba, the largest and richest island of the West Indies, has had a history singularly in accord with the ill-fortune her superstitious people associate with the gem after which it has been named, the Pearl of the Antilles. On discovering it in 1492 Columbus christened it Juana, after Prince John, son of the Spanish monarchs. This was changed to Fernandian on the King's death. Later on the name of the patron saint of Spain was substituted and it figured on the maps as Santiago (St. James). Again its official name was changed, this time to that of Ave Maria, in honor of the Blessed Virgin. The natives called it by the name which has prevailed. They were an interesting people, enjoying a peaceful and contented existence before the foreigner introduced the mixed blessings of European civilization, as known in those turbulent days. Havana was founded in 1519 as a Spanish settlement, but was destroyed twenty years later by a French force, and again in 1554. The culture of tobacco, sugar, and slavery dates from 1580. After nearly two centuries of assaults by pirates and foreign adventurers Havana was captured by an English fleet under Lord Albermarle, backed up by fourteen thousand soldiers. Their booty amounted to over three and a half million dollars. In a few months Cuba was restored to Spain, and a new era of peace with great prosperity was inaugurated under the sagacious guidance of Captain-General Las Casas, who entered upon his duties in 1790. The Cubans remained loyal to Spain despite the deposition of the Spanish royal family by Napoleon.

If Spain had treated its subjects in Cuba with anything like reasonable consideration that loyalty need not have turned to hate. By using the island as a means for enriching rapacious court favorites it created the conditions which inevitably ended in the loss of its richest possession. The Cubans are a mixed race and difficult to govern, but timely concessions of moderate liberties, safeguarded, might have developed the qualities which have made other crown colonies the pride of the mother country. Generations of serfs are not to be lifted to the plane of freemen by any instantaneous stroke of fortune. Cuba has weltered in blood, bondage and ignorance too many decades to come to its right mind in a day. Certain of its natives, inspired largely from without, have risen again and again in desperate hope of ridding their country of its old oppression. During the first half of the nineteenth century there were five vigorously conducted insurrections. Many pioneer victims were sacrificed but their cause flamed up the more.

A party of moderates was formed, whose aim was to induce Spain to come to terms granting civil and religious rights to Cuba without impairing its subjection to Spain. This effort ended in a heavier taxation. President Polk expressed American sympathy by his proposal to buy Cuba for a million dollars. In 1858 the Senate raised our bid to thirty million dollars. From 1868 until the interference of the United States over the loss of the Maine the island was in a state of chronic revolt, involving incalculable loss to the people and to Spain, ill to be borne by an impoverished population but unmistakably foreshadowing their speedy ejection of the fool-tyrant. It was admitted in the Spanish Cortes in 1876 that the employment of 145,000 soldiers in eight years in trying to stamp out the revolt had been an utter failure. So it continued until the end. Our selections are taken from " The Story of Cuba" by Murat Halstead, who recorded his studies of the whole question during various sojourns on the island.]

General Martinez Campos had great celebrity for his success in closing the war of 1868-1878 by the convention known as the Treaty of Zanjon. He is conspicuous in the gallery of the captains-general that is an attraction in the Spanish palace at Havana. He was the first man thought of in Spain when the rebellion broke out in Cuba in February, 1895, to put it down; but he found it a much more serious affair than he had before encountered, and he so far recognized the belligerency of the Cuban insurrectionists as to attempt carrying on war in a civilized way. The struggle gradually assumed far greater proportions than he had imagined possible, and his enemies charged that his tenderness in dealing with rebels was the great fault that filled insurgent ranks. That, however, was a gross injustice to a competent soldier. There is a good deal of intense politics in Havana, and soon all the politicians, except a few moderates, were against him. Then he was recalled, and his successor, General Weyler, is believed by all Cubans to have been indebted for the appointment to his reputation for severity, but Campos does not deserve his good name for benignity, nor Weyler the fulness of his fame for brutality and barbarism. They have had a greater task assigned them than is understood, for the Spaniards have not realized that they have lost Cuba and that all the captains-general henceforth are foredoomed failures.

[The war between the Cuban forces, numbering about 60,000, and the 130,000 soldiers from Spain, reged furiously during 1897. There were loud demands from the American people, voiced by the Senate, that the government should in some way intervene, in the interests of justice. It was proposed to recognize the insurgents as belligerents, and demand independence for the island, as Spain had completely failed, after two years of vigorous effort to suppress the rising, to reduce the country to subjection. On the contrary, her methods had inflicted terrible sufferings and industrial ruin upon the non-combatant population.]

The most distressing feature of the struggle is the concentration of the Cuban small farmers within the Spanish military lines, where they are perishing of famine and pestilence. Captain-General Weyler invented the policy of making the peasantry leave their humble homes and fields and put themselves under the protection--that is, within the power--of the Spanish forces, because the assistance the country people gave the insurgents was constantly obvious. A Spanish column could not move an hour's march without full reports reaching their enemies, with endless facilities for ambuscades, while it was impossible for the regular troops to get news of rebel movements. No persuasion or threats could prevail with the islanders to aid by giving information to those attempting their subjugation. This fact is itself proof of the desperate resolution of the Cubans to fight Spain to the last. They feel that Spanish rule is intolerable--that it is martial law modified by corruption, and not, under any conditions, to be endured. The information of the terrible sanitary conditions of the camps in which the Cubans are penned, reached President McKinley very early in his administration. Special reports were ordered from all our representatives in the Island, and these confirmed the narratives of the privation and perishing of those children of Spain who would not serve her and aid in extinguishing their own hopes of liberty.

