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Assistant Secretary of the Navy Theodore Roosevelt to Senator Henry Cabot Lodge



[Washington, DC] September 21, 1897

Dear Cabot:

. . . The President1 has been most kind. I dined with him Friday evening, and yesterday he sent over and took me out to drive again. I gave him a paper showing exactly where all our ships are, and I also sketched in outline what I thought ought to be done if things looked menacing about Spain, urging the necessity of taking an immediate and prompt initiative if we wished to avoid the chance of some serious trouble, of the Japs chipping in. If we get Walker2 with our main fleet on the Cuban coast within forty-eight hours after war is declared—which we can readily do if just before the declaration we gather the entire fleet at Key West; and if we put four big, fast, heavily armed cruisers under, say. Evans,3 as a flying squadron to harass the coast of Spain until some of the battleships are able to leave Cuba and go there; and if at the same time we throw, as quickly as possible, an expeditionary force into Cuba, I doubt if the war would last six weeks so far as the acute phase of it was concerned. Meanwhile, our Asiatic squadron should blockade, and if possible take, Manilla. But if we hesitate and let the Spaniards take the initiative, they could give us great temporary annoyance by sending a squadron off our coast, not to speak of the fact that if they were given time, when once it was evident that war had to come, there would be plenty of German and English, and possibly French officers instructing them how to lay mines and use torpedoes for the defense of the Cuban ports. Besides we would have the Japs on our backs. However, I haven’t the slightest idea that there will be a war....4

Faithfully yours,

Theodore Roosevelt

Source Note: TCyS, DLC-MSS, PTR, roll 314. Addressed below close: “Hon. Henry Cabot Lodge,/Nahant, Mass.” Henry Cabot Lodge was a Republican senator from Massachusetts and a vociferous champion of American expansion.

Footnote 1: President William McKinley.

Footnote 2: RAdm. John G. Walker.

Footnote 3: Capt. Robley D. Evans.

Footnote 4: In a letter dated 19 November 1897, Roosevelt wrote to William W. Kimball, the author of a pivotal war plan with Spain composed the year before, that:

I believe that war will have to, or at least ought to, come sooner or later; and I think we should prepare for it well in advance. I should have the Asiatic squadron in shape to move on Manila at once. I would have our squadron in European waters consist merely of the Brooklyn, New York, Columbia and Minneapolis; and of course I should have this, as well as the Asiatic squadron, under the men whom I thought ought to take it into action. All the other ships in the Atlantic I would gather around Key West before the war broke out. I should expect it would take at least a fortnight before the Army could get at Tampa or Pensacola the thirty or forty thousand men who should land at Matanzas. During that fortnight I should expect that our Navy would have put a stop to the importation of food and would have picked up most of the Spanish vessels round about. At the end of that time I believe it would be safe to gather an ample number of vessels for the transport of the army. This ought not to take them more than a week or ten days from their legitimate duties. Meanwhile I believe that plenty of arms and a considerable number of men would go over to Cuba on private ventures, and that the Cuban insurrection would be infinitely more formidable than it is now. With thirty or forty thousand men at Matanzas, reenforced from time to time, I believe that the Navy could for the most part resume its duties, and that, while it would be the main factor in producing the downfall of the Spaniards, the result would be much hastened by the Army....”

Evidence suggests that Roosevelt is primarily echoing not only Kimball’s ideas but those of the other war plans available to him when he talked with McKinley. Roosevelt had been in contact with Kimball and other officers connected with the Naval War College and the Office of Naval Intelligence for months. See: Plan of Operations Against Spain Prepared by Lieutenant William W. Kimball (1896); and Spector, Professors of War, 94.