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Spanish-American War,1898, brief conflict between Spain and the United States arising out of Spanish policies in Cuba. It was, to a large degree, brought about by the efforts of U.S. expansionists.
Causes of the War
Demands by Cuban patriots for independence from Spanish rule made U.S. intervention in Cuba a paramount issue in the relations between the United States and Spain from the 1870s to 1898. Sympathy for the Cuban insurgents ran high in America, especially after the savage Ten Years WarTen Years War,
1868–78, struggle for Cuban independence from Spain. Discontent was caused in Cuba by excessive taxation, trade restrictions, and virtual exclusion of native Cubans from governmental posts.
..... Click the link for more information. (1868–78) and the unsuccessful revolt of 1895. After efforts to quell guerrilla activity had failed, the Spanish military commander, Valeriano Weyler y NicolauWeyler y Nicolau, Valeriano
, 1838–1930, Spanish general. His early career was spent in Santo Domingo and Cuba, where he served during the Ten Years War. He returned to Spain in 1873 and fought against the Carlists (1875–76).
..... Click the link for more information. , instituted the reconcentrado, or concentration camp, system in 1896; Cuba's rural population was forcibly confined to centrally located garrison towns, where thousands died from disease, starvation, and exposure.
Weyler's actions brought the rebels many new American sympathizers. These prorebel feelings were inflamed by the U.S. "yellow press," especially W. R. Hearst's New York Journal and Joseph Pulitzer's New York World, which distorted and slanted the news from Cuba. The U.S. government was also moved by the heavy losses of American investment in Cuba caused by the guerrilla warfare, an appreciation of the strategic importance of the island to Central America and a projected isthmian canal there, and a growing sense of U.S. power in the affairs of the Western Hemisphere. There was an unspoken threat of intervention. This grew sharper after the insurgents, refusing a Spanish offer of partial autonomy, determined to fight for full freedom.
Although the majority of Americans, including President McKinleyMcKinley, William,
1843–1901, 25th president of the United States (1897–1901), b. Niles, Ohio. He was educated at Poland (Ohio) Seminary and Allegheny College. After service in the Union army in the Civil War, he returned to Ohio and became a lawyer at Canton.
..... Click the link for more information. , wished to avert war and hoped to settle the Cuban question by peaceful means, a series of incidents early in 1898 intensified U.S. feelings against Spain. The first of these was the publication by Hearst of a stolen letter (the de Lôme letter) that had been written by the Spanish minister at Washington, in which that incautious diplomat expressed contempt for McKinley. This was followed by the sinking of the U.S. battleship MaineMaine,
U.S. battleship destroyed (Feb. 15, 1898) in Havana harbor by an explosion that killed 260 men. The incident helped precipitate the Spanish-American War (Apr., 1898). Commanded by Capt. Charles Sigsbee, the ship had been sent (Jan.
..... Click the link for more information. in Havana harbor on Feb. 15, 1898, with a loss of 260 men. Although Spanish complicity was not proved, U.S. public opinion was aroused and war sentiment rose. The cause of the advocates of war was given further impetus as a result of eyewitness reports by members of the U.S. Congress on the effect of the reconcentrado policy in Cuba.
A Short and One-sided War
In late March, McKinley proposed to Spain an armistice in Cuba, but under pressure from expansionists both in and out of Congress, he was won to the war cause. Although on Apr. 10, 1898, McKinley was informed that the queen of Spain had ordered hostilities suspended, he barely referred to that fact when he addressed Congress on Apr. 11. He asked for authority to intervene in Cuba. Congress responded by passing resolutions to demand Spanish withdrawal from Cuba and set terms for U.S. intervention; these included the Teller Amendment, which pledged that the United States would withdraw from the island when independence was assured. On Apr. 22, Congress authorized the enlistment of volunteer troops, and a U.S. blockade of Spanish ports was instituted. On Apr. 24, Spain declared war on the United States. The next day Congress retorted by declaring war on Spain, retroactive to Apr. 21.
The warfare that commenced was short and very one-sided. The first dramatic incident occurred on the other side of the world from Cuba. On May 1 a U.S. squadron under George DeweyDewey, George
, 1837–1917, American admiral, hero of the battle of Manila, b. Montpelier, Vt., grad. Annapolis, 1858. He saw active duty in the Civil War and rose in the navy in service and rank, becoming chief of the Bureau of Equipment in 1889, president of the Board of
..... Click the link for more information. sailed into the harbor of Manila, Philippine Islands, and in a few hours thoroughly defeated the Spanish fleet there. Dewey's name was greeted across the United States with almost hysterical praise. On May 19, Admiral Pascual Cervera y TopeteCervera y Topete, Pascual
, 1839–1909, Spanish admiral. During the Spanish-American War of 1898 he was given command of the Atlantic fleet and sent, against his own advice, to Cuba.
