Skip to main content

Secretary of the Navy John D. Long to Frank A. Nichols

Washington, D.C.,

                                      April 15th, 1898.

Private and Confidential.

My dear Mr. Nichols:

     Am glad to receive your letter, and appreciate your frankness in writing me. I wish you were here so that I could talk with you, as it is not easy to put in a short letter anything of value upon so large a subject.

     I think the President has been very much misunderstood by the people to whom you refer and, as I gather from the tone of your letter, by yourself. It seems to me that you can hardly have a better review of the situation than that which is contained in Senator Hoar’s most thorough, calm and statesmanlike speech delivered yesterday in the Senate.1 It seems to be forgotten that if there is a patriotic, true man in the country, it is President McKinley; that if anybody is familiar with the situation through long and careful attention to it, and by diplomatic correspondence, it is he. And, yet, such is your haste, and that of others like you, sincere and patriotic as you are, that you seem to assume at once that he is all wrong and that if you only had the management of affairs it would be a great deal better. Very pat, it seems to me, is the anecdote attributed this morning to President Harrison,2 who says that it reminds him of a pilot steering a ship through dangerous shoals, and every passenger shouting at him, insisting upon his following their direction rather than his own.

     Do you realize that the President has succeeded in obtaining from Spain a concession upon every ground which he has asked; that Spain has yielded everything up to the present time except the last item of independence for Cuba; that she has released every American prisoner; recalled Weyler;3 recalled De Lome;4 changed her reconcentration order;5 agreed to furnish food6 and ordered an armistice.7 It’s easy to say that all this means nothing; but, evidently, in the eyes of every power in Europe, at whose request some steps have been taken, it means a great deal. You cannot expect her to get up and get out in five minutes; but, if the history of the last six months means anything, it means a constant inclination steps towards her retirement. In this direction, the President has gone to with the most thorough decision, aspersistence and fidelity. I honestly believe that, if the country and Congress had been content to leave the matter in his hands, independence would have come without a drop of bloodshed, as naturally as an apple falls from a tree. It is true that he has endeavored to accomplish this without war. The unutterable evils incident to war; the loss of life; disease; wounds; debts; increased pension rolls; interruption of business; possible entanglement with foreign nations; easy victory over the enemy’s (battle forces) but constant subjection to raids upon our coast and shipping by their cruisers and privateers, and the indefinite protraction of such conditions— all these, while they are to be counted as nothing if the necessity exists, — become very serious considerations if by any good management on the part of the President he could have avoided them and, yet, have accomplished a the result that would have been satisfactory to everybody.8 I wish you or the Journal could sustain him with your hearts and take this large view of the situation. Possibly events have not gone so far that nothing can be done but to have a fight.

     It seems to me cruel to accuse the President of coolness in his treatment of the Maine. No man has felt the indignity more. But should we not think for a moment whether the time has come when he could recommend a declaration of war on that ground? Our own court of inquiry reports its inability to point to any persons who are responsible. Our Consul General Lee9 emphatically states that the Governor General of Cuba10 had no participation in the act; as and he had previously telegraphed to the President, that there was no participation in the matter officially on the part of the Spanish authorities. My own judgment is not only that, as the court found, she was blown up from an exterior explosion, but that it was done by some malignant Spaniards, without the authority of their government, and that Spain is responsible because of for a lack of due care and diligence in not safe-guarding our vessel. But this is very different from an act of the Spanish Government itself in blowing up our ship.

     As to the matter of recognition of independence, there never has been a time when the President could do that. Even Consul General Lee has given his opinion that there should be no recognition of Cuban independence. We can’t recognize independence of the part of a people who have not government; no capitol; no civil organization; no place to which a representative of a foreign government could be sent. The President has, therefore, taken the next ground, which is thr ground of intervention. He asked for the power to intervene with force if that should be necessary. But he certainly ought to have time, meanwhile, before the final intervention with arms,— which everybody would justify if necessary— to see if the trend towards pacific settlement and final independence which was going on, and to which foreign powers were evidently aiding, would not succeed.

     I, of course, write you confidentially, and you will so regard my letter, as it is not proper for me to make any public statement. I have had less run of the general situation lately, being so engrossed in my own department. In that the most vigorous work has been done in the last month or two, and I do not believe that the Navy was ever in so thoroughly good a condition as it is at this moment.

                                      Very truly yours,

Source Note: TD, MHi, Papers of John Davis Long, vol. 78. Addressed below close: “Mr. Frank A. Nichols,/Editorial Room,/Boston Journal,/Boston, Massachusetts.” Nichols was managing editor of the Boston Journal.

Footnote 1: President William McKinley. For the speech by Sen. George F. Hoar, entitled see, “Justice and Humanity, Not Revenge, the Only Justification for War,” Accessed 11 April 2014,

Footnote 2: Former President Benjamin Harrison, who served from 1893 to 1897.

Footnote 3: Valeriano Weyler y Nicolau was the former governor general of Cuba who had been accused of committing atrocities in order to suppress the rebellion. He was recalled in October 1897.

Footnote 4: Spanish Minister Plenipoteniary Enrique Dupuy de Lôme was forced to resign in early 1898 after a private letter of his that insulted President McKinley was published.

Footnote 5: In order to fight the insurgency in the countryside, Governor-General Weyler instituted a policy of forcing Cuban peasants into camps in trying to deny the insurgents support. Those camps, however, were squalid and disease-ridden and many people died. Because they were a public relations nightmare and were ineffective, a new government in Spain cancelled this reconcentrado system in late 1897.

Footnote 6: As a result of reports from Consul-General Fitzhugh Lee that funds set aside by the government in Cuba to relieve the wants of the reconcentrados were inadequate, the State Department on Christmas Eve, 1897, announced arrangements to receive contributions in the name of President McKinley to help these unfortunates. After negotiations Spain agreed to accept donations of clothing, food, and medicine. It was reported that McKinley himself donated the first $5,000. In March, the issue re-emerged when Spanish officials complained to the American ambassador that American naval vessels were being used to deliver the aid supplies. See, Secretary of State John Sherman to the American People, 8 January 1898, FRUS, 1898, 655-56; Trask, War With Spain, 21-22; and Woodford to Sherman, 4 March 1898, FRUS, 1898, 677-78.

Footnote 7: On 24 March, the Spanish Minister for the Colonies, Fernando Primo de Rivera y Sobremonte, told the American ambassador that Spain was willing to accept an immediate armistice, provided that the United States would arrange for the Cuban insurgents to request it. See, Woodford to McKinley, 24 March 1898, FRUS 1898, 697.

Footnote 8: The last three letters of this sentence were handwritten as an interlineation.

Footnote 9: United States Consul at Havana Fitzhugh Lee.

Footnote 10: Ramón Blanco y Erenas.

Related Content