Classic History Books


The Path of Empire. A Chronicle of the United States as a World Power
by Carl Russell Fish

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

 

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