Rarely do consular officers have an opportunity to influence the diplomatic stage. Usually their role is parochial and limited to facilitating commercial relations and trading relationships of their fellow citizens with the host country. The consular service has traditionally been the “service” arm of the State Department. Historically, the welfare and protection of fellow Americans was the basic justification for establishing an official presence overseas. Thus, in 1790 the US named its consuls abroad while by 1791 only five diplomatic missions existed. By 1830, the disparity was even greater: 141 consulates and only 15 diplomatic missions. On November 27, 1815 John Warner of Delaware was appointed “Agent of Commerce and Seamen” in San Juan, Puerto Rico1
Philip C. Hanna embraced his position as a consular official with zeal and ultimately played an important role in the Spanish-American War that culminated in the annexation of Puerto Rico to the emerging American empire. As consul, Hanna was expected to protect the lives and property of citizens of the US in foreign countries, and, to some degree, to promote their welfare. “The consul is a business officer,” wrote one author. “[H]e should be intelligent and patriotic–thoroughly American in sympathy– goes without saying.” To be an efficient consul, his background should also include “business training, experience of consular duties, and special fitness for the locality to which he is sent.”2
Hanna’s upbringing prepared him well for the role of consul. Born in Waterloo, Iowa, on June 27, 1857, Philip Hanna’s early years remain sketchy. Hanna’s family was deeply rooted in the Midwest. His father, George Washington Hanna, was the first settler of European descent in Black Hawk County, Iowa. Although the senior Hanna sometimes engaged in mercantile trade in nearby Waterloo, farming was his principle vocation.3
Physically, Philip Hanna portrayed a rather dashing figure. A tall, slender young man, with an aquiline nose, a smooth face and a pair of gray-blue eyes, Hanna was educated in Iowa public schools. Although raised as “an evangelist of the Free-Will Baptist church,” upon graduation from high school he became a Methodist minister.4,5,6
This upbringing proved more than adequate. “[B]eneath the layer of Christian moralism,” commented Richard Van Alstyne “is the shrewdness of the Puritan merchant.”7 Thus, it seems no coincidence that Hanna would also engage in banking. This combination of religion and capitalism would later play a key role during Hanna’s posting in Puerto Rico.
A distant cousin of Hanna was the tough and brilliant Republican Senator Marcus Alonso Hanna; another relative was Congressman Jeremiah (Jerry) Rusk of Wisconsin. Emulating both his cousins, Hanna joined the Republican Party.
At age 34, Hanna began his consular career. His first assignment in 1891 was in La Guaira, Venezuela. Hanna arrived to find a Venezuelan government in the midst of political turmoil.
Beginning in 1870, for all practical purposes, Venezuela was ruled by Antonio Guzmán Blanco. In 1889 there was an open revolt against him and he was forced to flee the country taking refuge on the Dutch island of Curaçao. For the next several years, as civil war again erupted Venezuela remained in crisis.
The seaport town of La Guaira was the commercial lifeline to Venezuela’s capital, Caracas. In September 1892, an army officer supporting one of the factions, decided that the quickest way to acquire much needed monies, so that he could pay his troops, was to take it away from those who had it.8, 9
He proceeded to arrest 85 of the wealthiest people in La Guaira. The majority of those arrested were foreign born merchants, of which seventeen were consular representatives from Russia, France, Belgium, Hawaii and nearly every Latin American country. Each prisoner was informed on the price expected to ensure their freedom. The ransoms requested were based on the supposed wealth of the prisoners or their ability to get money quickly through friends.
Only Hanna, and a young Spanish naval Lieutenant Antonio Eulate y Fery, afterward famous as commander of the Vizcaya, an armored cruiser nearly sunk during the Battle of Santiago de Cuba in 1898, escaped this predicament. From the prison fortress, Hanna received a note informing him that a naturalized American citizen was being held for ransom.
His consular dispatch closed by the local authorities, Hanna was unable to reach the American Ambassador in Caracas for instructions. He tried cabling Washington, but the local telegraph operator refused to send it.10
In a bold gesture, Hanna approached the troops lounging in front of the fortress, demanding the immediate release of the prisoners. The officer in command replied that it was impossible unless the ransoms were paid:
“If you don’t let them out,” said Hanna, “I will land troops and take charge myself.”
The general only shrugged his soldiers. It was a bluff and he knew it.
Hanna left and went at once to the harbor, in the hope that a Red D line steamer or an American gunboat might be there to provide assistance. There was none such. Only a small Spanish coast patrol boat, the Jorge Juan, was there commanded by Lieutenant Eulate. Enraged, Hanna asked Eulate if he would land some marines. He told Hanna that he would help and if necessary “blow the prison to hell….”
The Spanish vessel trained it three guns on the prison fortress and gave it a blank volley. Hanna again approached the general holding the prisoners; this time he presented a twenty minute ultimatum. Time ticked by. Shortly before the time was nearly up the prisoners were released.
While this incident was hardly noticed in Washington, it provided Hanna first-hand experience on the critical role consular officers must sometimes undertake. Hanna’s Venezuelan escapade ultimately resulted in his recall by the Department of State. Nevertheless, Hanna was commended by the Venezuelan government.
Hanna returned to Iowa where the Venezuelan government appointed him their consular representative in Des Moines. Shortly thereafter he returned to US consular duties and briefly served as consul to Trinidad.
Upon returning to the states from Trinidad, Hanna asked to return to the Caribbean. During a Senate recess, President William McKinley appointed Hanna as the United States Consul at San Juan, Puerto Rico.11
Hanna was anxious to assume his new post. Cabling Washington, Hanna requested that he “be allowed to proceed directly to… San Juan, Puerto Rico, without going to Washington.”12
On October 21, 1897, Hanna and his wife, Lulu May Cornick, arrived in Puerto Rico. After presenting his credentials to the island’s Governor-General, he assumed his duties. Several months later in December 1897, President William McKinley officially appointed Hanna as United States Consul at San Juan, Puerto Rico.13
The consulate was located at Number 2 Santo Cristo Street, several blocks away from the Governor’s Palace known as the Fortaleza, and a short walk from the main Plaza de Armas. Anchored in the middle of the street where it curves eastward is the small chapel of Santo Cristo de la Salud built in 1753 were legend has it that a rider miraculously survived after plummeting over a steep precipice.14
Rent was $95.00 a quarter and Hanna found the consulate in disarray. Furniture needed repair and replacing and the consulate had unpaid expenses including a Post Office Box rental ($2.18), newspapers ($2.80), light ($12.80), postage ($21.91), and even ice ($14.30).15
During Hanna’s two years as the island’s consul, Puerto Rico progressed from a Spanish colony becoming an autonomous territory only to see it revert back to colonial status under an American military regime.
