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The Spanish-American War, 1898

"A Splendid Little War"  Secretary of State John Hay


The United States in the 1890s was increasingly aggressive, expansionistic, and jingoistic.  The U.S. had constructed an excellent navy, following Captain Alfred Mahan's advice.   Just prior to the Spanish-American War the U.S. came to the brink of war with Chile and Great Britain. In the case of these events, and the war with the Spain, no major national interests were involved. 


I.  Underlying Causes


            A.  United States Interest in Cuba


                        -U.S. took part of Spanish Florida during the War of 1812.

                        -War Hawks, especially in the South agitated for seizure of Cuba

                        -Spain ceded its Florida holdings to the United States in the Adams-Onis Treaty of 1819.

                        -In 1848, under expansionist president Polk, the U.S. offered to buy Cuba; viewed as an excellent outlet for the expansion of slavery

                        - In 1854, three American foreign ministers created a plan to attempt to convince Spain to sell Cuba to the United States and then take                                                  Cuba by force if rebuffed; Ostend Manifesto

                        -Toward the end of the century U.S. businessmen invested in Cuban sugar and tobacco plantations.  The United States imported $100

                                    million worth of sugar and other products from Cuba each year.


            B.  Sympathy for the Cuban Revolution


- In the late 1800's the once proud Spanish empire was coming to an end.  In Cuba, Spain exploited the economy, forcing Cubans to buy Spanish goods at prices far above the world market.  High taxes to support the Spanish government there crippled the island.  The justices system was a sham, and the government resisted a call for public education.

                        -Cuba was in the grips of a revolution against Spanish rule that began in 1868 and heated up in 1895.  This revolt was led by Cuban writer                                             Jose Marti and other Cuban leaders living in exile in New York City. Both sides were brutal and destroyed American property. 

-Rebels gained the sympathy of Americans because of early reports of atrocities by Spanish authorities; especially General Valeriano Weyler, nicknamed "The Butcher" who arrived in February, 1896 and responded to rebel victories by conducting a plan of forcibly removing Cuban populations into concentration camps to isolate them from the rebels.  Upwards of 200,000 people, many of them women and children died from physical punishment, disease and malnutrition.                                                      

                        -U.S. reports described the conflict as a battle between the oppressed masses and their colonial masters.

                        -Agents of the Cuban rebels were allowed to operate freely in the U.S.: gathering funds, smuggling arms, and propagandizing for U.S. intervention.


            C. The Yellow Press


                        -Two major New York City newspaper publishers were in a fierce circulation war.

                        -William Randolph Hearst:  in 1895, at age 32, he purchased the New York Journal;  "The Yellow Kid"; circulation in 1895: 30,000;

1897:  400,000; during the Spanish-American War:  over 1 million

                        -Joseph Pulitzer:  New York World

-Their inflammatory coverage of the Cuban crisis, motivated by profits,  helped persuade the public to demand war with Cuba.  Many of the battles these papers reported between rebels and Spanish soldiers never happened.

-Olivette incident, February 1897.  American steamship boarded in Havana.  Hearst claims three young Cuban women were strip searched by men.  Not a true story.  Women searched for smuggling information to rebel leaders in U.S.  Searched in dignified way by women.

-As a group, American businessmen did not agitate for war.  They feared that war would endanger the American economy and further destroy American property and economic interests in Cuba.



            D.  Growing Demand for Intervention

Jingoists:  Theodore Roosevelt, Henry Cabot Lodge---sought to inherit Spain's overseas empire, establish the U.S. as a world power, and dominate maritime trade with East Asia.


            E.  Anti-imperialists

Not all Americans believed the war was in America's best interest.  House Speaker Thomas Reed, philosopher Henry James, writer Mark Twain (Samuel Clemens), and Andrew Carnegie.  These individuals believed a war would violate the American tradition of refraining from interfering in foreign disputes.



II.  Major Events Preceding the War


            A.   William McKinley inaugurated as president in 1897

-McKinley detested war an attempted to avoid war with Spain: The night before he took the oath of office he commented: "If I can only go out of office...with the knowledge that I have done what lay in my power to avert this terrible calamity, I shall be the happiest man in the world."

-William Jennings Bryan and the Democrats, who would oppose McKinley in 1900, saw war with Spain as a way to promote their free silver agenda.  His supporters, mostly from the South and West believed a war would create such a strain on the economy that opposition to bimetalism would collapse.  Bryan was also a leader of rural Protestants who believed the war would be a righteous one freeing the oppressed from bondage.

                        -McKinley still favored peace, but was sensitive about the Democrats stealing this issue.


            B.  Attempts by Spain to Avoid War

August, 1897, the premier of Spain was assassinated. A more liberal government came to power.  The new leadership had been critical of the previous government's handling of Cuba and it sought a peaceful resolution to the rebellion in Cuba.  McKinley sent General Stewart L.  Woodford to Spain calling on Spain to grant Cuba self rule.  If Spain did not make an offer, the U.S. threatened to intervene.  Spain agreed to grant local autonomy to Cuba and with Spain reserving the powers of justice, defense and foreign relations.  The concentration policy of Weyler was modified significantly.  Spain was giving in to U.S. demands. 

