American Boys' Life of William McKinley/Chapter 21

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Revolution in the Hawaiian Islands—Annexation to the United States—The Troubles in Cuba—Blowing up of the Maine—Fifty Millions of dollars for National Defence

During the time that William McKinley was governor of Ohio and while he was making his first run for the Presidency, there was serious trouble in the island of Cuba, situated just beyond the coast of Florida, and in the Hawaiian Islands, located in the Pacific Ocean, twenty-one hundred miles southwest of San Francisco.

The Hawaiian Islands, occasionally called the Sandwich Islands, after the English Earl of Sandwich, are eight in number, although only four are of any considerable size. They are of volcanic origin, and one island, Hawaii, possesses the volcano, Kilauea, the largest active volcano in the world.

But though of volcanic origin, the islands are rich in their tropical luxuriance, and produce great quantities of sugar, coffee, bananas, rice, and other articles of commerce. The weather is mild the year around, and varies so little that in the native tongue there is no word corresponding to our weather. The most the native says of a change is, that it is wet, or it is dry.

The principal city of the islands is Honolulu, which is up to date in every particular, having electric lights, telephones, street cars, several excellent newspapers, a fine hospital, a really beautiful set of public buildings, and several splendid schools. The population is a mixture of Kanakas, which are the natives, Germans, English, French, and Americans. In former years, foreigners predominated, but now Americans are pouring in fast.

For years the Hawaiian Islands had been under a monarchical form of government, but this became very oppressive during the reign of Queen Liliuokalani, and at last some leading citizens determined to throw off the yoke, and establish their freedom. Amid a wild cheering the flag of the monarchy was hauled down, and foreign flags, including that of the United States, were raised in its stead.[1]

Excitement was intense, and it looked as if a bloody revolution would immediately begin. All foreigners were at once formed into military companies, and given the best weapons available. A provisional government was formed, with Judge Sanford B. Dole as the leader. Two days later the new government went into operation without bloodshed, and on July 4, 1894, the Republic of Hawaii became established before the world. This was a gala day for Honolulu. The streets were lavishly decorated with banners, flowers, and sweeping palm branches, and the band played all the national airs.

But it was felt by many in the islands that in their isolated position they would be subjected to many political perils if unattached to some larger nation. The public sentiment was overwhelmingly in favor of annexation to the United States, and soon a petition was circulated to that effect.

The petition was bitterly opposed by ex-Queen Liliuokalani, who was plotting hard to reëstablish herself upon the throne. But President McKinley considered it his duty to listen to what the many Americans in the islands desired, and on June 16, 1898, he approved a treaty which was shortly afterward ratified by the Senate, and the islands became the Territory of Hawaii, with Sanford B. Dole as governor.

This was a most important epoch in our history, and one well worth remembering. It was the first move in the policy of expansion for which the McKinley administration afterward became so noted. In the past we had held no outside territory but that of Alaska; now war was to put us in possession of islands close at home and other islands thousands of miles away.

It was a great day in the Hawaiian Islands when the annexation was formally proclaimed. Cannon boomed, pistols cracked, drums rattled, bands played, and it was very much like an old-fashion Fourth of July here at home. The grounds around the government building were crowded with people of a score of nationalities, and all became strangely hushed as the government band played the national air, "Hawaii Ponoi" for the last time. Then the flag of the Republic was lowered, and Old Glory was hoisted in its stead, while the band from the United States cruiser Philadelphia played the "Star-spangled Banner," and the cheering became louder and louder. To this day none of the Hawaiians have regretted the step this taken, nor is it likely that they will regret it in the future.

In Cuba there had been a war of long standing. The island was under the rule of Spain, and Spain had been the oppressor of all her colonies for centuries. Her cruelty to her subjects had cost her a good portion of the United States, Mexico, and her enormous power in Central and South America, and now it was to cost her the loss of Cuba, Porto Rico, and the twelve hundred islands on the other side of the, globe known as the Philippines.

It would be impossible in a work of this kind to go into the details of the Cuban trouble. Let me say briefly, then, that the people were taxed to the utmost, and the many improvements promised to them—good roads, public schools and other buildings, and better courts of justice—were not forthcoming, and whenever anybody made a protest he was promptly thrust into prison.