Puerto Rico appears on the blue of the Antillean map between North and South America as an almost invisible point. The island is the easternmost island of the Greater Antilles and is approximately 90 miles across in an east-west direction and 30 miles wide between the north and south coasts. Its geographical position astride the Atlantic and the Caribbean Sea historically made the island a frequent port of call for Europeans en route from the Old World to the New.
The Spaniards first came as conquistadores in search of wealth. But some chose to settle and thereby established a pattern of emigration that continued until the end of the 19th century. Spanish emigrants were known as peninsulares because they were born on the Iberian Peninsula. Their children, born in the New World were called creoles. This distinction was important because peninsulares regarded themselves as ‘pure-blooded’ and therefore superior to creoles. Moreover, Spanish imperial rule was dedicated to ensuring that the peninsulares retained a privileged status dominating the government, the Church, the military and commerce.16
Hanna confronted a Puerto Rican society four centuries old and in the early stages of capitalist development. The young creole bourgeoisie was composed mainly of landowners of small and medium-sized holdings that cultivated and processed coffee, tobacco and sugar cane.
The urban middle classes were integrated by connections between government employees and retail businessmen closely linked to Spanish political and commercial interests. A small number of craftsmen and industrial workers were spread out across the island but had yet to coalesce into an urban work force. But, the vast majority of the population was mostly illiterate landless agricultural workers and subsistence farmers.
Slavery existed until the late 19th century. 17 There was a small free colored population, but it was economically and socially consigned to the bottom of society.18 Life was harsh for people of color and discontent showed itself in occasional slave uprisings but more commonly in a general lawlessness and banditry that was a regular feature of rural areas especially during the latter half of the 19th century.
While subjection to Spain brought advantages for creoles in Puerto Rico, there were also serious disadvantages, including the perpetuation of the special privileges accorded peninsulares. Moreover, the restrictive policy of mercantilism gave Spanish shipping and products a virtual monopoly of colonial trade. In addition Spain levied high taxes on profitable industries such as sugar, coffee and tobacco.
Consequently, the 19th century witnessed frequent complaints from the creoles against what they considered to be shameless exploitation by a reactionary and corrupt imperial system. On occasion, discontent erupted into revolt. This was particularly evident on the western side of the island where the radical pronouncement known as the Grito de Lares publicly proclaimed the island’s independence in 1868. But, the 400 creole coffee farmers and working men who seized the town of Lares were so ill-armed and ill-trained that the rebellion was easily suppressed.19
The island’s political road toward self-government was a difficult one. Autonomists, for the most part members of the creole landholding class, desired a self-governing Puerto Rico that would be an equal partner in a Spanish federation. In 1887, an assembly of Puerto Ricans met in the Southern coastal city of Ponce and issued a call for self-government and permanent union with Spain.20
Convinced that autonomist supporters were plotting subversive acts, conservative factions on the island demanded a new military governor. The newly appointed Governor-General instituted a series of harsh punishments known as the compontes. Hundreds of persons were arrested by the civil guard; many were tortured and some were even bludgeoned to death. Puerto Rican efforts to inform Spain were almost tragicomic as even bottles with notes inside them were cast into the open sea with the hope that they would reach a sympathetic eye. In November 1887, sixteen autonomist leaders were incarcerated in the ancient Spanish fortress of El Morro. Plans to execute them stalled when an autonomist sympathizer living on St. Thomas got word of the atrocities to Spain and the governor was removed from office.21
Meanwhile in Cuba, revolutionary fervent was resurfacing. Cuba’s revolt against Spain was waged in two major stages. The first of these— the Ten Years War that ended in 1878— was halted by compromise and Spain’s promise of sweeping reforms. Spain soon reneged on those promises and in 1895 the simmering kettle came to a boil again when Spain suspended constitutional guarantees.
Inspired by the armed revolt in Cuba, in 1895 several Puerto Ricans residing in New York City formed a chapter of the Cuban Revolutionary Party. The Cuban Revolutionary Party was officially established on April 10, 1892, with the purpose of gaining independence for both Cuba and Puerto Rico. Founded by poet and revolutionary José Martí, he was convinced that the Ten Years War was lost, due in part to lack of central direction and organization. Martí was elected Delegate, the highest party position. By the end of 1894, the basic conditions for launching the revolution were set and armed struggle again broke out in Cuba.
Hoping to avoid a similar armed struggle in Puerto Rico, Luis Muñoz Rivera, a liberal journalist and politician, travelled to Spain. Earlier he had proposed that the island’s autonomist’s factions join with the Spanish Liberal Party. In Spain, Muñoz Rivera successfully elicited a promise from the head of the Liberal Party that once in power, Puerto Rico would be granted autonomy.
This unexpectedly happened after a Spanish anarchist killed the Prime Minister. On November 28, 1897, Mateo Práxedes Sagasta, the new Prime Minister kept his promise and autonomy was granted to Puerto Rico.
Autonomy provided Puerto Rico more political freedom than ever before giving the island a quasi-dominion status. These unprecedented reforms allowed the island to elect voting representatives to a bi-cameral Cortes. It also provided for the election of an insular administrative council (equivalent to a Senate). Although the Governor-General continued to be appointed by Spain, his powers were weakened. While he could chose seven senators and suspend civil rights in emergencies or refer legislation to Madrid if he believed it unconstitutional the Puerto Rican legislature could deliberate on most important matters including setting the budget, determining tariffs and taxes, and accepting or rejecting any commercial treaties negotiated by the Spanish Crown without insular participation.22
The first autonomous government was appointed in February, 1898 and elections for legislators were held in March. In early July, the government officially began functioning.
