Edwin F. Atkins and the Evolution of American Cuba Policy: 1894-1902
©1998 Christopher Harris
American Cuban policy between 1895 and 1898 is not easy to explain. In the years leading up to the Spanish-American-Cuban War, two administrations, one Democratic, one Republican, pursued a foreign policy toward Cuba that was non-interventionist and extremely conservative. The policy had no substantial popular support in either the United States, Cuba or Spain. The McKinley Administration kept to these policies right up to the outbreak of War in 1898.Both the Cleveland and McKinley Administrations maintained strict neutrality while proposing a program of limited Cuba political autonomy under continuing Spanish rule. Neither the American imperialist nor anti-imperialists supported this policy, but it was steadfastly adhered to. This was also in spite of the advice of virtually every American diplomat, journalist, or businessman in Cuba that such a policy had no popular support among the Cubans, or indeed, even among the Spaniards either in Cuba or Spain. The American press and people were consistently and stridently in sympathy with the Cuban Revolution from its start in 1895. Congress repeatedly tried to move both Administrations toward recognizing the Cuban rebels as belligerents.The Press, led by William Randolph Hearst and Joseph Pulitzer, relentlessly pushed for support of the Cuban rebels and American intervention, especially as the Spanish record of atrocities reached the American popular consciousness.
Many historians have looked at the events leading up to the War and the subsequent international role America embarked on. Walter LaFeber argues that the antecedents of the War events are part of a growing imperialism traceable back to William Seward and the 1860s. John Offner, in tracing the events of diplomacy from 1895 to 1898, credits both the accident of events of Spanish and American diplomacy and the movement of Congressional opinion as driving the McKinley administration to the militarily active role the U.S. eventually played in 1898. Historians like Philip Foner see the actions of the Cubans themselves against the interplay of American economic interests as leading to the results that followed the War.  I believe that none of these historians adequately explains the unpopular policies of two American presidents or why these policies were pursued.
Many analysts, both at the time and later, tried to explain American policy as one of protecting American business interests. But most American businesses had much to gain from either Cuban independence or annexation by the United States and little to gain from continuance of Spanish hegemony.Under Spanish rule, American exports to Cuba suffered from high tariff barriers that favored European goods, reexported from Spain to Cuba. While pre-War imports from Cuba, primarily of sugar and cigars to the U.S., ran in excess of $50 million a year, American exports were less than one-fourth of that.During the Cuban Revolution, even the regular imports of sugar from Cuba were disrupted.
Given the overwhelming dominance of public opinion in support of either Cuban independence or American intervention at some level, why did the U.S. Government not intervene before April 1898, before there were hundreds of thousands of deaths from fighting and in the concentration camps? Why did the U.S. government so diligently support the seemingly discredited policy of autonomy right from the outbreak of the Revolution in 1895 to the start of hostilities by Spain in April 1898? I contend that the advice and interests of one man and his circle of influence prevailed against all the most powerful of public opinion constituencies in the United States, Cuba, and Spain. That man was Edwin F. Atkins.
Edwin Atkins was a rich businessman who played an important role in this period mostly because of who he was and where he was. A Bostonian, he was also the largest American property owner in Cuba when the War for Independence broke out. Because of that, he knew more about Cuba than did almost any other prominent American of the time. His influence led American policy toward Cuba and Spain down a dead end that helped make war with Spain unavoidable and true Cuban independence unlikely. Both Atkins and his father were Union Pacific Railroad Director and close associates there of Charles Francis Adams. At the same time, a New England railroad lawyer, Richard Olney, had become Grover Cleveland's Secretary of State in 1895.
When all is said and done, history is still the collective story of individual human beings and their institutions. Not many men play a notable, or even noticeable role, in history. Those who do are constrained by their own times, their ability to act held back by their circle of influence and their own understanding and vision of their times. Those we remember and the even smaller number of men we celebrate are men who were in the right place at the right time, and had a vision of their personal roles and the times they lived in that prompted them to action.
Private interests played a more visible role in helping to shape public policy during this time than during most other major American policy crises.Edwin Atkins was a private citizen who played a huge role in both shaping American policy as it evolved and in validating the public directions in which American presidents sought to set out. In an era when instant experts and policy wonks didn't exist to answer the governmental and public demand for information, private citizens in a position to know and be credible, private citizens, such as Edwin Atkins, filled the void.
This paper will trace key events in the period leading up to the war as well as the influence that Edwin Atkins had both during and after the War. We will attempt to identify why Atkins came to play an important role, what that role was and how his input affected events as they occurred. The War of 1898 marked the real beginnings of the United States as a world power and the true beginnings of economic imperialism as an identifiable and articulated American policy.Edwin Atkins, however, showed no strong political philosophy or world view in either his actions during the period or his reminiscences written after the period.While many of the political leaders of this period like McKinley, Orville Platt or Henry Cabot Lodge gave brief flickers of a political philosophy, virtually none had a realistic vision of what a future Cuba would look like. As we will see, Atkins, driven by pragmatism, was remarkably flexible in dispensing advice that he saw as providing the stability he needed to run his businesses.
From Boston to Soledad
Edwin F. Atkins was born into an old Yankee family, only recently grown rich. His father, Elisha Atkins, made his money the old Boston way: from the sea. He built a large business shipping and brokering sugar. It was the way the Atkins family had made their livelihoods for generations. Henry Atkins had come to Plymouth from England in 1639 and five generations after him fished, farmed salt and served the coastal shipping trade.Elisha Atkins was born in Truro, Massachusetts in 1813. The family moved to Boston while Elisha was still a boy, and he graduated from Roxbury Latin School in 1830. When the rest of his family moved to New York, he stayed in Boston. In 1832, he became a partner in a ship carrying Caribbean trade. When the Panic of 1837 came, like many others, Elisha Atkins went bankrupt.
