Spanish American War

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Spanish American War


The Spanish-American War was crucial for the United States of America. In its essence, it started the imperialist stage of capitalism. The war began redistribution of colonies between the great powers of the world. From the middle of the XIX century, the tendency of the US to outrank Europe in the level of socio-political and economic development was clearly noticeable. The United States strived for the geopolitical influence in the Western Hemisphere and other regions of the planet. The Spanish-American War showed that the United States considered itself the sole master of North and South America, and would not tolerate foreign presence in the Western Hemisphere. In fact, in 1898, a new era began for the United States. It was the era of the state of world importance and rising of the superpower. The aim of the research paper is to explore the Spanish-American War in 1898 and its importance for the Caribbean region and the world at large.

While writing the research paper, five credible sources were used. The authors of the sources gave their opinions and views, as well as historical references to the causes and consequences of the Spanish-American War.

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The Causes and Reasons of the War

During the XIX century, in its policy towards Cuba, the United States originated from the following issues: either the US subdues Cuba or it will remain a part of the Spanish colonial empire. Starting from 1808 – 1809’s, when President Jefferson started making statements free from hidden desire of North Americans to establish supremacy in Cuba, the United States preferred Cuba to remain in the power of Spain. The US waited for the right moment to establish its control over the island. The situation changed in the middle of the century, after the annexation of Texas by the United States and the seizure of California, Arizona and New Mexico. Extending its possessions off the coast of the Gulf of Mexico, the United States tried to seize Cuba. In particular, President James Buchanan suggested the Spanish government to sell Cuba for $ 200 million. Nevertheless, the Spanish side refused. “The following decades witnessed various non-governmental American attempts to take over Cuba either by offers of purchase or filibustering expeditions”. The talks were postponed because the confrontation between North and South in the US resulted in a civil war. After the abolition of slavery, during the development of the United States, new features appeared. In the last years of the XIX century, the United States chose the imperialist model of development. At that time, the US foreign policy had features of expansionism absorbed ideas of the superiority of the American nation.

At the end of the XIX century, Cuba again began to occupy the main place in the Spanish-American relations. It can be said with certainty that Cuba was the first major market of the emerging American imperialism. The US market did not cope with the volume of products that American companies produced. Thus, foreign sales markets became the urgent need. Therefore, the primary cause of the Spanish-American War was the expansion of the economic domination of the United States in the Western Hemisphere and the opening of markets in Asia. In 1895, US investment in the Cuban economy amounted to $ 50 million. The trade turnover between the states reached $ 100 million. Commercial companies and the US banks controlled the main branch of the Cuba economy – production of raw sugar, as well as the second most important industry – tobacco. The sugar and tobacco plantations and factories, railroads, mines, docks, shipyards and commercial enterprises, as well as financial institutions, belonged to Americans. Therefore, the financial and economic life of Cuba was almost completely under the control of the United States.

Throughout the XIX century, the US government talked about the alleged dangers of the invasion of Cuba from the side of British and French troops and its use as a base for attacks on the United States. In fact, the US feared that the two states also seeking to dominate in the Western Hemisphere and would be able to turn Cuba into an obstacle in the way of American capital. Therefore, the second cause of the Spanish-American War was the US desire to weaken the political and economic influence of European countries in the Western Hemisphere.

In 1895, the Cuban rebels advocating for Cuban independence from Spain revolted. Spanish troops could not guarantee the safety of American citizens and their property in Cuba. “The Unites States went to war with Spain in 1898 because of a series of events that took place in Cuba”. Therefore, the third cause of the outbreak of war was to protect the lives and property of the US citizens in Cuba against the encroachments of the rebel forces. Another reason, though probably only a pretext for the invasion, was the brutal policy of the Spanish General Valeriano Weyler sent to Cuba to quell the rebellion. During the years of his reign, he destroyed nearly a third of the population of the colony. The US government wanted to defend the Cuban people from the tyranny of the Spanish military authorities.

Casus belli were two serious incidents. The first incident was a letter from the Ambassador of Spain in the United States to the Spanish politician during his visit to Havana. The letter contained unflattering responses of the Spanish envoy about President McKinley. The Spanish government immediately withdrew its ambassador and said that it could not answer the private correspondence. The American press stated the fact of insulting the nation. February 1, 1898, the American cruiser entered the bay of Havana with a friendly visit. At the same time, at the American coast there was the Spanish warship. February 15, the cruiser exploded and sank, while its team (266 people) died. The US commission, when examining the wreckage of cruisers, stated that the cause of the explosion was an underwater mine. Such fact made Spain guilty of the death of sailors. The Spanish side suggested that the ship exploded due to some internal problems and denied any involvement in the explosion. Two sides did not reach the agreement.

In such way, by the end of February 1898, the tension between Spain and the United States reached its climax. The circumstances of the explosion of the ship are still unclear. Nevertheless, the American opinion is not completely true. Spain was not interested in the war with the United States and tried to prevent it in every way. “When the bottom of the bay around the vessel was examined not a single sign of the action of a torpedo was found”. Everything indicated that the explosion was committed by the US military agents, as it became a real pretext for unleashing war.

Participants of the War

The participants of the Spanish-American War of 1898 except Spain and the United States were the Cuban Liberation Army and the People’s Army of the Philippines. Spain, experiencing economic difficulties exacerbated by the struggle between conservatives and liberals and revolutionary activities of anarchists were on the verge of open people’s protests against government policy. The aim of the foreign policy course of the liberal government was to preserve the Spanish colonial empire. The national liberation movement undermined the foundations of colonial Spain.