Hanna was pleased with Puerto Rico’s autonomous form of government. The idea that the island might one day become an independent country he found unpalatable. “I think Puerto Rico is now better governed under Spain,” commented Hanna in a dispatch, “than they ever would be as an independent government.”23
In early February, Hanna attended the inauguration of the autonomous cabinet. “The whole population seemed to be happy over the thought that ‘Home Rule’ had at least been granted…” he wrote. However, he cautioned Washington that, “I am of the opinion that the success of Autonomy in Puerto Rico depends almost entirely upon the success of Autonomy in Cuba. If it is first a success in Cuba, it will be a success in Puerto Rico. If it fails in Cuba, Spain will, I think, take it away from Puerto Rico.” 24
Autonomy afforded the Puerto Rican elite political power that would help them further open up doors for trade with the United States. As commercial representative on the island, Hanna recognized this. “Autonomy will, I believe increase American trade with the island.” Hanna repeatedly pointed out that trade with Puerto Rico was “of more value to the United States that is the trade of the South and Central American Republics.” 25
Hanna also suggested that the consulate expand into a Consulate-General. The consul’s correspondence with the government in Puerto Rico, and the “personal uphill” [sic.] that he would be called upon to perform, Hanna believed would be greater than some United States legations in South America, “Since this is already one of the most important consulates to us in the West Indies or the Western Continent and since its importance will soon be greatly increased by ‘Home Rule’ and work of the consulate more than double… in view of the increased importance of this Consulate and in order that the Consul may have greater prestige in dealing with the Puerto Rican government; I am convinced that this office should be made a Consulate General.”26
Almost daily Hanna met with the Governor-General about an American citizen or merchant doing business on the island. Americans living on the island complained to Hanna “that they are unjustly unequally taxed, as they claim, on account of their being American Citizens.”27
Puerto Rico’s enthusiasm over autonomy quickly faded as a series of events began to unravel. On January 3, 1898 Hanna informed the State Department that Governor-General Sabas Marín was recalled to Spain. On January 11, 1898, the new Governor-General, Andres Gonzalez Núñez arrived from Spain “took charge of this office at noon and died at (6) six o’clock that evening.” Notified of the untimely demise, Hanna attended the funeral, where he learned that the governors “death resulted from wounds received in Cuba.”28 Subsequently, during the following nine months the Island would see 3 more governors contributing to the islands political instability.
The second and more important event that dampened the autonomist spirit occurred in Cuba. On the night of February 15, the U.S.S. Maine, one of the first modern steel battleships in the U.S. Navy mysteriously exploded in Havana Harbor with the loss of 268 American lives. What caused the explosion has never been exactly determined, but there is a strong body of evidence that an internal explosion, possibly in the coal bunkers, set off the forward ammunition magazine and that the Maine destroyed herself.29
News of the Maine disaster reached Puerto Rico the following day. Hanna immediately began sending crucial information to Washington. Hanna’s reports kept the State Department well briefed and complimented information supplied by the Puerto Rican Section of the Cuban Revolutionary Party as well of several spies sent to the island by the War Department.”30
Hanna expressed concern over the island’s growing martial spirit. Compared to the Cubans, Hanna viewed Puerto Ricans “as a people loyal to the mother country and [thus,] Puerto Rico would be a hot place for an American should there be trouble.” Fearful of increased Hispanophilism among Puerto Ricans, Hanna requested immediate action. “I am of the opinion that American interest demand that warships be kept in Puerto Rican waters … and that the Consulate should be kept well informed of the whereabouts of such ships.”31
As war looked increasingly eminent, the island appeared overflowing with pro-Spanish patriotic sentiment. La Bruja, a newspaper in Mayagüez, complained in May that “a swarm of bad poets has invaded even the darkest comers of this country. Would-be bards spring up everywhere, singing the praises of the war, of Spain, of May 2nd, and of their old man’s saber.” By way of proof, it quoted a few verses that had appeared in La Correspondencia, a San Juan newspaper:
Arrived at last the longed-for day
Courageous sons of noble Spain
Yankee daring ye shall abate
Which has provoked your rightful rage.32
Rumors also proliferated about battles, bombings, fleet movements, secret pacts, even world wars: “My uncle knows, always from official sources, where the warships are; what they lack, what they have to much of, what there admirals intentions are, what exercise they carry out, what they will do next … Ships have been sighted behind Desecheo Island? He knows which ones they are. Has a lady clad in black gone to City Hall and spoken with the Mayor? He knows the reason for her call that meeting is related to the conflict with the Yanks.”33
Many offered to defend Spain to the last drop of blood. Luis Muñoz Rivera, now president of the Autonomist government administrative council said with dramatic flair, “We are Spaniards and wrapped in the Spanish flag we die.” On April 25, El Pais reported that San Juan “presents a delightful military aspect…every patriotic young person has turned into a resolute soldier; ladies from all classes, have become members of the Red Cross… and in this atmosphere, our young ladies go to normal school to take their exams, and children go to school happily, eager to be commended for their dedication.”34
Nearly all Americans living on the island expected war. Concern for the fate of American citizens and their interests was paramount in subsequent relations that Hanna undertook with the Spanish government. Thus, Hanna made many suggestions on ways to protect American interests on the island.
The ten weeks following the destruction of the Maine proved difficult for Hanna. Rumors circulated on the island of suspended diplomatic relations and of a declaration of war between Spain and the United States. Hanna attempted to quell these rumors by continuing to appear in public. He began taking daily walks in the public square and he continued attending the tri-weekly military concert accompanied with his wife.
These efforts were not enough. Because of Spanish press censorship the consular office served as a political barometer. If the consulate’s porter was five minutes late in hoisting the American flag, the island’s business community feared that war had been declared and business was temporarily suspended. Moreover, most consular officials, including Hanna, were generally unaware of the actual state of American and Spanish diplomatic relations. Official correspondence was received monthly from Washington, by way of New York City. This delay and his general apprehension toward the Spanish postal service, led Hanna to request that he be provided with an official diplomatic cipher.
