American History: Spanish-American War (1898)


Figure 1.--This scene was posed for a stero-scopic viwer, a popular parlor diversion at the turn of the 20th century. The copyright was dated 1898 by B. L. Singley. The caption was, "Who's afraid of Spain.

The Spanish-American War announced America's arrival on the world stage. While one of the lesser known American wars, the War had huge implications for America's world role in the 20th century. The path to war led through Cuba. Cuba was the last important Spanisg colony in the Americas. Attempts by the Cubans to ver throw Spanish rule failed. A new revolution broke out (1895) and was brutally supressed by Spanish authorities. American economic interests were damaged in the fighting. Some Americans began to see strategic interests in Cuba, especially as desire was growing for building a canal in Central America. The situation in Cuba was brough to the attention of the American public through 'yellow journalism' reporting lurid details of actual and imangined Spanish attrocities. W.R. Hearst's New York Journal and Joseph Pulitzer's New York World competed with each other for the most lurid stories to increase circulation. War fever grew when a letter written by a Spanish diplomat disparaging President McKinley was published. The sinking of the battleship USS Maine in Havana Harbor made war inevitable. The United States demanded Spain withdraw from Cuba. Spain declared war (April 24, 1898). The American Pacific Fleet commanded by George Dewey was ordered to engage the Spanish Fleet at Manila Bay. Dewey destoyed the Spanish Fleet (May 1). The American Atlantic Fleet sought out the Spanish Atlantic Fleet, but it sought refuge in Santiago Harbor. The advancing American Army forced the Spanish Fleet out and it was destoyed (July 3). Santiago subsequently surrendered. An Armistace was reached (August 12). The Treaty of Paris ending the War was signed (December 10). Spain granted Cuba independence. The United States attempted to control political developments in Cuba, even after withdrawing by insisting that the Platt Amendment be inserted in the Cuban Constitution. Spain ceeded Puerto Rico and Guam to the United States and the Philippines for a $20 million payment. This ended the long history of the Spanish Empire in the America. It also began an involvement of the United States in Latin American affairs. America had earlier acquired the Hawaiian Islands. The acquisition of the Spanish territories also further involved America in the Far East.

Revolution in Cuba (1895)

Most of Spain's American colonies achieved independence during or after the Napoleonic Wars of the early 19th century. Spain held on to Cuba and and Puertp Rico afer defeats in South and Central America. Cubans began their struggle for indeopendence at mid-century. The first major armed action was the War of the Ten Years (1868-78). A poorly equipped army of 8,000 Cubans fought a valiant struggle against a well-armed Spanish army which suffered some 80,000 casualties. The revolutionaries which failed to fight a centrally organized campaign finally had to give up with the Pact of the Trench, although General Antonio Maceo issued the protest of Baraguá. The path to war with the United States led through Cuba and th independence struggle. Cuba was the last important Spanish colony in the Americas. Attempts by the Cubans to over throw Spanish rule had failed. A new revolution broke out (1895). It was organized by Jose Martí (1895). The Army of Liberation was better irganized than in 1868 and was commanded by General Maximum Gomez. The Army of Liberation eventually fielded about 50,000 men, but only about half were armed. The Spanish commited an army of about 250,000 men to supress the rebelliom. In the campaign they suffered about 71,000 casualties and the war proved a major drain on the Spanish economy. The Spanish Army was able to hold on to the major cities, but most of the countryside fell into rebel hands. The Cubans did not have the military force need to take the cities and the Spanish did not have an adequate force to persue the rebels into the countryside. Thus an uneasy deadlock developed. The Spanish used brutal tactics against the Cubans. The american press began to report on this and added many luris details that were in part, but not entirely, manufactured to attract readers--the so called 'Yellow Press'.

American Interests

American economic interests were damaged in the fighting. Americans by the 1890s had invested heavily in the sugar industry as well as the tobacco and mining industries. Some American began to see strategic interests in Cuba, especially as interest was building for a canal in Central America. America just north of the Caribbean had long held an interest in the region. There were both economic and strategic interests. Some in America had long been seen as a region for American expansion. Here there was considerable disagreement. America was also expanding its involvement in the Pacific, especially markets in China.

Yellow Journalism and American Public Opinion

The situation in Cuba was brough to the attention of the American public through 'yellow journalism' reporting lurid details of actual ad imagines Spanish attrocities. W.R. Hearst's New York Journal and Joseph Pulitzer's New York World competed with each other for the most lurid stories to increase circulation. There were actual attrocities. Growing rebel popularity caused the Spanish military to move villages into "reconcentration" sites--concentration camps. The British woulkd do the same in South Africa during the Bohr War which also broke out in 1898. They erected cleared and fenced demilitarized zones. While this created ample instances of brutality, the American newspaper embelished on the facts available and even created incidents. War fever grew when a letter written by Señor Dupuy de Lome (a Spanish diplomat) disparaging President McKinley was published. He described McKinley as "a weakling ... a bidder for the admiration of the crowd". The battleship Maine was in Havana Harbor on a "goodwill visit". It exploded in Havana Harbor (February 15, 1898). Losses totaled 260 men. This press blaimed Spain, making war virtually inevitable. 'Remember the Maine' became the American battle cry. After the War it was learned that there had been an internal explosion.

