1898: The Spanish–American War

Cuban War of Independence

Cuban rebels had been fighting the Spanish for independence since 1868 when they revolted against their oppressive Spanish rulers.

Uprisings across the island led to the Spanish sending a military force to the island to suppress the revolt.

To isolate the rebels, the Spanish introduced their reconcentrado policy. Rural communities were forced to move to camps close to Spanish army bases. It is estimated that around 200,000 Cubans, including many women and children, died of starvation and disease inside these camps.

Americans viewed Spanish rulers in Cuba as undemocratic, although they were mostly neutral in the Civil War as the American economy was highly invested in Cuba, and intense opposition to the Spanish could cause them problems.

However, American business was being threatened by the Cuban's fight for independence, so President McKinley attempted to persuade Spain to reform governing methods, but Spain publicly rejected this attempt.

Therefore, an American warship, the USS Maine, was sent to Cuba with the aim of protecting Americans citizens and businesses in Havana after Cuban rebels had damaged property in the capital city.

The Sinking of the USS Maine

On 15th February 1898, the USS Maine exploded whilst moored in Havana harbour, killing 258 American sailors.

Although the US government did not believe it was deliberate action by Spanish forces, many American newspapers, such as the New York Journal and the New York World quickly accused the Spanish of being behind the explosion, claiming it had been caused by a Spanish mine or torpedo.

President McKinley wished to find a diplomatic solution to the rising tensions following the sinking of Maine, however by 1898, an aggressive media campaign meant that to save face and keep a strong public image, President McKinley formally declared war on Spain.

The Spanish-American War

Causes of the War:

  1. Americans supported the Cuban rebels in their fight for independence from Spain

  2. The US wished to protect thier business and strategic interests in Cuba and Central America

  3. Spain rejection the US attempts at mediation and recommendations to reform.

  4. Exaggerated news reports, such as that of the USS Maine explosion, increased support for the war

The war was short-lived. The US destroyed the Spanish fleets at Manila and Santiago, while the Cuban freedom fighters were supported by US soldiers.

In the end, Spain was forced to surrender and sign the Treaty of Paris.

The treaty ceded Cuba, the Philippines, Puerto Rico and Guam to the USA, making the USA was an imperial power.

In 1901 US congress passed the Platt Amendment to the Cuban constitution, which gave the USA control of Cuban international, financial and commercial affairs.

Why was Cuba so important to the US from 1897-1940?

One reason why Cuba was so important to the US from 1897-1940 was the large levels of American investment into the Cuban economy. The most important were Cuban sugar and tobacco. The Cuban Civil War against the Spanish was greatly affecting the US economy in terms of trade of these items especially. As a result, Americans needed security and to protect their businesses.

Another reason why Cuba was so important to the US from 1897-1940 was that the USA was able to use the explosion, which occurred while the US Ship Maine was docked in Cuba, as an excuse to begin the Spanish-American war. This resulted in the US being able to acquire a number of territories, including Cuba, the Philippines, Puerto Rico and Guam, through The Treaty of Paris and expand their empire. This helped to US trading income as they had more colonies in which they could trade and manufacture more products.

Thirdly, the Spanish-American War led to Filipino independence from the Spanish. Despite colonial rule from the Americans, this was largely favoured by the Philippines. This action followed the original foundations of US society as it had successfully spread democracy. This could successfully promote the US as a fair, peacemaking democracy as it had fought for the rights of the people, and increase their support around the world.