Hanna suggested “a few words to be used as a code, until such time as this office had a regular code.35 Hanna’s code included over sixty key words. These ranged from Harrison (“there is apparently no danger at present”) to Staff (“the Consulate is in danger”) onto Tropical (“there is immediate danger, our people are afraid for their lives”). Hanna considered his code an ingenious creation and a necessary tool if he was to continue to be useful to the State Department. Constant communication with the State Department, Hanna perceived, would not only keep him informed and up to date, but also provide American interests on the island with reliable news that would help ease fears of war.
Hanna began sending news to Washington on the island’s lack of preparatory measures. The port of San Juan was protected by “only two or three small gunboats.” He noted that while, the ancient fortifications in San Juan were being fortified, the island’s coal supply was considerably low in spite of the fact that San Juan was “a naval coaling station for the Spanish Government.”36
The Governor-General had few forces at his disposal, Hanna reported. Spain had an estimated 8,000 regulars; of these, about 5,000 were infantrymen, 700 artillerymen, and 2,300 members of other branches— engineers, civil guards, and the like. Along with this force were about 7,000 “volunteers”— Puerto Rican militia, poorly trained and unreliable.
The island was divided into seven military districts, each with a commander. The regular forces were scattered across the island in various cities. With the exception of a few guns at San Juan no artillery were available. Ponce and Mayaguez, the most important cities besides San Juan, had no defenses whatever. The naval forces defending the island, numbered but 368 men, were even less imposing than the army. The Governor-General controlled six vessels— two unprotected cruisers, two tiny gunboats, an auxiliary cruiser and the destroyer Terror.
On April 7, a partially coded cable arrived: “Thomas, place affairs in charge of British Consul.”37 The code word “Thomas,” devised by Hanna himself ordered him to “Retrieve to St. Thomas or some other West Indies Island, and report about them for Washington.”
Hanna began immediate preparations to leave San Juan for the safe haven of the neighboring Danish West Indies island of St. Thomas. Accompanying him and his wife were several other naturalized American citizens of Puerto Rican descent. While, it would be two weeks before an official declaration of war, Hanna was ordered to leave the island.
Hanna and his party boarded the Virginia, a British merchant ship on April 12. The Virginia transported them to the eastern seaport of village of Fajardo. From there a schooner “manned with a half piratical crew of cutthroats,” took them to the Danish island.”38
Hanna left many friends in Puerto Rico. Shortly before his departure, Captain Eulate, now commanding the Vizcaya arrived in San Juan, after calling on the port of New York. Hanna met with him and throughout the war continued to track his whereabouts.39
The island’s Governor-General asked Hanna to stay in Puerto Rico even if war broke out. “I sent a polite letter to the Governor General… His excellency made a polite reply and my relations with the Puerto Rican Government at the time of my parting were most friendly.40 In spite of his cordial relationship with the local Spanish government, he feared foreigners and particularly American citizens would become reprisal targets.
The formal declaration of war on April 21, 1989 canceled Hanna’s exequatur as consul to Puerto Rico. From his base in St. Thomas Hanna continued to submit background information, and even went as far as to devise war plans for the invasion and acquisition of the island by the United States.
His invasion plans took into consideration the existence of a small group of Puerto Ricans with strong annexationist tendencies. Annexationists believed that Puerto Rico should be incorporated as part of the United States.
The roots of American annexationism in Puerto Rico extend back to the early 19th century fostered in part by commercial relations. During the middle of the 18th century the then British colonies in America began trading with Puerto Rico. By 1850, the island had developed extensive commercial ties with the United States as sugar, skins, tobacco and other minor crops were exchanged for flour, rice, and American manufactured goods.41
During the latter part of the 19th century, a small community of exiled Puerto Ricans began to organize in New York. Groups such as the Puerto Rican section of the Cuban Revolutionary Party advocated strong pro-American annexationist tendencies. Several years later, before the Lake Mohawk Conference in New York, it was pointed out, “You have all heard that the American army was received with open arms by the Puerto Ricans and that, at a time when we had no grudge against Spain… that reception was the missionary work of hundreds of thousands of Puerto Ricans who had… taught our people to reserve American diplomacy, and to love American people.”42
Consul Hanna was well aware of these strong pro-American tendencies and immediately capitalized on them. While early on Hanna had recognized the advantage the island afforded American agricultural and commercial interests he also recognized the strategic value of the island.
In the 1880s, the US began developing an aggressive policy in the rising Latin American trade. In a report prepared for Congress the commercial role of Puerto Rico was highlighted and supported much of Hanna’s views. While sugar imports from Puerto Rico were less than those of Brazil, Cuba, Mexico, the British West Indies, and Venezuela, they were ahead of imports from the Caribbean and the rest of Latin America, including Colombia, Uruguay, Chile, and Peru. Puerto Rico was the tenth largest export market for American goods in the hemisphere, and maintained a favorable trade balance of approximately $2.5 million.
Trade was not the only justification for an invasion. A resolute imperialist elite in Washington believed that the time had come to finally kick Spain out of the Western hemisphere, to establish American hegemony over the Caribbean, and to embark on the “large policy” leading to a position of world power. In George F. Kennan’s apt phrase, it was “the smell of empire.”43
Naval supremacy was the key element in establishing American hegemony and in an age of steamships this implied strategically located coaling stations. A new geopolitical conception, based on the brilliant, persuasive writings of Captain Alfred T. Mahan was developed. Mahan saw control of the Caribbean as essential for rapid communication between the Atlantic and the Pacific. If the United States was to look outward in the industrial competition of empires, the supremacy over the Caribbean was a must. Mahan’s most prominent disciples were Theodore Roosevelt and his lifelong friend, Senator Henry Cabot Lodge, who along with other “jingoes,” created pressure to take Puerto Rico.44
By early March, 1898, Roosevelt, now Assistant Secretary of the Navy, had worked out war plans in close consultation with Mahan, who first advised him not to do much with Puerto Rico. When war broke out, Roosevelt took a strong position in favor of total expulsion of Spain from the hemisphere. As he left to join the Rough Riders, he wrote Lodge: “do not make peace until we get Puerto Rico, while Cuba is made independent and the Philippines at any rate taken from Spain.” With regard to Cuba, he had observed that he did not want it to seem “that we are engaged merely in a land-grabbing war.” But this scruple did not apply to Puerto Rico. As Lodge reassured Roosevelt on May 24, “Puerto Rico is not forgotten and we mean to have it.”
