Why did the United States go to war with Spain?
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.
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
The Maine in Havana Harbor three weeks before it was
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.
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