"Honor Is Life": Military Reform and the Transformation
of Cuban Society: 1753-1796
Marianne Sherry Johnson
Chairman: Murdo J. MacLeod
Major Department: History
Throughout its history, the island of Cuba has been unique from the remainder of the Spanish mainland. That uniqueness has shaped the course that Cuba's history would take. Except for the commonalities of culture and governance, the structure and function of the island within the Spanish imperial context differed from the mainland areas. Importantly, the social structure of the island was significantly different from the mainland. Regardless of the phenotypical reality, Cuba's free population saw itself as being primarily white. For the period after 1763, historians have established that administrative, military, and fiscal reforms were successful in Cuba and generally were unsuccessful elsewhere. This work argues that the social structure of the island contributed to the success of the reforms.
From a position of relative neglect, within a generation, Cuba was transformed into the undisputed darling of the Spanish Empire. Such attention was not lost on the taxpayers of the mainland, whose ever-escalating taxes were lavished upon the island. The military reforms worked to most Creoles' advantage. The interplay between metropolitan interests and creole aspirations evolved into a policy of mutual accommodation, and the processes of social change that accompanied the reforms created a Cuban population with strong ties to Spain. Military service extended privileges to large segments of Cuba's population. Additionally, virtually every stratum of Havana's free society intermarried with Spanish newcomers. Thus, the social worth of Creoles was validated implicitly by the intermarriage of their daughters to Spanish men. As the process of collective identity worked itself out, Cubans saw themselves as being closely allied with Spain.
As such the post-1763 experiences of Cuba differ significantly from those of the mainland. Through an ideological identification engendered by widespread military service and through the formation of kinship linkages with peninsular immigrants, the majority of the island's free inhabitants were firmly tied to the status quo. Unlike their mainland brethren, Cubans did not feel alienated from the metropolis. Instead, they felt, and were encouraged to feel, privileged within the larger imperial context which was a powerful inducement for their acceptance of Spanish dominion.