Peace negotiations with Spain appear to be successful

Editor’s note: This is part of a weekly series marking the 120th anniversary of Niles native William McKinley’s U.S. presidency.

The first week of August 1898 was wrought with hope of resolution.

On Aug. 3, the Los Angeles Times proclaimed “Spain Virtually Accepts” terms of surrender / peace in anticipation of the end of the conflict. During a boat ride down the Potomac with French Ambassador Cambon, President William McKinley and General Griggs “discussed peace negotiations only briefly… deliberations were inconclusive.”

“The material point in our negotiations with Spain has been settled. It is that Spain has made a ‘conditional acceptance’ of the terms of peace demanded by this country. A message to this effect was delivered to President McKinley by M. Cambon, the French Ambassador, this afternoon. This message, although authorized by the Madrid government, was intended to be informal, and was presented to the President as incidental to a communication from Madrid asking for additional information about our terms, in the first place, and asking for a modification regarding the Philippines in the second place.”

“President McKinley made the terms very general. It was but natural the intentions of the United States regarding such matters of details as Spain’s withdrawal of troops from the West Indies, the Cuban debt, disposition of Spanish arms and ordnance, should be somewhat vague to the Spaniards. M. Cambon delivered the message to the president at 4 o’clock this afternoon, and tonight President McKinley and members of the cabinet went down the Potomac River on board the tug Triton. Attorney General Griggs returned to the White House at 11 o’clock with the president and, at a little after midnight, Mr. Griggs declared to the Times correspondent that the question of peace negotiations was discussed only in the briefest and most informal manner.

It appeared Spain would accept the conditions and were merely dragging their feet. Yet, the same day edition of The New York Times stated “a conference between the executive and ambassador Cambon, lasting an hour this afternoon, produced no conclusive results. The President … believed last night, and until late this afternoon, that the time when formal negotiations for conclusion of a treaty of peace would begin was merely a matter of a few hours.

“There was eager expectancy at the White House in anticipation of the reply of the Spanish Government to our peace terms. The president felt certain that an agreement had been reached on his propositions, and early in the fore noon he stated to several callers, with evident satisfaction, that he understood an agreement had been reached, and that he expected the formal answer to reach him at any hour.

“Secretary Day did not appear to be discouraged, though he admitted that no time had been set for another conference. From this it is gathered that the long-expected answer of the Spanish Government to the President’s note, upon being received, had turned out to be either a counter proposition or a request for a fuller statement in detail upon some of the heads of the President’s note.”

The reporting of the day concluded with no formal resolution reached. It would be nine long days until the tensions were eased and hostilities halted.

Beall-Farris is director of the National McKinley Birthplace Museum in Niles.