Print this pageHistorical Text Archive © 1990 - 2015
Cuba, the "Pearl of the Antilles," remained a
colony of Spain even when most of Spanish America revolted against the mother
country. It was 44, 278 square miles of land, 40% of which was
mountainous, with eight thousand species of trees and plants. The mean
temperature in winter was 770 Fahrenheit,
in summer, 800 with a rainy season from May to October.
Cuba produced iron, nickel, naphtha, asphalt, copper, manganese, and tungsten
but none in large quantities. Its small population consisted mostly of slaves
originating in Africa. Although this tropical isle exported horses, hides,
sugar, coffee, and tobacco, most people did subsistence agriculture. Tobacco, a
crop characterized by small plots, was the most important export, for the
world had not developed its insatiable desire for sugar as it would by the end
of the century. In short, it was a sleepy backwater of the Spanish empire.
Its geographical position had always made it important as a gateway to the Caribbean and, although most of the Spanish American empire had disappeared by the late 1820s, Cuba's royal naval bases remained. It was ruled by a governor/captain-general and the audiencia (high court). The existence of slavery kept it loyal to the Crown for slave owners heard horror stories of atrocities against whites and their allies when the latter revolted against slavery. Stories from Haiti were alone enough to scare whites. And the whites had a royal garrison and a Spanish fleet to protect them. Besides, people on the island had a considerable trade with foreigners, unlike other pre-independence colonies, and Spanish governance was reasonably efficient and conciliatory.
Spain degenerated as the century passed and the Cuban elite was less and less able to predict what the mother country would do. The reign of Isabela II (1833-1868) was filled with civil wars, radical outbursts, and military outbursts. Rule of its colonies fluctuated from sever repression to slackness. It became harder and harder for defenders of the monarchy, who previously had to explain why independence from Spain was not a good idea. The revolution of 1868 caused Isabela II. to abdicate the throne. The First Republic lasted about a year. Amadeus I was elected King on November 16, 1870 and swore to uphold the constitution in Madrid on January 2, 1871. He abdicated the Spanish throne on February 11, 1873. After an interregnum, Alfonso XII became king from 1875 to 1885. Alfonso XIII ruled from 1886 until 1931, when he was overthrown in favor of a republic.
No wonder trouble occurred in Cuba. The United States tried to purchase Cuba in 1848 but Spain refused and the Cubans were not infatuated with the idea of being part of the United States. Americans had long thought of Cuba as a possible addition. Thomas Jefferson had the dream of annexing Cuba. In 1850, Mississippi governor (January, 1850 to February, 1851), John A. Quitman, backed the invasion of Cuba by Narciso López in 1850. Quitman, a New Yorker, had to resign when he was indicted for violating US neutrality laws. Cubans did not respond positively to López' small expeditionary force so he withdrew and tried again in 1851. He was captured and executed. López and Quitman wanted Cuba to make it one or more slave states within the United States. So, too, did James Buchanan (Ambassador to the United Kingdom), Pierre Soulé (Ambassador to Spain ), and John Y. Mason (Ambassador to France), all pro-slavery, who issued the Ostend Manifesto in 1854. Although the Manifesto was denounced by those who believed in freedom, talk of annexation did no end.
A decade of bitter warfare broke out in 1868. Part of it was caused by the Cuban belief that they were being taxed excessively and the preference of Spain for appointing Spaniards born in Spain (peninsulares) to public office instead of Cuban-born Spaniards (criollos) to public office. A month after Isabela II was expelled in Spain's "Glorious Revolution, " Cuban independence leaders issued the "Grito de Yara," declaring Cuban independence. The Spanish interregnum government invited Cuba as well as Puerto Rico to send deputies to the Cortés meeting in Madrid. Spain, of course, was not willing to let Cuba go. The issue of black slavery arose. Spanish reformers were in favor of emancipation but criollos and the planer lobby opposed it. They feared racial strife. In 1970, a law gave freedom to newborn blacks. Fighting continued until Alfonso XII became king and stated making concessions. Fighting ended in 1878 but "La Guerra Chiquita" (1879-80 continued.
Bitterness against Spain continued. In 1895, the exile, José Martí, and a group of patriots invaded Cuba from the United States, launching what would become a successful independence movement even though Martí died.