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.

By the late forties and the fifties, however, the times had changed, and American policy had changed with them. It was becoming more and more evident that, although no real revolution had as yet broken out, the "Pearl of the Antilles" was bound to Spain by compulsion rather than by love. In the United States there was a general feeling that the time had at last come to realize the vision of Jefferson and Adams and to annex Cuba. But the complications of the slavery question prevented immediate annexation. As a slave colony which might become a slave state, the South wanted Cuba, but the majority in the North did not.

After the Civil War in the United States was over, revolution at length flared forth in 1868, from end to end of the island. Sympathy with the Cubans was widespread in the United States. The hand of the Government, however, was stayed by recent history. Americans felt keenly the right of governments to exert their full strength to put down rebellion, for they themselves were prosecuting against Great Britain a case based on what they contended was her too lax enforcement of her obligations to the American Government and on the assistance which she had given to the South. The great issue determined the lesser, and for ten years the United States watched the Cuban revolution without taking part in it, but not, however, without protest and remonstrance. Claiming special rights as a close and necessarily interested neighbor, the United States constantly made suggestions as to the manner of the contest and its settlement. Some of these Spain grudgingly allowed, and it was in part by American insistence that slavery was finally abolished in the island. Further internal reform, however, was not the wish and was perhaps beyond the power of Spain. Although the revolution was seemingly brought to a close in 1878, its embers continued to smolder for nearly a score of years until in 1895 they again burst into flame.

War in Cuba could not help affecting in a very intimate way the people of the United States. They bought much the greater part of the chief Cuban crops, sugar and tobacco. American capital had been invested in the island, particularly in plantations. For years Cubans of liberal tendencies had sent their sons to be educated in the United States, very many of whom had been naturalized before returning home. Cuba was but ninety miles from Florida, and much of our coastwise shipping passed in sight of the island. The people of the United States were aroused to sympathy and to a desire to be of assistance when they saw that the Cubans, so near geographically and so bound to them by many commercial ties, were engaged against a foreign monarchy in a struggle for freedom and a republican form of government. Ethan Allen headed a Cuban committee in New York and by his historic name associated the new revolution with the memory of the American struggle for freedom. The Cuban flag was displayed in the United States, Cuban bonds were sold, and volunteers and arms were sent to the aid of the insurgents.

Owing to the nature of the country and the character of the people, a Cuban revolution had its peculiarities. The island is a very long and rugged mountain chain surrounded by fertile, cultivated plains. The insurgents from their mountain refuges spied out the land, pounced upon unprotected spots, burned crops and sugar mills, and were off before troops could arrive. The portion of the population in revolt at any particular time was rarely large. Many were insurgents one week and peaceful citizens the next. The fact that the majority of the population sympathized with the insurgents enabled the latter to melt into the landscape without leaving a sign. A provisional government hurried on mule-back from place to place. The Spanish Government, contrary to custom, acted at this time with some energy: it put two hundred thousand soldiers into the island; it raised large levies of loyal Cubans; it was almost always victorious; yet the revolution would not down. Martinez Campos, the "Pacificator" of the first revolution, was this time unable to protect the plains. In 1896 he was replaced by General Weyler, who undertook a new system. He started to corral the insurgents by a chain of blockhouses and barbed wire fences from ocean to sea - the first completely guarded cross-country line since the frontier walls of the Roman Empire in Europe and the Great Wall of China in Asia. He then proceeded to starve out the insurgents by destroying all the food in the areas to which they were confined. As the revolutionists lived largely on the pillage of plantations in their neighborhood, this policy involved the destruction of the crops of the loyal as well as of the disloyal, of Americans as well as of Cubans. The population of the devastated plantations was gathered into reconcentrado camps where, penned promiscuously into small reservations, they were entirely dependent upon a Government which was poor in supplies and as careless of sanitation as it was of humanity. The camps became pest-holes, spreading contagion to all regions having intercourse with Cuba, and in vain the interned victims were crying aloud for succor.

