Spanish American War


Starting in 1877, the rise of big business and a laissez fair economy began what was known as the Gilded Age. By the 1890’s some Americans began to resume the course of Manifest Destiny that had dwindled down during the Gilded Age for many years after the Civil War. During this time Imperialism was on the rise in Europe, and was spreading into the United States. Apostle of imperialism in the United States Alfred Thayer Mahan presented his thesis in The Influence of Sea Power upon History, which states that countries with sea power were the great nations of history. During the Venezuelan Boundary Dispute, Secretary of State Richard Olney charged that Britain was violating the Monroe Doctrine. This lead President Cleveland to create a special commission insisting that if Britain resisted the commission’s decision, the United States should be willing to go to war to enforce it. In 1898, when events in Cuba lead to the Spanish-American War, the new imperialistic United States became an overseas empire and transformed America’s relationship to the rest of the world.

Prior to the Spanish-American War, the United States’ foreign policy was marked by steady expansion in its size during the nineteenth century as well as a policy of avoiding wars with European powers. The United States followed the guidelines laid down by George Washington in his Farewell Address to the American people, “The great rule of conduct for us in regard to foreign nations is, in extending our commercial relation,to have with them as little political connection as possible.” Washington’s purpose was to minimize the chance of war, however the imperialistic United States quickly ingored his foreign policy advice, thus the Spanish-American War.

The Spanish-American War was caused by many factors including humanitarianism, economic interests, and yellow journalism. Spanish commander General Valeriano had Cuban civilians placed in concentration camps dying by the thousands due to disease and malnutrition. As an act of protest the Cubans began to burn down it’s sugar fields that the Unites States had $50 million invested in. While these events went on the American Press exaggerated the stories, calling the general “Butcher Weyler”, further contributing the public’s support for war. When McKinley became president in 1897, he protested Spain’s “uncivilized and inhuman conduct” and supported neutrality. But when events that directly effected the United States took place it prevented any chance at peace. The Delome Letter written by Dupuy de Lome described McKinley as a weak man and a “bidder for the admiration of crowd”, animosity came about. The sinking of the American battleship Maine in the Havana harbor caused 262 American deaths and was assumed that the Spanish ad sunk the ship. After these events took place Congress enacted the Teller Amendment, Mckinley’s request to declare War. It stated that the U.S. could not annex Cuba, but only leave control of the island to its people after the war. Now that the Teller Amendment was enacted, the Spanish-American war began.

The war was seen by many Americans including Secretary of State John Hay as “a splendid little war”. Fought in Cuba and the Philippines, it was over after a five month period from April to August. While 460 Americans were killed in battle or died of wounds, over 5,200 died from disease. Assistant Secretary of the Navy Theodore Roosevelt instructed Commodore George Dewey to attack Spanich forces in the Philippines during the war. On May 1, 1898 in Manila Bay Dewey sinks the entire Spanish Asian fleet in just seven hours, while the U.S. only suffered one death.

As the Spanish-American War was coming to an end, the Treaty of Paris brough a formal end to the war. The treaty allowed the U.S. to receive Puerto Rico, Guam and the Philippines. The Philippines annexation caused much controversy because of it’s relatively large size, dense population, and being thousands of miles away from the United States, however President Mckinely believed the Filipinos were unfit for self-governance. When Cuba made a constitution that had no reference to the United States, the U.S. stepped in. Congress passed the Platt Ammendment which left Cuba with only nominal political independence. Events that occurred after the war included the Open Door Policy formed by Secretary of State John Hay, which stated that nations were not to discriminate against other nations in levying port dues and railroad rates within their own spheres, which settled the fears that the “concessions” threatened in China would cut off China trade in the United States. After the Open Door Policy came about the Boxer Rebellion took place in China which launched a violent revolt against foreigners in China. In the 1901 Hay-Pauncefote Treaty, Great Britain agreed to allow the U.S. to build a canal across Central America which linked the Atlantic and the Pacific.

The Spanish-American war was derived from direct attacks on the Unites States such as the sinking of the Maine and the Delome Letter, but also from the spread of Imperialism. Before the war the United States was in a neutral position, but as imperialism spread into the U.S. and several attacks were made on the United States, they entered war. Similar to the events leading up to World War I, the U.S. was in a neutral position, but when the Zimmerman telegram revealed the planned unrestricted submarine warfare attacks to be made on the United States, President Wilson was forced to step in.



Spanish American War