The Cubans have been intensely anxious, from the first, as to the position of the United States, and had hopes that our presidential election in 1896 would turn upon the Cuban question. The form in which the policy of the islanders was presented in Congress, and through the organs expressing the sentiments of the insurgents, was that of obtaining recognition of their rights as belligerents; but the real question was whether the rebellion should be aided by our action. Senator Morgan's joint resolutions, so warmly debated, in May, in the Senate, was in these terms:

Resolved, etc., That a condition of public war exists between the government of Spain and a government proclaimed, and for some time maintained by force of arms, by the people of Cuba, and that the United States of America shall maintain a strict neutrality between the contending powers, according to each all the rights of belligerents in the ports and territory of the United States.

It was anticipated that this resolution, vehemently discussed, would make necessary a declaration of the Cuban policy of the McKinley administration. The leadership of the movement was in the hands of the Southern Democratic Senators, aided by the Populists, and a few Republicans took advanced ground on the same side, passing the resolution May. 30. The vote was: years, 41; nays, 14; not voting, 33.

[Senator Fairbanks moved to amend the Morgan resolution by substituting a request that the President offer to mediate between Spain and Cuba on the suggested basis of independence for the latter.]

President McKinley was from the first profoundly impressed by the seriousness of the Cuban situation, and anxious to preserve "peace with honor." He has been painstaking in procuring information, and his influence has been constantly conservative. His solicitude to perform humane offices has been conspicuous. His first official act in the affairs of Cuba was to ask an appropriation to buy medicines and food and transportation out of the land for Americans stranded there. He has availed himself fully of consular reports and the observations of travellers in whom he had confidence. He has refused the call in Congress for the full reports of consuls, for if they were written with a view to immediate publicity their value would be destroyed. He has studied every phase of all the questions involved. He has witnessed with clear intelligence the efforts of the filibusters to involve this country in a war with Cuba, that they might appropriate the usufruct of the conflict. We presume that he understands perfectly that there are two classes of American citizens in Cuba--one the actual Americans, who are engaged in various Cuban industries that have been annihilated by the war; and the other the Cubans, who have sought American citizenship for the purpose of using it in their political relations.

The administration has been under filibuster fire from the first. It seemed to the President to be his duty to assume that Spain was a civilized nation, and that if we were forced into war with that country, it would be on such grounds that she could not find friends to protest against our action or interfere with it, even with a demand for arbitration.

It seemed to the President that if General Blanco could in a humane way pacify the Island, he should have reasonable time, and our disturbing intrusion would be unfortunate; at the same time, our interests in Cuba were enormous, and we certainly had a right to put out the fire, if it did not speedily burn itself out. In his first annual message to Congress, the President candidly declared himself--gave impressively the record of our relations with Cuba--spoke plainly of the peculiar horrors of war in the Island, and indicated that the time might come when we must interfere.

This, the announcement of an ultimatum, was in terms that were without asperity and without date, and yet had in them the substance of things known to both parties. The President closed his recital of the Cuban situation in his message, after stating efforts would be continued to bring about a peace honorable and enduring, with these words: "If it shall hereafter appear to be a duty imposed by our obligations to ourselves, to civilization and humanity, to intervene with force, it shall be without fault on our part, and only because the necessity for such action will be so clear as to command the support and approval of the civilized world." The American people will not entirely understand the situation, if they do not contemplate the presence here and in Cuba of a filibuster party, the object of whose existence is to bring about a war between Spain and the United States. The extravagances of the filibusters have harmed, in the judgment of all enlightened people, the cause of Cuba. One of the most frequent and the loudest outcries of the filibuster was that we should have a ship of war in Havana, and the pretence was to protect American citizens. The real object to get a ship there was always to increase the chances of war, by causing a sharper friction between the Spanish and American officials.

In reply to an inquiry by the present writer, General Weyler said that a civil call by one of our ships of war would, of course, be cordially responded to. The horrible pollution of Havana Harbor causes yellow fever all the year round. We would sacrifice many lives by making a naval station of Havana. This is a fact that could not force an impression upon the public mind until recent experiences imparted information. There was no end of the clamor for a war-ship, but it was disregarded until the turbulent elements in Havana became riotous against the Blanco administration. The hostility the disorderly people manifested was divided about evenly between the Autonomists and the Americans. It was essentially a manifestation of the implacable character of the volunteers, who have been guilty of bloody work that has darkly stained Cuban history.

These disturbances marked the degeneracy of the rioters and the decadence of the fortunes of Spain, A reactionary revolution was narrowly escaped, and the Maine, ordered to Havana, was received by the Spanish officials with outward marks of respect. The firing of salutes by the forts attracted great crowds to the water front, and later the Maine ran up the Spanish royal ensign and saluted the flag- ship with thirteen guns. In response the Alfonso hoisted the Stars and Stripes and returned the salute, gun for gun. There was a great deal of feeling behind the show of civilities, and the exertion of politeness only emphasized the fact of strained relations. The Spaniards were at once active in naval demonstrations, sending the Vizcaya, one of their best ships, to make a call at New York, where the first news she got was the explosion of the Maine.

Murat Halstead

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