Not long discouraged, he formed a partnership in 1838 with William Freeman of Boston, a relative of his wife.Atkins and Freeman, the new firm, was again a trading company. Its first chartered ship sailed to Trinidad, Cuba, where the Freeman family had connections with the sugar trade. In 1843, Atkins went South himself aboard his own brig, the "Adelaide", and discovered new trading opportunities in Cienfuegos, Cuba,along the island's southern coast. The company pursued a triangular trade: sending finished New England manufactured goods to Central America, picking up coffee, cochineal and granadilla, usually from Guatemala, and carrying these goods to Cienfuegos or Trinidad to trade for sugar. Atkins developed strong business relationships with several large estate-holding families including the Yznagas, Multaros and Terry families.By 1849, Atkins had bought out William Freeman and was running more than 50 charters a year to Cuba trading mostly in sugar. The Torriente Brothers of Cienfuegos acted as agents for Atkins and Company, and the families developed strong personal relationships. By the 1860s, Atkins was becomingwealthy, owning a half dozen ships and running over 400 charters a year to Cuba in his own and others' ships. 
In 1856, Elisha Atkins moved his family from Bulfinch Street to Pemberton Square in Boston. In 1857, he bought a summer home outside Boston on Wellington Hill in Belmont, where he and his son were to become leading citizens. What is now the Habitat Nature Preserve in Belmont was the site of one the Atkins' family homes. In 1872, as Pemberton Square declined and Back Bay became the place to live, Atkins moved to 37 Commonwealth Avenue.
Social acceptance advanced business acceptance. In 1849, he became a director of the Boston Wharf Company. In 1869, he was elected to the Board of Directors of the Union Pacific Railroad, where he became chairman of the Finance Committee and, in 1872, a Vice President. It was there he later worked with his friend, Charles Francis Adams, who had joined the railroad's board in 1879.
Despite his growing success, Elisha Atkins was not listed as one of the wealthier men in Massachusetts in 1851, and neither his nor his son's biographies were included in any of the volumes of prominent Bostonians, with the exception of a volume published by the Boston Press Club in 1903.The younger Atkins was a major benefactor of Harvard, donating property at his Soledad plantation in Cuba for a Botanical station. Harvard granted him an honorary Master of Arts degree in 1903.
By the mid-1860's, the nature of Atkins' business began to change. Although the firm was shipping some 25,000 hogsheads of sugar and another 3,500 of molasses, the commission business was becoming less profitable as competition from beet sugar growers intensified. Atkins' business began to evolve. From simply trading, shipping and merchandising, the company began to extend credit and financing to planters, both directly and through the agency of the Torriente Brothers, their agents in Cienfuegos. While under the Refaction Law (until 1880), credit to planters was secured only by a lien on crops, interest rates were high enough to make financing a profitable addition to merchant's offerings.
With the outbreak of the Ten Year's War in Cuba (1868-1878), the old Cuban plantation families began to be economically squeezed on all sides. Overseas beet sugar led to increased price competition. To be competitive, the Cuban producers needed new equipment and sugar processing machinery, which required capital. In was in this period that large sugar processing plants, called centrales, began to replace the ingenios that formerly processed sugar on each plantation. Those who couldn't afford to modernize and become centrales, were reduced to being colonos, plantations that only grew sugar cane, without processing it. But as a class, the Cuban planters carried a high level of debt even before the War, owing money, mostly to Spanish financiers and merchants who controlled the trade. To make matters worse, the Revolution itself caused considerable economic dislocation.
These harder times in Cuba occurred just at the time when Elisha Atkins' main interests were being drawn into railroads. While there was greater prestige and opportunities for wealth in the railroads, the Atkins family had considerable capital invested in Cuba, and the sugar trade continued to be an important business for them. Presumably, it was for this reason that Elisha Atkins sent his son Edwin to Cienfuegos in 1869 to learn the business from Ramon de la Torriente rather than sending him to college. While profits may have been high, the risk from this business was large as well. The son was sent to protect the family's interests.
Atkins learned the business during this difficult period, although the family risk increased as more and more planters were unable to pay off on credit extended them. At the end of the Ten Year's War, only a few plantations around Cienfuegos continued to operate. With the passage of the Mortgage Law in 1880, it became possible to attach liens directly to plantation property. And with the cataclysmic collapse of land prices in the wake of the Ten Year's War, Atkins and Company was, in effect, forced into becoming sugar producers themselves. In 1882, the Atkins began collecting properties by foreclosure. In the following years, they took possession of 14 different estates and leased 4 others. They foreclosed the Soledad and Rosario plantations of the Rosario family, Carlota from the Torriente family, Caledonia from the estate of Diego Julien Sanchez, Guabairo from Manuel Blanco, and Limones from the Vila family. Vega Vieja and Manaca were purchased from the Yznaga family and Algoba was leased.Santa Teresa was acquired from Juan Perez Galdos, Veguitas from Jose Porroa, Vaqueria from the Barrallaca family and San Augustine from the Tomas Terry family. Leased properties included San Jose, Viamones, San Esteban and Algoba. Most of these properties were in the vicinity of Soledad and eventually were incorporated into that property. Several of them like, Manaca and Algoba, were in the Trinidad area. These were incorporated with the properties of the Trinidad Sugar Company that Atkins' bought in partnership with H.O. Havemeyer and Charles Senff of the Sugar Trust in 1892. In the period prior to the American protectorate, Atkins & Company became the largest plantation owners in Cuba. As late as 1899, Atkins was still adding properties. 
Many of the Atkins' properties were taken over before 1886, and, although full emancipation was slated by 1886, it is not unreasonable to assume that their land deals made the Atkins' major slave holders, although the issue is not dealt with directly in any of the family biographies. Edwin Atkins does describe an inspection trip he made to Soledad in January 1882.In a letter to his wife, he describes a scene right out of the ante-bellum American South:
Imagine me in the centre of a crowd of over two hundred negroes, each of whom kneeled down on passing me, saying, 'Your blessing, Master' and then formed into a line. They were all the way from two years old to one hundred. I was very glad to see how contented they were, as it was quite the contrary last year, when Torriente and I first came to the estate. 