Declaration of War (April 1898)

President McKinley was reluctant to ask for a declaration of war. Some in his administrtion like Assistantv-Secretary of the Navy Theodore Roosevelt was anxious for war. any in the Media also pressed for war. Some argued for intervention to protect American economic interests. There was also great pressure to protect Cubns from Spanish brutality. The U.S. Congress passed a joint resolution proclaiming Cuba 'free and independent' (April 19). McKinnley immediately signed it (April 20). Spain declared war (April 24, 1898).

Imperial America: Island Campaigns

The Europeans led by Spain and Portuga; (15th century). Their colonies and other forms of control and influence eventually covered much of world. The United states began as part of that colonial outreach. The United States was the firat part of the Europan comonial empires to achieve independence. The Europeans added many colonies in Africa and Asia during the 19th century. And there were amercans who wanted to add colonies from a early point in American history. Cuba and Central americ wre the primary targets. But there was even more resistance to colonial ex[ansion. The slave issue was a major factor here. America's colonial outreach was esentially the Spanish American War, Cuba was the issue that set off thecEar, but the United States targeted most of Spain's remaininhg colonies. Spain was no longer a major European power and the United States had a modern fleet. As the Spanish possessions were all islands, the U.S. Navy played a prominant role in the conflict. The outcome was never in doubt. The actual fighting was thus very limited, confined primarily to Manila Bay and Cuba. And unlike the Europeans, the United States began plans to grant independence, first for Cuba (1903) and then the Philippines. Filipono independemnce was delayed by the Japanese World War II invasion (1941). Those who want to paint America in a negative light, always pount out this imperial interlude, never mentioning the very limited colonial experiment, and the rapid grnting of independence to Cuba and preparatins for Filipino independence from avery early point. Unlike the Europeans, the Unoted States made considerble effort to prepare he Philippines for independence, such as fonding an education system and setting up a Commonwealth Government. Imperialism it was, but give the immense portential power of the United states by 1898, it was very limited colonial experiment. and the people of the islands not granted independence w11ere granted Ameican citzenship. This was very different

Casualties

The Spanish-American War was a short relatively bloodless war in comparison tp the Civil War which preceeded it and World War I which followed it. About 3,000 Americans were killed.

Treaty of Paris (December 1898)

The Spanish American War ended (August 8). A cease fire and protocols ending the War was signed in Washington (August 12) American and Spanish diplomats signed an armistice/protocol of peace (August 12). Spanish and United States commissioners meet in Paris to draft a Peace Treaty (October 1). The American peace commission consisted of William R. Day, Sen. Cushman K. Davis, Sen. William P. Frye, Sen. George Gray, and the Honorable Whitelaw Reid. The Spanish commission is headed by Don Eugenio Montero Rios, the President of the Senate. Jules Cambon, a French diplomat, also negotiated on Spain's behalf. Spain agreed to relinquish its claim of sovereignty over Cuba. The Treaty of Paris ending the War was signed (December 10). Spain granted Cuba independence. The United States attempted to control political developments in Cuba, even after withdrawing by insisting that the Platt Amendment be inserted in the Cuban Constitution. Spain renounced all claim to Cuba, ceded Guam and Puerto Rico and its dependent islets to United States, and transferred sovereignty over the Philippines to the United States for a payment of $20 million.. Although the Cuban Mambi Army had participated in fighting, the U.S. Government refused to Cuban representatives to participate in the Paris peace talks or sign the resulting treaty. The Treaty set no time limit for U.S.occupation. The Isle of Pines was initially excluded from Cuba. . The U.S, Senate approves the Treaty (February 6, 1899).

Aftermath

The American seizure of Cuba and Puerto Rico ended the long history of the Spanish Empire in the Americas. It also began an involvement of the United States in Latin American affairs. America had earlier acquired the Hawaiian Islands. The acquisition of the Spanish territories also further involved America in the Far East.

Filipino Insurection (1898-1913)

The Filipinos were initially grateful for U.S. assistance in expelling the Spanish, their goal was independence. Relations deteriorated when the Filipinos realized that the Americans were not prepared to grant indepencence. The United States had mixed motives. One was cincern over German intentions. Before the Treaty of Paris was signed with Spain, incidents occurred between the Filipino rebels and the Americn troops. The result was the Philippine-American War, the longest conflict in American history. It evolved into a vicious conflict which continued until 1913. While not really part of the Insurection, the Moro Rebellion was the longest lasting and most brutal phase of the conflict. The worst incident in the campaign was the massacre of about 600 Muslim Filipinos by troops under General Leonard Wood (March 1906). The racist attitudes of the day and Islanic fanaticism helped turn the war into a particular bloody undertaking. Civilian deaths were very substantial. There are no reliable records, Estimates range from 0.2-0.6 million civilians died from famine, disease, and war-related causes. The Spanish-American War began as a very popular campaign to free Cuba. The insurection in the Philippines was a very different matter. Freeing the Philippines had never even been mentioned in the run up to the War. The conflict with the Filipinos,although not reported in detail, was a very different matter. As the War continued crticism began to appear in the press. Mark Twain wa one of the vocal critics. He wrote about the contradictions between American anti-imperialism and "benevolent" foreign policy and the brutal consequences of the fighting in the Philippines. When those promoting American expnsion argued that the U.S. could not withdraw without "dishonor". Twain replied that "An inglorious peace is better than a dishonorable war." The consequences of aGerman occupation may have been far worse for the Filipinos.






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Created: 7:44 AM 6/19/2005
Last updated: 11:54 PM 4/30/2015