By the time the Americans landed in Guanica and Ponce, the policy had been set. Puerto Rico was to be part of the war indemnity.
As Hanna settled down in St. Thomas events continued to unfold. In May, steps were being taken in Washington to prepare for the invasion of “Number Two” — the War Department’s euphemism for Puerto Rico. On May 9, Hanna wrote, “I am still of the opinion that Puerto Rico should to [sic.] taken and held as a coaling station, thus supplying our Navy and cutting off Spain. In order to accomplish this we should land in Puerto Rico not less than 10,000 men. Let them land at Ponce or Fajardo, or some other port, and march through the Island to meet the American fleet at San Juan. Let the fleet knock down the fortifications there which are the only ones on the Island, and our land forces of 10,000 can hold the island forever… From Ponce to San Juan there is the finest road in the whole West Indies and an army could march across to San Juan with no bad roads to interfere.”45
Lieutenant Henry Whitney, attached to the Military Intelligence Division, the first standing military intelligence agency of the US, visited the island in May posing as a British seaman, to observe the forces that Spain could rely upon. The mission was almost a disaster when newspapers leaked his identity, but he posed as a crew member in the furnace-room of the merchant ship and evaded detection by a boarding party of Spanish officers. He provided maps and information on the Spanish military presence by posing as a British merchant marine officer, and reported that the Spanish forces were few in number and poorly equipped. Upon his return on June 9, he reported that the regular troops amounted to about 8,000, mostly deployed for the defense of Sun Juan, and that there were some 12,000 auxiliary troops. Whitney strongly doubted that when the time came, that the island-born volunteers would back the Spaniards in battle.
In June, Hanna forwarded the State Department information he had received from a “Scotch gentleman,” a civil engineer living in San Juan. The enclosed information included plans of the city and harbor. Whitney thought that the information was “valuable if reliable.” Hanna disclosed the identity of the person after State Department enquired about the him.46
Hanna used other informants. Some of the information Hanna received from the island was paid for. On June 30 he asked that he be reimbursed $487 for information he had paid for. Moore told Hanna to stop paying for information and to send as detailed as possible a list of expenses.47 Hanna blamed the mail for the lost of the vouchers. Hanna paid for the information from his own funds. Hanna also told Moore that he did not keep a list of paid informants because the vouchers could be used to track back to individuals with possible reprisals.
On May 12 Hanna sent a telegram to Day, “reported that nine American war-ships now bombarding San Juan.”48 At daybreak that morning, Puerto Rico had its first taste of the war. A fleet of seven warships under the command of Rear Admiral William T. Sampson opened fire on the centuries-old city of San Juan and its fortifications. The bombardment lasted three hours. While the Spanish returned fire, they hardly touched the attacking ships. The American shells did little damage to the forts; some hit the town, others flew over the huddled population and landed harmlessly in the bay. When the bombing ceased the total dead and wounded among civilians and military personnel was fifty-six.
Captain Angel Rivero, a Puerto Rican officer in the Spanish army, and author of an early tract on the war in Puerto Rico, concluded that the bombing was not only useless and unnecessary, “The bombing of San Juan, not only of its fortress but also of the city was unnecessary, cruel and an abusive act of war. There are human laws that do not need consigned books in order to be followed; they are the laws of humanity, of love and respect for women, children and the aged that are extended to all non-combatants.”49
Consul Hanna concurred. He considered the bombardment of San Juan an unwise act. Military maneuvers such as the bombardment of San Juan he thought were inadvisable until troops were ready to land and take hold of the island. Unprofitable military actions such as the bombardment, he thought might cause the Puerto Ricans to lose faith in the United States. Hanna pointed out that following the bombing, the Governor-General circulated that the “pig yankees have tried their best to take the capitol and were badly defeated.”50
Hanna’s opinion on the bombardment was not meant to be critical, but rather he merely wanted to point out the inefficiency of such actions: “Simply to bombard San Juan and to go away—will leave a bad state of affairs in the island and every American still there would be killed, all American property destroyed, all Cubans in Puerto Rico would suffer like fate and our friends who number thousands throughout the island might lose faith in our ability to take Puerto Rico if we bombard and then leave them to the Spaniard.” 51
Hanna continued receiving news from Puerto Rico. As Puerto Rican annexationists became increasingly more vocal, Hanna attempted to help them reach this goal. Hanna was very precise to point out that there was a large group of Puerto Ricans who sought to annex Puerto Rico to the United States. The consul wrote that “10,000 American soldiers landed in Puerto Rico can hold the island forever, because I am convinced that a large number of Puerto Ricans will arise and shake off the Spanish yoke just as soon as they are assured of help.”52
He was also concerned for the role of the military in ruling the island. “The Army and the Navy will not be needed to govern Puerto Ricans… I confess I am not in favor of an American Military ruler in Puerto Rico. These poor people have had to much military rule already.”53
Hanna feared an early end to the war. An early peace might thwart months of annexationist activity. Shortly before the invasion, Hanna wrote that, “many of our friends in Puerto Rico, are anxious the United States take Puerto Rico before Spain shall sue for peace. They fear that if Spain should sue for peace the island might continue to be Spanish.”54
Hanna’s cables continuously accented the need to acquire the island. In several reports he expressed concern that several American citizens who had remained on the island to protect their property were in danger. Despite the many friends the United States already claimed in Puerto Rico, Hanna was alarmed by news that several Puerto Rican separatists groups, unsympathetic to America were conspiring to take up arms against Spain. Indeed, since 1896 the Puerto Rican Section of the Cuban Revolutionary Party had encouraged this. Other Puerto Ricans sought to pick up this banner of the Puerto Rican Section and once again there were conspiracies to extend the Cuban insurrection to the island.55
Responding to the possibility of a Puerto Rican pro-independence insurrection, Hanna recommended that approximately 25,000 troops would be needed to take the island. During these brief months that preceded the invasion he would repeatedly reaffirm that this was the number of troops needed for the invasion.
