Classic History Books


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

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.

 

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