Slave-holder or not, Atkins made Soledad his operating headquarters in Cuba, and it was here that he built his modern central, or sugar factory.The sugar industry and the entire Cuban economy was virtually in ruins.In 1883 the American Consul in Cienfuegos reported: " all the mills in his jurisdiction had changed ownership at least once as a result of debt and foreclosures"  The American Consul in Havana, Adam Badeau, reported in early 1884 : "Out of the twelve or thirteen hundred planters on the island, not a dozen are said to be solvent."  In the same period, sugar prices dropped to record lows, from 11 down to 8 cents a pound.Cuban sugar lost ground worldwide, as beet sugar took market share, but most especially in the American market. Atkins saw lost opportunities for American exporters at the same time he searched for ready markets for his own sugar. It was in 1884 that he made his first efforts at influence in Washington and in New York, lobbying and speaking on behalf of proposed tariff reciprocity treaties that would enable the U.S. President to negotiate reciprocal tariffs with other countries. He met Secretary of State James G. Blaine at Atkins' offices in Boston when Blaine visited the elder Atkins to discuss railroad business. He made the argument to Blaine that reciprocity with Spain for Cuban sugar would open up extensive markets for U.S. exports. 
Atkins & Company took official title to Soledad in 1884.Edwin Atkins spent the next 10 years improving and extending his company's property, and adding property in the Trinidad region in 1892.High water came in 1892-1893, after Washington and Madrid negotiated the Foster-Canovas treaty, under the reciprocity powers granted by the McKinley Tariff Act. Cuba and Puerto Rico received lower tariffs in exchange for lower Spanish tariffs on U.S. exports.Sugar production boomed from 630,000 tons in 1890 to 1 million tons in 1894. Total Cuban exports to the United States increased from $54 million in 1890 to $98 million in 1894, while American exports to Cuba increased to over $18 million in 1892 and $24 million in 1893. 
Atkins & Company bought the Bay State Sugar Refinery Company of Boston in 1878.It was sold in 1892 and became part of Henry Havemeyer's Sugar Trust, which by the 1890's controlled 85% of the sugar business in US. The Bay State plant was dismantled and its machinery moved to the Trust's Standard Refinery at South Boston. Atkins solidified his position in the Trust by participating with Havemeyer in the purchase of the Trinidad Sugar Company in Cuba in 1892.  According to Philip Foner, this relationship became important in 1900-1901, when Atkins helped spearhead the Trust's drive to build public support for annexing Cuba to the United States. 
By 1894, Atkins' holdings at Soledad totaled some 12,000 acres and a grinding capacity of 120,000 tons of cane and 1200 employees during cane cutting season.  The 5,000 acres planted in sugar cane probably produced more than 4,000 tons of sugar a year. At the New York price of 3.2 cents per pound in 1894, that would have produced gross revenues from Soledad of over $256,000. The Soledad central also ground the cane for surrounding colonos and profited from other activities such as financing the surrounding colonos. These brought Soledad revenues to over a million dollars per year. 
The party ended in 1894 with the passage of the Wilson-Gorman Tariff Bill that rescinded tariff reciprocity with Spain and Cuba and replaced it with a 40% tariff on Cuba. Spain retaliated with higher tariffs, but it was Cuba that suffered most. Indeed, 90% of Cuban exports went to the U.S. market.The passage of the bill began a severe depression in Cuba that led in short order to the commencement of the Cuban War for Independence.
Much of what we know about Atkins' political involvement comes from his correspondence with Richard Olney, Cleveland's Secretary of State during 1894-1897, and with Orville Platt, the Senator from Connecticut and sponsor of the infamous Platt Amendments. This paper references mostly secondary accounts of this correspondence.Atkins also wrote a memoir of his experiences in Cuba. The book tends toward the anecdotal and is spotty in his coverage of the details of his dealings with Washington, despite the fact that it was written more than 25 years after the War.
In his own memoirs, Oakes Ames, the Harvard botanist who spent considerable time at Soledad in 1903, notes that Atkins was the only man in the United States with a cable connection to Cuba during the Cuban War for Independence and that he frequently corresponded with his plantation managers in code. Ames also paints a portrait of a man somewhat taken with his self-importance as he holds court at Soledad:
First and last one hears a great many bits of inside history at Mr. Atkins' table and ina way one cannot repeat them. He rambles on from example to example, as various subjects come up, in the manner of aman who has the whole field under his control and always at his fingertips. When a new guest arrives and puts the usual questions, then everybody waits expectantly for the tales that usually follow when Mr. Atkins is in the right mood. 
Cuban Policy and the Cleveland Administration
Grover Cleveland's second term as President was a time of great national stress. By the middle of his term, the nation was gripped by a major depression starting with the Panic of 1893. Unemployment soared to 18%. The labor unrest that began spreading in the 1880's continued into the 1890's at a high level. Cleveland managed to alienate many groups that had supported him by early in his 2nd term. He lost the support of the West when he got Congress to repeal theSherman Silver Purchase Act. He alienated labor by intervening on the side of the railroads in the Pullman Strike of 1894. Business interests grew restless as the economy soured after the Panic of 1893.
There were many different visions for America at the start of the 1890's. Populists saw the concentrationof business and the growing domination of politics by big business asa threat to democracy itself. Westerners and farmers saw easy credit and silver coinage as the solution to the deflationary economy of the 1880's.Americans became conscious of the closing of the frontier.The traditional 19th century American expansionism was beginning to evolve into an American imperialism with its underpinnings set by men like Alfred Thayer Mahan, who argued the importance of sea power in supporting the expansion of the American economy. Anti-imperialists saw expansionism as the death of American democracy. Mugwumps saw the death of democratic institutions at home in the undemocratic administration required to run a colonial empire. More conservative traditionalists like E.L.Godkin were anti-imperialists because they saw the mongrelization of America's Anglo-Saxon institutions in the conquest of foreign peoples. Others like Edwin Atkinson were anti-militarists and anti-imperialists in the sense that they saw no need for military conquest to fuel American economic expansion.
