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Framing The Platt Amendment

An excerpt from
Our Cuban Colony: A Study in Sugar
By Leland Hamilton Jenks
Vanguard Press, New York, 1928
Pg. 75-78

...when the [Cuban] Constitution was completed, the convention proceeded on February 12, 1901, to name a committee to frame the bases for these relations. Several projects were before them for consideration; and the matter had been discussed in concrete terms in the Havana press.

Some of the proposals were curious. Lone was that Cuba should take the advice of the United States as to her foreign policy for ten years. Another would give American capitalists a preference as to loan issues, and would permit an American army to occupy Cuba to maintain order and civil rights. A third would turn over the ports and maritime zone of Cuba to the United States as soon as the latter was involved in a war. A fourth proposed a military alliance, offensive and defensive, conceding three bays to the United States for naval stations. A monetary union was frequently suggested. And with one accord delegates urged preferential trade relations between the United States and Cuba on the basis of reciprocity. There was approval of the Monroe Doctrine; there were numerous devices to prevent any possible use of the island as a base for foreign aggression against the United States; and the Cubans were so alert to the possibilities of financial imperialism that in article 59 of their Constitution they provided that no loan could be issued, without act of their Congress and without provision of permanent taxes for its interest and redemption.

There can be no serious doubt that the convention although dominated by elements critical of the United States, desired that the latter guarantee the independence of Cuba, was willing to arrange guarantees against the island becoming a political menace to the United States, and was desirous of conciliating the American economic interests upon which the development of Cuba seemed to depend. But the convention was oppressed by a premonition that the “relations” wished by the United States went farther than this, that the United States desired in fact to make Cuba at least a protectorate, that the relations it would insist upon would be incompatible with Cuban sovereignty and independence. The Cubans, in a word, wished to make sure of independence first.

The United States was committed to independence. The administration press was aglow with ardor for Cuban liberty. But the advisers of President McKinley were even more concerned about “the ties of singular intimacy.” If the final settlement of Cuban-American relations was postponed until there was a Cuban Republic, there was great risk that they would not be adjusted exactly as McKinley’s advisers wished. An independent Cuban government might be unfriendly to the United States. Moreover, any arrangement negotiated by treaty would be subject to the approval of two-thirds of the American Senate. The only sure way of arranging Cuban relations to the satisfaction of McKinley’s advisers was to have it done by the expiring Congress, which had been elected at the height of war enthusiasm in November, 1898.

While Senators considered parliamentary strategy and consulted the dictionary for unsuspicious phrases, Secretary Root sent to General Wood, for the information of the Cubans, a hint as to what the latter “should desire to have incorporated” into their Constitution. These were the President’s desires, but the Congress might reach different conclusions, stated the Secretary of War. The Cubans still marveled as the second McKinley Congress, four days before its death, undertook to determine for all time the foreign relations of two sovereign states, the United States and Cuba, with reference to each other.

It was decided that Congress should authorize the President to leave Cuba to her people when a government had been set up under a constitution which contained as a part of the same, eight definite provisions. The Joint Resolution of April 20, 1898, should be amended by defining it. And all of this was to be accomplished for reasons of parliamentary tactics, by an amendment to the Military Appropriations bill for 1901-02. Thus the Platt Amendment, sponsored by Senator Platt of Connecticut, gained its name.

The appropriations bill was in its last stages in the Senate. The amendment was introduced February 25, without waiting to hear what the Cuban convention would do with Secretary Root’s hint. There were two hours’ debate on the 27th and the bill was passed. On March 1st, the bill passed the House, and it was signed by the President on March 2nd. The Cuban convention were on the following day presented with a fait accompli. Their relations to the United States had been settled forever. They had only to vote the articles into their constitution. Until they did so, Cuba was clearly to be regarded as unpacified. The American army of occupation would remain. The Cubans were entirely free to agree or disagree. They were entirely free to secure such independence as was possible under the Platt Amendment or to continue under the military administration. After several vain attempts to find a more palatable alternative, they added the provisions, word for word, as an “appendix” to their constitution, June 12, 1901. Two years later, in accordance with its own terms, the Platt Amendment was embodied in a permanent treaty between the two countries, and received the formal accolade of two-thirds of the Senate.

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