Yesterday, December 10, was the 125th anniversary of the Treaty of Paris, which ended the Spanish American war and delivered Puerto Rico to the United States from Spain. In the treaty, which was signed on December 10, 1898, Spain ceded Puerto Rico to the United States, along with Cuba, Guam, and the Philippines. The U.S. paid $20 million for the Philippines, but the other territories were given to the United States by Spain in payment of the four million dollar debt that Cuba owed.

Though some people believe that Puerto Rico was a self-governing department of Spain at that time, the fact that Spain gave Puerto Rico away shows that it was indeed a colony owned by the European Empire.

The treaty also determined that Cuba would become an independent nation.

Congress debates

Congress didn’t agree to the treaty unanimously. Senator George Frisbie Hoar declared, “This Treaty will make us a vulgar, commonplace empire, controlling subject races and vassal states, in which one class must forever rule and other classes must forever obey.” He believed, along with some other members of Congress, that the United States did not have the right to make decisions for colonies without their input.

Senator George Vest said, “Every schoolboy knows that the revolutionary warn was fought against the colonial system of Europe. No power is given to the federal government to take territories to be held as colonies.”

In fact, President William McKinley had said that his administration would not take any foreign territories, calling that practice “criminal aggression.”

However, the other side of the argument held that the United States was rescuing the former colonies from their bondage to Spain. “We come as ministering angels, not despots!” said Sen. Knute Nelson. Henry Cabot Lodge suggested that if the treaty were not ratified, the United States would have to continue the war with Spain.

Expansionists also wanted the commercial and military advantages of having outposts in other parts of the world. The conflict between anti-expansionists and expansionists was intense and involved people all over the nation. The debate in the Senate was won by the expansionists, but only by one vote — the vote required a two-thirds majority, and one fewer vote would have meant the defeat of the treaty.

Spain’s legislature, the cortes, rejected the treaty, but the Queen of Spain signed it and it became law.

A global power

Historians consider the Treaty of Paris the beginning of the United States as a global power. Having taken on territories across the North American continent, the United States seemed poised to follow the example of the European imperial powers, who were engaged in taking over colonies in Africa and Asia.

The cartoon below, from Puck, shows Uncle Sam, symbolizing the United States, with Cuba on his plate, the Philippines Islands to drink, and “Porto Rico” as champagne in an ice bucket nearby while European powers slice up China.

The United States annexed Hawaii and admitted more states in what had been Mexico, and also took on a few more additional colonial possessions, including American Samoa.

The U.S. also kept most of these these territories. While European empires gave their colonies independence or statehood, the United States keeps several inhabited territories, including Puerto Rico, even to this day.

 

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