..... Click the link for more information. took the Spanish fleet into the harbor of Santiago de Cuba. Commodore W. S. SchleySchley, Winfield Scott
, 1839–1911, American naval officer, b. Frederick co., Md. After serving with Union naval forces in the Civil War, he held various naval posts. In 1884 he commanded the third, and successful, relief expedition to rescue the arctic explorer Adolphus W.
..... Click the link for more information. established (May 28) a blockade of the harbor, in which Rear Admiral W. I. SampsonSampson, William Thomas,
1840–1902, American naval officer, b. Palmyra, N.Y. After serving with Union naval forces in the Civil War, he saw varied naval service and was (1886–90) superintendent of the U.S. Naval Academy at Annapolis.
..... Click the link for more information. joined, taking command of the blockading fleet on June 1. When the Spanish fleet attempted to escape on July 3, it was destroyed.
Meanwhile 17,000 more or less trained, poorly equipped but enthusiastic U.S. troops under W. R. ShafterShafter, William Rufus,
1835–1906, American general, b. Galesburg, Mich. He served in the Union army during the Civil War and in 1867 joined the regular army, rising to become brigadier general (1897).
..... Click the link for more information. landed and undertook a campaign to capture Santiago. The Spanish forces were weak, but there was some heavy fighting (July 1) at El Caney and San Juan Hill, where the Rough RidersRough Riders,
popular name for the 1st Regiment of U.S. Cavalry Volunteers, organized largely by Theodore Roosevelt in the Spanish-American War (1898). Its members were mostly ranchers and cowboys from the West, with a sprinkling of adventurous blue bloods from the Eastern
..... Click the link for more information. , under Leonard WoodWood, Leonard,
1860–1927, American general and administrator, b. Winchester, N.H. After practicing medicine briefly in Boston, he entered the army in 1885 and was made an assistant surgeon; in 1891 he was promoted to captain.
..... Click the link for more information. and Theodore RooseveltRoosevelt, Theodore,
1858–1919, 26th President of the United States (1901–9), b. New York City. Early Life and Political Posts
Of a prosperous and distinguished family, Theodore Roosevelt was educated by private tutors and traveled widely.
..... Click the link for more information. , won their popular reputation. On July 17, Santiago surrendered. The war was, in effect, over. Troops sent under Nelson A. MilesMiles, Nelson Appleton,
1839–1925, American army officer, b. near Westminster, Mass. In 1861, at the outbreak of the Civil War, he left his job in a Boston store and organized a company of volunteers.
..... Click the link for more information. to Puerto Rico were occupying that island when they received word that an armistice had been signed on Aug. 12. Dewey and Wesley Merritt led a successful land and sea assault and occupation of Manila on Aug. 13, after the armistice had been signed.
Peace was arranged by the Treaty of Paris signed Dec. 10, 1898 (ratified by the U.S. Senate, Feb. 6, 1899). The Spanish Empire was practically dissolved. Cuba was freed, but under U.S. tutelage by terms of the Platt Amendment (see under Platt, OrvillePlatt, Orville Hitchcock,
1827–1905, U.S. Senator (1879–1905), b. Washington, Litchfield co., Conn. Platt held many public offices in Connecticut before he served in the U.S. Senate.
..... Click the link for more information. ), with Spain assuming the Cuban debt. Puerto Rico and Guam were ceded to the United States as indemnity, and the Philippines were surrendered to the United States for a payment of $20 million. The United States emerged from the war with new international power. In both Latin America and East Asia it had established an imperial foothold. The war tied the United States more closely to the course of events in those areas.
See A. T. Mahan, Lessons of the War with Spain (1900, repr. 1970); F. E. Chadwick, Relations of the United States and Spain: Diplomacy (1909, repr. 1968) and Relations of the United States and Spain: The Spanish-American War (1911, repr. 1968); W. Millis, The Martial Spirit (1931); J. W. Pratt, Expansionists of 1898 (1936, repr. 1959); F. B. Freidel, The Splendid Little War (1958); H. W. Morgan, America's Road to Empire (1965); I. Musicant, Empire by Default (1998); W. Zimmermann, First Great Triumph (2002).