Thursday, August 11, 2016

Remember the Maine!

Political cartoon from the County Capital
On August 12, 1898 representatives of the United States signed a peace protocol with Spanish representatives in Washington, D.C. ending the short-lived Spanish-American War.  Although Isaac B. Werner died in 1895, his estate remained open until 1898, and my manuscript continues his story and the story of the Populist Movement until the closing of his estate.

The arc of Isaac's life on the Kansas prairie and the arc of the Populist Movement during the 1880s and 1890s ran a similar path, and I use that parallel arc in structuring the manuscript.

The Spanish-American War may be little known by most Americans; yet, it played an important part in the international role America has played and continues to play today. 

Political cartoon from the County Capital
Isaac's community certainly knew about events leading up to the War, for both cartoons in this blog came from their populist newspaper, the County Capital.  In addition, articles from the newspapers published by Joseph Pulitzer and William Randolph Hearst were re-published locally.  These reports emphasized Spanish atrocities committed against the Cubans, reports that drove the call for war.

The explosion sinking the U.S. battleship Maine was what ultimately led to the War, first having been identified as resulting from a mine and only later explained as an explosion of a boiler on the ship.  The atrocities and the explosion stirred the sympathies and anger of Americans to support a declaration of war, but the philosophy of America's "Manifest Destiny" to expand also played a role.  By 1898 expansion had reached the west coast of the continental United States, and many believed it was time to look beyond our continental boundaries.  That was not, however, what stirred the common people.

Charge of the Rough Riders
There was also a split over how to pay for the war.  The populists generally favored a pay-as-you-go approach through taxes, but the wealthier class favored bonds.  The cartoon above-left expresses that disagreement.  Its caption reads:  "Hanna:  I don't see anything down there that money won't pay for."  This is a reference to a speech given by Nebraska Senator Allen opposing the issuance of bonds:  "There is not one of that power, sir, who would not see this government sunk to the bottom of the ocean if he could make a fortune by it.  There is not an impulse of patriotism, not a feeling of affection for the government among them.  The government is to them simply a carcass upon which they can feed and fatten."  President McKinley's advisor, Hanna, is depicted as the diver whispering into Uncle Sam's ear to go to war.

The Spanish-American War lasted only about 3 months, and many of its soldiers were drawn from the unemployed.  The cartoon above-right illustrates the post-war reality for these men.  In the years leading up to the war, many jobless men were living on hand-outs, traveling in search of work.  These "tramps" may have found temporary employment as soldiers, but when the war ended there remained no jobs for them.

Cuba obtained their freedom from Spain, although the U.S. army occupied Cuba until 1902 and it remained under U.S. supervision until 1934.  Puerto Rico and Guam became U.S. territories, and the Philippines did not gain independence from the U.S. until 1946. 

John Hay signs Treaty of Paris ending Spanish-American War
For many Americans today, their primary acquaintance with the Spanish-American War is of Teddy Roosevelt and the Rough Riders; however, battles fought on water were probably more important to the defeat of the Spanish.  The Battle of San Juan Hill fought by Roosevelt and the Rough Riders was the main land battle, but the sea battles and the siege at Santiago de Cuba, which led the Spanish Commander for that city to surrender on July 17, 1898 are regarded as the pivotal battles.

About 350 Americans died in fighting for the Cubans, but far more died of disease contracted during the war.  For the Spanish, the war signaled the collapse of the mighty Spanish Empire.  For America, it introduced the U.S. as a major world player.


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