Study Guide

Platt Amendment Compare and Contrast

By U.S. Congress

  • Teller Amendment

    Here's the skinny: the Teller Amendment was a rule created by Congress that the U.S. couldn't annex Cuba after the Spanish-American War. This Amendment basically made it so that America could help Cuba fight Spain, but then back out and not occupy Cuba.

    Remember that this was America's empire-building phase in the late 1800s, and islands like Hawaii, Puerto Rico, Guam, and the Philippines were all being wrapped up in American arms, like it or not.

    Think about the Platt Amendment as a reaction to the Teller Amendment. Teller says the U.S. can't lay claim to Cuba; Platt says the U.S. can control tons of aspects of how Cuba is run, just without actual American ownership. See the connection? The Platt Amendment is essentially everything but full ownership, and if the Teller Amendment didn't exist, there would likely be no need for the Platt Amendment.

    So why didn't Congress simplify everything and just make Cuba conquer-able and save all that ink from all these amendments? Well, though this was America's empire-building phase, there were critics. Many Americans were angry that their country was dominating other less powerful countries, because that's exactly what Europe had been doing for hundreds of years, and Americans saw themselves as something different, something better.

    Or, simply hypocrisy—America was born as a territory of England and fought against ownership, and now was doing the exact same thing to other nations.

    So, to sum up: without the Teller Amendment, America would have most likely completely annexed Cuba and today it might be a territory just like Puerto Rico. But with the Teller Amendment, the U.S. still wanted some control over Cuba, and that's where the Platt Amendment fit in.

  • Wilson-Gorman Tariff Act

    A tariff is a tax. Taxes involve money, and money is what makes the world go 'round.

    It's as true in history as it is today. In fact, a big reason for Cuba being right smack in the middle of the Spanish-American War was taxes.

    What was being taxed? Sweet, sweet sugar. Cuba had lots of it, and America (and Spain) wanted it. (That's a big reason Hawaii was taken by the U.S. as well: sugar.) The Wilson-Gorman Tariff Act in 1894, right before the war, created a very high tax on sugar, which crippled Cuba's sugar-reliant economy.

    Wait a minute. If the U.S. wanted sugar from Cuba, why would they put a high tax on it? Good question. Maybe the U.S. was trying to hurt Cuba on purpose, since Spain owned it at the time. Maybe by crippling Cuba's economy, the U.S. could more easily take over Cuba and gain control over all the sugar plantations. After all, we know that the Platt Amendment is going to come along and give America free rein of any Cuban land.

    (Such scheming by Congress!)

    Or, perhaps it was because Spain had high taxes on Cuba's sugar too, and America's tax could push Cuba over the edge and cause them to revolt against Spain. Which is exactly what happened…and the result was sugary sweet (pun intended) for the U.S.

  • Spooner Amendment

    We'll break it down nice and simple for you: the Spooner Amendment was to the Philippines what the Platt Amendment was to Cuba.

    In other words, the Spooner Amendment turned control of the Philippines over to America (it used to be Spain's, just like Cuba). The Platt Amendment didn't give America full control of Cuba thanks to the Teller Amendment, but the Spooner Amendment did give full control of the Philippines.

    And many, if not all, Filipinos were not happy about that.

    But wait, wasn't America going through a whole anti-imperialism thing at home? Weren't people upset that the U.S. was grabbing colonies just like the Europe of old?

    Yes. Any many people hated the Spooner Amendment.

    But check out this clever trick: Republicans in Congress (who wanted Spooner to pass) put the amendment within a much bigger bill going through the legislature called the Army Appropriation Bill. This bill had to do with giving money to the army for wartime actions, and let's face it: no one in Congress was going to deny the army money during war—that would be political suicide.

    So just like that, the Spooner Amendment was passed and America took control of the Philippines. Maybe many in Congress felt like the Platt Amendment hadn't gone far enough with Cuba, and this was vengeance? Hmm…

  • Pearcy v. Stranahan

    Let's look back real quick at Rule #6 in the Platt Amendment. It says that "the Isle of Pines shall be omitted from the proposed constitutional boundaries of Cuba" (VI). The Isle of Pines was a small piece of land in Cuba, and the U.S. was looking to stake a claim on the island in the future.

    Why? All sorts of reasons—economic gain through resource-collecting, creating military bases, keeping an eye on Cuba, establishing a port, etc.

    But then someone got sued. A few years after the Platt Amendment was made law, a dude named Pearcy brought a bunch of Cuban cigars from the Isle of Pines into New York City. The port authorities tried to tax the cigars because they came "from another country" (that'd be Cuba). Pearcy said no way, because the Isle of Pines is part of the U.S. according to the Platt Amendment.

    But here's where it gets muddy. Look back at the wording in the Platt Amendment—does it actually say that the Isle of Pines, with apparently some decent cigar production, belongs to America? It leaves things pretty vague, doesn't it?

    You might be surprised by what the court said—the Isle of Pines doesn't strictly belong to the U.S., and since it used to be part of Spain's Cuba, it will be considered part of Cuba's Cuba. So essentially, this court ruling went against the Platt Amendment.

    This was the first time the Platt Amendment was challenged, but it wouldn't be the last.

  • Good Neighbor Policy

    The Platt Amendment wasn't exactly celebrated by Cubans. In fact, they probably hated it.

    However, it didn't stick around very long. In the 1930s, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt decided that the U.S. needed to back off from Cuba and other Latin American countries and be more of a "good neighbor."

    And thus the name. The Good Neighbor Policy was FDR's official foreign policy toward all countries south of the U.S., from Mexico to Chile. America had been a bit imperialistic in Latin America, either taking islands as territories (Puerto Rico), imposing their will in certain areas (Panama Canal), or bullying countries for their own economic gain (Colombia).

    FDR hoped that this new policy would ease tensions and open up new opportunities for trade and business in North and South America. (He was right, in the end.) Most importantly for Cubans, this policy scrapped the Platt Amendment's rules. Done and gone, just like that.

    Thirty or so years of American control and oversight, and now Cuba was really and truly independent. What a long road it had been.

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