• Purpose: Liberate Cuba from Spanish Rule
  • Duration: April 25- August 12, 1898
  • Casualties: 5462 American soldiers (379 Americans died in combat—the majority of the deaths were caused by typhoid and yellow fever.)

Long Term Causes

Fight against Freedom from Spain

  • In Cuba, then a Spanish colony, angry nationalists known as the insurrectos[1] began a revolt against the ruling Spanish colonial regime in 1868.
  • The Spanish managed pacify the insurgency in 1878 by promising reforms, yet change was slow in coming- slavery was not abolished until 1886.
  • The worldwide depression of 1890s hit Cuba hard because it was a one market economy (sugar) and suffered more due to the American tariff act in 1894, which hiked the rate on Cuban sugar by 40%
  • This cut off Cuban sugar growers from their biggest buyer, precipitating another revolt.
  • On February 10 1896 Spanish General Valeriano Weyler arrived to take up his duties as the governor of Cuba.

General Valeriano “butcher” Weyler: Spanish general sent to stop the revolts in Cuba. He was known for his barbarity in treating rebels and non rebels alike. He put much of the Cuban population in concentration camps using violence in order to stop the Cuban revolution. In his camps, on average 46 people died per day! (Mostly women and children)

  • In total, 100,000 Cubans died in the concentration camps; however Yellow press exaggerated this value to be 400,000.
  • United States was sympathetic to Cuba as they were fighting against the colonial old powers, just like America had fought its own revolution. It was a fight for Cuban Freedom.

Yellow Journalism

  • Reconcentrado (Reconcentration Camps) enforced by Weyler, aroused sympathy amongst Americans as his actions were hyped daily on US newspapers known as “yellow press”.
  • Yellow journalism: The type of sensationalist (sometimes fictitious) journalism practiced by newspapermen such as Hearst and Pulitzer in order to boost circulation. William R. Hearst – Newspaper publisher and leading example of yellow journalism. His New York Journal started a public hysteria for war with Spain by publishing incendiary articles and illustrations by Remington. Hearst once said to Remington, “You furnish the pictures and I’ll furnish the war.”
  • Through Yellow Journalism, the cry for US actions intensified leading to a resolution in April 1896, in which the US suggested the revolutionists should be given the right for belligerence- this meant that the government formally acknowledged the Cuban revolution.
  • Alfred T. Mahan, Teddy Roosevelt, Henry Cabot Lodge and other expansionists knew that higher stakes were involved if America got involved. If the United States won the war against Spain, they could potentially gain the Spanish Philippines, which were another fuelling station for the US navy and would be the US gateway to the Far East and China Trade.

Economic Aspects

  • American involvement could open Cuba as a trading market, expand trade, and at this time, America was looking for international trade to sell its domestic products.
  • The US, which had many businessmen with investment interests in Cuba, became concerned about their properties in Cuba.
  • US had a legitimate reason to stabilize Cuba, as American investments were between $30 to $50 million and annual export-import reached up to $100 million.
  • The Insurrectos deliberately destroyed American property in an effort to push the US to intervene.

Short Term Causes

DeLome Letter

  • William Hearst’s newspaper intercepted a letter from Spanish minister in Washington, Dupuy du Lome. In his letter, Dupuy characterized McKinley as a politicasto or “small time politician” and a “bidder for the admiration of the crowd” he letter spoke rudely of President McKinley. Of course, Hearst did not refrain from publishing the scandalous DeLome letter.
  • On February 9, 1898, the New York Journal published this scandalous letter, which outraged the Americans and humiliated Spain. The matter and tensions between the US and Spain increased.

USS Maine

  • In 1898, the US dispatched the USS Maine on a “friendly” mission to Cuba.
  • The ship was to wait, ready to rescue US citizens who might be endangered by the conflict in Cuba.
  • On February 15, 1898, USS Maine sunk into the Havana Harbour. The ship was destroyed and killed 2 officers and 258 crewmen.
  • The destruction of the American vessel marked the most important juncture on the road to war.
  • Although it could not be determined at the time whether the Maine was blown up by the Spanish, by Cuban action or by an internal combustion, U.S. opinion placed the blame on Spain.
  • The yellow press exploited this story, whipping the US into an anti-Spanish frenzy. Newspaper circulation soared as the public demanded war with Spain.

o   Americans rallied the slogan, “Remember the Maine”

  • Thus the perception of the truth led to war (In 1969, US Navy research confirmed that the explosion actually was caused by a defective boiler)

President McKinley’s Actions

On April 11, 1898 President McKinley, sent a war message to Congress to use military and naval force to end the hostilities in Cuba. On April 19, Congress adopted a resolution that recognized Cuba “free and independent” and demanded that Spain withdraw from the island and authorized the President to use force to carry out the resolution. On April 24, 1898 Spain declared war on the US. The next day, on April 25, the US declared war on Spain.

President McKinley: The 25th American President and was in power during the Spanish American War. President McKinley refused to declare war until the last possible moment in order to preserve good Spanish-American relations. “War should never be entered upon until every agency of peace has failed” – McKinley.

Effects of the Spanish American War

  • The Spanish-American War signalled the emergence of the US as a great power onto the world stage of international relations and diplomacy.
  • “From a position of comparative freedom from entanglements into the position of what is commonly called a world power…. Where formerly we had only commercial interests, we now have territorial and political interests as well.” –Assistant Secretray of State John Bassett

Emergence of New Imperialism

It was a new type of imperialism than the usual European colonial tradition. Instead of seeking empire for God, glory or gold, the American imperialism sought markets for industrial overproduction. Access to foreign markets rather than actual political control of markets was the goal.


[1] Insurrectos – Cuban Nationalists who fought against Spain’s colonial regime in Cuba.

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