The Ten Years’ War (1868-1878)

ten years' war Cuba

Starting on October 10th 1868, the Ten Years’ War was the first of the three liberation wars that Cuba fought against Spain to gain Independence. Led by sugar mill owner Carlos Manuel De Cespedes, the Ten Years’ War also known as The Great War (1868-1878) was a manifestation of serious social, economic and political grievances on the island as stated by encyclopedia. Although the war failed to free Cuba from Spain and declare independence, it did begin the process of slave emancipation in Cuba.

Key highlights of the blog are:-

  • Background Of The Story
  • Reasons For The Uproar
  • The Ten Years’ War
  • The Aftermath
  • The Bottom Line

Background Of The Story

  • As published in an article, Cuba was considered the “Pearl” of the Spanish ever since it was discovered by Christopher Columbus in 1493. It was considered so, not only for its beauty but also for its sugar plantations and thus always attracted the Spanish.
  • By 1850, Cuba had become the world’s leading sugar exporter. However, at this point, there has been a shift. Many agrarian workers had been displaced from a more agricultural economy to one which produced sugar with the help of slaves.
  • At this time, abolitionist demanded an end to slavery. Also, the powerful Spanish empire was in turmoil, which made the people of Cuba more restless.
  • The Madrid Government organized the Junta de Informacion in 1866 to respond to the protesting voices in Cuba. Although the Spanish Government promised to recognize their calls for equality and emancipation of slaves, they responded by adopting a repressive policy and increased taxes and banned all reformist meetings in Cuba.

Reasons For The Uproar

It all started with the decline of Spanish power which made the people in Cuba restless. However, as per Wikipedia, this was supported by some other factors as well which stood as the pillars behind this uproar. They are:-


Although Cuba was the largest exporter of Sugar, the people witnessed a shift from an agricultural economy to sugar produced by a slave economy. Relaxation of the ban which was imposed on the slave trade resulted in a dramatic increase of African slaves on the island. Moreover, new technologies and farming methods made excess slaves unnecessary and expensive and thus sugar mill owners demanded emancipation of slavery with financial help from Spain for the shareholders.

Oppressive Colonial Policies

The colonial policies imposed by the Spanish Parliament was very harsh and oppressive. The power of military tribunals was increased, political opposition and press were silenced and 6% tax was imposed on plantation owners. This resulted in dissatisfaction among the powerful plantation owners and they demanded fundamental social and economic reforms. However, this was also rejected.

Revolutionary Conspiracy

The  “Revolutionary Committee of Bayamo” was founded under the leadership of Cuba’s wealthiest plantation owner in 1867. However, the conspiracy quickly spread to larger towns, mostly Manzanillo where Carlos Manuel De Cespedes became the protagonist. Spanish aware of his intentions, forced him for submission by imprisoning his son. However,  when Cespedes refused to negotiate, his son was executed.

All these factors together resulted in an uprising on October 10th 1868, which called for independence, the emancipation of slaves and male suffrage.

The Ten Years’ War

  • On October 10, 1868, Carlos Manuel De Cespedes freed his slaves, called men’s of all races and rallied support against Spain and marked the beginning of the Guerrilla War at Bayamo initially planned the uprising to start on October 14, but he had to move it up four days earlier as the Spaniards have discovered their plan of revolt.
  • Cespedes intended to occupy the nearby town of Yara on October 11 but failed in his attempt. In spite of this, the uprising was supported in various regions of the Oriente province and thus the uprising continued to spread in eastern regions of Eastern Cuba.
  • On October 13, the rebels occupied eight towns in the province and managed to acquire arms which favoured the revolt. While more and more volunteers joined the revolt, Maximo Gomez taught the Cuban forces. Within 3 days, the rebels occupied the city of Bayamo which was a big victory for them. However, the city was taken back by Spain again after three months.
  • In April 1869 a constitution assembly took place in the town of Guáimaro in which Cespedes won with majority votes. Meanwhile, the Spanish Colonial Government failed to reach an agreement with the rebel forces and thus passed several laws which included arresting leaders and collaborators of the insurgency and executing them on the spot, seizing ships carrying weapons and executing all persons on board immediately. Along with its own army, the government also relied on voluntary corps who turned mischievous and committed harsh and bloody acts.
  • After Ignacio Agramonte was killed on May 11, 1873, Cespedes was disposed as the president of the constituent assembly and was killed by swift-moving Spanish troops on February 27, 1874.
  • After the death of Agramonte and Cespedes, Cuban operations were limited to the regions of Camagüey and Oriente. Gomez started invading Western Cuba in 1875 but was not supported by wealthy plantation owners and slaves. He also ended his campaign in 1876 after the death of his most trusted general, Henry Revee.
  • On the other hand, Spain’s effort to fight against the rebellions in Cuba was hindered by the Civil War which broke out in 1872. When it ended, in 1876, Spain sent additional troops to Cuba and weakened the rebellions
  • On October 19, 1877, Spanish troops captured Estrada Palma and on February 8, 1878, the constitutional organs of the Cuban Government were dissolved as a result of successive misfortunes and the remaining leaders among the insurgents started negotiating for peace in Zanjón.

The Aftermath

Finally, on February 10, 1878, General Arsenio Martínez Campos convinced most of the rebellions to sign the pact of Zanjon and the provisional government also convinced Maceo to give up and with his surrender, the Ten Years’ War finally ended on May 28, 1878.

The Pact of Zanjon promised to improve the financial condition of the people in Cuba and allowed manumission of all slaves who had fought for Spain.

The Bottom Line

The Ten Years’ War did not witness any single side emerging victorious. Neither side in the war was able to ensure a concrete victory, let alone crushing the opposition. Also, despite the Pact of Zanjon which ended the Ten Years’ War, the tension between the Cuban residents and Spanish government continued for 17 years which included the Little War ( 1879-1880) and the War of Independence (1895-1898) and ended with the involvement of the United States, which led to Spanish American War.

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