It was against this background in the U.S. that the Cuban War of Independence began in 1895. The Ten Year's War (1868-1878) had simply been fought by Spain and the Cuban rebels to an impasse of exhaustion in the Pact of Zanjon in 1878.An aborted rebellion in 1880 failed to win broad popular support. It was only after the formation of the Cuban Revolutionary Party (PRC) under Jose Marti in 1892 that the movement to liberate Cuba from Spain gained broad popular support on the island, across lines of race and class. The revolution that started in 1895 was largely an American movement, led and funded by Cuban expatriates, many of whom were naturalized American citizens. After the Pact of Zanjon, many of the Cuban Creole elite and bourgeoisie were financially broken by the post-War economic chaos and had emigrated abroad, many to the US. The high tariff on Cuban cigars in the 1880's had driven much of that industry off-shore to Tampa and Key West in Florida, and a large population of cigar makers had settled in Florida, many of whom were also naturalized by the time the War of Independence broke out. Under the leadership of Marti and the Cuban Junta in New York, this U.S. expatriate community was organized and mobilized.Maximo Gomez and Antonio Maceo (living in Jamaica and Costa Rica, respectively) were recruited to lead the revolutionary army. The revolution itself was started and moved to Cuba in 1895.
The rebels had experienced leadership under Gomez and Maceo.They made gains fromearly on, and the Spanish reacted by sending more troops and escalating the war under the leadership of Martinez Campos. Campos had been responsible for negotiating the Pact of Zanjon and encouraging the Autonomist movement that gained momentum from the terms of that armistice.The Autonomists hoped to achieve home rule and governmental reform for Cuba. Unfortunately, conservative Spanish governments had failed to build on that beginning and the Autonomist Party had been weakened by fifteen years of failure of their program by the time the War broke out in 1894. The dispatching of Martinez Campos by the conservative Spanish government of Canovas Castillo was a sign to all parties that the solution to this outbreak would be similar to that of Zanjon.
Sympathy for the Cuban revolution was strong in the United States from the outbreak of the war.The large Creole community and the strongly organized activities of the PRC (Cuban Revolutionary Party) across the country, but especially by the Junta in New York, helped gain the movement much favorable press.  The position of the Cleveland Administration from the beginning was to maintain strict neutrality and not to recognize the rebels as belligerents. Richard Olney had succeeded to Secretary of State upon the death of Walter Gresham in June 1895. This was at a point early in the war, just when the seriousness of the war was becoming obvious. Martinez Campos was still talking up autonomy at this point, but the Autonomist position was hurt both by the failure of the Spanish to control and contain the revolt and by the Canovas government's position not to make any concessions until the revolt was quelled.
American relations with Spain had been prickly going back many years. Several issues created hard feelings and directly contributed to what happened eventually.The failure of Spain to indemnify Antonio Maximo Mora, a naturalized citizen, for the confiscation of his sugar plantations had been a point of contention in relations since 1870.Foreign Minister Segismundo Moret had admitted the illegality of the confiscation and in 1886 agreed to pay a $1.5 million indemnity.The Conservative majority in the Cortes refused to appropriate funds to make the payment, insisting first that the U.S. should first agree to pay debts owed to Spain stemming from the Adams-Onis treaty and the cession of Florida in 1819. Thus, Cleveland's Minister to Spain, Hannis Taylor, spent his first two years in Madrid patiently trying to collect the indemnity. This irritant was still in the background of US-Spanish relations when the Cuban War broke out. On March 2, 1895, Congress passed a resolution directing President Cleveland to insist on payment of the indemnity.
Taylor continued to be unsuccessful in collecting payment and in June, 1895 reported to Olney: "The reason why such persistent ingenuity has been employed... to defeat this claim arises out of the fact that public opinion here (in Madrid) is so adverse to its payment that the leaders of both parties, Canovas and Sagasta, hear it mentioned with dread and shrink from it with fear and trembling"  Olney attempted to take charge of this issue personally by dealing through Don Enrique De Lome, the Spanish representative in Washington. He proposed that Spain pay half the claim immediately and the rest in January, 1896, and he warned DeLome that if Madrid refused, thenthe U.S. would consider Spain's inaction as "insulting" and would act accordingly. In spite of the seriousness of this threat, Olney's offer was rejected by the Spanish cabinet. 
In addition, Cuban customs officials had failed to apply the reciprocity agreement tariff lists of 1891 to the U.S. satisfaction. Moret failed to deal with this dispute despite many efforts to get him to do so by both Taylor and Olney. The Spanish government only treated the issue with seriousness as the Wilson-Gorman tariff bill was about to be passed. Moret address several questions on the effect of this bill to Taylor. Taylor apparently never responded, and U.S. tariff walls were raised to Spanish products. Moret had threatened to raise Spanish tariffs if the bill was passed. When it did, he ended U.S.-Spanish reciprocity on August 27, 1894.Cuban sugar was priced out of U.S. markets by the high tariffs. The tariff walls, combined with record low sugar prices, spelled disaster for Cuban sugar growers and the economy.
The political landscape in Spain was unstable throughout this period. The Cleveland administration knew the weakness of the Spanish government and had good reason to take a hostile stance toward Spain when the Cuban revolt broke out. Moreover, Olney's early information from Cuba indicated that the insurrection might have broad support among Cubans.Paul Brooks, an American planter in Cuba and consular agent, advised Olney before September, 1895, that 90% of Cubans supported the insurgents and that Cubans were disgusted with Spanish misrule. He predicted that the insurgents would win and were capable of governing the island. This was at the same time that the Spanish contended that the rebels were of the lowest classes, holding no property and were led by adventurers incapable of forming a government.  If Brooks were right, Olney advised Cleveland that the American government should protest Spain's inhumane warfare and be prepared to recognize Cuban belligerency and independence. He proposed sending an agent to Cuba who could assess the true military situation of the war. This was never done.
