The Platt Amendment, named after the senator who introduced it as a rider to the 1901 Army Appropriations Bill, was a set of conditions for U.S. military withdrawal from Cuba. The U.S. forced the Cuban government to accept those conditions by refusing to withdraw troops from the island nation until the amendment had been included in the newly Cubas's constitution.
A War By Any Other Name
The Cuban War of Independence had been raging for three years when the U.S. declared war on Spain in April of 1898, vowing to free Cuba. What President William McKinley really wanted, however, was to protect U.S. political and commercial interests in its island neighbor. Rechristened the Spanish-American War, U.S. forces were able to swiftly overcome Spain. When the dust settled in August of 1898, America found itself a global power. The Treaty of Paris, signed in 1899, gave the U.S. control of Spain's former colonies in Cuba, Guam, Puerto Rico and the Philippines. Despite the fact the final declaration of war passed by the U.S. Congress included a provision that the U.S. would hold no claim of sovereignty over Cuba, Cuban officials were excluded from the peace conference held to discuss these issues in Spain.
When Congress was debating the official declaration of war against Spain, Colorado senator Henry Teller proposed an amendment assuring the U.S. would not permanently control Cuba. The Teller Amendment, as adopted in the final declaration, promised that following "pacification," control of the nation would be returned to its people. However, the U.S. military remained in Cuba for three years after the end of the war. The American government wasn't convinced Cubans were ready to manage on their own and feared the island, with its strategic location and substantial American commercial interests, would fall prey to another imperial power. The problem was how to maintain influence in Cuban government and foreign relations without violating the promises made by the Teller Amendment.
Resistance is Futile
The Platt Amendment resolved the American dilemma. Named after Connecticut senator Orville Platt, who introduced the amendment, its contents were drafted by Secretary of War Elihu Root. If directly inserted into the Cuban constitution, the amendment's conditions would allow the U.S. continued control over Cuban affairs without violating the Teller Amendment. Cubans resisted, however, because the Platt Amendment severely limited the ability of the Cuban government to conduct its own affairs. After the amendment repeatedly failed to meet the approval of the Cubans, the U.S. issued an ultimatum: U.S. occupying forces would not leave the island unless the Platt Amendment became part of the Cuban constitution. Finally the constitutional provision was based by a slim margin. The conditions were also incorporated into a treaty between the two countries in 1903.
Boot Prints of Imperialism
In the wake of the Platt Amendment's inclusion in the Cuban Constitution, U.S. involvement on the island increased. The amendment's provisions basically gave the U.S. the right to intervene in Cuban affairs at will, which the U.S. repeatedly did -- in 1906, 1912, 1917 and 1920. During that time, as many as 44,000 Americans moved to Cuba and established commercial enterprises. As much as 40 percent of the Cuban economy was controlled by American citizens. The Platt Amendment also led to the establishment of the U.S. military base in Guantánamo Bay, which is still in operation.
- Our Documents: Platt Amendment (1903)
- University of Houston Digital History: The U.S., Cuba, and the Platt Amendment
- U.S. Department of State Office of the Historian: The United States, Cuba, and the Platt Amendment, 1901
- The New York Times: Give Guantánamo Back to Cuba
- PBS Online: Crucible of Empire -- February 6, 1899: Treaty of Paris Ratified
- Jorge Rey/Getty Images News/Getty Images