This new policy of disregard for property and life deeply involved American interests and sensibilities. The State Department maintained that Spain was responsible for the destruction of American property by insurgents. This Spain denied, for, while she never officially recognized the insurgents as belligerents, the insurrection had passed beyond her control. This was, indeed, the position which the Spanish Treaty Claims Commission subsequently took in ruling that to establish a claim it would be necessary to show that the destruction of property was the consequence of negligence upon the part of Spanish authorities or of military orders. Of other serious grievances there was no doubt. American citizens were imprisoned, interned in reconcentrado camps, and otherwise maltreated. The nationality of American sufferers was in some cases disputed, and the necessity of dealing with each of these doubtful cases by the slow and roundabout method of complaint to Madrid, which referred matters back to Havana, which reported to Madrid, served but to add irritation to delay. American resentment, too, was fired by the sufferings of the Cubans themselves as much as by the losses and difficulties of American citizens.

One change of extreme importance had taken place since the Cuban revolt of 1868-78. This was the development of the modern American newspaper. It was no longer possible for the people at large to remain ignorant of what was taking place at their very doors. Correspondents braved the yellow fever and imprisonment in order to furnish the last details of each new horror. Foremost in this work were William Randolph Hearst, who made new records of sensationalism in his papers, particularly in the New York Journal, and Joseph Pulitzer, proprietor of the New York World. Hearst is reported to have said that it cost him three millions to bring on the Spanish American War. The net result of all this newspaper activity was that it became impossible for the American people to remain in happy ignorance of what was going on in the world. Their reaction to the facts was their own.

President Cleveland modeled his policy upon that of Grant and Grant's Secretary, Hamilton Fish. He did not recognize the independence of the Cuban republic, for that would have meant immediate war with Spain; nor did he recognize even its belligerency. Public men in the United States were still convinced that Great Britain had erred in recognizing the belligerency of the Southern Confederacy, and consistency of foreign policy demanded that the Government should not accord recognition to a Government without a navy, a capital, or fixed territory. This decision made it particularly difficult for the President to perform his acknowledged duty to Spain, of preventing aid being sent from the United States to the insurgents. He issued the proper proclamations, and American officials were reasonably diligent, it is true, but without any of the special powers which would have resulted from a recognized state of war they were unable to prevent a leakage of supplies. As a result General Weyler had some ground for saying, though with characteristic Spanish extravagance, that it was American aid which gave life to the revolt.

President Cleveland energetically pressed all cases involving American rights; he offered mediation; he remonstrated against the cruelty of Weyler's methods; he pointed out that the United States could not forever allow an island so near and so closely related to be in flames without intervention. Spain, however, assumed a rather lofty tone, and Cleveland was able to accomplish nothing. Senator Lodge and other Republicans violently attacked his policy as procrastinating, and the nation as a whole looked forward with interest to the approaching change in administration.

William McKinley, who became President on March 4, 1897, was not actively interested in foreign affairs. This he illustrated in a striking way by appointing as Secretary of State John Sherman of Ohio, a man of undoubtedly high ability but one whose whole reputation rested upon his financial leadership, and who now, at the age of seventy-four, was known to be incapacitated for vigorous action. To the very moment of crisis, McKinley was opposed to a war with Spain; he was opposed to the form of the declaration of war and he was opposed to the terms of peace which ended the war. Emphatically not a leader, he was, however, unsurpassed in his day as a reader of public opinion, and he believed his function to be that of interpreting the national mind. Nor did he yield his opinion in a grudging manner. He grasped broadly the consequences of each new position which the public assumed, and he was a master at securing harmonious cooperation for a desired end.

