By: Elihu Root
Date: November 1901
Source: Translation of the Proposed Constitution for Cuba, the Official Acceptance of the Platt Amendment, and the Electoral Law. Elihu Root, trans. Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1901.
About the Author: Elihu Root (1845–1937) was a corporate lawyer and U.S. attorney who served as secretary of war from 1899 to 1903 under presidents William McKinley (served 1897–1901) and Theodore Roosevelt (served 1901–1909) and as secretary of state from 1905 to 1909 under Roosevelt. Awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1912, Root was one of the few Republican supporters of the League of Nations. Although he was the architect and negotiator of the Platt Amendment, it bears the name of Orville H. Platt (1827–1905), Republican senator from Connecticut, who sponsored the measure in the U.S. Senate.
For at least sixty years prior to the turn of the twentieth century, the United States pursued a special relationship with Cuba, then governed by Spain. The main reason was Cuba's strategic location near approaches to the Mississippi River, the Gulf of Mexico, the Caribbean Sea, and the Isthmus of Panama. During the 1840s and 1850s, American expansionists had made several failed attempts to purchase Cuba from Spain. The lengths to which the United States was prepared to go in acquiring the island can be seen in the Ostend Manifesto (1854), a confidential government report recommending the seizure of Cuba. Illegal, privately financed military raids had also been made in an attempt to gain control of Cuba.
The possibility of acquiring Cuba, a slave-holding province, diminished during the 1850s. By this time the United States had become more embroiled in the slavery issue, which would become one of the principal causes of the Civil War (1861–1865). Nonetheless, interest in Cuba remained high for the rest of the century, and the American military quickly liberated the island from Spain in the Spanish-American War (1898). Upon achieving victory, the United States declared its intention of establishing Cuba as an independent country.Maintaining Cuba's independence proved to be a complex challenge. Of primary importance was the strategic position of the island. The United States had previously tolerated control of Cuba by a weak and impoverished Spain, yet the country could still be taken over by a more aggressive foreign power. In addition, Cuba offered the potential for military bases that would allow the United States to extend its influence into the Caribbean basin. Secondly, the inevitable political and economic fragility of an independent Cuba opened up the possibility of internal chaos, which could be harmful to U.S. economic interests, and risk intervention by another country.
Third, most Americans felt an obligation to help Cubans establish a stable, democratic government. The United States had, after all, gone to war to promote a free and independent Cuba. They felt it would not be appropriate to let Cuba fall into anarchy, if such an outcome was preventable. Although the United States had no interest in exercising direct control, Americans did not want to leave Cubans at the mercy of internal or external predators. Secretary of War, Elihu Root, therefore, developed proposals that Senator Orville H. Platt attached to the Army Appropriations Bill on March 2, 1901, outlining necessary additions to the emerging Cuban constitution. The adoption of these provisions was a prerequisite to the withdrawal of the U.S. Army from Cuba.
Convened by order of General Leonard Wood, the U.S. military governor of Cuba, the Cuban Constitutional Convention completed a constitution on February 21, 1901. The Cuban Constitutional Convention initially rejected the so-called Platt Amendment. Root assured the Cubans, however, that the U.S. intention was merely to protect the country from foreign intervention and domestic insurrection. Confronted with few options, the convention added the provisions to the constitution. The Platt Amendment was approved reluctantly by the convention on June 12, 1901, and formalized in a treaty between the United States and Cuba the following year.
Under the authority granted by the Platt Amendment, the United States intervened in Cuban affairs on several occasions before the treaty provisions were repudiated by the United States in 1934. The most notable intervention took place in 1906, when the Cuban government virtually collapsed. The United States established—and still maintains—a naval base on Guantánamo Bay, at the southeast end of the island.
Primary Source: Translation of the Proposed Constitution for Cuba, the Official Acceptance of the Platt Amendment, and the Electoral Law [excerpt]
SYNOPSIS: The main provisions of the Platt Amendment forbade Cuba to allow foreign occupation of any part of the island, limited the amount foreign debt to the country's capacity to repay any debt, and required the sale or lease of territory to the United States for a naval base. The amendment also left open the status of the Isle of Pines, a small island off the southwest coast of Cuba, and required the implementation of sanitation programs initiated by the U.S. Army to eradicate yellow fever. Most importantly, the amendment authorized U.S. intervention to enforce these provisions.
June 13, 1901
Honorable Military Governor of Cuba
Replying to your official letter dated on the eighth (8th), whereby you forward to the undersigned the report of the Honorable the Secretary of War, dated May 31st last, I have the honor to advise you that at the session held yesterday, June 12th, by the Constitutional Convention, there was taken the following
The Constitutional Convention, in conformity with the order from the military governor of the island, dated July 25th, 1900, whereby said convention was convened, has determined to add, and hereby does add, to the Constitution of the Republic of Cuba, adopted on the 21st of February ultimo, the following:
Article I. The Government of Cuba shall never enter into any treaty or other compact with any foreign power or powers which will impair or tend to impair the independence of Cuba, nor in any way authorize or permit any foreign power or powers to obtain by colonization or for naval or military purposes, or otherwise, lodgement or control over any portion of said island.
Art. II. That said Government shall not assume or contract any public debt to pay the interest upon which, and to make reasonable sinking-fund provision for the ultimate discharge of which the ordinary revenues of the Island of Cuba, after defraying the current expenses of the Government, shall be indequate.
Art. III. That the Government of Cuba consents that the United States may exercise the right to intervene for the preservation of Cuban independence, the maintenance of a government adequate for the protection of life, property, and individual liberty, and for discharging the obligations with respect to Cuba imposed by the Treaty of Paris on the United States, now to be assumed and undertaken by the Government of Cuba.
Art. IV. That all the acts of the United States in Cuba during the military occupancy of said island shall be ratified and held as valid, and all rights legally acquired by virtue of said acts shall be maintained and protected.
Art. V. That the Government of Cuba will execute, and, as far as necessary, extend the plans already devised, or other plans to be mutually agreed upon, for the sanitation of the cities of the island, to the end that a recurrence of epidemic and infectious diseases may be prevented, thereby assuring protection to the people and commerce of Cuba, as well as to the commerce of the Southern ports of the United States and the people residing therein.
Art. VI. The island of Pines shall be omitted from the boundaries of Cuba specified in the Constitution, the title of ownership thereof being left to future adjustment by treaty.
Art. VII. To enable the United States to maintain the independence of Cuba, and to protect the people thereof, as well as for its own defence, the Cuban Government will sell or lease to the United States the lands necessary for coaling or naval stations, at certain specified points, to be agreed upon with the President of the United States.
Art. VIII. The Government of Cuba will embody the foregoing provisions in a permanent treaty with the United States.
With the testimony of our greatest consideration, very respectfully, the President,
Domingo Méndez Capote.
Dulles, Foster Rhea. America's Rise to World Power, 1898–1954. New York: Harper, 1955.
Pratt, Julius W. A History of United States Foreign Policy. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: 1965.
"United States Occupation and the Platt Amendment." Available online at ; website home page http://www.cubafacts.com (accessed December 24, 2002).