Spanish-American War The weeks that have elapsed since that fatal event of February 15th have been making history in a manner highly creditable to the American government and to our citizenship. Captain Sigsbee, the commander of the Maine, had promptly telegraphed his desire that judgment should be suspended until investigation had been made. The investigation was started at once, and 75 million Americans have accordingly suspended judgment in the face of a great provocation. For it must be remembered that to suppose the destruction of the Maine an ordinary accident and not due to any external agency or hostile intent was, under all the circumstances, to set completely at defiance the law of probabilities. It is not true that battleships are in the habit of blowing themselves up. When all the environing facts were taken into consideration, it was just about as probable that the Maine had been blown up by some accident where no hostile motive was involved, as that the reported assassination of President Barrios of Guatemala, a few days previously, had really been a suicide. .
. . It has been known perfectly well that Spanish hatred might at any time manifest itself by attempts upon the life of the American representative at Havana, Consul General Fitzhugh Lee. This danger was felt especially at the time of the Havana riots in January, and it seems to have had something to do with the sending of the Maine to Havana Harbor. The Spaniards themselves, however, looked upon the sending of the Maine as a further aggravation of the long series of their just grievances against the United States. They regarded the presence of the Maine at Havana as a menace to Spanish sovereignty in the island and as an encouragement to the insurgents.
A powerful American fleet lay at Key West and the Dry Tortugas, with steam up ready to follow the Maine to the harbor of Havana at a few hours’ notice. All this was intensely hateful to the Spaniards, and particularly to the Army officers at Havana who had sympathized with General Weyler’s policy and who justly regarded General Weyler’s recall to Spain as due to the demand of President McKinley. The American pretense that the Maine was making a visit of courtesy seemed to these Spaniards a further example of Anglo-Saxon hypocrisy. That this intense bitterness against the presence of the Maine was felt among the military and official class in Havana was perfectly well known to Captain Sigsbee, his staff, and all his crew; and they were not unaware of the rumors and threats that means would be found to destroy the American ship. It was, furthermore, very generally supposed that the Spanish preparation for the defense of Havana had included mines and torpedoes in the harbor.
At the time when the Maine went to Havana, it was a notorious fact that the relations between the Spain and the United States were so strained that that war was regarded as inevitable. If war had actually been declared while the Maine was at Havana, it is not likely that the Spanish would have permitted the ship’s departure without an effort to do her harm. The Spanish harbor is now and it has been for a good while past under military control; and the American warship, believed by the Spanish authorities to be at Havana with only half-cloaked hostile designs, was obliged to accept the anchorage that was assigned by those very authorities. In view of the strained situation and of the Spanish feeling that no magnanimity is due on Spain’s part toward the United States, it is not in the least difficult to believe that the harbor authorities would have anchored the Maine at a spot where, in case of the outbreak of war, the submarine harbor defenses might be effectively be used against so formidable an enemy. To understand the situation completely, it must not be forgotten that the Spanish government at first made objection against the Maine’s intended visit to Havana and, in consenting, merely yielded to a necessity that was forced upon it.
All Spaniards regarded the sending of the Maine to Havana as really a treacherous act on the part of the United States, and most of them would have deemed it merely a safe and precautionary measure to anchor her in the vicinity of a submarine mine. Doubtless these suggestions will be read by more than one person who will receive them with entire skepticism. But such readers will not have been familiar with what has been going on in the matter of the Cuban rebellion, or else they will be lacking in memories of good carrying power. The great majority of the intelligent people of the United States could not, from the first, avoid perceiving that what we may call the self-destruction theory was extremely improbable; while what we may term the assassination theory was in keeping with all the circumstances. Nevertheless, although the probability of guilt was so overwhelming, the American people saw the fairness and the necessity of suspending judgment until proof had been substituted for mere probability.
And there was in no part of the country any disposition to take snap judgment or to act precipitately. No other such spectacle of national forbearance has been witnessed in our times. Unquestionably, the whole community has been intensely eager for news; and it is perhaps true that certain newspapers, which have devoted themselves for a month or more to criticizing the sensational press, might as well have been occupied in a more energetic effort to supply their readers with information. The fact is that the so-called war extras, which for many days were issued from certain newspaper offices at the rate of a dozen or more a day, have not seemed to communicate their hysteria to any considerable number of the American people, East or West, North or South, so far as our observation goes. The situation has simply been one of a very absorbing and profound interest, while the suspense has been very trying to the nerves.
The possibility that our country might soon be engaged in war with a foreign power has been a preoccupying thought not to be dismissed for a single hour. The whole country has known that a fateful investigation was in progress in Havana Harbor; that coast-defense work was being pushed all along our seaboard; that in all the shipyards, public and private, government work was being prosecuted with double or quadruple forces of men, working by night as well as by day; that ammunition factories, iron and steel plants, and every other establishment capable of furnishing any kind of military or naval supplies were receiving orders from the government and were working to the full extent of their capacity; that plans were being made for fitting out merchant ships as auxiliary cruisers; that our naval representatives were negotiating abroad for additional warships; that new regiments of artillerymen were being enlisted for the big guns on the seaboard; that naval recruits were being mustered in to man newly commissioned ships; that the railroads were preparing by order of the War Department to bring the little United States Army from western and northern posts to convenient southern centers; and that while we were making these preparations Spain on her part was trying to raise money to buy ships and to secure allies. All these matters, and many others related to them, have within these past weeks made an immense opportunity for testing the news gathering resources of the American press. . .
. When, therefore, on March 8, the House of Representatives unanimously voted to place $50 million at the unqualified disposal of President McKinley as an emergency fund for the national defense – this action being followed by an equally unanimous vote of the Senate the next day – it was naturally taken for granted all over the country that the situation was believed by the President to be extremely critical. The continued delay of the Board of Inquiry – which had been oscillating between Havana and Key West, conducting its proceedings in secret and maintaining absolute reticence – had naturally served to confirm the belief that its report would show foul play; and it appeared that the President was basing his great preparations of war, in part at least, upon his advance knowledge of the evidence secured by the commission. The unanimity of Congress in support of the President created an excellent impression abroad. Fifty million is a very large sum to place in the hands of one man.
It might have been supposed that there would have been members in both houses who would have insisted upon the a …