The platform of the Republican party had declared: "The Government of Spain having lost control of Cuba, and being unable to protect the property or lives of resident American citizens, or to comply with its treaty obligations, we believe that the Government of the United States should actively use its influence and good offices to restore peace and give independence to the island." With this mandate, McKinley sought to free Cuba, absolutely or practically, while at the same time maintaining peace with Spain. On June 26, 1897, Secretary Sherman sent a note to the Spanish Minister, protesting against the Spanish methods of war and asserting that "the inclusion of a thousand or more of our own citizens among the victims of this policy" gives "the President the right of specific remonstrance, but in the just fulfillment of his duty he cannot limit himself to these formal grounds of complaint. He is bound by the higher obligation of his representative office to protest against the uncivilized and inhuman conduct of the campaign in the island of Cuba. He conceives that he has a right to demand that a war, conducted almost within sight of our shores and grievously affecting American citizens and their interests throughout the length and breadth of the land, shall at least be conducted according to the military codes of civilization."

Negotiations between the United States and Spain have always been peculiarly irritating, owing to temperamental differences between the two peoples. McKinley, however, had in mind a program for which there was some hope of success. He was willing to agree to some form of words which would leave Spain in titular possession of the island, thereby making a concession to Spanish pride, for he knew that Spain was always more loath to surrender the form than the substance. This hope of the President was strengthened, towards the end of 1897, by a dramatic incident in the political life of Spain. On the 8th of August, the Spanish Prime Minister, the Conservative Antonio Canovas del Castillo, was assassinated, and was succeeded on the 4th of October by the Liberal, Praxedes Mateo Sagasta.

The new Spanish Government listened to American demands and made large promises of amelioration of conditions in Cuba. General Blanco was substituted for General Weyler, whose cruelty had made him known in the American press as "the Butcher"; it was announced that the reconcentrado camps would be broken up; and the Queen Regent decreed the legislative autonomy of Cuba. Arrangements had been made for the handling of minor disputes directly with the Governor-General of Cuba through the American Consul General at Havana, General Fitzhugh Lee. On December 6, 1897, McKinley, in his annual message to Congress, counseled patience. Convinced of the good intentions of the new Spanish Government, he sought to induce American public sentiment to allow it time to act. He continued nevertheless to urge upon Spain the fact that in order to be effective action must be prompt.

Public sentiment against Spain grew every day stronger in the United States and was given startling impulse in February, 1898, by two of those critical incidents which are almost sure to occur when general causes are potent enough to produce a white heat of popular feeling. The Spanish Minister in the United States, Senor Dupuy de Lome, had aroused the suspicion, during his summer residence on the north shore of Massachusetts Bay, that he was collecting information which would be useful to a Spanish fleet operating on that coast. Whether this charge was true or not, at any rate he wrote a letter to a friend, a Madrid editor visiting Havana, in which he characterized McKinley as a vacillating and timeserving politician. Alert American newspaper men, who practically constituted a secret service of some efficiency, managed to obtain the letter. On February 9, 1898, De Lome saw a facsimile of this letter printed in a newspaper and at once cabled his resignation. In immediately accepting De Lome's resignation Spain anticipated an American demand for his recall and thus saved Spanish pride, though undoubtedly at the expense of additional irritation in the United States, where it was thought that he should have been punished instead of being allowed to slip away.

Infinitely more serious than this diplomatic faux pas was the disaster which befell the United States battleship Maine: On January 24, 1898, the Government had announced its intention of sending a warship on a friendly visit to Havana; with the desire of impressing the local Cuban authorities with the imminence of American power. Not less important was the purpose of affording protection to American citizens endangered by the rioting of Spaniards, who were angry because they believed that Sagasta by his conciliatory policy was betraying the interests of Spain. Accordingly the Maine, commanded by Captain Sigsbee, was dispatched to Cuba and arrived on the 25th of January in the harbor of Havana. On the night of the 15th of February, an explosion utterly wrecked the vessel and killed 260 of the crew, besides wounding ninety.

