Spanish American War

Spanish American War2018-11-28T09:55:18+00:00

Spanish American War for APUSH

Spanish American War for APUSH

About the Author: Christopher Averill has taught AP® US History for 27 years and been actively involved in APUSH® grading for 22 years. Christopher has served as an APUSH® exam reader, table leader, exam leader, and question leader. Christopher was integral in establishing the AP® Teacher Best Practices Workshops at the annual AP® US History reading. He has been endorsed by the College Board as an AP Consultant since 1999 and has conducted numerous AP single-day workshops as well as Teaching and Learning Seminars. Starting in 2010 he began a four year term on the AP® US History Test Development Committee. Additionally, he was a Faculty Consultant editor for the 15th edition of the Alan Brinkley American History textbook.

Spanish American War

The Spanish American War of 1898 was a conflict between Spain and America over territory in Latin America and the Far East.  The war was caused by a mixture of:

  • Exaggerated reporting−known as Yellow Journalism
  • Aspirations to spread American political and economic institutions
  • The desire to free the Cuban people from the yoke of Spanish control

The war ended with the 1898 Treaty of Paris in which Spain agreed to give the U.S. control over many of her colonial possessions including the Philippines, Guam, Puerto Rico, and Cuba.

The consequences of the war were far-reaching.  Most importantly, America rose to world power status and controlled the Philippines, a land half way around the globe. This gave American businesses access to the unlimited trade markets of China.  Also, the supremacy of the United States in the western hemisphere was secured.  The U.S. now dominated the business and political systems of the Caribbean and Central American countries.  Big Brother Uncle Sam was about to commence its dominance over the weaker Latin American nations with both positive and negative effects.

Big Brother Uncle Sam was about to commence its dominance over the weaker Latin American nations with both positive and negative effects.

A New Type of Manifest Destiny… for the Economy

The American census of 1890 declared that there was no more discernible frontier anywhere within the continental U.S.

The American census of 1890 declared that there was no more discernible frontier anywhere within the continental states. The West, according to historian Frederick Jackson Turner, had provided unlimited opportunities, both economically and politically. Now, at the end of the 19th century, those opportunities were over, at least internally within the confines of the United States. The 300 years of westward movement had provided thousands of opportunities to birth democracy in every town, village, and county that was created.  By expanding to populate over 3,000 miles of land between 1607 and 1890, some Americans had come to believe that divine providence had placed its hand upon America to be the leaders in establishing the regeneration of the world by spreading its benevolent Christian and political institutions around the globe.  The economic opportunities appeared unlimited as well. From mining for gold in the Sierra Nevada Mountains to producing agricultural crops on the plains of the Midwest to sell the East. The result was unlimited opportunities for capitalism to expand and profits to be made.

By the last decade of the 19th century, the era of internal expansion was over. This occurred at the same time that America was experiencing an industrial revolution of gargantuan proportions.  The result was that there was a great deal of pressure to move into Asia and Latin America to open up new international markets for American goods. Thus, the Philippines and Cuba, under Spanish possession, became the targets of this expansionism.

The incredible economic growth of the late 19th century pressured American business to seek foreign markets for American goods.

Liberate Cuba… Keep Slaves… Win-Win

America had come to regard itself as the protectors of the Cuban people against Spanish misrule. As far back as the 1850s, the sons of America from VMI, the Citadel, and other military institutions had fought alongside the Cuban rebels against Spanish tyranny in the privately-funded filibustering expeditions.  Additionally, the Pierce administration secretly attempted to purchase Cuba from the Spanish in 1853.  These early efforts to free Cuba from Spanish tyranny were largely promoted by Southerners in an attempt to bring another slave state into the union.  In the end, though, northern opposition to these efforts thwarted national unity on the question of freeing Cuba from Spanish control.

These early efforts to free Cuba from Spanish tyranny were largely promoted by Southerners in an attempt to bring another slave state into the union.

However, the feeling that America was the friend of the Cuban people did not die.  Thus, four decades later when the Spanish commander, General Weyler, established concentration camps to imprison hundreds of Cuban rebels that defied Spanish authority, most Americans wanted to help liberate the Cubans. With the sinking of the Maine in 1898, the dye was cast.  Many, including Vice President Roosevelt, accused the Spanish of setting off the bomb that killed the sailors aboard the U.S. naval vessel.  If these false accusations weren’t enough to get America involved in the war, the yellow journalists like William Randolph Hearst and Joseph Pulitzer made certain that every transgression by Spain towards the Cubans was exploited and made known to the American public. Thus, when the Spanish minister claimed that President McKinley was not a man to be trusted in the infamous de Lôme letter, the journalists went full throttle on their disparaging remarks toward Spain.  It was now time for America to exert its authority over Spanish control in Cuba and while at it, over the Philippines as well.

Between the sinking of the U.S.S. Maine and the impact of yellow journalism, America’s sentiment towards Spain would push the U.S. into war.

How Did It Happen?

