by Paul R. Spitzzeri
[This post is published amid solemn reflection of the mass shooting that took place today during the Independence Day parade at Highland Park, Illinois.]
The rise of the United States in the late 19th century included an economic expansion that would propel the country to a superpower status in the next, but correlated to that was the growing role of the American military and the featured object from the Homestead’s collection for this 4th of July post is the “Patriotic War Number” of the Los Angeles Times, issued in celebration of Independence Day on 5 July 1898.
In an era of accelerated colonization of much of the planet by European nations, the United States embarked on its own version of colonial conquest in the guise of spreading liberty and democracy to those areas it annexed. This included the former Kingdom of Hawaii, which was overthrown by primarily American descended residents in 1893, and which was formally annexed by the United States on 7 July.
Then there was the Spanish-American War, which was embarked upon on the pretext that an explosion the destroyed the warship, the U.S.S. Maine, in the harbor at Havana, Cuba in mid-February 1898 was caused by the Spanish government, which possessed the island just thirty miles from Florida. An immediate campaign, fueled by so-called “yellow journalism” among much of the American press, led to the declaration of war by the United States against Spain in April.
Just as Independence Day was to be celebrated, the Battle of Santiago de Cuba was undertaken the prior day and immediate successes against a Spanish fleet that had virtually no chance of victory against a navy with greater material and human resources proved to be a particularly potent symbol of American military and political power.
In Los Angeles, the press were united in their pride in both the accomplishments of the military in Cuba as well as what as what this meant in the context of celebrating the 122nd birthday of the country. While other major dailies like the Express and the Herald certainly trumpeted the accomplishments at the Battle of Santiago de Cuba and linked this to local holiday celebrations, they were outdone in their coverage by the Times, especially with its special edition highlighted here.
Under the banner headline of “Spanish Fleet Destroyed,” the Herald of the 4th gave extensive coverage, thanks to reporting through the Associated Press, of the events in Cuba, including the destruction of all Spanish ships, save one, and the expected imminent surrender of Santiago. In a short editorial, under the heading of “Cause to Celebrate,” the paper noted the events with satisfaction and noted:
The American people will have an added incentive to celebrate today as the Fourth of July has never been celebrated since Gettysburg and Vicksburg [key battles of the Civil War]. We may with reason hope also that Santiago will fall before tomorrow rises, and that its fall will mark the beginning of the end.
The paper also included a lengthy two-column review of that day’s Independence Day celebration, centered around the usual downtown parade, which, obviously, took on greater meaning with the current events involving the war. The Herald proclaimed that “this is the year of all the past century, and today is the day of the whole year, when the cannon’s roar and the eagle’s scream will be answered by a patriotic throb in the heart of every true American.” It went on to suggest that “our nation’s every action will prove indisputably that this is one country, with one people, and under one flag—in fact, THE country.”
The procession was to begin at Main and Seventh with the grand marshal being Johnstone Jones, an attorney who fought in the Civil War for the Confederates as a teenager and who was a brigadier general of a volunteer cavalry corps from southern California for the current war (he was later hired by Walter P. Temple to write the history of the Workman and Temple family but ill-health ended his efforts). A 45-gun salute at sunrise inaugurated the proceedings with the parade to have started at 10 a.m. from Eighth and Main and then moved north up the latter thoroughfare to the Temple Block where Main, Spring and Temple streets then intersected. From there, the march was to go south on Spring to Sixth and west to Olive, with the proceeding to go north to Fifth and east to Broadway and, finally, north to the court house with a review by the mayor, police chief, Jones and other officials as it passed city hall on Broadway.
There were eleven divisions in the parade including members of the National Guard of California; veterans from the Grand Army of the Republic (Union Army), the Confederate association, and others; Native Sons of the Golden West; British-born Americans; fraternal societies; community organizations of many kinds, including the Afro-American League; and more. There were also many floats, including war-related ones such as the “Spanish War Report and Lie Factory;” “At the Bottom of Havana Harbor, ‘Remember the Maine’;” and “Cuba Entering the Circle of American Republics.”
A 2 p.m. program at Hazard’s Pavilion, later the the site of the Temple Baptist Church Auditorium, across from Sixth Street or Central Park, now Pershing Square, included patriotic music, a reading of the Declaration of Independence, a prayer and the day’s oration, while a “children’s mass meeting” at the same time at Simpson’s Tabernacle, later Simpson Auditorium, on Hope Street south of 7th, included a similar format, but with the conspicuous presence of the girls’ mandolin and guitar club from the “Perris Indian school,” opened in that Riverside County town a half-dozen years and which moved to Riverside and became the Sherman Institute, now the Sherman Indian High School.
