Study Guide

Platt Amendment Analysis

By U.S. Congress

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  • Rhetoric


    Let's be honest, most Congressional documents aren't passionate speeches that try to make us tear up or shout a rallying cry. They're formal, legal documents that simply say what is going to happen or change. So logos—or appealing to logic—is most common for these types of amendments.

    We can see this appeal to logic in the opening paragraph of the Platt Amendment. Congress reminds the reader that Spain lost Cuba and turned over control to America, and that before America hands Cuba its independence it needs to set some rules.

    The actual rules themselves also appeal to logic. They're straightforward, if a bit brutal. Cuba can't have alliances, because the U.S. wants to keep Cuba to itself. Cuba can't go into debt, because otherwise other countries might swoop in. Cuba must keep clean, so that disease doesn't spread by ships to American cities. Cuba must let America take land on the island whenever it wants.

    Yes, these rules are heavily biased toward the U.S., but again this is pure logic for America. No pity or sympathy here.

  • Structure

    Legal Document

    The Platt Amendment wasn't exactly written to appeal to audiences used to Harry Potter-levels of excitement. It's written by Congress, after all. (*Stifled yawn.*)

    That being said, it does exactly what it intends to do, nothing more and nothing less. It's a formal piece of legislation that states what Cuba can and can't do (well, mostly can't do) as a new country. There's no multi-page rambling, like some legislation suffers from, and even though sometimes Congressional language can be hard to understand—thanks to long run-on sentences—the meaning of each rule is pretty clear.

    All y'all who have seen other Congressional legislation might notice a common feature at the very top of the document. It starts with "whereas," which is usually a giveaway that it's written by Congress. It states that Congress "provides as follows," which again is a giveaway that we're about to see a new rule or change.

    Bring on the run-on sentences, Congress. We know you.

    How it Breaks Down

    Introduction: The Reminder

    Before slamming Cuba with rules, Congress writes a little reminder that Spain is no longer in charge, and that the U.S. wants Cuba to become fully independent. This section quotes the Teller Amendment, saying that the U.S. can use military force to make sure Spain is gone from the island. Cuba will be given full control of itself, but only if its constitution includes the following rules.

    Body: The Rules

    One by one, here are the seven requirements that Cuba must follow. Each rule is different, but they all follow the same themes of making sure Cuba does not get involved with any other (non-U.S.) country and that it allows the U.S. to use land on the island whenever and wherever.

    Conclusion: The Requirement

    This final paragraph looks like it's Rule #8, but it's actually just a forceful reminder that Cuba must add these rules into its constitution. This is Congress' way of writing a conclusion, saying "do this or else." Such finality.

  • Tone

    Formal, Patronizing, Strict

    Congress doesn't pull any punches with the Platt Amendment. It says that Cuba must follow these rules if it wants to be independent, as though Congress doesn't trust the country to run itself alone. (Congress didn't, but also it wanted control for economic and military reasons.)

    It's a government doc, and we see the formal tone through words like "whereas" and "provided as follows" (I). It's patronizing because America is clearly in the driver's seat here, acting like a parent setting ground rules for its kid. And it's strict, because the rules are written with zero compassion or softness…just straight, hard demands.

  • Writing Style

    Formal, Bossy, Patronizing

    Being an official piece of legislation from Congress, the Platt Amendment has to be formal. Congress wasn't trying to make it on the New York Times' bestseller list with this one.

    We've got some long run-on sentences, dates spelled out in full writing instead of using numbers, and Roman numerals. Pretty formal.

    But at the same time, it's quite bossy. The Platt Amendment's rules are written to be obeyed, and to not be questioned. Cuba will do this and will not do that, etc. The style makes Cuba seem like a child who is being punished, which comes across as both bossy and patronizing.

  • What's Up With the Title?

    We're fine admitting this: the title "Platt Amendment" tells us exactly diddly-squat about this piece of legislation. It could be about the mining of unobtainium on Pandora, for all we know.

    Remember, Platt is simply the last name of the Senator who brought this document to the floor of Congress. He didn't write it, he just introduced it.

    So if the Platt Amendment is about rules for the independence of Cuba, why wasn't it called something more obvious? Well actually, the Platt Amendment was part of a larger piece of legislation going through Congress at the time called the "Army Appropriations Bill." You can at least guess what that bill was about—getting funding for the military. The Platt Amendment was tacked on in a wily bit of Congressional wheeling and dealing, because that's what Congress does.

