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World of 1898: International Perspectives on the Spanish American War

Military Government in Puerto Rico

With the beginning of U.S. control of Puerto Rico, General Nelson Miles was appointed military governor in charge of the Army of Occupation and administrator of civil affairs with the power to issue orders with the force of law. The U.S. military controlled municipal laws and courts. Once ports were opened to neutral nations, the Army established and administered an official exchange rate, customs duties, and taxes.

General John Brooke became governor on October 18, 1898, but relinquished his authority to General Guy Henry on December 9. During his regime he divided the island into two civil and military jurisdiction--Ponce, under the command of General Henry; and San Juan, subject to the authority of Brig. Gen. F. D. Grant. Brooke also ordered schools to open and changed the official name of the island to "Porto Rico." He dissolved the newly chartered Provincial Assembly and invested its power in the Insular Council, while creating a new supreme court under the provisions of the Foraker Act.

General Guy Henry succeeded General Brooke and he also affected government and life in Puerto Rico significantly. At a meeting with representatives from various towns and the Insular Council, Henry announced his program to improve sanitation and school systems, and revise election standards to accomodate lower levels of literacy. His attempted curbs on freedom of the press provoked conflicts between the military government and island newspapers whenever critics of the government were threatened and censored. During his tenure the Insular Council lost the autonomous powers granted it by the Constitution of 1897. He also abolished taxes on meat and bread while decreeing higher imposts on alcohol and tobacco. He also suspended foreclosures for one year, a controversial measure in an place so dependent on land as capital. In May 1899, General Henry requested to be recalled; he was succeeded by Brigadier General George W. Davis.

Brig. Gen. George Davis was the last U.S. military governor of Puerto Rico; he held the position from May 9, 1899, to May 1, 1900. During his tenure he established a "United States provisional court," and freed the courts from control by the Secretary of Justice. He also revised the legal codes then in force to create a system suitable for the island that took into consideration both U.S. and Puerto Rican views on how the island should be properly governed, considering it a step toward eventual territorial autonomy for the island. In August 1899, when faced with the crisis produced by the San Ciriaco hurricane, he created groups to deal with the devastation.