Summary and Analysis
In the aftermath of the depression of 1893, Adams discusses the unfortunate fate of Clarence King, perhaps the man he admires most in his generation. King and Adams visit Cuba in February and March of 1894, enjoying the sights but also noticing an increasing revolutionary spirit opposing the rule of Spain. Adams becomes devoted to the concept of Cuban independence, proposing to Congress a peaceful, diplomatic resolution in an address titled "Recognition of Cuban Independence," delivered on December 21, 1896. Because diplomacy fails, Adams welcomes the Spanish-American War of 1898. Intellectually, he enjoys a kind of "Indian summer," a period of tranquility and reflection preceding his engagement with theories of science and history in the early 1900s.
Henry's interest in Cuba is the direct result of his friendship with Clarence King, the geologist whom he met in Estes Park in the summer of 1871 and with whom he shared a close friendship for the rest of King's life. Even at first meeting, Adams valued King among the greatest men he'd known and felt that he had all the qualities that Henry most admired. It is especially disturbing to Henry that King is destroyed in the Panic of 1893. Not only does his dear friend lose most of his fortune, but his mental stability is also rocked, landing him in the Bloomingdale asylum. From there, King writes to Henry in January 1894, proposing a trip to Cuba: "What do you say to taking the island trip with me?" Recognizing King's expertise in the third world, Henry jumps at the chance. Adams visited the island briefly in 1888, but he anticipates seeing the real Cuba with King. Henry jokes to a friend, "I expect to find a Carib woman and never reappear among civilized man."
In addition to the sights, the native dances, and all the local color, the two middle-aged adventurers notice a ferment of political unrest. Traveling companions often comment on Henry's devotion to correspondence, which one can study in the six volumes of his Letters. In the South Seas a few years earlier, La Farge noticed that Adams even took along his pen, paper, and writing board while traveling in a canoe in order to dash off a letter. In Cuba, Henry spends the evening writing letters while King mixes with the local population. King hears of a coming rebellion, which grows out of resentment toward subjection to cruel Spanish rule. If anything, the Ten-Year War for Cuban independence, ending in failure in 1878, had just made matters worse; the economy is suffering, and the prison system is notoriously harsh. Adams and King discuss the apparently burgeoning revolution. Henry returns to the States an advocate of Cuban independence. An active revolution does begin on the island in 1895. Adams's speech to Congress in 1896, calling for diplomatic intervention, fails to elicit the desired response. War with Spain seems the only way out.
Thanks to the preparations of Assistant Secretary of the Navy Theodore Roosevelt, the United States is superior to Spain as a sea power; and Americans are itching for a fight. Businessmen would like Spain out of the area. The U.S. battleship Maine is sent to the Havana in December 1897, ostensibly to protect United States citizens and property. During the night of February 15, 1898, a horrendous explosion sinks the Maine, killing 260. New York newspapers owned by Joseph Pulitzer and William Randolph Hearst (respectively, the World and the Journal) blame sabotage and call for war, echoing the cry, "Remember the Maine!" On April 25, Congress declares war. The conflict is over by July as a Spanish naval squadron is destroyed attempting to cross a blockade in Santiago harbor. Henry hears about the battle by telegram at Kent on July 4, calling the victory "the destruction of the Spanish Armada." Adams's old friend John Hay is Secretary of State. Adams supports Hay's settlement with Spain: independence for Cuba, while Puerto Rico, Guam, and the Philippines are ceded to the United States. In 1969, U.S. Navy research determines that an explosion in a defective boiler caused the explosion that sunk the Maine.
Henry is ready for a new, final phase of intellectual energy. He has been studying the architecture of medieval churches and thinking about the power of Christianity and how it might be compared to the new power released by science. He sees a connection.
satiated filled, satisfied, having had enough or more than enough.
prattle to speak in a childish way; babble.
debauch to lead astray morally; to corrupt.
superannuated old-fashioned or obsolete.
impunity free from punishment.
embêtement (French) nuisance, a bother.