Cuba in the 19th Century
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
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.