In the 1890's the United States became more aggressive and expansionistic than it had been for the past few decades. There was apparently a hunger for foreign conquest. The conflict with Spain derived mainly from the American desire to help the beleaguered Cubans with their independence from Spain. Americans wanted the war, which could well have been avoided, but they had little understanding of what the reults of the war would be. I believe American entry into the Spanish-American war was not justified.
In September, 1895, came the event which changed the course of the Cuban rebellion against Spain. William Randolph Hearst, a young man of 32 who had been operating the San Fransisco Examiner, purchased the New York Morning
Journal, and immediately locked with Joseph Pulitzer and the World in a circulation war that was to make newspaper history. Hearst capitalized on the fact that the American people had only the most romantic notions of the nature
of the Cuban conflict. American newsmen were filing reports describing the war in terms of nonexistent pitched battles between the liberty-loving Cubans and the cruel Spaniards. The war was presented as a conflict between the forces of
freedom and the forces of tyranny, and the American people ate it up.
The newspapers had influence but they represented no more than a minority of the press of the country. In the South and the Middle West, where the anti-Spanish feeling became most intense, the representative newspaper was much
more conservative. The yellow press played a tremendous part in stirring up sentiment for intervention in Cuba, but these feelings could not be carried into action unless American political leaders of both parties were willing to assume the responsibility of war.
The threat to peace came from the South and West, the strongholds of Democracy and free silver. Bryanite leaders were convinced that such a strain on the currency system would be created by a war that it would cause the
opposition to free silver to collapse. Since the opposition to war was strongest in Wall Street, they found it easy to believe that Administration policy was the product of a conspiracy of bankers who would deny silver to the American
people. Bryan, spokesman for rural Protestantism was speaking in terms of a righteous war against Spain to free the Cubans from bondage. These forces were too powerful for McKinley to ignore. He desired peace but he was a Republican partisan and had no intention of handing the Democrats in 1900 the campaign cry of Free Cuba and Free Silver.
In July, McKinley formulated a policy which he set down in a letter of instructions to our new American minister to Spain, General Stewart L. Woodford. The letter emphasized the need to bring the Cuban war to an end and
said that it could be done to the mutual advantage of both Spain and Cuba by granting some kind of autonomy to Cuba. The United States threatened to intervene if Spain did not make an offer to the rebels.
On January 12, 1898 an incident occurred which made war seem virtually inevitable. A riot broke out in Havana, and Spanish officers attacked newspaper offices. If the
United States sent a naval vessel it might be buying trouble with Spain, but if they didn't and a riot broke out and Americans were killed, the Administration would be stoned for not having a ship there to protect them. After several days McKinley sent the Maine to Havana on a courtesy visit to show that American ships could visit the island without danger to citizens.
At 9:40 pm of February 15, 1898 the Maine was blown up by an explosion of unknown origin. 260 out of the 350 officers and men were killed. Theodore Roosevelt commented that, " The Maine was sunk by an act of dirty treachery on the part of the Spaniards," and,"[he] would give anything if President McKinley would order the fleet to Havana tomorrow." Even though there was no one to enlist them, volunteers lined up for war service....
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