At Agricultural Park, now Exposition Park, at 8 p.m. the band of the Seventh California Volunteer Infantry Regiment was to give a concert, mainly comprised of pieces related to the war, including “Teddy’s Terrors” (perhaps referring to future President Theodore Roosevelt famous charge at San Juan Hill, which had just taken place on the 1st); “Bombardment of Santiago de Cuba;” “President McKinley;” “Remember the Maine;” and “Our Boys, the Seventh.” Following was a fireworks display, including mortar shells, whirlwinds, shooting stars, cascades, asteroids, and peacock plumes among others.
The Express, being an evening paper, gushed that the events of the day comprised “THE GREATEST FOURTH LOS ANGELES HAS EVER HAD,” adding that it was “A Magnificent Patriotic Demonstration by Our Citizens” commemorating “The Glorious Achievements of our Heroes [Which] Inspire Every Heart” through “A Street Pageant That Went Beyond All Expectations.” The paper suggested, somewhat strangely:
If one could put gunpowder and dynamite into type that would detonate as it was read, a vey faint idea of the explosive characteristics of today and the accompaniment of the Fourth of July celebration in Los Angels could be written; but mere words utterly fail to give an idea of the feeling of joy that could only find expression in noise, more noise and more noise.
There was actually some rain overnight and into the morning in time for the parade’s start, though the Express noted that “this Fourth really began yesterday” with the reports from Cuba. The extravagant decoration of downtown with an abundance of banners and flags was cited and it was believed that “there were more thousands of people on the streets than ever before was known here probably” though, regardless, “there was not a face that was not radiant with the spirit of the day, nor a heart that was not grateful for the great news” from the Battle of Santiago de Cuba.
As for the Times‘ “Patriotic War Edition” of several dozen pages, it is bursting with fervor for the war effort, the military history of the nation, and, not surprisingly, because advertising paid for the publication, plenty of promotion for the Angel City and, especially, its business community. The “Salutatory” comment and the beginning set the tone for the rest of the production in its soaring rhetoric, noting at the start the Independence Day of 1898 was not just to commemorate the birth of the United States, but was
the beginning of that new spirit of Americanism that goes forth to extend the helping hand to a brave neighboring people, and to beat back from the western continent that lingering wave of despotism that, impotent against the strong, has engulfed the innocent and feeble and borne them to misery and death.
It was “a gallant army” and navy that went to Cuba, where Spain first obtained its American colonies, so on “this day when throughout the broad land the glorious banners of the republic billow upon the breeze, when the voices of childhood, old age and manhood blend in our national anthems,” United States forces were out “to enforce the mandates of the republic,” this presumably mainly meaning the Monroe Doctrine of seventy-five years prior.
It was asserted that “America’s valor has won the admiration of all civilized lands,” so that paper implored its readers, “Oh, land of the free! Glad is the anniversary that awakens no bitterness for the past, and bears upon its wings only glorious promises for the future.” Through the past, with its struggles and scars, “American has drawn the strength of her arms and the might of her soul” and stood ready “to vanquish those hosts that stand for the reign of error and the blindness of ignorance.” The nation’s childhood was over, the piece ended, “and in the might of vigorous youth, it goes forth upon the most glorious crusade of all history. Truly, ‘God wills it.'”
Lengthy sections followed on Old Glory and other early flags in the American republic as well as about The Star-Spangled Banner and how it became the national anthem. The history and evolution of the uniforms of the Army and Navy followed with ample illustrations with “Scenes in the Life of a Soldier” and “Life on Board a Man of War” providing much information and visuals. A page on “Our Naval Heroes,” particularly timely because of the Santiago conflict includes portraits of well-known figures like John Paul Jones, Oliver H. Perry and George Dewey with others largely forgotten like Isaac Hull, Thomas McDonough and W.B. Cushing.
“Our Wars, Past and Present” began with the claim that:
The motive which has impelled the United States to take up arms has always been the vindication of the principles of liberty, and in this respect our wars have differed from the conflicts of other countries as much as our governmental principles differ from those of the nations of the Old World.
There are some remarkable statements, such as that, in the years following the American Revolution and preceding the War of 1812, the forced “impressment” of an estimated 30,000 American sailors by Great Britain was said to be such that “their treatment . . . [was] worse than that accorded to black slaves before our civil war.”
With the Mexican-American War, it was averred that “the motive . . . was not the acquisition of territory . . . but the vindication of our national belief that men have a right to revolt from a tyrannical and non-progressive system, to rule by the will of the majority, and to establish by mutual consent the government best fitted for their development,” all of this supposed to have applied to Texas and then, upon its annexation, “encouragement was given to the Californians [that is, the minority that comprised Americans and some Europeans] to found a republic.”
