Academic journal article McNair Papers

2. the Change

Academic journal article McNair Papers

2. the Change

Article excerpt

   The intercourse ... steadily increasing between the
   nations of the earth, has now extended so enormously
   that a violation of right in one portion of the world is
   felt all over it. (1)


The change from mainland expansionism to worldwide interests and influence came to the United States in the final decade of the 19th century. On 16 January 1893, (2) U.S. citizens residing in Hawaii became involved in a plot to seize power from the royal family and were saved from themselves by the U.S. Minister in the islands, John L. Stevens, when their so-called insurgency was about to be crushed by the native Hawaiians. U.S.S. BOSTON was in Honolulu harbor at the time; Stevens requested that her Commanding Officer land troops to prevent bloodshed. A provisional government was established, and Queen Liliuokalani was dethroned when 164 sailors and Marines arrived at the gates of the royal palace. Minister Stevens, without proper authority recognized the insurrectionists (who had escaped defeat through his humanitarian actions) as the government and established a U.S. protectorate. The protectorate was proclaimed by the U.S. Minister on 1 February, a mere two weeks later. By mid-month a proposed annexation treaty was delivered to Washington by one British and four U.S. citizens who presented themselves as "Hawaiians." According to diplomatic historian Thomas Bailey, newly elected President Cleveland would have none of it and attempted to restore the Queen to the throne; she, however, quickly pledged to have the heads of the insurrectionists. Although the annexation treaty remained intolerable, Cleveland's ethics succumbed to domestic political considerations--no president could restore a sovereign intent on butchering his constituents. (3)

Consideration of the problem lingered for years. In 1897, when it became clear the Japanese wanted to annex Hawaii, the issue moved closer to resolution. Captain Alfred Thayer Mahan, the noted naval strategist, and others argued that Hawaii in Japanese hands posed a threat to the Pacific coast of the United States. Annexation was finally precipitated by the Spanish-American War in 1898. The de facto insurrectionist government compromised its neutrality to support the United States' effort to resupply Admiral Dewey and support the transport of troops destined for the conquest of Manila. This sacrifice of neutrality in favor of the United States became part of the rationale for annexation when the U.S. Government finally ended a half decade of ambivalence and debate. (4)

Other questions regarding neutrality played important roles in this momentous time of national transition for the United States. (5)


The United States tried in vain to avoid involvement in the civil war ravaging the Spanish colony of Cuba as it sought independence from Madrid. An activist press and an adventurous populace combined to place the United States a bit too close to the vortex of the dissolving Spanish Empire. The government maintained an appropriate public policy but did little to prevent support to the insurgents who kept an informal, but very effective financial and logistic support infrastructure operating out of New York City under the guidance of Cuban hero Jose Marti. Indeed, private U.S. citizens became deeply involved in both the financial and operational aspects of the revolution. (6)

One of the earliest and most notorious incidents involved the U.S. flag sidewheeler VIRGINIUS. In October 1873, VIRGINIUS was involved in landing rebels and arms when a Spanish warship, TORNADO, interfered. A pursuit ensued that ended within sight of refuge in the British waters of Jamaica. The American prize was taken to Cuba, where the captain, crew, and passengers were sentenced to death and executed. The incident--despite VIRGINIUS covertly but notoriously belonging to the Cuban Junta--almost took the United States to war with Spain over the seizure of an "American" ship on the high seas. …

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