Naval History and Heritage Command

Naval History and Heritage Command

Journal of Secretary of the Navy John D. Long

 

Washington, D.C., Monday, January 24th, 1898.

This has been an interesting day. The Cleveland Administration,1 which left us the legacy of the Cuban imbroglio, had adopted the policy of having no United States vessel at Havanna. The present administration could not change this policy without a great deal of friction and risk; and, yet, it has been the purpose, from the first, to have a vessel at Havanna, not only because our vessels ought to be going in and out of it like those of any other nation, it being a friendly port, but, in view of the possibility of danger to American life and property, some means of protection should be on hand.

     Since the Spanish Ministry came into power, three or four months ago, the whole Spanish policy with reference to the Island has been changed: Autonomy has been granted, and a more liberal and humane course pursued. There has been an understanding that our Consul General there, General Lee,2 might telegraph for a ship at any time, and telegraph directly to the commander of it at Key West, in case of an emergency. For still further safeguard, it has been understood that if telegraphic communication was discontinued at Havanna, it should be assumed that the cable has been cut; that Lee was in danger, and that a ship should at once proceed, without further order, from Key West. All this has been a risky arrangement, and I have favored for some time, suggesting to the Spanish Minister here3 that his Government recognize the wisdom of our sending a ship in a friendly way to Havanna, to make the usual visit and to resume the practice, which exists with all other nations, of free ingress and egress, to exchange courtesies and civilities with the Spanish authorities there, and to emphasize the change and the improved condition of things which have resulted from the new Spanish policy. Today the Spanish Minister assented to this view, in conversation with the State Department, and Judge Day4 and I called on the President, and we arranged that the Maine should be ordered at once to Havanna, notice having been given by the Spanish Minister to his people, and by our Department to our Consul.5 Of course the sailing of the ship has made a great stir among the newspapers, and in public sentiment. We have carefully guarded, however, against any alarm, and, in our interviews, given assurance to the country that it is purely a friendly matter, and a resumption of customary relations. The newspapers try to discover some hidden meaning beneath this, as they always do, but it happens to be the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. There is, of course, the danger that the arrival of the ship may precipitate some crisis or riot; but there is far less danger of this than if the ship went in any other way. I hope, with all my heart, that everything will turn our right.6

     This evening, Agnes7 and I dined at Attorney General McKenna’s,8 who had invited the President and his wife,9 and the rest of the Cabinet and their wives. Very pleasant dinner. At half past ten, the President and myself were summoned to the White House, on account of some telegrams from Cuba, but they turned out to be free from cause of alarm,10 and I got to be a twelve o’clock. I have been sleeping better the last four or five months, but this increased excitement is beginning to spoil my nights again.

Source Note: Transcript, MHi, Papers of John Davis Long, vol. 78.

Footnote 1: President Grover Cleveland

Footnote 2: Consul general at Havana Fitzhugh Lee.

Footnote 3: Enrique Dupuy de Lôme.

Footnote 4: Assistant Secretary of State William R. Day.

Footnote 5: When informed on 24 January that Maine was being sent to Havana, Lee suggested that the visit “be postponed six or seven days, to give last excitement more time to disappear.” The next day, Lee sent a more strongly worded warning that Maine’s presence might provoke unrest. Later that day, however, he cabled that Maine had arrived “quietly” with “No demonstration so far.” See, Lee to Day, 24 January, FRUS, 1026.

Footnote 6: On the same day as this entry, Long sent orders to the American commander in the Caribbean, RAdm. Montgomery Sicard, that Maine should be sent to Havana, but no torpedo boat was to accompany it nor was the American fleet to move toward Key West, a move that might be interpreted as threatening Cuba. See, DNA, RG 45, Entry 28.

Footnote 7: Agnes Pierce Long.

Footnote 8: Joseph McKenna.

Footnote 9: President William McKinley and Ida Saxton McKinley.

Footnote 10: Nothing more is known about these telegrams.

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