Mr. Sherman to Mr. Woodford


Washington, July 16, 1897

Sir: Before you go to your post it is proper to state to you the President's views on the relation of your Government to the contest which is now being waged in Cuba. The same occasion requires that you should be made acquainted with the course which has been deemed best for the United States to follow under existing conditions.

During thirteen years of the past twenty-nine years the island of Cuba has been the scene of grave disorder and sanguinary conflict. On two distinct occasions the power and authority of the Spanish Crown have been arrayed against a serious and persistent efforts of a large proportion of the population of the island to achieve independence

The insurrection which began at Yara in October, 1868, lasted for ten years and ended not so much because of the physical repression of the revo1t by force of arms as by reason of the exhaustion of the combatants and the conclusion of a truce based upon the concession to the Cubans of certain measures of autonomous reform in 1877 and 1878. The peace thus brought about proved unstable, and after some sixteen years of more or less unsatisfactory continuance, was broken by a renewed manifestation of the deeply rooted aspirations of the native Cuban elements toward more complete enjoyment of self-government. Beginning in February, 1895, in an uprising which, like the previous insurrection of Yara, was local and unorganized, the movement rapidly spread until, on the 27th of the month, the superior authority of the island deemed it necessary to issue a proclamation declaring the rich and populous districts about Matanzas and Santiago de Cuba in a "state of siege." Thereafter, notwithstanding the extensive military operations undertaken to crush the revolt, and despite the unprecedented exertions put forth by Spain and the armies and treasure poured into the disturbed territory, the conflict extended over the greater part of the island and invaded the western provinces, which the insurrection of Yara had failed to arouse.

For more than two years a wholly unexampled struggle has raged in Cuba between the discontented native population and the mother power. Not only has its attendant ruin spread over a larger area than in any previous contest, but its effects have been more widely felt and the cost of life and treasure to Spain has been far greater. The strife continues on a footing of mutual destruction and devastation. Day by day the conviction gathers strength that it is visionary for Spain to hope that Cuba, even if eventually subjugated by sheer exhaustion, can ever bear to her anything like the relation of dependence and profit she once bore. The policy which obviously attempts to make Cuba worthless to the Cubans, should they prevail, must inevitably make the island equally worthless to Spain in the event of reconquest, whether it be regained as a subject possession or endowed with a reasonable measure of self-administration.

The recuperative processes, always painfully slow in an exhausted community, would necessarily be doubly remote in either of the latter contingencies, for in the light of events of the past twenty-nine years capital and industry would shrink from again engaging in costly enterprises in a field where neither proximate return nor permanent security is to be expected. To fix the truth of this assertion one need only to regard the fate of the extraordinary efforts to rehabilitate the fortunes of Cuba that followed the truce of 1878. The capital and intelligence contributed by citizens of the United States and other countries, which at that time poured into Cuba seeking to endow the island with the marvelous resources of modern invention and advanced industrial processes, have now become submerged in the common ruin. The commerce of Cuba has dwindled to such unprofitable proportions that its ability for self-support is questionable even if peace was restored to day. Its capacity to yield anything like adequate return toward the support of the mother country, even granting the disposition to do so, is a matter of the gravest doubt.

Weighing all these facts carefully and without prejudice, in the judgment of the President the time has come for this Government to soberly consider and clearly decide the nature and methods of its duty both to its neighbors and itself.

This Government has labored and is still laboring under signal difficulties in its administration of its neutrality laws. It is ceaselessly confronted with questions affecting the inherent and treaty rights of its citizens in Cuba. It beholds the island suffering an almost complete paralysis of many of its most necessary commercial functions by reason of the impediments imposed and the ruinous injuries wrought by this internecine warfare at its very doors; and above all, it is naturally and rightfully apprehensive lest some untoward incident may abruptly supervene to inflame mutual passions beyond control and thus raise issues which, however deplorable, can not be avoided.

In short, it may not be reasonably asked or expected that a policy of mere inaction can be safely prolonged. There is no longer question that the sentiment of the American people strongly demands that if the attitude of neutrality is to be maintained toward these combatants it must be a genuine neutrality as between combatants, fully recognized as such in fact as well as in name. The problem of recognition of belligerency has been often presented, but never perhaps more explicitly than now. Both Houses of Congress, nearly a year ago, adopted by an almost unanimous vote a concurrent resolution recognizing belligerency in Cuba, and latterly the Senate, by a large majority, has voted a joint resolution of like purport, which is now pending in the House of Representatives.

At this juncture our Government must seriously inquire whether the time his not arrived when Spain, of her own volition, moved by her own interests and by every paramount sentiment of humanity, will put a stop to this destructive war and make proposals of settlement honorable to herself and just to her Cuban colony and to mankind. The United States stands ready to assist her and tender good offices to that end.

