Front Door to Cuba

Martí's Letter to Maximo Gomez

In which he resigns from the revolutionary movement in 1884.

New York, October 20, 1884

General Máximo Gómez

Distinguished General and Friend,


When I left your house on Saturday morning, I was so distressed that I wanted to let two days go by so that the determination which that distress, together with others from the past, inspired in me would not be the result of a passing bewilderment or of excessive zeal in the defense of things which I would never wish to see attacked, but would rather be the product of mature reflections. It is very distressing to me to have to say these things to a man whom I believe to be sincere and good, and who has outstanding qualities for becoming truly great. But there is something that is more important than all of the personal liking I have for you, and even more than all apparent circumstantial reason. This is my determination not to do anything, out of blind love for an idea to which I have devoted my entire life, which would bring to my land a regime of personal despotism that would be more shameful and unfortunate than the political despotism to which it is now subjected, and that would be more serious and harder to uproot, because it would be justified by some virtues, embellished by the idea embodied in it and legitimized by success.

A nation is not founded as military camp is set up, General. The preparatory work for a revolution is more delicate and complex than any other, but instead of a sincere desire to understand and conciliate all of the work, wishes and elements that are required for armed struggle (simply one form of the spirit of independence), one sees rather an intention-roughly expressed at every step or poorly disguised-of making all the resources of faith and of war which that spirit arouses serve the personal aims of the justly famed chiefs who present themselves to lead the war. It his situation, what guarantees can there be that civic freedoms-the sole object for which it is worth throwing a country into the struggle-will be any better respected in the future? What are we, general? The heroic, selfless servants of an idea which warms our hearts, the loyal friends of an unhappy nation, or the valiant and fortunate commanders who, with whip in hand and spurs on our boots, are preparing to bring war to a nation in order to take possession of it? Are you going to lose the fame won in an earlier exploit-fame for your courage, loyalty and wisdom-in another? If war-and its noble, legitimate prestige-is possible, it is because there already exists the spirit that demands it and makes it necessary, a spirit forged with much pain. That spirit must be protected, and the deepest respect must be paid to it in every public ad private act; because, just as everyone who gives his life in the service of a great idea is admirable, he who makes use of a great idea to serve his personal hopes of glory or power is abominable, even though he may risk his life for those hopes. Everyone has the right to risk his life selflessly.

I am sure you are distressed, because I know that you always act in good faith and truly believe that, since you are inspired by pure motives, you are doing things in the only correct way. But the worst mistakes can be committed with the greatest sincerity, and it is absolutely necessary-in spite of every consideration of a secondary nature-for the unvarnished truth (which should play no favorites) to oppose all that is considered a threat and to replace it with serious things before you go so far along that path that there is no way to remedy the situation. General, you must master this difficulty, just as, on Saturday, I mastered the shock and disgust with which I heard an untimely outburst of yours and the curious conversation which General Maceo began provoked by it, in which he tried-an even greater insanity!-to convince me that we should consider Cuba's war as you exclusive property, in which nobody can think or do anything without committing a crime and which everyone should servilely and blindly leave in your hands if he wished to contribute to its success. No! By God, no! Seek to stifle thought even before it is expressed, as you would do in the future, leading an enthusiastic and grateful people, with all the trappings of victory? Our homeland belongs to no one-or, if it does, it will belong (and only in spirit) to whoever serves it with the greatest altruism and intelligence.

I have put my entire soul into a war undertaken in obedience to the mandates of the country, in consultation with the representatives of its interests, in union with the largest number of friendly elements that can be achieved; and I believed-because that is how I described it in a letter I wrote three years ago, to which I have your inspiring reply-that that was the war you have now offered to lead. I put my entire soul into it, because it will save my people, but I will never support the thing that I was given to understand in that conversation would be a personal adventure undertaken skillfully at an opportune time, in which the personal aims of the leaders could be confused with the glorious ideas which were making that war possible. I cannot defend a campaign undertaken as a private enterprise, without showing any more respect to the patriotic spirit which made it possible than expediency advised, combined with groveling at times to attract those persons or elements that might be useful in one way or another, a military career, no matter how brilliant and grandiose, that should be crowned with success (and the one who led it would win personal laurels); a campaign that, right from its first action, its first movements of preparation, would give no signs that it was being waged in the service of the country and not as a despotic invasion; an armed attempt that would not be publicly, explicitly, sincerely and solely motivated by the goal of placing civic freedoms in the hands of the country (which is already grateful to those who are helping it) at its conclusion; a war with shallow roots and fearful consequences, no matter what its magnitude and chances of success-and I realize that those chances would be great. No matter what my support may be worth-and I know that, since it comes from an indomitable determination to be absolutely honest, it is worth its weight in gold-I will never give it to you.

How could I undertake missions, attract support, make use of the support I already have, convince eminent men and overcome opposition, General, while these fears and doubts besiege my heart? Therefore, I am stopping all of the active work I had begun to take on.

Has anyone approached you, General, with warmer affection than that with which I have embraced you ever since the day I first saw you?

Don't hold it against me, General, for having written to you, presenting these reasons. I consider you an honest man, and you deserve to think about what I have written. You may become very great-or you may not achieve that. To respect a people that loves and depends on us is the highest form of greatness. To make use of its grief and enthusiasm for our own gain would be the worst ignominy. Ever since you were in Honduras, General, people have tome me that you are surrounded by intrigues which are poisoning you, without your being aware of it, and that individuals are taking advantage of your goodness, your impressions and your habits to separate you from all whom you might meet who would join in your labors with affection and help you to free yourself of the obstacles that may beset your path and keep you from attaining the stature for which you are naturally endowed. But I confess that I have neither the desire nor the patience to go sniffing out and confounding intrigues. I am above all that. I serve only my duty, and with it, I will always be powerful enough.

Has anyone approached you, General, with warmer affection than that with which I have embraced you ever since the day I first saw you? Have you felt in many this unavoidable overflowing of the heart that would harm me so much in my life if I had to hide my purposes in order to further effeminate and petty ambitions for the present or hopes for the future? For, in spite of everything I have written-and carefully reread and confirmed-I believe that I still love you for your abundant merits, but not the war, which it now seems to me you may be representing mistakenly. That, no.

I still esteem and would serve you.

José Martí

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Letters and Articles by José Martí
Our America | Montecristi Manifesto (full text) | Last letter to his mother | Incomplete letter to his friend Manuel Mercado | On Maceo | Letter to Maximo Gomez, 1884 (in which he resigns from the revolutionary movement) | My Race (from Patria)

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