Instead, the administration adopted a policy of strict neutrality, which effectively supported Spain, in the face of tremendous popular American support for the Cuban revolutionaries and a weak, but uncooperative Spanish government. During Cleveland's years, despite the efforts of the Cuban Junta, more than half of the filibustering expeditions (all carrying weapons, supplies or reinforcements for the rebel armies) were stopped from reaching Cuba. Olney set the precedent for American administration to support Spain in granting Canadian-styleautonomy in Cuba under Spanish rule, a policy that the McKinley Administration was still attempting to push on Spain right up until March of 1898, despite little support in Cuba for such a policy and the total opposition of the Cuban Separatists.
The Atkins Influence and Cleveland-Olney Cuban Policies
Administration policy seems to have been directly affected from a relatively early date by the advice of Edwin Atkins. Atkins continued to operate the plantation and central without cessation at Soledad despite adverse conditions and the War of Revolution raging around him.His advice to the Cleveland and McKinley administrations evolved as time went on, but all of it had the net effect of best allowing him to continue operating at Soledad.
Atkins' influence grew strong shortly after Richard Olney became Cleveland's Secretary of State. Olney had made his reputation in Massachusetts as a lawyer representing railroad interests. He shared this background with Charles Francis Adams, who was first a Massachusetts State Railroad Commissioner, then later a Director and eventually President of the Union Pacific Railroad. Elisha Atkins had already been a long-time Director of the Union Pacific, and a friend of Olney's, when Adams became President of the line. Adams spent the winter of 1890 with Edwin Atkins at Soledad, and it was Adams who strongly recommended Atkins to Olney as an expert on the situation in Cuba.
I do not believe there is any quarter to which you could go for outside information and depend so entirely upon the judgment and knowledge of the informer,as to Mr. Atkins in matters connected with Cuba. 
Atkins believed it was of the utmost importance that the U.S. maintain neutrality in the war and not recognize the Cubans as belligerents. He felt that without strict neutrality it would be impossible to demand that the Spaniards protect American property in Cuba. Moreover, Atkins felt and advised Olney that the revolutionaries in Cuba were little better than rabble and outlaws, who held little sympathy among the "intelligent" classes in Cuba.
Before the outbreak of the insurrection, Cuba had been infested with bandits, who levied tribute upon the sugar estates by threats to burn their cane or kidnap their owners. Such threats had often been carried out, and heavy ransoms exacted when a wealthy planter was captured. One of the most notorious of these was Manuel Garcia, who operated for several years in the district of Cienfuegos. Very many of the estates paid tribute to Garcia, Soledad being one of the exceptions, as I preferred to incur the expense of maintaining a strong field guard to paying tribute. At the outbreak of the insurrection, Manuel Garcia was commissioned as a commander of the insurgent forces, and it was claimed that the money he had been collecting had gone into the hands of the Cuban Junta of New York. However this may be, Garcia and other of his class, with a following largely composed of blacks, formed the nucleus of the insurgent forces. At that time the people of the Island, however much they may have been dissatisfied with Spain, were not in sympathy with the movement; and the intelligent classes among the Cubans, with few exceptions, favored autonomy under the Spanish government. 
Atkins' circle was primarily peninsulares and those Creoles who either had survived as sugar growers or were part of the professional class, such as it was. His contempt for the revolutionaries was long-lived and pervasive. As late as 1906, he described them this way:
Of the insurgents, I personally knew very little. They were composed of men entirely outside my circle of acquaintance, very many of them being negroes and a large part of them ignorant white Cubans. 
Olney apparently did not realize how weak a foundation Atkins' input was built upon. It was in late 1895 that Atkins began actively working for Cuban autonomy under Spanish rule. While Atkins peddled his advice in Washington, he relied on his agent in Cuba, Captain Walter Beal, for input on what was happening in Cuba:
Captain Beal had a very wide acquaintance in Cuba and was fortunate enough all through the insurrection to keep on friendly terms both with the insurgents and the Spaniards. He had a good opportunity to keep in touch with the news through insurrectos who were constantly drifting into Guibairo..; in CienfuegosCaptain Beal knew all the influential Spaniards and through Dr. Perna and others was able to follow closely news from the Spanish side. Whatever information could pass through the mails he communicated to me; and I, in turn, passed on anything of importance to Washington.
In the course of time I came to believe that autonomy was the only solution of the trouble, and while in the North, I worked in Washington toward this end and was able to continue my work for autonomy in Cuba through channels that Captain Beal kept open to me. 
In July 1895, Beal advised Atkins by letter, "...by far, the great majority of people are against this rebellion." 
In January 1896, Olney asked Atkins and Oscar Stillman, a long-time Boston and Cuban business associate of Atkins, to contact insurgent leaders in the field and ascertain their willingness to accept autonomy as a satisfactory arrangement for ending the conflict.Apparently based on Atkins' advice, Olney believed that insurgent separatists would consider Spanish concessions and autonomy.By March, Olney was telling Enrique DeLome that he opposed Cuban independence because he did not believe the insurgents could govern successfully.He also pointed out that the war was harming U.S. interests. Olney proposed that Spain end the war by providing meaningful political reforms that would be attractive to most Cubans. He assured DeLome, that if Spain did this, then the U.S. would throw its support behind the reforms and the revolt would lose its popular moral force. Given that, he felt support in the United States would dry up and the rebellion would die.  Apparently, Atkins was having a major impact on Olney. Henry Cabot Lodge blamed the failed Cuban policy on Atkins' advice to Olney. 