It should by no means be forgotten that besides and beyond the question of recognition of belligerency, with its usual proclamation of neutrality and its concession of equal rights and impartial imposition of identical disabilities in respect to the contending parties within our municipal jurisdiction, there lies the larger ulterior problem of intervention which the President does not now discuss. It is with no unfriendly intent that this subject has been mentioned but simply to show that this Government does not and can not ignore the possibilities of duty hidden in the future, nor be unprepared to face an emergency which may at any time be born of the unhappy contest in Cuba The extraordinary, because direct and not merely theoretical or sentimental interest of the United States in the Cuban situation can not be ignored, and if forced the issue must be met honestly and fearlessly, in conformity with our national life and character. Not only are our citizens largely concerned in the ownership of property and in the industrial and commercial ventures which have been set on foot in Cuba through our enterprising initiative and sustained by their capital, but the chronic condition of trouble and violent derangement in that island constantly causes disturbance in the social and political condition of our own people. It keeps up a continuous irritation within our own borders, injuriously affects the normal functions of business, and tends to delay the condition of prosperity to which this country is entitled.

No exception can be taken to the general proposition that a neighboring nation, however deeply disturbed and injured by the existence of a devastating internal conflict it its doors, may be constrained, on grounds of international comity to disregard its endangered interests and remain a passive spectator of the Contest for a reasonable time while the titular authority is repressing the disorder. The essence of this moral obligation lies in the reasonableness of the delay invited by circumstances and by the effort of the territorial authority to assert its claimed rights. The onlooking nation need only wait a reasonable time before alleging and acting upon the rights which it, too, possesses. This proposition is not a legal subtlety, but a broad principle of international comity and law.

The question arises, then, whether Spain has not already had a reasonable time to restore peace and been unable to do so, even by a concentration of her resources and measures of unparalleled severity which have received very general condemnation. The methods which Spain has adopted to wage the fight give no prospect of immediate peace or of a stable return to the conditions of prosperity which are essential to Cuba in its intercourse with its neighbors. Spain's inability entails upon the United States a degree of injury and suffering which can not longer be ignored. Assuredly Spain can not expect this government to sit idle, letting vast interests suffer, our political elements disturbed, and the country perpetually embroiled, while no progress is being made in the settlement of the Cuban problem. Such a policy of inaction would in reality prove of no benefit to Spain, while certain to do the United States incalculable harm. This Government strong in its sense of right and duty, yet keenly sympathetic with the aspirations of any neighboring community in close touch with our own civilization, is naturally desirous to avoid. in all rational ways, the precipitation of a result which would be painfully abhorrent to the American people.

For all of the reasons before stated the President feels it his duty to make the strongest possible effort to help bring about a result which shall be in conformity alike with the feelings of our people, the inherent rights of civilized man, and be of advantage both to Cuba and to Spain. Difficult as the task may seem now, it is believed that frankness, earnestness, perseverance, and a fair regard for the rights of others will eventually solve the problem.

It should be borne in mind from the start that it is far removed from the feelings of the American people and the mind of the President to propose any solution to which the slightest idea of humiliation to Spain could in any way be attached. But no possible intention or occasion to wound the Just susceptibilities of the Castilian nation can be discerned in the altogether friendly suggestion that the good offices of the United States may now be lent to the advantage of Spain.

You are hereby instructed to bring these considerations as promptly as possible, but with due allowance for favorable conditions, to the attention of the Government of Her Majesty the Queen Regent, with all the impressiveness which their importance demands, and with all the earnestness which the constantly imperiled national interests of the United States justifies. You will emphasize the self-restraint which this Government has hitherto observed until endurance has ceased to be tolerable or even possible for any longer indefinite term. You will lay especial stress on the unselfish friendliness of our desires, and upon the high purpose and sincere wish of the United States to give its aid only in order that a peaceful and enduring result may be reached, just and honorable alike to Spain and to the Cuban people, and only so far as such aid may accomplish the wished for ends. In so doing, you will not disguise the gravity of the situation, nor conceal the President's conviction that, should his present effort be fruitless, his duty to his countrymen will necessitate an early decision as to the course of action which the time and the transcendent emergency may demand.

As to the manner in which the assistance of the United States can be effectively rendered in the Cuban situation, the President has no desire to embarrass the Government of Spain by formulating precise proposals. All that is asked or expected is that some safe way may be provided for action which the United States may undertake with justice and self-respect, and that the settlement shall be a lasting one, honorable and advantageous to Spain and to Cuba and equitable to the United States.

For the accomplishment of this end, now and in the future, our Government offers its most kindly offices through yourself.

Respectfully, yours,


Source:  U.S. Department of State, Papers Relating to the Foreign Relations of the United States, 1898 (Washington: Government Printing Office, 1901), pp. 558-561.

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