From bad, matters became worse, until the people rebelled openly, and a fight occurred in which several natives were slain. Then Spain sent an army into the island to conquer the inhabitants at any cost. But the spirit of liberty was now aflame, a Cuban army was hastily organized, guns and ammunition procured, and almost before the outside world knew it, a war was on which was cruel and bloodthirsty to the last degree, and in which countless thousands were slain.

The watchword of the Cubans was Cuba Libre, meaning Cuban Liberty, and this watchword was speedily taken up in this country by those who wished to see the people of the ill-fated isle their own masters. Guns and other supplies were shipped to Cuba in secret, but this was contrary to international law, and the United States was called upon by Spain to put down the practice, for Cuba was considered merely a rebellious colony and not an independent power.

The war in Cuba affected many Americans who had their homes there, and these people soon asked for assistance.

"They shall be helped," said President McKinley, promptly, and forthwith sent a message to Congress recommending that the sum of $50,000 be appropriated for that purpose. A bill was quickly passed, and the money was used where it would do the most good. This was on May 17, 1897, and three days later our Senate passed a resolution recognizing the Cubans as belligerents. This made the giving of aid by any people in the United States lawful here. Aid was soon forthcoming, and a number of our old soldiers went to Cuba to fight in the army of the natives against oppression. Among those on the battlefields of Cuba at this time was Colonel w:Frederick Funston, afterward well known because of his capture of the rebel leader, General Aguinaldo, in the Philippine Islands.

The Cubans had often asked the United States for help, but it was not until early in 1898 that war with Spain began to be talked about among our people. The President believed in self-restraint as much as possible, although perfectly willing to give aid to the struggling isle in other ways.

On February 15, 1898, occurred a catastrophe which has few parallels in history. The battleship Maine, which had been sent down to Cuba on a friendly visit, was blown up while lying in Havana Harbor, and over two hundred and fifty officers and sailors lost their lives.

The destruction of the massive ship, which was over three hundred feet long, occurred about ten o'clock at night. A rumble and a roar was heard in the city, which shook buildings and broke glassware; and looking out into the harbor, it was seen that the beautiful battleship had been rent and torn completely asunder and was sinking.

At once boats were sent out to bring in those who might be floating around. Captain Sigsbee, who had been writing a letter in the cabin at the time of the explosion, was rescued, and likewise a few others. But the great majority of those who had gone down were dead or dying.

The blowing up of the Maine caused intense excitement throughout the length and breadth of the land, and many demanded that we go to war with Spain at once because of it. But Spain professed utter ignorance of the explosion, and a board of inquiry was appointed to make an examination into the affair. This board later on reached the important conclusion that the battleship had been blown up from the outside, and not from within, as Spain wished to prove.

"This means war, and nothing but war," was heard upon every hand; and the situation in Cuba was the sole topic of conversation. At once a number of important cabinet meetings were held, and President McKinley pointed out that the United States were in no shape to wage war on even such a secondary nation as Spain.

"She has an army of almost two hundred thousand men in Cuba," he said, "and a navy which is considered first-class, while we have but an army of a few thousand within immediate call, and a navy which is sadly lacking both in guns and ammunition. We must have an appropriation and get into shape to fight before we do anything else."

The word was passed along, and in a few days both the House of Representatives and the Senate passed an appropriation of $50,000,000 to be placed at the disposal of the President, to be used at his discretion, "for National defence."

Fifty million dollars! It was certainly a large sum to place in the absolute charge of any one man, and it showed the whole country's unbounded confidence in the President; for the appropriation was made unanimously, not a single representative or senator voting against it. Politics, party lines, the fading line between North and South, were all cast aside as the Nation arose, and men stood shoulder to shoulder in a common cause, the defence of the oppressed, and the advancement of liberty.

  1. Among those who raised the first United States flag in Honolulu at that time, was Mr. George C. Stratemeyer, an elder brother of the author of this volume, and who has lived in the islands over twenty years.—The Publishers.