Hanna had several motives for taking this position. The landing of a large army would deter the Spanish army from fighting as well as provide assurances to the population of the need to have faith in the United States. Fueled by the distrust of independence, Hanna believed that if the Puerto Ricans began fighting Spain for their freedom, the Island could easily rebel against the United States. Another more important reason was that the war in Cuba had economically ruined many American and Cuban property interests: “a large army [should] be sent to Puerto Rico so as to take the island without the destruction of property and loss of life.”
Assured of an impending invasion, Hanna developed various scenarios for a future invasion. At first he recommended that troops land at the Northeastern seaport of Fajardo a short 65 km march to the Capitol. Later he came upon another feasible plan. “I suggest,” wrote Hanna to the Department of State, “that the first landing be made at Ponce which is the largest city of the island, is situated at the south side, has no regular fortifications and is very poorly protected to resist and Armed force and a fleet…” Ponce was connected to San Juan by a military road which troops could march across while the fleet sailed to San Juan via the Mona Passage. San Juan would thus be bottled up, unable to resist.”56
Several weeks later a similar plan was implemented. On the morning of July 25, 1898, famed Indian fighter, General Nelson A. Miles landed on the Southern coast of Puerto Rico. No shots were fired as the American troops entered Guanica (nor did resistance materialize during subsequent landing operations at Ponce and Arroyo).
Hanna urged the State Department that he be permitted to return to the island as soon as American troops landed. Hanna wrote that he saw “no reason why I can not attend to all the business affairs of the government in that island and simply remain ‘consul.’”57 On May 7, Hanna received permission to “return to San Juan with the first fleet of American warships leaving St. Thomas for Puerto Rico.”
As Miles’ troops headed northward across the island, they continued to meet little resistance. Hanna informed the State Department on July 26. “Am going to Porto Rico to-night if you approve. General Miles sends for me. Troops landing. Will you inform Iowa press.”58
Between July 25 and August 12, military operations had aimed at the flank of the scant regular Spanish forces on the south side of the island. The support that the Puerto Rican population gave the invaders was crucial. Auxiliary forces made up of men on horseback, volunteers on foot, mule drivers, suppliers, guides, interpreters, harbor pilots and stevedores carried out vital functions that resulted in a smooth military operation. But, above all, it was the enthusiasm of the throngs in town after town that gave a feeling of confidence and security to the invading troops, and convinced the Spaniards they could not retain the island.
On July 27, Hanna arrived in Ponce. Hanna reported that he had been informed by consuls in San Juan that Spanish resistance was “impossible”: the volunteers, mostly Puerto Ricans, refused to march and there was no ammunition.
Hanna recommended himself for an administrative position including the governorship of the island. “It is my opinion and the opinion of many Americans and Puerto Ricans,” voiced the consul, “that on account of my knowledge of the state of affairs and acquaintance with the people in this island, that I should be kept here for some time to come.” 59
Another possible gubernatorial candidate was Fitzhugh Lee, who had served as the United States consul in Havana. Hanna’s home town newspaper, The Semiweekly Waterloo Courier editorialized that Lee would have a sure rival in Hanna. In the end, however, neither Lee nor Hanna obtained the prestigious post; the U.S. Army would govern for nearly 2 years.
The August 11 armistice officially terminated the war, as well as Spain’s four hundred year old colonial empire in America. In Spain’s suit for peace, they were willing to abandon Cuba, but offered to trade other territory in return for Puerto Rico. The Spanish position was that Puerto Rico unlike Cuba, had never been an element of conflict between Spain and the United States, and its inhabitants had remained loyal to the crown. But McKinley was adamant on the immediate evacuation of Spanish troops from Cuba and Puerto Rico. Spain had no choice and the Spanish representatives signed the peace armistice.
On July 28 Gen. Miles issued a general proclamation to the people of Puerto Rico assuring them that the Americans had come to the island to bring them freedom from Spanish rule and not to make war on its inhabitants. With the beginning of U.S. control of Puerto Rico, Miles was appointed military governor in charge of the Army of Occupation and administrator of civil affairs with the power to issue orders with the force of law.
General John Brooke became governor on October 18, 1898, but relinquished his authority to General Guy Henry on December 9. During his regime he divided the island into two civil and military jurisdictions— Ponce, under the command of General Henry; and San Juan, subject to the authority of Brig. Gen. F. D. Grant. Brooke also ordered schools opened and changed the official name of the island to “Porto Rico.” He dissolved the newly chartered Provincial Assembly and invested its power in the Insular Council.
General Guy Henry succeeded General Brooke and he also affected government and life in Puerto Rico significantly. At a meeting with representatives from various towns and the Insular Council, Henry announced his program to improve sanitation and school systems, and revise election standards to accommodate lower levels of literacy. His attempted curbs on freedom of the press provoked conflicts between the military government and island newspapers whenever critics of the government were threatened and censored. During his tenure the Insular Council lost the autonomous powers granted it by the Constitution of 1897. He also abolished taxes on meat and bread while decreeing higher imposts on alcohol and tobacco. He also suspended foreclosures for one year, a controversial measure because the island’s economy was dependent on land as capital. In May 1899, General Henry requested to be recalled; he was succeeded by Brigadier General George W. Davis, the last U.S. military governor of Puerto Rico; he held the position from May 9, 1899, to May 1, 1900.
The main purpose of military rule was fourfold: police the island, improve sanitation, reorganize the judicial system and introduce financial reforms. Hanna quickly turned his focus toward resolving the island’s political and economic future. Writing to the Assistant Secretary of State John Bassett Moore, Hanna suggested that “the ordinary territorial form the government is… very well adapted to the needs of this island and the situation here demands that some form of government be provided Puerto Rico at this winter’s session of Congress.”60
Hanna viewed statehood as a possible solution to the future of Puerto Rico. This position was logical. After all, had not Judge Taney’s dictum in Dred Scott decreed that annexed territory “is acquired to become a state, and not to be held as a colony and governed by Congress with absolute authority.” Hanna failed to foresee the famous Insular cases that arbitrarily broke the territorial-state dichotomy that had hitherto been assumed to govern the entrance of new colonies into the federal system.
