XIV. POLITICS, GOVERNMENT, AND COMMERCE
The British colonists in America were in large measure self-governing. This is notably true in their local affairs. The Spanish colonists were governed almost absolutely by the mother-country. A United States official publication reports that "all government control centred in the Council of the Indies and the King, and local self government, which was developed at an early stage in the English colonies, became practically impossible in the Spanish colonies, no matter to what extent it may have existed in theory. Special regulations, decrees, etc., modifying the application of the laws to the colonies or promulgating new laws were frequent, and their compilation in 1680 was published as Law of the Indies. This and the Siete Partidas, on which they were largely based, comprised the code under which the Spanish-American colonies were governed." There was a paper provision, during the greater part of the time, for a municipal electorate, the franchise being limited to a few of the largest tax-payers. In its practical operation, the system was nullified by the power vested in the appointed ruler. It was a highly effective centralized organization in which no man held office, high or low, who was not a mere instrument in the hands of the Governor-General. Under such an institution the Cubans had, of course, absolutely no experience in self-government. The rulers made laws and the people obeyed them; they imposed taxes and spent the money as they saw fit; many of them enriched themselves and their personally appointed official household throughout the island, at the expense of the tax-payers.
A competent observer has noted that such terms as "meeting," "mass-meeting," "self-government," and "home-rule," had no equivalent in the Spanish language. The first of these terms, distorted into " mitin," is now in common use, and its origin is obvious. Of theories, ideals, and intellectual conceptions, there was an abundance, but government based on beautiful dreams does not succeed in this practical world. Denied opportunity for free discussion of practical methods, the Cubans discussed theories in lyceums. Under the military government of the United States, from January 1, 1899, to May 20, 1902, there was freedom of speech and freedom of organization. The Cubans began to hold "mitins," but visions and beautiful theories characterized the addresses. Prior to the Ten Years' War (1868-1878), there were organizations more or less political in their nature, but the authorities were alert in preventing discussions of too practical a character. In 1865, a number of influential Cubans organized what has been somewhat inappropriately termed a "national party." It was not at all a party in our use of that term. Its purpose was to suggest and urge administrative and economic changes from the Cuban point of view. The suggestions were ignored and, a few years later, revolution was adopted as a means of emphasizing their importance. The result of the Ten Years' War was an assortment of pledges of greater political and economic freedom. Much was promised but little if anything was really granted. There was, however, a relaxation of the earlier absolutism, and under that there appeared a semblance of party organization, in the form of a Liberal party and a Union Constitutional party. There was no special difference in what might be called their platforms. Both focussed, in a somewhat general way, the political aspirations and the economic desires of the Cuban people, much the same aspirations and desires that had been manifested by complaint, protest, and occasional outbreak, for fifty years. National independence had no place in either. That came later, when an army in the field declared that if Spain would not grant independence, the island would be made so worthless a possession that Spain could not afford to hold it. A few years after their organization, the Liberals became the Cuban party, and so remained, and the Union Constitutionals became the Spanish party, the party of the immediate administration. Later on, the Liberal party became the Autonomist party, but Spain's concession of the demands of that group came too late, forced, not by the Autonomists but by the party of the Revolution that swept the island with fire and sword from Oriente to Pinar del Rio. The Autonomists sought what their name indicates; the Revolutionists demanded and secured national independence.