Many of the sensational newspapers, and a few thoughtless Americans, wanted our government to declare war just as soon as the news came that the Maine had been destroyed. But President McKinley had been in the Civil War, and, knowing how much suffering fighting brings on, he was determined to keep the peace if he could do so with honor.
Still, knowing war might come, and that we were not ready– for it, he asked and received from Congress fifty million dollars to be used in preparations. Our long coast line was then ill–defended, our navy was smaller than Spain’s, and we had but twenty–five thousand men in our army to meet the one hundred and fifty thousand soldiers in Cuba. Twenty days later, nearly all this money had been spent in getting ready for war, although the President still hoped to keep peace.
While he was secretly sending ammunition to the American fleet at Hong Kong under Commodore George Dewey, and making many other necessary preparations, some of our fellow–citizens spent most of their time in talking against President McKinley. A few, forgetting the respect due to their chosen representative, not only abused him publicly, but actually burned him in effigy. The same foolish class of people showed their enmity to Spain by tearing down her flag and trampling it under foot. But by thus insulting even an enemy’s flag,—when no one was there to defend it,—these people only showed how very ignorant and small–minded they were.
When all reasonable means had failed to settle our differences with Spain in a quiet way, and when the Americans in Cuba had been given time to leave the island, President McKinley sent a message to Congress. In it he related what he had done, gave all the information he had received about the state of affairs in Cuba, and said he would do whatever was decided best for the country.
Congress had been clamoring for war, and blaming the President for not acting more promptly; but when called upon to take the responsibility of declaring war, and sending our army into Cuba, where it was certain many soldiers would die of fever during the unhealthful season, there was some hesitation. Still, eight days later, Congress decided that the Cubans ought to be free, and that a message should be sent to Spain, demanding that she recall her troops, and give up Cuba at once. The President was directed to use the army and navy, if necessary, to drive Spain away.
Notice of this action by Congress was given to the Spanish minister at Washington, who then left the country. But Spain would not let our minister at Madrid deliver the message, which was sent as an open cablegram; knowing its contents, she sent him away, vowed she would never give up Cuba, and thus began war, April 21, 1898.
The President therefore ordered part of our navy to blockade the coast of the western part of Cuba. This was done to prevent any vessel from entering the enemy’s ports with war materials or provisions. Our navy also had orders to seize every craft flying the Spanish flag, and our sailors kept such a sharp lookout night and day that in less than three weeks they captured thirty Spanish vessels.
The Spaniards having fired upon one of our ships from Matanzas, the forts there were shelled for fifteen minutes, and their guns were disabled. As the Spaniards had not done any damage to our ships, they were too proud to own their losses; instead, the Madrid newspapers made great fun of us, saying we had wasted our ammunition to kill one Spanish mule, which, they added, had been buried with military honors!
As soon as war was declared, President McKinley cabled to Commodore Dewey to destroy the Spanish fleet in the Philippine Islands. This group of islands in the Pacific Ocean was discovered by Magellan, in 1521, in the course of the first journey ever made around the world. Having taken part in a quarrel between two native princes, Magellan was killed and buried on one of the islands he had claimed for Spain. Several years later this group was visited by a Spaniard, who named it the Philippines, in honor of his master, King Philip II.
The Spaniards founded their first colonies in the Philippines and on the mainland of the United States during the selfsame year (1565), and soon after built Manila, capital of the islands. With about the same area as Nevada, the Philippines have a greater population than any of our states, and are noted for their wonderfully fertile soil. The climate is so hot and moist all the year round, that crops ripen one after another, and fruits and flowers hang on the trees at the same time.
Under Spanish rule, most of the natives of the Philippines became Roman Catholics, but they were forced to work hard to send large cargoes of coffee, tobacco, rice, hemp, spices, and even silk and gold dust to Spain. They were treated so harshly that they too learned to dislike their Spanish rulers, and often rebelled. For that reason Spain kept a large fleet there, which it was important we should destroy or capture, as it might cross the Pacific Ocean to ravage our western coast.
Dewey set out, as soon as the orders reached him to surprise and destroy the Spanish fleet near Manila. Although he knew the entrance to the harbor was mined, he steered boldly into it one night, and was already one mile beyond the first battery when discovered by the enemy. Mines went off before and behind his five ships, which, however, passed on unharmed to attack the Spanish fleet.
Thanks to the bravery of his men, and the poor condition of the Spanish fleet, Commodore Dewey in less than two hours’ time wrecked eleven Spanish vessels, and killed or wounded nearly a thousand Spaniards. This victory, won May 1, 1898, in Manila Bay, is one of the most remarkable in history, because, while such havoc was worked on the enemy’s fleet, our own suffered very little, and only eight of our men were wounded.
Dewey now sent a vessel to Hong Kong, to cable the news of his victory to Washington. He also sent word that the city of Manila was at his mercy, but that he would need a force of soldiers to occupy it. Two weeks later, therefore, our first transports, or troopships, started for the Philippines, stopping at Honolulu, in the Hawaiian Islands, where a feast was given to our soldiers.