Hanna suggested that “the urgent demands of the situation be remedied… by applying such laws to this island [as] are in effect in the District of Columbia.” His immediate recommendation was that a commission be appointed to handle the governance of the island.
Not one but two commissions were established. The first commission arrived to Puerto Rico in January 1899. In its report they found that the people of the island were “satisfied with transfer to the care of the United States, and upon every opportunity gave expression to their loyalty and devotion to the Government which relieved them from Spain’s oppression.”
The head of this commission was Dr. Henry K. Carroll, a highly respected Methodist minister. He and his fellow investigators were already at work when a second commission, to work independently of the first, was set up by the U.S. War Department. This was the so-called Insular Commission.
For example, the Carroll Report suggested that Puerto Rico’s criminal code— that was based on the European practice (derived, in turn, from old Roman law) of considering an accused man guilty until proven innocent should be changed immediatly to one which made use of the traditional Anglo- American presumption of innocence. It also wished to change the Spanish-derived tax system.
Both the Carroll Report and the Insular Commission agreed on the necessity for free trade between Puerto Rico and the United States. Hanna echoed these concerns. Major concerns were for: private industries and commerce, the tariff question and financial problems.
In 1897, the balance of trade between the United States and Puerto Rico was valued at well over a $500,000 in favor of the island. Under American rule the island was deprived of many of its traditional markets and thus, of much income. Besides the major industries, there were such small industries as salt, hats, rum, soap, and chocolate. Under Spain numerous regulations discouraged island industries from competing with her home production. Under American military government, many of these regulations continued on the books.
But, perhaps no other concern was as important as the tariff issue. Nearly all the island’s politicians and businessmen wanted a lower tariff. Because of the unresolved status issue of the island tariffs on goods that flowed between Puerto Rico and the United States remained in place.
Technically considered a foreign country, in some cases the island’s tariffs were actually increased. Additional, both Spain and Cuba raised their tariffs on Puerto Rican goods, for they too, now treated the island’s products like those of a foreign nation. For example, tobacco shipped to Cuba, for example, before 1898 paid a tariff between $.15 and $.20 per pound. After the war, the tariff was increased to a devastating $5.00 per pound in an attempt to protect Cuban tobacco producers. Coffee in Cuba increased fourfold to a prohibitive $12.15 per kilogram over the pre-war level.
These measures in effect closed the markets for key exports. Imports into the island were adversely affected. Puerto Rican leaders clamored for free trade, the only effective relief. Hanna was convinced that the tariff question was “the most important” issue. For Hanna “free trade between the United States and Puerto Rico is a moral question.” Puerto Rico should not be seen as competitors, but rather as having a “common interest.”
Hanna argued an extremely cogent case for free trade between Puerto Rico and the United States. Firstly, the working class was becoming impoverished because of the lack of access to prewar markets in Spain and Cuba and secondly, better trade relations would make for better political relations. All in all, the elimination of the tariff on Puerto Rican imports and export goods would be of some advantage in bringing the island’s economy to pre-wartime standards, but at the same time would provide American investors the tax incentive and free labor necessary for cheap import goods.
The military government did grant some tariff concessions to meet some of the demands and mitigate de dissatisfaction, but free trade was not introduced. In 1899, the tariff on rice was reduced from $1.85 to 60 cents; flour by 50 percent, cheese by 60 percent, beans 56 percent and lard 25 percent. The tariffs on other goods remained in place and the prices of ham, bacon, butter, and other imported products increased. While the lower tariffs on the former goods generally helped low-income consumers, the price increases of the latter products, adversely affected higher-income consumers.
The passage of the First Organic Act of Puerto Rico, better known as the Foraker Act, sought to remedy this. But what occurred was that shopkeepers experienced a loss, as did businessmen who had managed to accumulate a little financial reserve in the peso. In fact, all those who failed to make the exchange from the peso to the dollar within the time limit prescribed by the Foraker Act experienced a large material loss. This loss turned out not only to be one of demonetization of the local coinage but also of devaluation. This change also decreased the purchasing power and was, therefore, to the disadvantage of all workers.
The American Military Government also faced the perplexing situation in regard to the island’s coinage. At the time of the invasion the principal circulating medium was the provincial silver peso introduced in 1895 that displaced the long-used Mexican peso. The arrival and continued presence of American forces added a substantial amount of US currency to the island’s monetary supply.
Confronted with this currency problem, Consul Hanna’s, banking experience would now pay off. As early as June 1898, Hanna anticipating American acquisition of the island recommended that American merchants accept Puerto Rican silver at its intrinsic value. This move would only be temporary until such time as the American gold standard could be adopted. Hanna argued that this posture would save merchants from bankruptcy and avert a financial panic.62
Puerto Rico, he argued, would never become American until the basis of trade was regular and fixed. To help achieve this, the US government needed to consider carefully the average value of the peso and then determine by law how much in American money the peso was worth. As early as August 15, 1898 Hanna recommended that attention be called to the great importance of the money question. 63After determining exactly how much the peso was worth the United States could then collect all the Spanish silver pesos and remits these pesos for special use on the island by stamping it on one side “One Porto Rican peso” and on the other “United States of America, Sixty cents,” The peso side would be used to pay back all outstanding debts and the $0.60 side would be the fixed rate of commercial exchanges.
The American military government however, established an arbitrary rate of exchange of two pesos to $1.00. One American observer in Puerto Rico commented: “This ratio had no semblance of validity from any point of view. The bullion in the peso was not worth near 50 cents, measured by the market price of silver. On the other hand, the exchange value of the peso of Puerto Rico in the markets of the world, low as it had been forced by the unnatural conditions of war, was far more than 50 cents, while its average value for the New Year was nearer 75 cents. But the military order was issued, and the military authorities started to make if effective.”64 Hanna candidly commented on the peso’s fluctuation. “The peso of this island,” he observed, “has always fluctuated like wheat on the Chicago Board of Trade.”65
Finally, the first official step affecting the currency exchange took the form of a Presidential Executive Order of January 20, 1899.; implemented by thet issuance of General Order No. 30 in March 1899. The exchange rate was set at $0.60 United States money for one Puerto Rican peso. Hanna heartily approved of the exchange rate. In the past, constant fluctuation of the peso had interfered with all internal and foreign commercial transactions among the merchants and people of Puerto Rico. “Since I have been Puerto Rico,” informed the American consul to Henry K. Carroll who had been commissioned by the president to investigate all aspects of the island’s social and economic conditions, “I have known the peso within the period of six months to have a value, as compared with American gold, of 74 cents and also of 37 cents —that is, at one time within six months 1.35 pesos would purchase an American dollar, and at another time within six months 2.70 pesos were required to purchase the same dollars.