In April, 1896, Fitzhugh Lee, the former Confederate cavalry general, was sent to Havana as the new Consul General. Lee's first reports advocated American intervention. He asserted the war was at a military stalemate and the Spanish would never grant meaningful political reform. Even if they did, he reported to Olney, Cubans would reject it. He recommended U.S. intervention, or at least sending a warship to Havana to encourage the Spaniards to protect U.S. interests sooner, or risk having U.S. Marines do it. Lee warned if the U.S. did nothing, conditions in Cuba would continue to worsen and there might be war with Spain.Lee noted that Spanish officers would consider it dishonorable to surrender to the Cubans and would prefer to surrender honorably to superior U.S. military forces.Cleveland and Olney were apparently annoyed by Lee's advice and continued to pursue autonomy reforms with the Spaniards. 
Cleveland and Olney had other evidence that should have warned them that the autonomyreforms would not work.Olney had arranged with Edward Marshall of the New York Journal to have its Spanish speaking correspondent, Frederick Lawrence, forward a statement of his observations during his stay in Cuba. Lawrence reported to Olney in May, 1896. He found the armies of Gomez and Maceo to be fully a match for the Spaniards, and he thought them capable of carrying on the fight indefinitely. Further, he estimated that three-fifths of the population of the island, including the educated classes, were either fully engaged or in sympathy with the rebellion. 
On May 2, 1896, Atkins himself arrived in Washington from Cuba.According to Foner, he reported to Cleveland and Olney that he had talked with...
...Spanish Generals, Havana merchants and bankers, Spanish and Cuban planters, and 'working and country men of both classes.' While he found that 'the Spaniards do not think the Cubans would accept anything short of independence', and the Cubans did not 'believe the Spaniards would grant any concessions', yet individuals on both sides had indicated clearly that they 'favored autonomy as a solution'. Even among the rebels, 'only the Negro element', and the 'adventurers', both of 'who[m] are seeking power from Spain, are not inclined to settle the matter short of absolute independence of the Island.' But one Cuban influential in the council of the insurgents had assured Atkins 'that the better classes of the white population now with the insurgents, would lay down their arms were autonomy granted by Spain... He took occasion to state that he personally, and many of his associates who were in arms, would not press for independence, as they were fully aware of the incapacity of the people of Cuba to maintain a Government at the present time'. 
In spite of this contradictory reporting from several sources,Olney and Cleveland seemed to weight Atkins' advice over whatever else they were hearing. In spite of overwhelming Congressional support and a resolution for recognition, Cleveland stood until the end of his term for supporting Spanish reform and Cuban autonomy, a policy that had no chance of being accepted by the Cubans. Horatio Rubens, attorney for the Junta , credits Atkins with influencing Olney and later McKinley, all to an end of protecting his plantations. 
The Spanish government rejected Olney's program and attempted to suppress the revolt with stronger methods. Valeriano Weyler was dispatched to Cuba in February, 1896, to replace Martinez Campos.Weyler's posting was the result of peninsulares' complaints about the reformist efforts of Martinez Campos and his failure to end the revolt.But Weyler's methods were so brutal that they alienated all but the most extreme Spanish loyalist in Cuba and turned conservatives into Autonomists and Autonomists into Separatists. As Perez recounts, facing ruin under Weyler reconcentrado policy, many moderates went into exile, adding a conservative influence to the overseas Junta.  As Weyler's policies failed and Liberals came back into power after Canovas assassination in 1897, loyal peninsulares, in desperation, fled Cuba for Spain in expectation of an eventual blood bath. 
McKinley, Stewart Woodford and the Continuing Pursuit of Reform
Cuba was not a major issue in the election of 1896.The issues of Gold and Silver and William Jennings Bryan's perceived radicalism had much more importance to the electorate, although neither the public nor the Press found Cleveland's scrupulously neutral policy acceptable. The Republican platform contained a strong statement of support for the Cuban people, but the issue was largely ignored by both candidates.When McKinley took office, he made no direct mention of Cuba in his inaugural address. Indeed, his first announcement on the subject was that his administration would continue the policy of preventing filibustering expeditions.
Edwin Atkins was again introduced to the new Administration by Charles Francis Adams.In addition, to pave the way for access to McKinley and his cabinet, Atkins himself wrote Mark Hanna and John D. Long, McKinley's Secretary of the Navy. Shortly after McKinley took office, Atkins traveled to Washington and met with McKinley and some of his cabinet. He continued to provide much the same advice on Cuban policy he had given to Olney. In November 1897, he assured William Day, McKinley's Under Secretary of State (and de facto Secretary, since the Secretary of State John Sherman was considered by many to be senile), that autonomy still had widespread support in Cuba. He urged the Administration "to have patience a little longer," confident that "all will end well". 
McKinley's policy toward Cuba can be gleaned from his administration's instructions to his newly appointed Minister to Spain.Stewart Woodford was instructed to demonstrate to the Spanish government America's strong interest in settling the war. He was to ask the Spaniards to stop the war by offering " proposals of settlement honorable to herself and just to her Cuban colony..".  The U.S. would stand by to support and assist Spain, but if the war dragged on America could not be expected to refrain from recognizing the belligerents much longer. Essentially, McKinley was offering a continuance of Cleveland's policy with some veiled, and later, not so veiled, threats to Spain should they fail to do so.
Spanish Prime Minister Canovas was assassinated on August 8, 1897. The Liberal Government of Praxedes Mateo Sagasta took power.Weyler was recalled and General Raymond Blanco was appointed Captain-General of Cuba to replace him. Atkins and the influence he was having in Washington made him a target for the frustrated New York Junta. In January, 1898, Atkins left Cuba, again stopping at Washington.While he was away, a work train operating near his Factoria plantation was sabotaged.A member of a filibustering expedition was captured and in his statement linked responsibility for the sabotage to Estrada Palma, leader of the New York Junta. Atkins tried to get members of the Junta arrested but failed, apparently thanks to the efforts of Horatio Rubens. 
