Hon. Redfield Proctor

Vermont In The Spanish American War

While the autonomy plan was under trial, Senator Redfield Proctor, Senior United States Senator from Vermont, on his own initiative visited the Island of Cuba, and on his return delivered a speech in the U. S. Senate, Mar. 17, 1898, which made a profound impression not only on Congress, but on the whole country, and unquestionably his dignified but powerful statement of facts was what finally awoke the nation to action (the full text of this speech will be found in the appendix). The following extracts taken from an address delivered before the Vermont Historical Society by Hon. Frank C. Partridge on "Redfield Proctor, His Public Life and Service" Jan. 19, 1915, and also extracts from memorial addresses commemorating his life and character delivered in the Senate of the United States, Jan. 9, 1909 show conclusively the vital part which this speech had in shaping the final action taken.

"His most notable speech in the Senate was delivered Mar. 17, 1898, and was his recital of the conditions which he found upon a personal visit to Cuba. "It is not peace" said he "nor is it war". The Speech was one of the most influential and far reaching in its results ever delivered in the Senate. Senator Proctor upon his own initiative, prompted by his habit of seeking to know things at first hand, went to Cuba and investigated for himself the conditions in that island in the last days of Spanish rule. Upon his return to Washington, at the request of some of his colleagues, without prearrangement or stage setting, in the course of the current business of the Senate, he told what he saw. He did it in a style as simple as the classics and with a manner wholly unpretending, but surely no artist in words nor the most eloquent orator could have added to its potency. Senator Frye a few minutes after its delivery said, "It is just as if Proctor had held up his hand and sworn to it'. He was too modest to foresee the remarkable effect which his statement produced; but it is the general belief that it precipitated the Spanish War. 'Impartial history has recorded the fact', says Senator Clay, that 'Senator Proctor did more than any other public man to arouse public sentiment against Spanish rule in Cuba and in favor of Cuban independence and self government'. 'Senator Proctor told the story of Cuban suffering, said Senator Cullom, fully but with a gentleness of expression that under the circumstances was wonderful and in almost any other man than the judicial minded Senator Vermont would have been impossible'. Former President Harrison said that it 'aroused the nation, and yet there was not a lurid adjective in it.' In beginning a large religious meeting at Madison Square Garden in New York City the second day after Senator Proctor's speech, the great revivalist Dwight L. Moody, instead of opening his Bible, read Senator Proctor's speech from beginning to the end. After the reading was concluded, Mr. Moody paused a moment to let the words sink into the minds of his hearers and then he said 'I want every man and every women here to read that Speech'.

Senator Proctor's Cuban Speech was one of those rare utterances which have really shaped great public policies. Its effect was exceptional but its character was not. Its observations were wise because he was always a wise observer. Its style was simple and direct because such was always his manner. Its candor and truthfulness commanded the confidence of the entire country because the country had long before learned that its author was a man to be trusted". (Hon. Frank C. Partridge)

"The possibility of a war with Spain stirred him deeply and roused him to characteristic action. The debates preceding the declaration of war against Spain showed such lack of authoritative information of existing conditions in Cuba and, as a consequence, such wide differences of opinion among Senators as to the policy which ought to be adopted by the Government that he was filled with apprehension, and with characteristic forethought and following a lifelong practice to seek the fullest knowledge of underlying conditions upon which to base his judgment and action, he, on his own responsibility, at his own expense, sought by a personal visit to Cuba to ascertain the real conditions there existing. When, upon his return, he gave to the Senate a cold, bare, plain statement of what he had seen and what he had learned, unaccompanied either by argument or recommendation, he did with such gravity and such impressiveness that the facts stated burned themselves into the minds of every Senator present, and being heralded by the press, roused the nation to action." (Mr. Dillingham of Vermont)

"I have heard many speeches in this body, but I can recall none other which was more clearly the cause of the result that followed." (Mr. Daniels of Virginia)

"The Senate and the country heard this story of the cruelties and wrongs inflicted upon this helpless people, made by Senator Proctor, and after the delivery of that most remarkable speech there was no longer any doubt that Spanish rule must come to an end in Cuba. The United States shortly afterwards declared war against Spain, which resulted in establishing Cuban independence. Impartial history has recorded the fact that Senator Proctor did more than any other public man to arouse public sentiment against Spanish rule in Cuba and in favor of Cuban independence and self-government. His powerful speech describing the sufferings of the people of Cuba aroused the conscience of the American people, resulting in a declaration of war against the Government of Spain, which necessarily resulted in banishing from Cuba Spanish rule. The people of Cuba now have a free and independent government of their own, and are making rapid progress in developing the resources of the island and doubtless have before them a happy and successful future. The cruelties practiced by the Spanish Government have ended, and a new nation has been born, clothed with the right of self-government, and who will deny to the distinguished dead the honor which he deserves for the work he accomplished in bringing about these results? The good work he accomplished for this suffering and oppressed people has given him a fame which will never perish. All lovers of justice and liberty will continue to sing his praise." (Mr. Clay of Georgia)

[ Vermont In The Spanish American War ]