In 1892, the Cuban Revolutionary Party was founded in Cuba. The party united and prepared Cubans in the decisive struggle for independence. The party program included an agrarian reform, elimination of racial discrimination, freedom of speech and democratic freedoms. “In 1895, the Cuban Revolutionary Party began a revolution”. It resulted in the heavy national liberation war. In 1895, President Cleveland declared neutrality in the war between Cuba and Spain. In 1896, after a series of arrests of the US citizens suspected in supporting the Cuban revolutionaries, the US Congress passed a resolution to declare a state of war in Cuba. It demanded the active intervention in the war on the side of the rebels from the President. It meant that the United States recognized the Cubans as belligerent. Such fact allowed the state to continue providing assistance to the rebels legally. However, Cleveland was an opponent of war and, therefore, the resolution was not implemented. Everything changed after the election of Republican McKinley on the position of the President of the US. The new president immediately raised the question of Cuba protection. Although, he stated officially that he wished to solve the problem peacefully. The Spanish government doubted in peaceful intentions of the United States, especially considering the fact that the United States secretly prepared for war.

In 1896, a rebellion started in another Spanish colonial possession – the Philippine Islands. The US government had grounds to hope that it would be able to achieve much by pressure and threats while preparing for war. US diplomatic representatives in Madrid behaved extremely provocative. They presented an ultimatum stating that the war should be over by November 1, 1897 and finally Madrid made concessions. Spain pledged to provide autonomy to Cuba and Puerto Rico and establish the constitution on the islands and the United States, in turn, had to remain neutral. On January 1, 1898, Cuba received autonomy. Nevertheless, neither the rebels nor the United States recognized it.

The US government followed a policy of double standards. It supplied the Cuban revolutionaries with money and weapons and, at the same time, urged the Spanish authorities of the correctness of the revolt suppression. The position of the US administration was deliberately provocative. It artificially increased the Cuban-Spanish conflict to further impose war on Spain. After the explosion of the ship, the relationship between the US and Spain worsened greatly. On March 27, Washington demanded from Madrid destruction of camps, supply of needy Cubans with products, truce with the Liberation Army before October 1, 1898 and the recognition of the United States as a mediator in negotiations with the revolutionaries. Madrid took the American conditions. It promised to eliminate the concentration camps and allocate 3 million pesos to the needs of the needy in Cuba. Though, the Spanish government did not accept the US mediation. Nevertheless, the US administration acted in accordance with the previously generated lines of war.

April 7, major European powers – Germany, France, Russia, Austria-Hungary and Italy – appealed to the President of the United States to maintain peace with Spain. Pope Leo XII agreed to become a mediator in the negotiations. In contrast to continental powers, Great Britain supported the US due to disagreements with Germany. As a result, European intercession was doomed to failure. Nevertheless, Madrid ceased military operations in Cuba.

The position taken by England convinced Madrid that further delay was impossible. The Spanish government understood that if the United States would begin military actions, Spain would lose not only Cuba. April 10, the American ambassador in Madrid personally telegraphed to McKinley that the Spanish government was willing to provide Cuba autonomy, independence or assign it to the United States. However, McKinley hid the telegram. He sent a message to Congress that attempts to maintain peace failed. April 19, 1898, the US Congress passed the resolution, which recognized the independence of Cuba. It also recognized the right of the US military intervention on the island for the liberation of the Cuban people from the Spanish colonizers. April 23, in order to save reputation, the Spanish government declared war on the United States. Spain hoped for the support of some European powers. However, any state did not wish to participate in the war. April 25, the US Congress officially declared war on Spain.

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Results and Consequences of the War

The peace treaty between the United States and Spain was signed on December 10, 1898 in Paris. “Realizing that defeat was inevitable, the Spanish government sent a message to President McKinley to request a cessation of hostilities and talks that would lead to a permanent peace treaty”. According to the treaty, Spain waived all claims and rights to sovereignty of Cuba. Spain ceded the Puerto Rico and other islands, including the archipelago, known as the Philippine Islands, to the United States. The United States had to pay the sum of $ 20 million. In addition to all of the above, the Treaty of Paris forced Spain to agree on very onerous commercial terms. The treaty did not say anything about the independence of Cuba, and the duration of stay of the American troops on the island, who occupied the most important points. Americans behaved as occupiers. Parts of the Liberation Army of Cuba were forbidden to enter the city left by the Spaniards. In order to complete subordination of Cuba, the US government decided to dissolve the Cuban armed forces.

For a short time of Cuban occupation, the US eliminated all barriers to the penetration of American capital to the island. The US military, politicians and businessmen did everything possible to strengthen their economic positions in Cuba linking it with the American economy and market monopolies. Only on February 14, 1901, the Cuban Constituent Assembly adopted a constitution. Estrada Palma won victory in the first presidential election.


The causes of the Spanish-American War was the desire of the United States to subjugate economically the Spanish colony of Cuba for further expansion in Latin America and to eliminate the presence of European powers in the Western Hemisphere. Spain was in an extremely difficult economic and socio-political situation. It did not want war and was ready to make concessions to the Cuban revolutionaries and the US government. Nevertheless, the McKinley administration deliberately chose confrontation. Under the terms of the peace treaty, Cuba, Puerto Rico and the Philippines were under the jurisdiction of the United States. In such way, the US administration achieved its goals. Despite the proclamation of the independence of Cuba in 1902, the republic remained under US control.