The US currency was exchanged for Puerto Rican at $.60 for one peso Puerto Rican money. This change place incalculable hardships on the people of all socio-economic classes but especially the lower classes who found their wages cut to suit the change in currency. A laborer who received 50 centavos Puerto Rican coin now received $.30. For example, whereas rice had cost 4 centavos ($.0240) now cost $.04.
As soon as the military government announced the rate of exchange, United States currency ran into an economic gauntlet. The greater part of American currency on the island, having the value of gold, quickly found its way back to the American metropolis, in accordance with the principle that poor money tends to drive more valuable money from circulation.
Despite the negative economic affect the shift of currency had on Puerto Rico at that time, more than three quarters of a century later, the dollar is still affectionately called a peso, giving Hanna’s premonition of the islands’ hispanophilism a touch of irony.
Hanna also addressed the island’s legal and judicial system. Hanna advised Assistant Secretary Moore that the President appoint a commission of representatives from each department of government and that, “under the direction of the Commission of Justice, courts be established to administer United States law in the island.” He was convinced that the island, “not only needs American law to be administered. The greatest barrier in the way of a smooth and successful administration of affairs today is, that our American officers are called upon to administer a set of laws which made Spain a failure for four hundred years.”66
One aspect of government often overlooked was the need for postal communication. Even before the invasion, Hanna recommended that a Post Office be established in each city, “for the benefit of merchants and people of Puerto Rico who have business to transact in the United States.”67 Hanna distrusted the Spanish-run postal system of the island. It was this distrust that had earlier compelled Hanna to devise his secret cipher. But more than a matter of secrecy, Hanna recognized that the postal service usefulness as a banking system. An efficient postal system was necessary to insure that American merchants and Puerto Rican businessmen would have quick access to new markets.
Soon after the invasion, mail service between various points in Puerto Rico began under the authority of General Henry Wilson. In August 1898 he authorized a provisional postal service. Under the Spanish colonial regime the postal rate was much lower than the one newly established. Puerto Ricans believed, reported Hanna that they should be permitted to send letters to the states at the rate of $.02 per ounce.
While Hanna continuously argued for an efficient postal system, the island received something less than what the Spanish Crown had offered. “There is much complaint among the people over the poorly established mail service as it now exists,” wrote Hanna. The consul criticized the Postal Service, for not keeping “the business interest of the people of Puerto Rico and showing to them that the United States is interested in their success and prosperity.” 68
Hanna was ordered on May 23, 1899 to close the consulate at the end of the fiscal year. “I have the honor to say that your instruction will be carried out, and that the Consulate will be closed on the 1st of July 1899.”69 Hanna later went on to become Consul-General at Monterey, Mexico. As Consul of San Juan, Hanna could not have been more resourceful. Had it not been for his detailed accounts of the conditions in Puerto Rico, the island might never have become an American colony. In reviewing his opinion on the Spanish government as compared to the American government, Hanna concluded that the Spanish system had provided rationalization while the American system disrupted the economy. Unless Puerto Rico became Americanized, it could never become part of the United States. Hanna’s role as consul helped to accelerate the process of Americanization.
12. Hanna to William R. Day, “Consular Dispatches of the Puerto Rican Consul (hereafter CDPRC),” Microfilm Copy, 4 September 1897.
16. Bergad, Laird W., Coffee and Rural Proletarianization in Puerto Rico, 1840-1898. Journal of Latin American Studies, 1983. 15(1): p. 83-100; Dietz, James L., Economic History of Puerto Rico: Institutional Change and Capitalist Development. 1986: Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
17. Morales Carrion, Arturo, Auge y decadencia de la trata negrera en Puerto Rico (1820-1860. San Juan: Centro de Estudios Avanzados de Puerto Rico y el Caribe, Instituto de Cultura Puertorriqueña, 1978.
22. “Constitution Establishing Self-Government in the Island of Puerto Rico by Spain in 1897,” Documents on the Constitutional History of Puerto Rico 2 ed. (Washington DC: Office of the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, 1964), pp. 22-46.
28. Hanna to Day; CDPRC, 3 January 1898; Lidio Cruz Monclova, Historia de Puerto Rico (Siglo XIX) Vol. 3, Pt. 3, P. 148; Cayetano Coll y Toste, “Las fatalidades de un gobernador.” In Narraciones Historical (Barcelona: Ediciones Rumbos, 1962), pp. 73-83.
29. Rickover, H. G., How The Battleship Maine Was Destroyed. Annapolis, MD.: Naval Institute Press, 1995; See also Fisher, Louis. Destruction of the Maine (1898) http://loc.gov/law/help/usconlaw/pdf/Maine.1898.pdf
39. Eulate was later wounded and captured and the Vizcaya sunk during the battle of Santiago, Cuba. Throughout the dreadful ordeal, and his imprisonment in the United States, Hanna kept Eulate’s family informed on his condition.
42. Larrinaga, Tulio, “Porto Rico’s Attitude Toward the United States,” Proceedings of the Twenty-Fifth Annual Meeting of the Lake Mohawk Conference of Friends of the Indian and other Dependent People. New York: 1907.
49. On the bombardment of San Juan see, Walter Millis The Martial Spirit: A Study of Our War with Spain. Cambridge: The Riverside Press, 1931. Pp. 204-206; French Ensor Chadwick The Relations of the United States and Spain, 2 vols. New York: Russell and Russell, 1911. Pp. 220-235; and Angel Rivera, Cronica de la querra hispanoamericana en Puerto Rico. Rio Piedras: Editorial Edil, 1972. Pp. 67-108.
61. Hanna to Moore, CDPRC, 25 November 1898
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