-In January of 1989, Cubans loyal to Spain rioted against the United States; McKinley dispatched the Maine to Havana to protect American citizens and property


            C.  De Lome Letter, February 1898

-As the Maine lay at anchor in Havana Harbor, Hearst's New York Journal acquired a private letter written by Spanish Minister to the U.S. Enrique Dupuy de Lome to a friend in Cuba.  It had been stolen from the Havana post office by a rebel. Hearst published the letter on February 9, 1898.  In the letter De Lome stated that McKinley was "weak, and a bidder for the admiration of the crowd."  De Lome immediately resigned, yet this did little to stem the tide of demands for war with Spain. 


            D.  Sinking of the USS. Maine, February 15, 1898

                        -A week after publication of the letter, the Maine mysteriously exploded at 9:40 p.m. and sank to the bottom of Havana Harbor, killing 266. 

-Although evidence was sparse, the U.S. government and the press blamed Spain.  The U.S. believed a mine ripped into the Maine while Spanish authorities concluded that the two explosions were internal.  "Remember the Maine!  To Hell with Spain!" became the battle cry of the jingoists.   McKinley still resisted war.

- Theodore Roosevelt:  "I would give anything if President McKinley would order the fleet to Havana tomorrow.  The Maine was sunk by an act of dirty treachery on the part of the Spaniards."

                        -Congress moved toward war by voting $50 million for war preparations.

-Through Woodford, McKinley sought a peaceful way out.  The U.S. demanded from Spain an immediate armistice, the complete end to the concentration program, and Spain's cooperation in ending the suffering of the Cuban people.  Spain was given 48 hours to reply.  Spain agreed to all of the demands; except one:  it would not concede defeat in Cuba and refused to initiate truce proceedings with the rebels. The rebels were not interested in a truce because after three years of fighting, they believed they were going to win.  Finally, on April 9, Spain informed Woodford that it was willing to give in and grant an armistice.  However, it was too late.  Congress had decided, with McKinley's blessing to declare war.


            E.  Congress Declares War,  April 25, 1898

-On April 11, McKinley rejected a Spanish offer of concession and requested that Congress pass a resolution granting him power to intervene in Cuba.  On April 21, Spain broke off diplomatic relations with the U.S.; On April 25, 1898, Congress declared war.



III.  Leading Events of the War

The war was unexpectedly short; major fighting took place over only 10 days. Spain's army was inept and poorly led.  Spain's navy was outclassed by the superior steel U.S. ships.


            A.  United States Naval Successes

                        -Even before war was officially declared, Assistant Secretary of the Navy Theodore Roosevelt wired Admiral Dewey stationed with his fleet in

Hong Kong and informed him to prepare for hostilities with Spain at Manila, Philippines.  At 5:38 a.m. on May 1, Dewey's new and modern squadron steamed into Manila Harbor and destroyed Spain's navy by noon.  381 Spanish sailors died.  Only a single American sailor died in the exchange. Manila was soon occupied and Spanish rule in the Philippines came to an end.


                        -In the Caribbean, U.S. ships bottled up the Spanish fleet at Santiago.  On July 3, the Spanish fleet was destroyed as it attempted to leave Santiago.              

            B.  United States Successes on Land

-Despite poor planning:  wool uniforms, chaotic supply routes, and rancid beef,  Spain's military was destroyed in less than four months.  Theodore Roosevelt gained fame by leading his Rough Riders San Juan Hill overlooking Santiago Harbor.  As American troops remained in the hills, dysentery, typhoid and yellow fever, and malaria swept through their camps;  On July 17, American forces swept into Santiago.  By July 28, the U.S. had taken Puerto Rico. 


            C.  End of the War; cease-fire August 12, 1898

                        -Fewer than 400 Americans died in battle; 4,600 died from disease and exposure.


IV.  Results of the Spanish-American War


            A.  Treaty of Paris, 1898:  U.S. gained Guam and Puerto Rico; the U.S. gained the Philippines for $20 million. The U.S. occupied Cuba, but under the

                        Teller Resolution passed by Congress, the U.S. declared that it would not annex Cuba.


            B.  Imperialism and the Election of 1900

-The Senate vote ratifying the treaty was very close.  William Jennings Bryan and the Democrats questioned the benefits and morality of imperialism and sought to make it a major issue in the election of 1900.  McKinley's victory was due in part to the public's general support for expansion. 


            C.  Long-range significance of the war

                        1. It marked a dramatic increase in American involvement abroad, especially in the Caribbean and the Pacific;               

                        2.  It brought the United States into close relationships with Latin America and East Asia

                        3.  It stimulated industrial activity in the United States

4.  The United States gained an empire, and Spain's 400-year-old in the New World came to an end;  The Philippines, Guam, Puerto Rico.  U.S. would oversee Cuban independence. Yet  the U.S. replaced Spain as oppressors in the Philippines