The responsibility for this calamity has never been positively determined. It may have resulted from an accidental internal explosion, from the official action of the Spanish authorities, from the unofficial zeal of subordinate Spanish officers, or even - as suggested by Speaker Reed who was an opponent of war - by action of the insurgents themselves with the purpose of embroiling the United States and Spain. The careful investigations which were afterwards made brought to light evidence of both internal and external explosions; it therefore seems probable that an external mine was the prime cause of the disaster and that the internal explosion followed as a consequence. No direct evidence has been discovered which would fix the responsibility for the placing of the mine, but it is reasonable to attribute it to the Spanish hotheads of Havana. It is not impossible that the insurgents were responsible; but it is incredible that the Spanish Government planned the explosion.

The hasty, though perhaps natural, conclusion to which American public sentiment at once leaped, however, was that the disaster was the work of Spain, without making any discrimination between the Government itself and the disaffected factions. A general sorrow and anger throughout the United States reinforced the popular anxiety for national interests and the humane regard for the Cubans. Press and public oratory demanded official action. "Remember the Maine!" was an admonition which everywhere met the eye and ear. The venerable and trusted Senator Proctor, who visited Cuba, came back with the report that conditions on the island were intolerable. On the 9th of March, "Uncle Joe" Cannon, the watchdog of the Treasury, introduced a bill appropriating fifty million dollars to be used for national defense at the discretion of the President. No doubt remained in the public mind that war would result unless the withdrawal of Spanish authority from Cuba could be arranged peaceably and immediately.

Even in this final stage of the negotiations it is sufficiently obvious that the United States Government was particularly desirous of preserving peace. There is also little doubt that the Spanish Government in good faith had the same desire. The intelligent classes in Spain realized that the days of Spanish rule in Cuba were practically over. The Liberals believed that, under the circumstances, war with the United States would be a misfortune. Many of the Conservatives, however, believed that a war, even if unsuccessful, was the only way of saving the dynasty, and that the dynasty was worth saving. Public opinion in Spain was therefore no less inflamed than in America, but it was less well-informed. Cartoons represented the American hog, which would readily fall before the Spanish rapier accustomed to its nobler adversary the bull. Spanish pride, impervious to facts and statistics, would brook no supine submission on the part of its people to foreign demands. It was a question how far the Spanish Government could bring itself to yield points in season which it fully realized must be yielded in the end.

The negotiation waxed too hot for the aged John Sherman, and was conducted by the Assistant Secretary, William Rufus Day, a close friend of the President, but a man comparatively unknown to the public. When Day officially succeeded Sherman (April 26, 1898) he had to face as fierce a light of publicity as ever beat upon a public man in the United States. Successively in charge of the Cuban negotiations, Secretary of State from April to September, 1898, President of the Paris Peace Commission in October, in December, after a career of prime national importance for nine months in which he had demonstrated his high competence, Day retired to the relative obscurity of the United States circuit bench. Although later raised to the Supreme Court, he has never since been a national figure. As an example of a meteoric career of a man of solid rather than meteoric qualities, his case is unparalleled in American history.

The acting Secretary of State telegraphed the ultimatum of the Government on March 27, 1898, to General Stewart L. Woodford, then Minister to Spain. By the terms of this document, in the first place there was to be an immediate amnesty which would last until the 1st of October and during which Spain would communicate with the insurgents through the President of the United States; in the second place, the reconcentrado policy was to cease immediately, and relief for the suffering Cubans was to be admitted from the United States. Then, if satisfactory terms were not reached by the 1st of October, the President was to be recognized as arbiter between the Spaniards and the insurgents.

