Ten Years' War (1868–1878)

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Ten Years' War (1868–1878)

Ten Years' War (1868–1878), the first major Cuban struggle for independence. It was also a manifestation of serious social, economic, and political grievances on the island. While it failed to win independence, it did begin the process of slave emancipation in Cuba.

By the 1850s, Cuba had become the world's leading sugar exporter, tied increasingly to the U.S. market. But many agrarian workers had been displaced in the shift from a more diversified agricultural economy to one dominated by slave-produced sugar at the same time that Cuba's population was growing rapidly, as Louis Pérez has asserted. Eastern Cuba was suffering especially in comparison to the newer sugar-producing regions of the west. Abolitionists demanded an end to slavery. Many Creoles wanted political and economic reform and some favored independence or annexation to the United States, which had showed repeated interest in acquiring Cuba. The liberal Spanish government of General Enrique O'Donnell (1858–1863) raised Cuban expectation of reform, but the subsequent conservative government pursued a repressive policy that alienated Cubans of many classes, especially in eastern Cuba.

Political turmoil in Spain, in fact, contributed to the breakdown of order in Cuba. On 18 September 1868 naval officers at Cádiz revolted and ten days later revolutionaries took Madrid, proclaiming a liberal republic. The new government's refusal to grant reforms, however, led an eastern Cuban Creole planter, Carlos Manuel de Céspedes, to proclaim Cuban independence on 10 October 1868 in what came to be known as the Grito De Yara. Calling for independence as well as gradual emancipation of slaves and universal male suffrage, he rallied support against Spain, and began a guerrilla war at Bayamo. On 20 April 1869, a constitutional convention organized a republican government at Guámairo, which supported annexation to the United States. Bitter guerrilla warfare followed, while Spain vacillated between monarchy and republic until the Bourbons were finally restored with the coronation of Alfonso XII in January 1875.

The slavery issue created a deep schism within the revolutionary movement and cost it support of some of the planters of western Cuba. Many of those fighting came from the colored classes, who favored complete and immediate abolition. The military leaders Máximo Gómez and Antonio Maceo represented that view, but the rebel government leaders, dominated by planters, repeatedly refused to allow them to carry the war into the west.

The United States, Britain, and France all were interested in Cuba but none intervened in the devastating conflict. The Virginius Affair, in which Spanish naval forces on 31 October 1873 seized a filibustering ship flying the U.S. flag off Jamaica and executed more than fifty of its officers, crew, and passengers, seriously strained relations with the United States, but U.S. intervention was averted by the diplomatic pressure of England and France.

By 1878 the war had damaged the sugar industry and cost 250,000 lives. At El Zanjón (11 February 1878), the Spanish agreed to some political reform, to freedom for all those slaves who had fought with the rebels, and gradual emancipation for the rest with compensation to the owners. This agreement with the Creole leadership, however, fell far short of giving Cubans autonomy or the social reforms for which many had fought, so that the Pact of Zanjón itself became an issue for continued dissent in Cuba. Immediately after the pact was signed, General Maceo issued the "Protest of Baraguá" and continued to fight on for nearly three more months before finally succumbing to Spanish forces in May.

The war led to a major reorganization of the sugar industry in the 1880s, with major capital investment from the United States. But the Spanish failure to implement the reforms and the continued social and economic problems would contribute to a resumption of the Cuban War for Independence in 1895.

Although it failed to achieve independence, the Ten Years' War spawned a number of important later Cuban leaders, including José Martí, Fernando Figueredo, and Tomás Estrada Palma.

See alsoCuba: The Colonial Era (1492–1898); Estrada Palma, Tomás; Gómez y Báez, Máximo; Grito de Yara; Maceo, Antonio; Martí y Pérez, José Julián; Virginius Affair.


Fernando Figueredo, La revolución de Yara (1902; repr. 1969).

Hugh Thomas, Cuba: The Pursuit of Freedom (1971).

María Cristina Llerena, ed., Sobre la guerra de los 10 años, 1868–1878 (1973).

Aleida Plasencia, ed., Bibliografía de la guerra de los diez años (1968).

Vidal Morales y Morales, Iniciadores y primeros martires de la revolución cubana, 3 vols. (1931).

Magdalenta Pando, Cuba's Freedom Fighter, Antonio Maceo, 1845–1896 (1980).

Philip Foner, Antonio Maceo: The "Bronze Titan" of Cuba's Struggle for Independence (1977).

Florencio García Cisneros, ¿Máximo Gómez, caudillo o dictador? (1986), Ramiro Guerra y Sánchez, Guerra de los diez años, 1868–1878, 2 vols. (1972).

Richard H. Bradford, The "Virginius" Affair (1980).

James M. Callahan, Cuba and International Relations (1899).

Enrique Collazo, Desde Yara hasta Zanjón (1893; 1967).

Juan Almeida Bosque, El general en jefe Máximo Gómez (1986).

Louis A. Pérez, Cuba: Between Reform and Revolution (1988).

Benigno Souza y Rodríguez, Máximo Gómez, el generalisimo (1986).

Additional Bibliography

Ferrer, Ada. Insurgent Cuba: Race, Nation, and Revolution, 1868–1898. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1999.

Rey, Miguel del. La Guerra de los 10 años, 1868–1878. Madrid: Ristre, 2003.

Tone, John Lawrence. War and Genocide in Cuba, 1868–1898. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2006.

                             Ralph Lee Woodward Jr.