Events and People

The Philadelphia Peace Jubilee of 1898

Although lasting only four months, the Spanish-American War was a decisive moment in United States history and served as America’s entry into the world of foreign affairs. Weeks of tension between Spain and the US over the issue of Cuban independence culminated in the US sending the battleship USS Maine to Cuba to protect American interests in the region. When the battleship sank due to an explosion on February 15, 1898, several US newspapers encouraged retribution and war was eventually declared on April 25. After four months of fighting in the Phillipines and Cuba, Spain sued for peace and hostilities stopped on August 12, 1898. With the Spanish-American War at an end, the United States gained control of the former Spanish colonies of the Philippines, Guam, and Puerto Rico, as well as some influence over Cuba. To celebrate the end of the war, Philadelphia organized a Peace Jubilee to be held in October 1898 to honor the troops and celebrate the country’s success.

Peace jubilees had proven popular throughout America in the latter half of the nineteenth century. The National Peace Jubilee, held in Boston on June 16-19, 1869 and organized by Patrick Sarsfield Gilmore, celebrated the end of the Civil War and urged a focus on peace throughout the country.[1] For four days, tens of thousands of people gathered in a specially constructed concert hall known as the Coliseum for speeches and musical performances. The celebration was so well-received that Gilmore soon began planning another jubilee to be hosted in Boston just three years later. The World’s Peace Jubilee and International Music Festival opened on June 17, 1872 and ran for eighteen days. With its emphasis on large choral groups and international music, the jubilee included performances from English, French, Austrian, and Prussian orchestras and bands.[2]

Held for three days in October of 1898, the Philadelphia Peace Jubilee celebrated the conclusion of the Spanish-American War and brought national attention to the City. The festivities included speeches, parades, and events to honor the country’s soldiers. Towering over all of the activity was a gigantic arch built to span Broad Street. Located near the intersection of Broad and Sansom Street the archway served as a focal point for the Court of Honor. [3]The Court included the archway as well as many large columns that lined Broad Street from City Hall to Walnut Street. The columns and arch featured ornate carvings as well as statues of eagles and statues of riders on horseback.

Attendees at the Jubilee included General Graham, his complete staff, and 10,500 troops from four regiments in Pennsylvania as well as regiments from several other states.[4] The troops took part in military reviews and parades on Broad Street. President William McKinley visited Philadelphia for the Jubilee and the Pennsylvania Railroad Company encouraged attendance by offering round trip tickets for the price of a single fare.[5] Activities for those attending the Jubilee included church services, speeches, and three parades: a naval parade featuring nine warships anchored in the Delaware River, a civic parade, and a military parade of an estimated 25,000 troops reviewed by President McKinley.[6] While many people rushed to the city to view these events, some anti-war groups decried the Jubilee and the emphasis it placed on military splendor.

Despite the disapproval expressed by some people and differing opinions among Americans regarding the Treaty of Paris which would not be formally signed until December 1898, Peace Jubilees continued to be held across the country in November and December. President McKinley attended jubilees in both Chicago and Atlanta during that time. With its ornate Court of Honor, large parades, and enthusiastic support for the commanders and troops who served in the Spanish-American War, the Philadelphia Peace Jubilee celebrated peace as America increased its involvement in the world of foreign affairs.

[1] “The Jubilee At Boston,” New York Times, June 16, 1869.

[2] Patrick Sarsfield Gilmore, 1829-1892: Father of the American Concert Band. Boston College University Libraries.

[3] Looney, Robert F. Old Philadelphia in Early Photographs, 1839-1914. New York: Dover Publications, Inc., 1976.

[4] “Philadelphia Peace Jubilee,” New York Times, October 8, 1898.

[5] “Reduced Rates to Philadelphia via Pennsylvania Railroad, Account Jubilee,” Christian Advocate, October 13, 1898.

[6] “Philadelphia’s Peace Jubilee,” The Independent, November 3, 1898.