On the 30th of March, Spain abrogated the reconcentrado policy in the "western provinces of Cuba," and on the following day offered to arbitrate the questions arising out of the sinking of the Maine. On Sunday, the 3d of April, a cablegram from General Woodford was received by the State Department indicating that Spain was seeking a formula for an armistice that should not too obviously appear to be submission and suggesting that the President ask the Pope to intervene and that the United States abstain from all show of force. "If you can still give me time and reasonable liberty of action," ran Woodford's message, "I will get you the peace you desire so much and for which you have labored so hard." To this the Secretary of State immediately replied that the President would not ask the intervention of the Pope, and that the Government would use the fleet as it saw fit. "Would the peace you are so confident of securing," asked the Secretary, "mean the independence of Cuba? The President cannot hold his message longer than Tuesday." On Tuesday, the 5th of April, General Woodford cabled:

"Should the Queen proclaim the following before twelve o'clock noon of Wednesday, April 6th, will you sustain the Queen, and can you prevent hostile action by Congress? "At the request of the Holy Father, in this Passion Week and in the name of Christ, I proclaim immediate and unconditional suspension of hostilities in the island of Cuba. This suspension is to become immediately effective as soon as accepted by the insurgents of that island, and is to continue for the space of six months to the 5th day of October, 1898. I do this to give time for passions to cease, and in the sincere hope and belief that during this suspension permanent and honorable peace may be obtained between the insular government of Cuba and those of my subjects in that island who are now in rebellion against the authority of Spain...." Please read this in the light of all my previous telegrams and letters. I believe this means peace, which the sober judgment of our people will approve long before next November, and which must be approved at the bar of final history."

To this message the Secretary of State replied:

"The President highly appreciates the Queen's desire for peace. He cannot assume to influence the action of the American Congress beyond a discharge of his constitutional duty in transmitting the whole matter to them with such recommendations as he deems necessary and expedient."

On the 9th of April the Queen granted the amnesty, on the formula of a request by the European powers. On the next day, General Woodford cabled that the United States could obtain for Cuba a satisfactory autonomy, or independence, or the cession of the island.

It was evident that there was no difference of opinion among those in authority in the United States as to the fact that Cuba must be severed from Spain. There were, however, differences of judgment as to which of the three methods suggested by Woodford was preferable, and there was a substantial disagreement as to the means necessary to realize the aims of the American Government. General Woodford believed that Spain would grant the demands of the United States, if she were given time and were not pressed to the point of endangering her dignity. The overwhelming majority in Congress, and particularly the leaders of the dominant Republican party with the exception of Speaker Reed, refused to believe in the sincerity of the Spanish Government. The Administration could not overlook the fact that the Spanish Government, however sincere it might be, might not be able to execute its promises. Great Britain had just recognized the United States as intermediary in a dispute between herself and one of the American nations. Spain, in a dispute much more serious to the United States, refused publicly to admit American intervention, while she did recognize that of the Pope and the European powers. Was it then possible that a Government which was either unwilling or afraid openly to acknowledge American interest in April would, by October, yield to the wishes of the Administration? Was it certain or likely that if the Spanish Government did so yield, it would remain in power?

Reluctantly President McKinley decided that he could not announce to Congress that he had secured the acceptance of the American policy. In his message to Congress on the 11th of April, he reviewed the negotiation and concluded by recommending forcible intervention. On the 19th of April, Congress, by joint resolution, called upon Spain to withdraw from Cuba and authorized the President to use force to compel her to do so. Congress, however, was not content to leave the future of the island merely indefinite, but added that the United States did not desire Cuba and that the "people of the island of Cuba are, and of right ought to be, free and independent." This decision ruled out both autonomy and cession as solutions of the problem. It put an end to the American century-long dream of annexing Cuba, unless the people of the island themselves desired such a relation; and it practically determined the recognition of the unstable Cuban Government then in existence. This decision on the part of Congress, however, reflected the deep-seated conviction of the American people regarding freedom and plainly put the issue where the popular majority wished it to be - upon a basis of unselfish sympathy with struggling neighbors.

The resolution was signed by the President on the 20th of April. On the following day, Admiral Sampson's fleet left Key West with orders to blockade the coast of Cuba, and, in the absence of a formal declaration of war, this strategic move may be considered as its actual beginning. On the 25th of April, Congress declared "that, war be, and the same is hereby, declared to exist, and that war has existed since the twenty-first of April, Anno Domini, eighteen hundred and ninety-eight, including the said day, between the United States of America and the Kingdom of Spain."