Harper's Weekly
September 4, 1869

A cartoon about possible United States intervention in Cuba's first war of independence.

                             Artist: Michael Angelo Woolf

                In this cartoon, the personification of Cuba hopes the United States will aid
                her rebellion against the Spanish government.  The image is based on
                Alfred Lord Tennyson's poem, "Enoch Arden" (1864), about a shipwrecked
                seaman and his wife who awaits (for a while) his return.  In this cartoon,
                Cuba, although female, appears in the role of the stranded sailor searching the
                sea for his rescuers.  "Under a palm-tree" refers to a biblical passage that
                provokes a dream the wife misinterprets as revealing her husband's death (so
                she remarries).  The artist may have included it to equate the American
                government's refusal to intervene with mistakenly giving up Cuba for dead.

                Spain had ruled Cuba since the early sixteenth century, but by the
                mid-nineteenth century relations between Cubans and Spanish officials had
                become strained.  Fed up with high taxes, trade restrictions, administrative
                corruption, and near exclusion from government office, Cuban nationalists
                rebelled against their Spanish overlords in 1868.  The bloody guerrilla war,
                fought primarily in the eastern provinces, was Cuba's first war of
                independence, and lasted for a decade before ending in failure in 1878.

                When Ulysses S. Grant assumed the presidency in March 1869, two foreign
                policy issues dominated his attention:  the Cuban revolt, and the demand
                (known as the Alabama claims) that Britain make financial restitution for
                allowing Confederate ships to be built or refitted in British shipyards during
                the American Civil War.  The Grant administration faced intense pressure to
                intervene on behalf of the Cuban rebels.  Leading the charge were James
                Gordon Bennett Jr.'s New York Herald, Charles Dana's New York Sun, a
                wealthy Cuban exile community in New York City, and Congressman John
                Logan of Illinois.  Some interventionists revived the controversial proposal
                that the United States annex Cuba; others viewed national independence and
                slavery abolition in Cuba as analogous to America's War of Independence
                and Civil War.

                Secretary of State Hamilton Fish, however, was opposed to U.S. military
                intervention, and President Grant was inclined to agree with him.  The fight
                would probably be costly in terms of American lives and money, at a time
                when the United States was still recovering from its own bloody and
                expensive Civil War.  Also, since the United States condemned Britain's
                indirect aid to the Confederacy (the Alabama claims), American recognition
                of the Cuban belligerency (a step Britain did not take for the Confederacy
                during the American Civil War) would undermine its negotiating stance as
                hypocritical.  Military aid or intervention would, of course, undercut the
                American position even more.  Furthermore, the Cuban rebels had no
                government and held no territory, and Fish ridiculed the Cuban exiles' ability
                to form a viable government.

                The issue, though, divided the Grant cabinet nearly in half, with Secretary of
                War John Rawlins as the leading interventionist.  Rawlins's position was in line
                with his previous public call for the withdrawal of all European powers from
                the Western hemisphere.  However, unknown to others in the cabinet, the
                Cuban exiles had given the American war secretary bonds, worthless at the
                time, but which could earn him $28,000 if the island colony gained its

                In early April 1869, the U.S. House passed a resolution sympathizing with the
                Cuban revolt and encouraging Grant to recognize its belligerent status.  War
                fever rose during the summer, with mass meetings held across the United
                States, and the Grand Army of the Republic, the Union veterans' association,
                proclaiming its readiness for battle.  Some Americans took matters into their
                own hands by organizing private military expeditions ("filibusters") to Cuba.
                On July 14, Grant issued an executive order banning the filibusters.  Spanish
                officials, not taking the time to distinguish between filibusters and fishing
                vessels, stopped all American ships, sometimes resulting in arrests,
                imprisonment, and a few executions of American citizens.  An infuriated Grant
                ordered American naval vessels from the Pacific to reinforce the Caribbean

                With a clash between the American and Spanish navies imminent, Spain
                notified the United States that it wished to negotiate a settlement.  Spain
                would grant Cuban independence and abolish slavery in return for a large
                cash indemnity from the sale of Cuban bonds guaranteed by the United
                States.  In turn, the United States would gain free trade for American
                products entering Cuban markets, and authority over Cuba's other tariff
                rates.  However, in late July, the U.S. minister to Spain, Daniel Sickles,
                informed Secretary Fish that the Spanish government was at odds over the
                settlement; at the same time, a resurgence of violence erupted in Cuba.

                Before leaving on vacation, President Grant gave Secretary Fish a
                proclamation recognizing Cuban belligerency and asserting American
                neutrality.  On August 14, as fighting escalated in Cuba, Grant wrote Fish to
                release the document to the public.  The secretary of state simultaneously
                received the president's letter and a cable from Sickles stating that the Spanish
                were ready to deal. Fish convinced Grant to give Sickles more time, and the
                proclamation was never published.

                At a cabinet meeting on August 31, Rawlins, who was dying of tuberculosis,
                made one last impassioned plea for military intervention.  Although all his
                cabinet colleagues and the president were moved by Rawlins's words, Fish
                calmly delineated the numerous reasons against intervention.  Grant then
                announced his decision:  the United States would remain neutral, but would
                mediate the dispute if both parties agreed.  The issue temporarily subsided in
                the United States.  Negotiations proved unsuccessful, but Grant reiterated
                America's neutrality in his annual presidential address to Congress in
                December 1869.

                However, the issue of Cuba resurfaced in June 1870 when a Congressional
                resolution, of dubious constitutional merit, was drafted recognizing Cuba's
                status as a belligerent.  President Grant sent a message to Congress in which
                he firmly outlined reasons against intervention.  After two days of heated
                debate, the resolution failed.  In 1873, the United States again nearly entered
                the war in Cuba after the Spanish captured the American naval ship,
                Virginius.  In 1878, the first Cuban war of independence (or Ten Years'
                War) ended with Spain agreeing to only minimal reforms.  The situation
                remained tense, and a second revolt occurred in 1895, with the United States
                finally intervening three years later in the Spanish-American War.  After the
                quick victory of the United States military, Cuba remained an American
                protectorate until the Republic of Cuba was established in 1902.

                Robert C. Kennedy