CHAPTER VII. The Outbreak Of The War With Spain
Before the nineteenth century ended, the Samoan, Hawaiian, and Venezuelan episodes had done much to quicken a national consciousness in the people of the United States and at the same time to break down their sense of isolation from the rest of the world. Commerce and trade were also important factors in overcoming this traditional isolation. Not only was American trade growing, but it was changing in character. Argentina was beginning to compete with the United States in exporting wheat and meat, while American manufacturers were reaching the point where they were anxious for foreign markets in which they felt they could compete with the products of Great Britain and Germany.
In a thousand ways and without any loss of vigor the sense of American nationality was expressing itself. The study of American history was introduced into the lower schools, and a new group of historians began scientifically to investigate whence the American people had come and what they really were. In England, such popular movements find instant expression in literature; in the United States they take the form of societies. Innumerable patriotic organizations such as the "Daughters of the American Revolution" and a host of others, sought to trace out American genealogy and to perpetuate the memory of American military and naval achievements. Respect for the American flag was taught in schools, and the question was debated as to whether its use in comic opera indicated respect or insult. This new nationalism was unlike the expansionist movement of the fifties in that it laid no particular stress upon the incorporation of the neighboring republics by a process of federation. On the whole, the people had lost their faith in the assimilating influence of republican institutions and did not desire to annex alien territory and races. They were now more concerned with the consolidation of their own country and with its place in the world. Nor were they as neglectful as their fathers had been of the material means by which to accomplish their somewhat indefinite purposes.
The reconstruction of the American Navy, which had attained such magnitude and played so important a part in the Civil War but which had been allowed to sink into the merest insignificance, was begun by William E. Chandler, the Secretary of the Navy under President Arthur. William C. Whitney, his successor under President Cleveland, continued the work with energy. Captain Alfred T. Mahan began in 1883 to publish that series of studies in naval history which won him world-wide recognition and did so much to revolutionize prevailing conceptions of naval strategy. A Naval War College was established in 1884, at Newport, Rhode Island, where naval officers could continue the studies which they had begun at Annapolis.
The total neglect of the army was not entirely the result of indifference. The experience with volunteers in the Civil War had given almost universal confidence that the American people could constitute themselves an army at will. The presence of several heroes of that war in succession in the position of commander-in-chief of the army had served to diffuse a sense of security among the people. Here and there military drill was introduced in school and college, but the regular army attracted none of the romantic interest that clung about the navy, and the militia was almost totally neglected. Individual officers, such as young Lieutenant Tasker Bliss, began to study the new technique of warfare which was to make fighting on land as different from that of the wars of Napoleon as naval warfare was different from that of the time of Nelson. Yet in spite of obviously changing conditions, no provision was made for the encouragement of young army officers in advanced and up-to-date Studies. While their contemporaries in other professions were adding graduate training to the general education which a college gave, the graduates of West Point were considered to have made themselves in four years sufficiently proficient for all the purposes of warfare.
By the middle nineties thoughtful students of contemporary movements were aware that a new epoch in national history was approaching. What form this national development would take was, however, still uncertain, and some great event was obviously required to fix its character. Blaine's Pan-Americanism had proved insufficient and, though the baiting of Great Britain was welcome to a vociferous minority, the forces making for peace were stronger than those in favor of war. Whatever differences there were did not reach to fundamentals but were rather in the nature of legal disputes between neighbors whom a real emergency would quickly bring to the assistance of each other. A crisis involving interest, propinquity, and sentiment, was needed to shake the nation into an activity which would clear its views.
At the very time of the Venezuela difficulty, such a crisis was taking shape in the Caribbean. Cuba had always been an object of immediate concern to the United States. The statesmen of the Jeffersonian period all looked to its eventually becoming part of American territory. Three quarters of a century before, when the revolt of the Spanish colonies had halted on the shores of the mainland, leaving the rich island of Cuba untouched, John Quincy Adams, on April 28, 1823, in a lengthy and long-considered dispatch to Mr. Nelson, the American Minister to Spain, asserted that the United States could not consent to the passing of Cuba from the flag of Spain to that of any other European power, that under existing conditions Cuba was considered safer in the hands of Spain than in those of the revolutionaries, and that the United States stood for the maintenance of the status quo, with the expectation that Cuba would ultimately become American territory.