Friday, December 11, 2015

December 10, 1898 – The Treaty of Paris is signed, officially ending the Spanish–American War.

The war began on April 21, 1898. The precipitate cause was the destruction of the USS Maine in Havana Harbor on February 15, which killed about 274 of the ship's roughly 354 crew. The distal cause was the revolution in Cuba (and the Philippines; no independence movement had occurred in Puerto Rico), which threatened extensive American interests there. Spain had responded with extremely repressive tactics which left tens of thousands of Cubans dead in concentration camps, and Americans were horrified by the Spanish response.

War formally broke out when the United States began a blockade of Cuba (a Spanish territory) on April 21, and Spain declared war on the United States on April 23. The U.S. Congress formally declared war, retroactive to April 21, on April 25.

Spain agreed to an armistice on August 4, after just 105 days of fighting. Spanish resistance in Cuba and the Phillipines collapsed almost as soon as battle was given, and was nonexistent in Puerto Rico and Guam. The last battle of the Spanish-American War occured on August 14 off Caibarién, Cuba, when the armed supply ship USS Mangrove fired on two Spanish Navy gunboats. The Spanish surrendered, and explained that an armistice had been signed.

Peace was difficult to establish. The Cortes, the Spanish national legislature, approved the armistice on September 13 by a vote of 161 to 48. But many deputies abstained, indicating a deep feeling within the Cortes that the war should continue to be prosecuted. In the United States, many senators from the South feel that the peace treaty should be rejected and reparations from Spain granted. They are angry that the U.S. has agreed to purchase the Philippines for $20 million, when America had already seized the islands by force. President William McKinley had to make a three-week railroad tour of the South to whip up public opinion in favor of the peace treaty and ensure its passage. Worse, the Philippine people fully expected their freedom. When American military officials in Manila pointedly told them that this would not happen, the Philippine-American War broke out on February 4. (It would last four years, formally, and until the 1913 informally. More than 250,000 Filipinos would die of disease directly caused by the war, while another 20,000 Filipino soldiers would die in battle. Some 4,200 to 6,200 American soldiers would die (statistics vary depending on how one counts war-related death due to disease).

It was a close thing.

On February 6, 1899, the U.S. Senate ratified the Treaty of Paris by a close vote of 57 to 27. A two-thirds majority, or 56 votes, was needed to ratify. An amendment requiring the United States to give the Philippines its independence failed after Vice President Garret Hobart cast the deciding vote against it. The Senate might have declined to ratify the treaty, but the outbreak of hostilities in Manila turned the tide of feeling in the treaty's favor.

The Cortes was deeply divided over the terms of the treaty, and deadlocked over its ratification. With ratification in jeopardy, Maria Cristina, Queen Regent of Spain, dissolved the Cortes. On March 19, she exercised her imperial privilege to "fulfil the crown's constitutional obligations and serve the national interest" by peacefully resolving political tension, and signed the Treaty of Paris personally.

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