Section 1: Introduction

Spain controlled many of the nations of South America into the 19th century. Beginning in 1868, Cubans began to fight for their independence from Spain, but the revolutions failed because of Spain’s great military power and ruthless methods of control. During the 19th century, Americans had begun to invest in Cuban industries, particularly in sugar production.

In 1892, Cuban revolutionaries led by José Martí once again sought to end Spanish rule. The United States was interested in seeing this revolution succeed in order to push Spain farther from the western hemisphere. Though Martí was killed in the fighting in 1895, the revolution continued to spread. Spain’s response was to round up all the revolutionaries and their families and put them in concentration camps. Conditions were terrible. People died of disease and starvation. Cuba became quiet again.

Sugar plantation owners in the United States wanted to have a stronger U.S. presence in Cuba. President Grover Cleveland had declared the United States to be neutral in Cuba’s conflict with Spain, but there was a growing public agitation for the U.S. to enter into the revolution on the side of the Cuban peasants.

Between December 1896 and February 1898, several events changed the course of the United States in relation to Cuba. President Cleveland threatened to revoke neutrality and enter the war if Spain did not bring the Cuban crisis to an end. In March 1897, President McKinley was inaugurated. McKinley was more inclined to intervene in Cuba. He wanted to send a new battleship, the Maine, to Cuba on a friendly visit and spoke to Spain’s ambassador to the U.S. about his plan. Minister Dupuy de Lôme officially agreed to the ship’s visit, but wrote a private letter stating that he found President McKinley “indecisive.”  The letter was published in U. S. newspapers on February 9, 1898. The letter caused more Americans to view Spain as a potential enemy and Cuba as in need of U.S. help.

On February 15, 1898, the Maine exploded while in Havana harbor. Newspaper headlines said the ship was destroyed by a Spanish mine. The U.S. immediately began to prepare for war. On March 28, the Navy’s investigators declared that it was a mine that caused the destruction of the USS Maine President McKinley ordered the U. S. Navy’s fleet to Cuba, and on April 25, the U.S. declared war on Spain. There were many people in the United States who did not agree with the declaration of war. In response, Congress declared that the U.S. would not take control of Cuba after the war.

Image 1
Image 1: When the soldiers arrived in Manila, they found a large city which was in some ways very modern. The paved streets were lined with shops and businesses. SHSND 10169-76.

The U. S. Navy fleet in the Pacific Ocean sailed to Spanish-controlled Philippines. (See Image 1)  The people of the Philippines had also sought independence from Spain. The U.S. fleet, under the command of George Dewey, destroyed the Spanish fleet in the Battle of Manila Bay on May 1, 1898.

With the help of Cuban revolutionaries, U.S. troops entered Cuba in late June, 1898. Many of the soldiers were volunteers such as Theodore Roosevelt’s Rough Riders. Others were seasoned, regular Army soldiers who had served many years fighting Indians in the American West. The battles were furious, but the war was soon over. On July 16, Spain agreed to surrender the capital, San Juan.

The peace treaty ending the Spanish-American War was signed in Paris on December 10, 1898. Cuba was to remain independent, but Puerto Rico and Guam became U.S. territories. The U.S. paid Spain $20,000,000 for the Philippine Islands. Nearly 2,500 U.S. soldiers died in the war. Only 385 died in battle; most of the rest died from disease.