The United States declared war against Spain on April 25, 1898.  The major battle in Cuba was the Battle of San Juan Hill which involved Teddy Roosevelt and his “Rough Riders”.  The Spanish were defeated in the Philippines at the Battle of Manila Bay and the Battle for Santiago.

Almost 400 Americans died in combat, but five times that number were lost due to diseases. There were roughly 2,500 wounded in the battles. In comparison to other wars, this was a very small number.  Thus, America’s “splendid little war” resulted in few casualties, yet yielded vast economic and geo-political importance for America.

The 1898 Treaty of Paris stated that America would gain possession of Cuba, Philippines, Puerto Rico, and Guam in exchange for $20 million.

The 1898 Treaty of Paris stated that America would gain possession of Cuba, Philippines, Puerto Rico, and Guam in exchange for $20 million.  America would allow Cuba its independence in 1901 with the Platt Amendment and the Philippines in 1947. However, Puerto Rico and Guam were still held as “possessions” within the greater U.S. territorial possessions.  Puerto Rico became a U.S. commonwealth that directs its internal affairs and Guam, an unincorporated territory of the U.S.

Many in America felt that the U.S. should retain possession of Cuba and make it a state within the United States.

The Teller Amendment, proposed during the war deliberations, promised Cuba that it would gain its independence once America liberated it. This stirred a great deal of controversy.  Many in America felt that the U.S. should retain possession of Cuba and make it a state within the United States. In the end, however, Cuba was given its independence but only after it agreed to add the Platt Amendment to its Constitution. The Platt Amendment stated that if there was internal disorder in Cuba, America could intervene militarily to stabilize it.

In the end, however, Cuba was given its independence but only after it agreed to add the Platt Amendment to its Constitution.

What Stayed the Same…. And What Changed

America had humbled the Spanish and forced them through steel and military prowess to give up lands that they had held for centuries.

The Spanish-American War changed the world’s view of America’s global prominence.  America had humbled the Spanish and forced them through steel and military prowess to give up lands that they had held for centuries. This war most definitely marked America’s movement away from an isolated North American country concerned with its own internal issues to a country involved in international affairs.  The other European countries had to negotiate with America in regards to any international issues arising in the western hemisphere.

The war also marked the beginning of America’s imperialist movement overall. Following this war, America tacitly controlled Latin America with its “Big Brother” policy under Teddy Roosevelt, in which America moved in and out of Latin American countries dozens of times in the next three decades to keep stability and economic order.  American companies gained hundreds of millions of dollars in trade annually with these Latin American countries.  Additionally, America engaged in China and began trading with its Open Door Policy. These endeavors, in turn involved America in its first two Far Eastern wars of consequence, the Boxer Rebellion of 1900 and the Filipino-American War 1900-1909.

Manifest Destiny. Imperialism. Same Thing

The Imperialist era between 1890-1910 closely mirrored the Manifest Destiny ideology of the 19th century that stimulated the westward movement. Also, the effects on the native populations taken over were eerily similar as well. America had moved into the Ohio Valley following its inception in the 1790’s, into the Great Plains, the Far West, and the Southwest beginning in the era of Manifest Destiny of the 1840’s.  In all of these endeavors, America both subjugated and changed the cultures they came in contact with.

In all of these endeavors, America both subjugated and changed the cultures they came in contact with.

The Native Americans were both the beneficiaries of western medicines and technology, but also its victims. They were forced onto reservations so that land could be divided into farms and railroads built out of their far-flung hunting lands. Though Mexicans were not forced out of their homes in the villages they possessed along the west coast of California when the Americanos came, they were forced to accept American cultural and political institutions and in many cases faced second-class citizenship status.

This pattern of American exploitation and subjugation of the peoples that America came to control was largely the same within its new global possessions.

This pattern of American exploitation and subjugation of the peoples that America came to control was largely the same within its new global possessions. The Filipinos were not allowed to govern themselves and did not enjoy American habeas corpus rights when taken over. The Supreme Court ruled that they did not have equal political and civil rights under the Insular Cases verdicts of 1902. Thus, the Filipinos were ruled over. Though America did bring the benefits of its technology such as railroads, schools, and hospitals to the Philippines, America brutally suppressed the Filipino rebels that revolted against American rule.  Tens of thousands were killed during this war. Like the Native-Americans had experienced during the Indian battles of the 19th century, the Filipinos were given the same Faustian bargain:  submit to American might and assimilate to American ways or revolt and feel the power of its military dominance.

Though America did bring the benefits of its technology such as railroads, schools, and hospitals to the Philippines, America brutally suppressed the Filipino rebels that revolted against American rule.

Conclusion

The Spanish-American War was a tremendous turning point in American history. America had risen to global ascendancy and power. Now the equals of the European powers, they showed similar tendencies toward benevolent paternalism that the European powers had shown the native peoples of lands taken control of in the 19th century.  America provided the modern conveniences of the new age, from medicine to transportation, and in return expected adherence to the American system of political and economic institutions imposed upon them.

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