    But still, why not call it the "Cuban Independence Amendment" or "Rules and Regulations for Cuba?" Your guess is as good as ours.

    Maybe Congress didn't want to call that much attention to it. Or maybe they wanted these rules to fly under the radar a bit and only be known by the government powers and not the public. One thing is for sure—by using such a mundane name, very little attention was called to the amendment in American society.

    Quite the opposite of, say, the Declaration of Independence. You knew what you were getting with the Declaration of Independence.

  • What's Up With the Opening Lines?

    Whereas the Congress of the United States of America, by an Act approved March 2, 1901, provided as follows:

    Provided further, That in fulfillment of the declaration contained in the joint resolution approved April twentieth, eighteen hundred and ninety-eight, entitled "For the recognition of the independence of the people of Cuba, demanding that the Government of Spain relinquish its authority and government in the island of Cuba, and withdraw its land and naval forces from Cuba and Cuban waters, and directing the President of the United States to use the land and naval forces of the United States to carry these resolutions into effect," the President is hereby authorized to "leave the government and control of the island of Cuba to its people" so soon as a government shall have been established in said island under a constitution which, either as a part thereof or in an ordinance appended thereto, shall define the future relations of the United States with Cuba, substantially as follows: (Intro)

    There are 164 words in the opening chunk of the Platt Amendment. So by the "opening lines," we're really talking one gigantic chain of words that defies all of the rules you learned in middle school Language Arts.

    And what a confusing intro it is. Remember that Congressional legislation doesn't work the same way as speeches—speeches need catchy hooks, flowery language, and flow. The Platt Amendment's opening line is anything but catchy and flowery. But remember, it doesn't have to be. This is a formal, official document that simply serves to describe the change that's about to happen.

    Specifically, the Platt Amendment's opening line does two things:

    1. References the Treaty of Paris and Teller Amendment, confirming the fact that Spain has been booted out of Cuba and that the President of the United States has the power to make sure Spain stays out.
    2. Assures everyone that the U.S. will let Cuba be governed by Cuba just as soon as they add the following seven rules to their constitution.

    Did that really need to take 164 words, Congress?

  • What's Up With the Closing Lines?

    VIII. That by way of further assurance the government of Cuba will embody the foregoing provisions in a permanent treaty with the United States.

    The final line in the Platt Amendment is both a reminder and a warning. Congress doesn't write a conclusion that neatly sums up everything it just said; instead it simply ends by saying, "Got it? You'd better."

    Not literally, of course. The final line is labeled Roman numeral VIII, meaning it's the last rule or regulation listed in the document. It's not a new rule though—it basically says, "Cuba must agree to these rules that the U.S. has set."

    No if's, and's, or but's about it.

  • Tough-o-Meter

    (4) Base Camp

    First, the good news: this sucker's short. The entire amendment is less than two pages. (You can cheer now.)

    Now, the bad news: it's written by the U.S. Congress. Yes, those ladies and gentlemen are very well-educated, but they seem to have a tough time writing things that easily make sense. The first paragraph alone is one giant mess of a run-on sentence that would make your Language Arts teacher cringe.

    Don't despair, intrepid Shmoopers, because all it takes is to read each part a bit slower, and maybe twice, to understand what Congress is saying. Look at it this way: the Platt Amendment is not breezy beach reading, but at the same time you would only need to pause your beach volleyball game for five minutes to get through the whole thing.

    Win some and lose some, right?

  • Shout-Outs

    In-Text References

    Historical and Political References

    Teller Amendment (Intro)
    Treaty of Paris (Intro, III)
    Isle of Pines (VI)
    President of the United States (Intro, VII)

    References to This Text

    Historical and Political References

    Constitution of Cuba (1901)
    Good Neighbor Policy (Franklin D. Roosevelt, 1934)

  • Trivia

    For many years we didn't know who actually blew up the USS Maine, the event that got America 100% involved in the Spanish-American War. Maybe it was all just a bad accident… (Source)

    A big reason the U.S. beat Spain in Cuba was thanks to Teddy Roosevelt's Rough Riders. These soldiers were actually "cowboys and gamblers, hunters and prospectors." (Source)

    The famous Battle of Manila Bay during the Spanish-American War had only a single American casualty—and he died from sunstroke. (Source)

    Much to the confusion of history students everywhere, the Platt Amendment was not written by a guy named Platt. (Source)

    The events of the 1890s, especially the Spanish-American War, ended up influencing a lot of popular music at the time. Can you imagine the hit single "The Charge of the Roosevelt Riders?" So catchy. (Source)

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