• Congressman Knox Promises Swift Punishment For Destruction Of The Battleship Maine And Deaths Of Americans

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    On February 15, 1898, the United States battleship Maine, resting quietly in Havana Harbor, was suddenly blown up, apparently by a mine, killing 260 officers and men on board. The Maine had been showing the flag in Cuba, where the Spanish regime was resisting an armed uprising by nationalist guerrillas.  Even though the perpetrator was never found, the ship’s destruction led to the Spanish-American War of 1898.  American sentiment was strongly behind Cuban independence and many Americans blamed the Spanish for the outrage.  


    An American fleet under Commodore Dewey annihilated a Spanish fleet in Manila Bay in the Philippines with casual ease.  On July 1st, Teddy Roosevelt’s volunteer ‘Rough Riders,” helped Negro troopers of the 10th Cavalry to take the San Juan Heights in the city of Santiago, which surrendered on the 17th.  The Spanish Cuban fleet was hunted down by American battleships and destroyed in four hours. American troops took Puerto Rico a few days afterward. When the peace treaty was signed, Spain lost its last colonies in the New World and the United States had achieved world recognition as a great power.  Cuban, meanwhile, gained independence.


    Massachusetts Congressman WILLIAM SHADRACH KNOX (1843-1914) served in the House of Representatives from 1895 to 1903 as a Republican.  There he served as chairman in the Committee of Territories.


    A strong advocate of Cuban independence, Knox writes to one Mr. Stuart on Feb. 28 [1898] shortly after the Maine was destroyed and just before America entered the Spanish-American War, promising swift punishment for the “Spaniards from the Island of Cuba” and promising that the cemetery at Havana “will ever be a holy place to America.” He notes at the top of the letter, “You can publish this letter if you wish,” and signs with his initials.


    The 1 ½ pp, 8 x 10, ALS: “I was glad to receive your letter upon the political situation.  The month that closes today is the first February since 1893 that our revenues show a surplus and March will do better, we shall constantly improve unless of course there is war with Spain.  But little can be said now about poor Cuba for the reason that the time for words has passed.  Congress is waiting with patience for the result of the official inquiry into the loss of the Maine, and with entire confidence that the findings of the court will be in accordance with the facts and…to act speedily if it shall be found that our sailors were sent to their deaths by design while sleeping in the harbor of a nation with which we were at peace with an opportunity to strike a blow for their own lives, then no money indemnity will satisfy the American people.  Nothing but swift…punishment [for] the Spaniards from the Island of Cuba can atone for the atrocity. The cemetery at Havana will ever be a holy place to America. There lie her sons…where the tears of affection and the flowers of remembrance may not fall upon their graves. But they will not be forgotten. Their names are written on the brightest of all pages of human history. The pages whereon are inscribed the names of those who died for freedom for Cuba will soon be free.

    “Very truly yours,

    “W.S. Knox”

    Folds, toning.  A superlative letter on the eve of the Spanish-American War, which established America as a great world power.


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