22. "I Am Now a Vermont Farmer"
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352 22 “I Am Now a Vermont Farmer!” On the evening of February 15, 1898, the USS Maine, a second-class naval battleship stationed in Havana harbor, suddenly exploded, killing nearly three-quarters of the three-hundred-man crew. The ship had been sent to Cuba only three weeks previous to protect American interests during a revolt of the Cubans against the Spanish government. It was determined that the Maine’s forward gunpowder magazines had ignited and caused the explosion, although whether by accident or intent was unclear. The world was shocked at the news of the tragedy; politicians were on edge for the possibility of military repercussions. Speculation was rampant about exactly what had happened. It quickly was determined that the Spanish had not attacked the ship. So the questions were, Was it the action of a terrorist person or group unaffiliated with the Spanish government? Was it an accidental external explosion caused by a submerged harbor mine? Or was it some sort of accidental internal explosion? Both governments instituted boards of inquiry. The general feeling in America was that it was not an internal accident; angry citizens clamored for military retaliation against Spain, which they considered responsible. President William McKinley and many members of Congress counseled patience, desiring to wait for the decision from the board of inquiry. McKinley, a Civil War veteran, said he had seen enough war to ever want to see another one. One week after the explosion, within the tumult of the anger and the argument, former secretary of war and minister to Great Britain Robert T. Lincoln went on record stating that Spain was not at fault for the explosion if it was an accident or the action of a lone fanatic. “In neither case would the slightest liability attach to Spain,” Lincoln said. “It is an elementary principle of international law that a government is in no way responsible for the acts of private citizens. . . . It is another primary principle that no nation is chapter twenty-two 353 responsible for accidents.”1 In the anti-Spanish fervor of the moment, Lincoln’s statements shocked and even disgusted many people. The Mt. Pleasant News in Iowa declared, “It would be difficult to imagine an opinion more out of harmony and of all sympathy with the prevailing sentiment than this.” The Chicago Times Herald added that Lincoln’s opinion was “not endorsed by men who are classed as authorities [in international law].”2 The results of the two boards of inquiry, released simultaneously on March 25, differed in their conclusions. The Spanish board “emphatically” declared the explosion came from inside the ship. The U.S. board decided the explosion came from a submarine mine outside the ship, the explosion of which ignited the forward gunpowder magazines.3 The findings only intensified American anger, which the Congress followed to support Cuba in its revolution against Spain and to declare the island an independent country. On April 25, Spain declared war on the United States; the next day, the United States declared war on Spain. The explosion of the Maine was the specific catalyst for the war, and cries of “Remember the Maine!” became the American war cry. President McKinley immediately issued a call for 125,000 military volunteers. One of the eager young men to join the American army was Robert Lincoln’s son-in-law, Warren Beckwith. Since his elopement with Jessie Lincoln in November 1897, Beckwith had tried to settle down into a business career with his father in Mount Pleasant, Iowa, but failed. He then attempted to return to the life he loved as a baseball player, signing with a team in Ottumwa, Iowa, only to be released two weeks later at the insistence of his mother.4 Beckwith’s parents, just like his in-laws, wanted him to go into some form of steady business pursuit, not waste his time playing games. After his baseball plan was thwarted, he went to work in Creston, Iowa, either ranching on his father’s farm or working as a brakeman on the Burlington railroad. Shortly after the wedding, Jessie discovered she was pregnant. Soon after America declared war on Spain in late April 1898, the state of Iowa began enlisting volunteers. On May 3, 1898, Beckwith was the first man in Creston to present himself for physical examination to join the army. According to one news story, the Beckwiths hoped that Warren’s enlistment would help his father-in-law to recognize him “as...


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Subject Headings

  • Lawyers -- United States -- Biography.
  • Lincoln, Robert Todd, 1843-1926.
  • Children of presidents -- United States -- Biography.
  • Ambassadors -- United States -- Biography.
  • United States -- Politics and government -- 1865-1933.
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