Senate Debate on the Platt Amendment

John T. Morgan

February 27, 1901

Mr. President, I do not know whether we are proposing to require Cuba to adopt a constitution with such addendum to it in the shape of an amendment or an ordinance, or whether we are making a proposition to Cuba for a treaty…

We do not know how far that constitution may have to be changed to admit such propositions as are here…The Senate of the United States and the Congress of the United States are now preparing to declare, by public law, that these people shall accept what we here spread before them and make it a part of the constitution or else an ordinance to accompany of equal force and validity in Cuba…

…[I]t is an ultimatum sent by the Congress of the United States to the people of Cuba, not to any government there. You have got no government in Cuba except the government of the United States when you pass this act. It is an ultimatum, then, to the people of Cuba. Have they authorized their representatives in that convention to adopt something like this? When that convention was organized it was upon the basis of the vote of the people of Cuba. They sent their delegates to that convention, many of them very able men, and now before we have seen that constitution we demand that that convention or some other convention shall accept these propositions from the legislative department of the Government of the United States and incorporate them into their organic law, and we put it in the form of an ultimatum. “You have got to do it because we say so. We do not ask you to confer with us about it or anything of the sort. We want no conference with you, although we pretend in the closing article of this proposition that this shall all be secured by a permanent treaty, as if there was ever any such thing in this world in the public law of nations as a permanent treaty…”

Now, as to the particular matter that is under discussion in article 3, I think there can be no doubt that the proposition as stated by the Senator from Massachusetts is entirely in error. The Monroe Doctrine never had anything to do with a proposition like this, the maintenance of a government adequate to the protection of life, property, and individual liberty in any one of the American States. It has no connection with that. That gives us the right to go into one of these American States that we say we will protect against Europe or Asia or any other country under the aegis of the Monroe Doctrine, and when you go into that State you can exercise the power of the Government of the United States for the maintenance of a government adequate for the protection of life, property, and individual liberty. Whose life? Whose property? Whose individual liberty? Why, as a matter of course, of the people who are in Cuba, whether they are citizens or whether they are denizens, whether they are foreigners – it makes no difference what country they may belong to.

Now, here is the United States marching into an American republic with the question whether the government of that republic has got sufficient authority or is sufficiently well conducted to protect life, liberty, and property…

Mr. President, the fault and the shame of this proposition are both disclosed on the face of the papers, and it is unnecessary to go outside of the four corners of this proposition for any man of ordinary common sense to discover it. There it is. You leave those words in there, and you compel Cuba at once to subordinate herself at all times to the visitation of the United States, to ascertain how she is dealing with her own people, not ours; whether she is protecting life, and personal liberty, and property there according to our ideas of what she ought to do. Can any man imagine a more absurd position that the Congress of the United States could possibly place itself in than that which is on these papers? I would be ashamed…

I do not speak about foreign interference. I have not the least fear of foreign interference. There never will be any foreign interference in Cuba…

…[W]hen they want to go down there to rectify the Cubans we will keep a sort of Sunday school down there with an army, at any time and every time that they do not do exactly what we want them to do. They will never put themselves into that attitude. We could not extend a better invitation to those high-tempered and honorable people to rebel, to kick at least against what we are doing, than to put in that provision, which is continuous.

The Senator from South Carolina asked me when it would end. I will tell him never, in my opinion. It is continuous, giving us a right to interfere with their method of conducting their own government in respect to their own people, and then trying to house that or shelter it under the idea of the Monroe doctrine.

Whoever heard of such an application as that made of the Monroe doctrine before, that it gives us the right not only to fence off outside the United States and prevent them from coming in and establishing institutions that might be dangerous to the liberties of the United States, sooner or later, but also the right to enter into these different governments, to visit them, look into their affairs, to determine whether or not their governments are adequate to the protection of the life, personal liberty, and property of their own people?…

I do not want to do anything that will involve our country in a responsibility that is not necessary and unless it is absolutely imperative…

Now, Mr. President, I am perfectly persuaded in my own mind that if we put this legislative ultimatum at those people in Cuba it will not be two months, perhaps it will be less time than that, when the roll of the drum will be heard in our country summoning the volunteers to go to Cuba to put down an insurrection. I believe it is the best invitation for strife and war that has ever been put into a paper to be tendered to another government…

Source: Congressional Record, 57 Cong., I Sess., pp. 3146-3148.

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