Atkins' influence apparently began to wane as his public profile grew higher. Several events worsened relations with Spain and helped push the nation toward war. The exposure of Enrique DeLome's indiscreet letter to the Spanish commissioner Jose Canelajas angered both Congress and the American public and cost Spain and the United States an effective intermediary, as DeLome resigned. The explosion of the cruiser Maine in Havana harbor inflamed the situation more. These events in February gave way to the frantic efforts of the McKinley Administration and Woodford in Spain to get the Spanish government to effectively move to autonomy. It was also in March that Vermont Senator Redfield Proctor toured Cuba, a visit possibly most fatal to Atkins' influence.In his memoirs, Atkins notes Proctor's visit on March 13 and seems less than impressed:
Senator Proctor and Clara Barton spent one night in Cienfuegos last week. They saw no one but the Consul, who did not seem charmed with Miss Barton. He says she is a feeble old lady without an idea of the situation and no wish to know. The subscription for relief of sufferers was started in Washington in January, or rather in December; nothing has yet been sent to Cienfuegos. I guess there is too much red tape and too little help. 
Proctor's speech to the Senate on his return on March 17th was a major milestone in pushing public opinion toward war.Known as a steady conservative close to McKinley, he was an extremely credible spokesperson when depicting the savagery of the Cuban situation and the hopelessness of the Spanish cause. Proctor was responsible for convincing many in the business community that autonomy would never be accepted by the Cubans and that the Cubans were likely to be able to create a stable government.  Obviously, this was a direct contradiction to the advice Atkins had been handing out in Washington for several years.
Proctor also accused Atkins of receiving special favors and protection from the Spanish government and of corrupting the American Consul at Cienfuegos, Owen McGarr, and "having him in his pocket". The senator said he could see from his train there was a much larger force guarding the Soledad properties than anywhere else in Cuba he had been and that Atkins' mill was the only one between Havana and Cienfuegos that he had seen in operation.Usually a man that went great lengths to shun the spotlight, Atkins was reduced to issuing a press release that disclaimed that he had received no special favors from the Spanish government and alleging Proctor had been no closer than 15 miles from any of Atkins mills. 
McKinley's policies eventually led the Spanish to declare a cession of hostilities, too late however to prevent war. On April 19, Congress voted to define Cuba as independent without recognizing the Cuban Republic. McKinley signed the resolutions on April 21st and ordered a blockade of Cuba on April 22.The Cuban rebels rejected the suspension of hostilities. The War lasted from April 22 to August 12, 1898.
Atkins and Post-War American Policies
While Atkins' direct influence waned with the failure of the autonomy policies,he remained active in attempting to influence policy and protect his interests as he saw them.His early efforts were to speed relief supplies to the island, as he himself was feeding several thousand dependents around Cienfuegos, then to get the Administration to speed the American military occupation of Cuba.  After the surrender of Havana, Atkins was quick to call on Major General John Brooke when Brooke took office in January 1899.Later, in December 1899, he established a strong working relationship with General Leonard Wood, when he replaced Brooke.
Having failed to establish an autonomist Spanish Cuba, Atkins' attentions apparently next turned to annexation. The Teller Amendments had committed the United States to supporting Cuban independence. Philip Foner claims that Atkins and Henry Havemeyer of the Sugar Trust set up a fund designed to undo the Teller Amendments and allow the annexation of Cuba.Newspapers all over the country received a package of articles entitled "The Future of Cuba: New York Business Men Advocate Annexation". In August, 1899, a Massachusetts newspaper noted, "A regular campaign in support of the annexation of Cuba has been undertaken and from an unknown source. Newspapers are receiving printed sheets containing the argument that the Cubans want to be annexed ..." A bureau set up in Washington was the source of these mailings, financed by "syndicates and monopolies who have acquired and hope to acquire still further interests in Cuba." One monopoly mentioned was the Sugar Trust.  Huge properties were being bought up by American corporate interests in 1899. United Fruit bought up over 240,000 acres in Oriente. The newly formed Cuban-American Sugar Company purchased nearly 100,000 acres in Oriente, Pinar del Rio and Matanzas. Atkins himself purchased 2 additional estates in Las Villas province.  By 1902, American ownership controlled 40% of Cuban sugar production. Annexation would provide duty-free entry for all this newly owned American sugar.
Annexation plans were foiled by the strong opposition of the Anti-Imperialist Movement. Men like E.L.Godkin, Edward Atkinson, Senator George Hoar and others provided a strong resistance to the feelers of big money and their government allies. It also became clear that there was little or no remaining sympathy among most Cubans for annexation. Annexation, at least for the time being, was dead. Atkins learns the futility of the Sugar trust's annexation drive directly from the highest reaches of power. By June, 1900, Senator Orville Platt of Connecticut, having visited Cuba in March, reports confidentially to Atkins:
I think annexation is absolutely out of the question. In the first place, the Teller resolution stands not only in the way of that, but all other action we might taken had it never passed. I think I know enough of Congressional sentiment to know that it is regarded as a pledge of the government against annexation. 
Atkins' memoirs reflect his concern at this time with stability and labor unrest. He calls upon General Wilson to use troops to end a strike in Cienfuegos. He tells of his efforts to help General Wood get a friendly Constitutional Convention, by intervening on behalf of a candidate Wood wanted elected in Cienfuegos.
I sent for one of the alcaldes de barrio and told him my wishes. He told me to have no anxiety; the man I suggested would be elected. I asked him how he proposed to do it. He said it was a simple matter; they would take possession of the ballot boxes and destroy the ballots of the opposition candidates. I told him it was a magnificent idea and worthy of Tammany Hall. Needless, to say, this candidate was elected. 