Moreover, the “non-progressive” Mexican republic, modeled after that of the United States, was one issue, but so was the idea that “this territory must inevitably fall prey to some strong power.” Naturally, America could not stand by and allow “a hostile nation,” most likely Britain, so war was “welcomed by a majority of the people . . . who believed that our victory would assure our national safety and territorial integrity.” The outcome of the war “was one of the most important events in history, as it insured the North American continent to liberty and to the progressive spirit of the English-speaking people.”
Even more interesting was the claim that “the motive of our civil war, like that of the conflict now being wages against Spain, was the securing of freedom for an oppressed people.” This “great humanitarian impulse” was joined with the goal to hold the country together. The Union triumph was held as “the victory of progress” and it was added that the bravest of Confederate fighters (like parade grand marshal Jones?) “are no willing to concede that their ultimate success would have meant the real defeat of the South” because its standard of living in the last 25 years “has been most marvelous.”
Also of a humanitarian caste was the declaration of war against Spain because of the “misery and degradation” of the people of Cuba (this would apply as well to The Phillipines, also “liberated” from Spain though with significant violence in after years as American forces battle to subjugate it.) Rejecting the view of those who “view the possibility of our acquiring islands in the Pacific Ocean or the Caribbean Sea, with alarm, and make gloomy prognostications for the future,” the Times insisted that “America . . . has a powerful assimilative quality” (except for those, such as Asians, that it claimed could not assimilate—the two ads on this page, incidentally, were for Chinese doctors in Los Angeles). Finally, it concluded “that the wider her territory the larger and purer her ideas of liberty” and went so far as to suggest that “should she gain the empire of the world, Freedom alone would be the crowned ruled [ruler] of the domain,” so “those who read her history aright have no fears for the future.”
As for “Our Prospective Colonies,” the Republican paper opined that, while Democratic presidents Jefferson, Monroe, and Polk were architects of significant American expansion through direct annexation and the “protective” power of the latter’s doctrine, it was Alexander Hamilton, who would, presumably, have been a Republican if he was alive after 1856, who set the course for the growth of the republic. With Hawaii, for example, decades of American influence by missionaries and others brought civilization to its benighted people, so that aspect of progress was a justification for annexation.
The paper continued that “it is certain that the Pacific Ocean is to be the field upon which great events are to occur in the future” and the United States had to take a major part in those events. The acquisition of Hawaii, then, was a necessary step, especially as Japan, not yet antagonistic to American interests, though, of course, the United States demanded it open its ports nearly a half-century prior, “could cause us untold trouble.”
The Phillipines comprised another example of Spanish oppression and tyranny and it was pointed out that insurrections were ongoing there, but that massive island chain, “rich in agricultural and mineral products . . . finds its natural outlet in America.” Therefore, it was concluded, “that the islands of the Far East may become prospective American colonies is hardly held as a theory by the American people;” in other words, it was being promoted as a near certainty.
With respect to Puerto Rico, it was held to be a “white man’s island” because “the Europeans . . . increase with much greater rapidity than do the blacks” and, besides, “its soil and climate are admirably adapted for American colonization.” It was noted, though, that “in Puerto Rico there is an intense hostility toward the United States, and an alien system of society and religion dominates the Europeans.” Obviously, this refers to the Spanish colonial system and the Roman Catholic religion, still regarded in much of America with great suspicion by Anglo-Saxon Protestants. Interestingly, a comparison was made with California in that the population of Puerto Rico was almost ten times greater than the reported enumeration of the former in the 1850 census, so the challenges for American colonization were, therefore, greater.
Finally, with Cuba, the question was whether there would be an independent republic, albeit with significant American colonization with respect to business investment and control, or that it would be under a protectorate, which was considered “morally certain,” at least in the immediate aftermath of an American victory, which took place by mid-August with a treaty concluded by the end of the year. It was expected that U.S. forces would be needed to prevent factionalist and strife like that found in Central America (despite the Monroe Doctrine.)
Regardless, it was claimed, “America has entered upon a new era” and, begin fully united, was ready to assume its destiny. It was proposed that
Never before in the history of the country has the moral sense of the people been so deeply stirred as at present, and from that movement must come a soul-quickening, a patriotic renaissance, a generous and enlarged Americanism, that will carry this nation victoriously through the horrors and dangers of war, and make peace fruitful of vast improvement and blessing.
Obviously, one has to consider who “the people” were in 1898. Certainly not the remaining indigenous population, decimated by war, alcoholism, disease, violated treaties and the taking of their last bastion of sovereign territory, the oil-rich Oklahoma Territory; nor the Asians subjected to violence, discrimination and provisions of such legislation as the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act; nor Blacks, held violently and firmly down in the Jim Crow South and barely experiencing better conditions elsewhere in the country.
In our own time, it is always crucial to remember how we construct these narratives of “history aright” applied to policy because there is, of course, much to celebrate on Independence Day, but also much to ponder about what the day means for our ever-evolving future.