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When the Spanish city of Cartagena wanted to be American

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When the Spanish city of Cartagena wanted to be American
When Cartagena wanted to be American. Photo: Bybbisch94, Christian Gebhardt / Wikimedia Commons

The history books could have told a very different story if the Murcian city of Cartagena had become part of the United States.


Did you know that the southeastern Spanish city of Cartagena once asked if it could be part of the US?

In 1873, Cartagena asked the then US president Ulysses S. Grant if it could be part of America, if he’d agreed Spain would have had a very different history and the region of Murcia would mostly likely be very different from what it is today.  

In order to understand why Cartagena wanted to be part of America, we need to travel back in time to the late 1800s when there was a severe economic crisis in Spain. This led to widespread strikes, land occupations and demonstrations.

On top of all of this Cuban separatists and Carlist rebels from the north took up arms, provoking not one, but two wars.

During that time, from 1870 to 1873, Spain was briefly ruled by King Amadeo I of Savoy, who had been brought over from Italy to rule after the Spanish Bourbon dynasty was expelled.

But, in February 1873, feeling overwhelmed after an attack on his army, Amadeo I decided to abdicate and return home to Savoy.

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As there was no royal left to rule at that time, Spain was declared a republic with Estanislao Figueras as Head of State.

The republic established that the State should be divided into 17 sovereign regions – 15, plus Cuba and Puerto Rico (which were under Spanish rule at the time), each with complete autonomy, which would be dictated in the constitution.


That, however, didn’t happen because there were constant confrontations between the ruling republicans.

Some wanted a federal republic with cantons (similar to member states) without waiting for the constitution, while others wanted a federalist republic but also wanted to wait for the drafting of a constitution, and finally, some wanted a unified republic. 

In some towns, local politicians began to form Revolutionary Juntas in order to rule themselves and started to ignore messages from the central government in Madrid.

This was all too much for leader Figueras who one day claimed he was going to take a walk around Madrid's Retiro Park and instead took a train to France, where he went into exile.


On July 12th 1873, the city of Cartagena proclaimed itself to be a separate canton and the Junta took power, initiating a series of reforms, which included prohibition of religious teachings.

When the Cartagena Canton, however, tried to expand and take over parts of modern-day Murcia, Valencia and Andalusia, Spanish troops were sent in to attack, under the direction of General Francisco Serrano, President of the Council of Ministers, who had by then risen to power.

The siege on the city intensified and Cartagena was bombed as the government couldn’t risk losing one of its most important ports.

To try and save themselves, the rulers of Cartagena decided to draft a letter to the American government requesting that the Canton of Cartagena become part of the US.


But, finally after six months of siege and hundreds dead Cartagena decided to surrender on January 12th, 1874.

The city had surrendered even before US had time to respond, so we’ll never really know if an American Cartagena would have been likely or not.

By that time over 300 buildings in the city had been destroyed and the canton leaders had fled abroad, officially putting an end to the Canton of Cartagena.

Interestingly though, briefly between 1987 and 1991, the Cartagena Cantonal Party regained power and its leader Antonio Vallejo Alberola became mayor. Although they don't have any representation in the City Council today, they continue to stand for election.


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