In spite of this story, Atkins had the gall to write McKinley's close friend Robert Porter, the Special Commissioner to Cuba, to complain that the election for Constitutional delegates was fraudulent:
I suppose you are aware that there are very serious and well-founded charges of fraud and intimidation at the elections which chose the members of this convention, and it is an unquestionable fact that they represent only the insurgent element of the Cuban people. I am told that the governor of this province telegraphed to Cienfuegos to get up a demonstration sustaining the action of the convention in rejecting the demands of the United States, and these instructions were probably given throughout the Island. Of the people demonstrating at Cienfuegos, a large majority was colored; few of them knew what the demonstration was about.... I give you these items in strict confidence, thinking they may be of interest to you and others. 
Here and in his correspondence with Platt, Atkins seems to continue to prefer operating behind the scenes.It is clear that he sees no inconsistency between the electoral standards he enlists for his own side and those he demands of others.
Ever the pragmatist, Atkins soldiered on after the failure of annexation.In June, 1901, he writes Senator Platt that the Platt Amendment didn't go far enough in protecting "property owners ..against vicious legislation or administration on the part of the Cuban government."  Platt answers him the following week that he had been in favor of ..."very much more stringent measures."But, he tells Atkins, "we should not only have had that difficulty [of getting it adopted in Cuba] increased, but we should have had a party in the United States giving aid and comfort to the Cuban radicals." 
Annexation failing and the Platt Amendments not being strong enough for his liking, Atkins next turned his attention to gaining a reciprocity treaty for Cuba. Obviously, any reciprocity that eliminated sugar tariffs was in Atkin's economic interests. It also met the needs of the major American players who had entered the sugar business in Cuba. By tying Cuba's output exclusively to the American market, it would make the Cuban economy totally dependent on the United States.Leonard Wood had come out for lower tariffs in his report in 1900. In his annual report for 1901, Secretary of War Elihu Root had come out in favor of reduced duties for sugar and tobacco. McKinley had also supported the initiative in his 1899 and 1900 messages to Congress. 
While the Administration supported lowering the tariff, the beet sugar lobby in Congress was bitterly opposed. Beet sugar production had increased from 2,203 tons in 1890 to 76,859 tons in 1900-1901. Additional cheap cane sugar would be a significant threat.It took a major effort, led by Leonard Wood, President Roosevelt and others to overcome this opposition. Atkins was a player in this campaign. By now, Atkins, who was still the largest individual sugar planter in Cuba, was also the chairman of the Associated American Interests in Cuba and acted as spokesman for that group. In December 1901, he wrote an article for the North American Review entitled "Cuba's Imminent Bankruptcy". In the article, Atkins sounded the alarm about what would happen were Congress to fail to pass a reciprocity bill. He warns: "The economic conditions of the Island call for prompt and decisive action, or Cuba will be bankrupt before it can be turned over to its Independent Government, and its population, deprived of employment, will again be in a fit state for rebellion against any established government."The article is largely a discussion of world sugar production and the subsidy policies of European countries toward their beet sugar growers. Atkins didn't fail to bemoan the risk property owners faced: "The property interests of the Island are largely in the hands of foreigners... These classes, while holding probably three-quarters of the Island... are entitled to no vote or representation in the political affairs of Cuba; to the protection of this property the United States in morally pledged under the Treaty of Paris." 
A tariff bill was eventually passed giving Cuban sugar a 20% tariff reduction exchange for 20 to 40% percent reductions for U.S. imports into Cuba. It took until December 1903 for the bill to be passed, despite the support of President Roosevelt.In the debate, there was much heat over the Cuban treasury funds spent in support of the bill by General Wood and by the fact Henry Havemayer's Sugar Trust controlled either directly or indirectly the entire Cuban sugar crop. Atkins himself testified before the House Ways and Means Committee in 1902, proposing a total removal of the duty on sugar and a 50% reduction on all other goods in the Cuban-American trade.Once again, Atkins' advice looked worse under the light of public scrutiny. Opponents of reciprocity got him to admit he held stock in Henry Havemeyer's American Sugar Company and was an investor with Havemeyer in the Trinidad Sugar Company in Cuba. Foner comments that Atkins' testimony left an impression that the Sugar Trust, of which he was clearly a part, would be the chief beneficiary of reciprocity. 
Atkins' memoirs end with his assessment of Cuba in 1926. He complains that the government in Cuba continues to be unstable and that most property is held by foreigners. He still fails to tie these two phenomena together. Instead, Atkins apparently feels that government of Cuba by Cubans, even one emasculated by American interference, is some kind of tyranny. He states:
The wealth of the Island is very largely held by foreigners, including Spaniards. This class of population had no vote or voice in the Government, and as upon these foreigners Cuba must largely depend for her taxes, it is becoming a question of taxation without representation. 
American policy toward Cuba and Spain in the 1890's and after forms a complex and sometimes confusing tapestry. While the historical forces that led to modern American policy seem to have been inevitable from the vantage point of today, it was certainly not so clear then. Neither Cleveland nor McKinley were ideologues; they were politicians.
This War is a vein of rich historical ore. The period marked a crossroads in the history for all the participants: Spain, Cuba, and especially the United States. Many of the observers of the time knew it was. For the United States, it happened amid a storm of historical changes: political, economic and intellectual, that led directly to the modern America we know today. The causes of the War developed slowly and were fed with many fuels. One hundred years of American-Cuban history, American expansion, the 'closing' of the American frontier, the maturing of the American industrial revolution, decades of difficult Spanish-American relations, the great economic depression in America following the panic of 1893, the search for a Cuban nationality: these are just some of the great issues that were ingredients in the soup of diplomacy and action that led to American participation in the War and the policies of economic imperialism that the United States directed toward first Cuba and then throughout Latin America and eventually much of the world in subsequent times.
It is hard today to reconcile the hard line that Cleveland took in Chile or against the British in Venezuela with the President who patiently and strongly supported neutrality toward Spain. It is also puzzling to explain McKinley's support for liberal autonomy in Cuba, when it was clear to most observers by 1897 that the policy had no chance of success. Edwin Atkins and the influence he exerted throughout this period goes a long way toward explaining the confusion.In this case, history was the intersection of great historical issues and one man looking after his own interests.
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