What is the Spanish-American War?

L. Jablonsky

The Spanish-American War occurred in 1898. Initiated by the Spanish presence in Cuba and the Cuban rebellion, the United States and Spain battled on a number of islands in the Caribbean and Pacific for nearly four months. Controversy about the US role in Cuba and European influence in the Western hemisphere dominated the period of the Spanish-American War.

The flag of Spain.
The flag of Spain.

At the end of the 19th century, the United States government focused its attention on events in the countries of the Caribbean, hoping to capitalize on trade opportunities while challenging European influence in the Western Hemisphere. The US remained uneasy about Spanish rule in Cuba, which had been exempted from the Monroe Doctrine. In 1894, the Cuban economy took a nosedive, inciting a rebellion for independence. Spain, struggling to hold on to what remained of its empire, refused to compromise its presence in the Caribbean.

Puerto Rico came under U.S. control following the Spanish-American War.
Puerto Rico came under U.S. control following the Spanish-American War.

American government officials, citizens, and journalists alike argued over Cuba's strategic importance to US interests. Although President Grover Cleveland did not want to intervene, the US Congress declared that the government would protect the legitimate interests of the citizens, possibly by intervention. By the end of 1896, Cleveland was on board with the interventionists, announcing that the US would take action if Spain could not end the rebellion in Cuba.

Cuba was an integral subject of the Spanish-American war.
Cuba was an integral subject of the Spanish-American war.

The events surrounding the USS Maine roused many American citizens, who called for war. On 25 January 1898, the USS Maine arrived at a harbor located in Havana, Cuba. Three weeks later, the Maine exploded and sank into the waters of the harbor, leaving more than 250 seamen dead. Immediately, many people in the United States suspected that Spaniards were responsible for the act.

Teddy Roosevelt fought as a colonel in the Spanish-American War.
Teddy Roosevelt fought as a colonel in the Spanish-American War.

The United States, led by President William McKinley, officially declared war on Spain on 25 April 1898. After the declaration, the US government clarified its position on Cuba with the Teller Amendment. This stated that the control of Cuba and its government would remain in the hands of the Cubans.

The Spanish-American War took place on two fronts: the Caribbean and the Pacific. On 1 May 1898, Commodore George Dewey led the attack on the Spanish at the Manila harbor in the Philippine islands. Colonel Theodore Roosevelt and the Rough Riders attempted to take Cuba's San Juan Hill on 1 July 1898. Major General Nelson Miles and his forces fought several battles in Puerto Rico through late July and early August.

The Spanish sued for peace in early August, with fighting ended on 12 August 1898. The United States and Spain signed a peace treaty on 10 December 1898 in Paris, France. The US assumed control of Puerto Rico and Guam, and purchased the Philippine islands for $20 million US Dollars.

Historians also noted that the Spanish-American War was a turning point for journalism and nationalism in the United States. Sometimes referred to as the "newspaper" or "media" war, the sensationalist headlines and writing dominated the period. William Randolph Hearst of the New York Journal hired yachts and sent his own correspondents to report on the events in Cuba. The jingoist and sensationalist style of writing, largely initiated by Hearst, is referred to as "yellow journalism."

Guam became a possession of the United States as a result of the Spanish-American War.
Guam became a possession of the United States as a result of the Spanish-American War.

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Discussion Comments


@Melonlity -- The war also helped bind the wounds of a hurting nation. Remember that the Spanish-American War took place not too long after the War Between the States (or the Civil War as some of those folks up north call it) had ended and the nation was still horribly divided.

The Spanish-American War helped united Americans behind a single cause and that led to more healing in the South and North. It might not have been a very long war, but that Spanish-American conflict had a profound impact on the United States.


Let us not forget that this is the war that boosted Theodore Roosevelt's career considerably. His exploits during the war led to enough national fame for him to eventually win the presidency.

Without the Spanish-American War, would Teddy Roosevelt had enough political clout to become the president? Some historians argue that Roosevelt might not have become president, whereas others claim it was inevitable that Roosevelt would have become president.

Of course, it is impossible to say one way or the other what impact the war had on Roosevelt's successful run at the presidency. Still, it is hard to deny that Roosevelt's time in the war helped him a heck of a lot more than it hurt him.

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