The Spanish-American War was a four-month conflict between Spain and the United States, provoked by word of Spanish colonial brutality in Cuba. Although the war was largely brought about by the efforts of U.S. expansionists, many Americans supported the idea of freeing an oppressed people controlled by the Spanish. At war's end, America emerged victorious with newly acknowledged respect as a world power.
Reasoning for war
Until the 1890s, ambivalence about overseas possessions had restrained America's drive to expand overseas. Suddenly, near the turn of the 20th century, inhibitions collapsed and American power thrust its way to the far reaches of the Pacific. The occasion for that explosion of imperialism lay neither in the Pacific nor in the quest for bases and trade, but to the south in Cuba. The chief motive was a sense of outrage at another country's imperialism.
It revived only briefly during a 10-year Cuban insurrection from 1868 to 1878. After the insurrection was brought under control in 1878 by the Spanish, American investments in Cuba, mainly in sugar and mining, rose to about $50 million. The United States in fact traded more with Cuba than Spain did.
On February 24, 1895, insurrection broke out again. Simmering discontent with Spanish rule had been aggravated by the Wilson-Gorman Tariff of 1894, which took sugar off the free list in the midst of a depression already damaging to the market for Cuban sugar. Public feeling in the U.S. lay with the rebels, and many Americans extended help to the Cuban revolutionary party that organized the revolt from its headquarters in New York.
The insurrectionists' strategy was to wage guerrilla warfare and to damage the island's economic life, which in turn would provoke the concern of American investors. The strategy employed hit-and-run attacks on trains, railways, and plantations. Ordinary Americans were more than ready to look upon the insurrection in the light of their own War of Independence.
Pressure for war
The American press had a field day with many of the events leading up to and during war with Spain. William Randolph Hearst's New York Journal and Joseph Pulitzer's New York World became major contributors to the sentiment for conflict with imperialistic Spain.
On April 6, 1896, The Second Cleveland Administration attempted to negotiate with Spain, urging that empire to seek peace in Cuba on the basis of home rule. The Spanish politely refused.
The direction of official neutrality changed sharply when William McKinley assumed office. He had been elected on a platform that endorsed independence for Cuba, as well as American control of Hawaii and of a Panama canal. On January 25, 1898, as a "courtesy call," but actually for the protection of American citizens and property in Cuba, the battleship USS Maine arrived in Havana harbor.
Meanwhile, on February 9, a private letter written by Enrique Dupuy de Lôme, the Spanish minister to Washington, surfaced in the U.S. press. The letter disparaged President McKinley, thus provoking more anti-Spanish sentiment.
On February 15, the Maine exploded in the harbor and sank with a loss of 260 men. Immediately afterwards, the American press sparked a nationwide uproar, and flung various unproven accusations of sabotage at Spain u0097 giving rise to the slogan, "Remember the Maine!"
A month later, under mounting pressure from the American people, President McKinley obtained a joint resolution of Congress: It declared Cuba independent and demanded a withdrawal of Spanish forces. It also included an amendment that disavowed any U.S. plan to permanently occupy the island. The resolution was then sent to Spanish authorities with unconditional compliance to occur by April 23, 1898. On April 22, McKinley announced a blockade of Cuba's northern coast and the port of Santiago. Rather than give in to an ultimatum, the Spanish government declared war on April 24. The U.S. Congress u0097 determined to be...
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