The Cuban Constitutional Convention opened its session with signs of a determination to test the declaration of Congress, in its resolutions of April, 1898, that the people of Cuba, "are, and of right ought to be, free and independent." After pronouncing for universal suffrage the members discussed the proposition to make any foreigner who served on the Cuban side in the ten years' war eligible to the presidency. This proposal was made by the friends of General Gomez, who is not a Cuban, but whose sword has always been out of its sheath whenever the Cubans were fighting for their independence.
A large and influential body of Cubans unquestionably desire to honor Gomez with an election to the presidency. He was the most prominent man in the Island, and it was feared in many quarters the most dangerous. His patriotism and his love for the Cubans have never been called in question, but many have doubted his ability to assume control of the new republic.
Maximo Gomez y Baez was born in San Domingo in 1826. He was a soldier of Spain until he became commander of the insurgents in the ten years' war, 1868 to 1878. His name has been bracketed with that of Weyler for severity in fight and rule of terror. He showed no enthusiasm over America's intervention. He is popularly regarded as the man who showed the greatest military capacity on the Cuban side in the war, and that will give him a permanent place among the great captains. He is, of course, charged by the Spaniards with selling out to them when Campos played pacificator at Zanjon, but his little farm in San Domingo and his wife and children earning their living as music-teachers and seamstresses, while his son, at the command of the father, protects mother and sisters, and holds a clerkship, does not look like enrichment by bribery -- to say nothing of returning to plunge again into war in Cuba against, as he well knew, tremendous odds.
The constitutional convention practically completed its work by February 11, 1901. As the charter then stood, Maximo Gomez was made eligible to the presidency, although not a native of the Island.
The various committees were instructed to appoint one member of a central committee, to draw up a plan of the relations which should exist between Cuba and the United States. This plan, if satisfactory to the delegate body, was to be incorporated in the Constitution.
The clause in the Constitution regarding the qualifications of candidates for the presidency was accepted as presented in the project, which allows foreigners who fought for Cuba ten years to become candidates for the office. This clause was adopted by a vote of 15 to 14.
Upon the Cubans, through their representatives, being prepared to demand the withdrawal of the United States government, the general question of policy came before Congress for settlement. Washington correspondence reflected the sentiments of legislators, as follows:
"The President, according to prominent Senators, is absolutely unwilling to take the responsibility of hauling down the flag and of withdrawing the troops from Cuba without specific instructions from Congress. He does not care to have Congress lay down certain general principles and then expect him to become the judge as to whether the necessary conditions have been complied with by the Cubans.
"Most of the Senators take the ground that the President is wise in assuming this position. They say that if he should take the entire responsibility and the Cubans later on should get into some difficulty he would be blamed for intrusting them with self-government without the proper safeguards.
"It is recognized that inasmuch as Congress made the pledge that Cuba should be free and independent, it becomes the manifest duty of the legislative body to determine exactly where, when, and how the Cuban republic should be recognized as independent.
"Several Senators have endeavored to formulate certain conditions on which the President is authorized to recognize Cuban sovereignty, but it is invariably found that this leaves far too much responsibility upon one man, and his friends in the Senate as well as in the Cabinet feel that Congress itself must by positive enactment approve or disapprove of the Cuban Constitution."
It was felt that a special session would be necessary, as the Cuban Constitution had not been received by Congress, and in three weeks the inauguration would take place. Time was imperatively necessary to deliberate upon the serious question as to whether the United States, under its obligations to the whole world, could properly recognize the Cuban republic as an independent power, or whether it should insist on further guarantees.
It was stated that repeated hints had been conveyed semi-officially to the Cubans regarding the points which probably would have to be covered in the Constitution to make it acceptable to the United States. Several of the Havana papers published an outline of these hints, but the convention had ignored them. Finally Secretary Root wrote to Governor-General Wood and it was decided to make this public, both here and in Havana, so as to give the Cubans some idea of the President's views on the relations between the two countries.
"What is desired is a permanent independence for Cuba, and not the recognition of a mushroom government which would live for a day and then degenerate into anarchy or be swallowed by some greedy European nation. The United States desires to protect Cuba if possible from the mistakes of Mexico and the other Spanish-American republics. Besides that, the United States, having taken the trouble to go to war to free Cuba, has assumed responsibility for the good conduct of that country.
"The United States is prepared to guarantee independence in every direction which does not infringe upon the moral obligations owed to the rest of the world. Hence it is deemed indispensable that the organic act of Cuba should contain certain pledges acceptable to Congress, which made the original pledge of independence."
February 21 the Cuban Constitution was signed in duplicate by the delegates in the convention. On the 27th it adopted a declaration of relations between Cuba and the United States, and March 28, by a vote of 15 to 14 the convention accepted the majority report of its committee on relations, putting "the Platt amendment" and Secretary Root's explanations in the form of an appendix to the Cuban Constitution. April 25 the Cuban commissioners appointed by the constitutional convention met President McKinley and Secretary Root in Washington for conference on matters not yet fully settled; and June 12 the adoption of the Platt amendment was voted by the convention. This amendment, adopted February 27 by the United States Senate, and by the House March 1, set forth in eight articles the suggestions and wishes of President McKinley's Cabinet, and of a majority of Congress, as to the conditions, to be clearly understood and definitely agreed upon, for the launching of Cuba as a free and independent Republic. Secretary Root wrote in further explanation of the Platt amendment recital of conditions, and acceptance following by the Cuban convention cleared the way for final Cuban action in setting up the Republic, and the withdrawal thereupon of the provisional rule of the United States, the wisdom, justice, and success of which had been so conspicuous and complete.
It had been provided in the 25th section of the Cuban Constitution that ninety days after the promulgation of the electoral law that might be prepared and adopted by the convention, the election of the functionaries provided for in the Constitution should be proceeded with. October 3 General Wood dissolved the convention, upon the final completion of its preparation of a Constitution for Cuba, and December 31 the election of Presidential electors took place, with the success of a ticket bearing the name, as candidate for President, of Tomas Estrada Palma. The electors met February 24, 1902, and formally elected Palma as First President of the Cuban republic and Senor Estevez, Vice-President. At the same time Senators were elected. March 4 orders were issued to United States naval and marine officers in Cuba to transfer all shore property to Governor-General Wood, to be by him transferred to the incoming Cuban administration. April 17, President-elect Palma sailed from the United States to Cuba. Born in Bayamo, Cuba, Palma studied at the university of Seville, in Spain. He was active as a leader in the insurrection of 1867-78, and during the latter part of the period served as President of the patriots, organized as the Republic of Cuba. He had resided at Central Valley in the State of New York since 1878, in charge of a school, and greatly esteemed for his accomplishments and character. During the last revolution he represented the Cuban cause in the United States.
At Havana, on the morning of May 5, 1902, two large Cuban flags, floating over two government buildings, were the first official recognition of the flag as the emblem of the new republic. Both were raised by order of General Wood as United States military governor. They marked the opening of the Cuban Congress, met upon General Wood's call, to verify the election of the Cuban president and vice-president, preparatory to their inauguration May 20th, the day fixed for the surrender of the government to the Cuban administration.
Return to The Great Republic by the Master Historians (Vol 4)