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Why did the United States go to war with Spain?

For a good web site on the Spanish American War click here.

Industrialism had changed the United States. Americans began to view their nation with increasing nationalism. The spirit if expansion and imperialism was fueled by these feelings. For one hundred years America had taken a back seat to the traditional European powers, that many American felt, should change.

In order for America to take its rightful place amongst the worlds power many felt we needed to control a vast imperial empire. This empire would provide a market for our goods, raw materials for our factories and protection for our commercial interests. The expansion was, as previously discussed, justified by the need for our people to expand commercially and the social Darwinist idea of the white man's burden. With this need in mind eyes turned towards Spain. Spain, a once mighty empire, still with vast colonial holdings many of them in our Caribbean backyard, was now a much weaker nation than us. They were ripe for the picking and a their imperial holdings would be the spoils of victory.

I. The Spanish American War

A. What caused an increase in tension between the United States and Spain?

1. In 1895 civil war broke out in Cuba between Spain and the Cubans.

2. The conflict was described by Senator Redfield Proctor of Vermont as bloody and brutal.

3. Newspapers (particularly those owned by William Randolph Hearst) reported the brutality of the Spanish General Weyler in graphic and often biased terms. The New York Journal reports "...blood on the roadsides, blood in the villages, blood, blood, blood!" American newspapers were clearly pushing the nation towards intervention in the Cuban situation.

Click here to view a wonderful drawing of the United States entering the Spanish American War. An excellent example of Propaganda.

4. American Presidents Grover Cleveland and his successor William McKinley opposed the intervention but a series of events would push us over the edge.

B. What event pushed the United States into war with Spain?

1. The DeLome Letter - A letter by Spanish Ambassador to the United States Enrique DeLome was intercepted by Hearst's newspaper and published on the front page. The DeLome letter called President McKinley "...weak and a bidder for the affections of the people...a would be politician who leaves a door open behind himself while at the same time trying to appease the jingoes of his party." (The term "jingo" comes from a term used at the term of the century to describe one who was intensely nationalistic and often militaristic.) The DeLome letter embarrassed McKinley and brought us one step closer to war.

2. The Sinking of the Maine - As tensions had increased the United States has sent it's fleet to Cuba to protect American economic interests.

The Maine in Havana Harbor three weeks before it was sunk.

On the night of February 15, 1898, the ship was sunk by a tremendous explosion, and 260 lives were lost. Reports pointed to sabotage, but responsibility for the disaster was not determined. The New York Journal reported that a Spanish Mine had had sunk the Maine. Other newspapers showed pictures of Spanish terrorists swimming under the Maine and placing explosives under the ship.

Below you can see the actual newspaper headlines published by the New York Journal

Publisher William Randolph Hearst had instructed hie photpgraphers: "You furnish the pictures...I'll furnish the war!" Looking at these headlines it is obvious that Hearst, and his competitor Pulitzer, published information that they could not back up. This influenced Americans to push for war with Spain. This biased and irresponsible reporting is known a yellow journalism. It is clear that the so called "yellow press" was deeply involved in pushing the US into war.

3. On April 20 President McKinley approved a congressional resolution that called for immediate Spanish withdrawal from Cuba, and on April 24 war was declared by the Spanish government. On April 25 the U.S. Congress declared that hostilities had officially begun on April 21. Congressional resolutions affirmed Cuban independence and stated that the United States was not acting to secure an empire. Clearly this was not the case but the justification was neccessaary.

C. How did America win the Spanish-American War?

1. The war was fought in the Spanish colonies of the Philippines and Cuba. On June 22, 1898, the United States landed 15,000 soldiers southeast of Santiago de Cuba. The troops engaged and defeated Spanish land forces July 1 around the city. The most famous engagement was Lieutenant Colonel Theodore Roosevelt's charge up Kettle Hill during the Battle of San Juan Hill. Meanwhile, U.S. naval forces blockaded the harbor of Santiago de Cuba. Spanish ships tried to run the blockade as soon as the land engagements had begun, but pursuing American naval vessels sank or forced the fleeing ships aground. No serious damage occurred to any U.S. ships.

2. This newspaper shows America's triumph...yet another example of Yellow Journalism.

Click to thumbnail object to view the World's front page announcing US victory in the Philippines.

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