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THE HISTORY OF PUERTO RICO
FROM THE SPANISH DISCOVERY TO THE AMERICAN OCCUPATION
BY R.A. VAN MIDDELDYK
EDITED BY MARTIN G. BRUMBAUGH, PH.D., LL.D. PROFESSOR OF PEDAGOGY, UNIVERSITY OF PENNSYLVANIA AND FIRST COMMISSIONER OF EDUCATION FOR PUERTO RICO
[Illustration: Columbus statue, San Juan.]
The latest permanent possession of the United States is also the oldest in point of European occupation. The island of Puerto Rico was discovered by Columbus in 1493. It was occupied by the United States Army at Guanica July 25, 1898. Spain formally evacuated the island October 18, 1898, and military government was established until Congress made provision for its control. By act of Congress, approved April 12, 1900, the military control terminated and civil government was formally instituted May 1,1900.
Puerto Rico has an interesting history. Its four centuries under Spanish control is a record of unusual and remarkable events. This record is unknown to the American people. It has never been written satisfactorily in the Spanish language, and not at all in the English language. The author of this volume is the first to give to the reader of English a record of Spanish rule in this "pearl of the Antilles." Mr. Van Middeldyk is the librarian of the Free Public Library of San Juan, an institution created under American civil control. He has had access to all data obtainable in the island, and has faithfully and conscientiously woven this data into a connected narrative, thus giving the reader a view of the social and institutional life of the island for four hundred years.
The author has endeavored to portray salient characteristics of the life on the island, to describe the various acts of the reigning government, to point out the evils of colonial rule, and to figure the general historical and geographical conditions in a manner that enables the reader to form a fairly accurate judgment of the past and present state of Puerto Rico.
No attempt has been made to speculate upon the setting of this record in the larger record of Spanish life. That is a work for the future. But enough history of Spain and in general of continental Europe is given to render intelligible the various and varied governmental activities exercised by Spain in the island. There is, no doubt, much omitted that future research may reveal, and yet it is just to state that the record is fairly continuous, and that no salient factors in the island's history have been overlooked.
The people of Puerto Rico were loyal and submissive to their parent government. No record of revolts and excessive rioting is recorded. The island has been continuously profitable to Spain. With even ordinarily fair administration of government the people have been self-supporting, and in many cases have rendered substantial aid to other Spanish possessions. Her native life--the Boriquen Indians--rapidly became extinct, due to the "gold fever" and the intermarriage of races. The peon class has always been a faithful laboring class in the coffee, sugar, and tobacco estates, and the slave element was never large. A few landowners and the professional classes dominate the island's life. There is no middle class. There is an utter absence of the legitimate fruits of democratic institutions. The poor are in every way objects of pity and of sympathy. They are the hope of the island. By education, widely diffused, a great unrest will ensue, and from this unrest will come the social, moral, and civic uplift of the people.
These people do not suffer from the lack of civilization. They suffer from the kind of civilization they have endured. The life of the people is static. Her institutions and customs are so set upon them that one is most impressed with the absence of legitimate activities. The people are stoically content. Such, at least, was the condition in 1898. Under the military government of the United States much was done to prepare the way for future advance. Its weakness was due to its effectiveness. It did for the people what they should learn to do for themselves. The island needed a radically new governmental activity--an activity that would develop each citizen into a self-respecting and self-directing force in the island's uplift. This has been supplied by the institution of civil government. The outlook of the people is now infinitely better than ever before. The progress now being made is permanent. It is an advance made by the people for themselves. Civil government is the fundamental need of the island.