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Envoy Extraordinary and Minister Plenipotentiary to Spain Stewart L. Woodford to President William McKinley


No. 41.]                              Legation of the United States,

                                        Madrid, March 9, 1898.

Dear Mr. President:

     . . . This morning the papers announce the unanimous passage by the House of Mr. Cannon’s bill putting $50,000,000 at your disposal.1 It has not excited the Spaniards—it has stunned them. To appropriate fifty millions out of money in the Treasury, without borrowing a cent, demonstrates wealth and power. Even Spain can see this. To put this money without restriction and by unanimous vote absolutely at your disposal demonstrates entire confidence in you by all parties. The ministray and the press are simply stunned.

     Señor ———— came this afternoon; said he had repeated [our] conversation of Monday evening (March 7) to Minister Moret,2 but had not yet seen Sagasta.3

     I took the opportunity to ask him why, in his judgment, if autonomy should succeed, Spain should not sell Cuba, adding that I knew he believed Spain would either grant independence or fight before she would sell, but that I was curious to know why he, a cold clear-headed business man, should prefer independence (with race wars and destruction to all property interests) or war (with certain loss of Cuba as its result) to a peaceful transfer of the island to the United States with resulting cessation of expenditures and with present relief to Spanish finances. To my surprise he promptly replied that the vote of fifty millions by the American Congress ended all hope of the success of autonomy, as it would certainly encourage the rebels to persevere. And then added that what he had said to me at his table about the resolute purpose of Spain never to sell Cuba or part with Cuba except by force, expressed the purpose of his Government and the views of all his business associates, but that personally and individually he thought it wiser to sell than to fight with certainty of defeat. But, gathering himself together quickly, he said:

I fear war. My Government will not sell. You will not tell the rebels to lay down their arms and this means war.

I simply replied:

Perhaps your Government and your business associates may all be reflecting public opinion and perhaps down in your hears, ministers and business men alike, each of you prefer to sell, but each is afraid to let the other know his thought.

He shrugged his shoulders, but made no reply.

     This evening Mr. —————, an American, called at my house and told me that Spaniards are beginning to talk freely about the hopelessness of the war; about the certainty of the ultimate loss of Cuba, and are discussing quite openly the advisability of selling Cuba if the United States are still willing to buy. I repeat this for what it is worth.

Faithfully, yours,

                                      Stewart L. Woodford.

Source Note Print: FRUS, 1898, pp. 684-85.

Footnote 1: On 6 March, Pres. William McKinley conferred with members of the House Appropriations Committee and, according to the recollections of its chairman, Joseph G. Cannon, told them that “I must have money to get ready for war. I am doing everything possible to prevent war but it must come, and we are not prepared for war.” Cannon agreed to introduce the bill if the president prepared it and then watched, astonished, as McKinley “walked over to the table and wrote on a telegraph bland a single sentence: ‘For national defense, fifty million dollars.’” Blow, A Ship to Remember, 131-32.

On 7 March Cannon introduced what became known as the “Fifty Million Bill,” which appropriated that amount “for the National defense and for each and every purpose connected therewith to be expended at the discretion of the President.” Trask, War With Spain, 34. The next day the House approved the bill by a 311 to 0 vote; the day after the Senate approved it unanimously as well. Secretary of the Navy John D. Long saw it as a “peace measure” designed to deter Spain from intransigence, while others saw it as the first step in the country’s mobilization for war. See, Long, Journal entry of 8 March 1898, MHi and May, Imperial Democracy, 149.

Footnote 2: Colonial Minister SegismundoMoret y Prendergast, the most outspoken cabinet advocate for a conciliatory policy towards Cuba and Puerto Rico. Encyclopedia of the Spanish-American War, Vol. 2, 413.

Footnote 3: Prime Minister Práxedes Mariano Mateo Sagasta y Escolar.

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