The Spanish-American War: Causes, Goals & Results
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- 0:05 Causes
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- 5:38 Lesson Summary
The Spanish-American war was a new kind of war involvement for the U.S. It was not for freedom, it was not an internal conflict. It was fought over expansion and the idea of spreading American influence in the Caribbean and in the Philippines.
We're going to start by looking at some of the causes - number one being yellow journalism , which was really pushed to the forefront by William Randolph Hearst and Joseph Pulitzer. We're going to look at how it was fought by Teddy Roosevelt's Rough Riders and the Buffalo Soldiers. And we're going to look at how it was ended by the Treaty of Paris and how it resulted in expanding U.S. control in the Caribbean and the Philippines.
So, was this thing fought in Spain or the U.S.? The Spanish-American War is a different beast than other wars in which the U.S. had been involved at this point. It was not for freedom. It was not to protect U.S. borders. And it was not an internal conflict, such as in the civil war. The Spanish-American War was fought over influence - it was about imperialist and expansionist drives.
What is imperialism? Well, it is when a nation works to expand its power and influence. The two primary methods of imperialism are military conquest and political diplomacy.
During this period of imperialism, there were many influences driving the U.S. government and popular opinion. One of these forces was yellow journalism. Yellow journalism is a sensational form of journalism. These journalists exaggerate, twist, and inflame the news to influence public opinion, cause action, and, above all else, sell more papers than their competitors! The two biggest names pushing the U.S. toward war with Spain with yellow journalism were William Randolph Hearst and Joseph Pulitzer.
While these men's newspapers were very sensational, they pulled them from real events. One of the stories used effectively (especially by Hearst) was about the exploits of General Valeriano Weyler. Hearst published very graphic and biased stories about General Weyler's brutality in Cuba. Make no mistake, General Weyler was referred to as 'Butcher Weyler,' and he did relocate rebels to 're-concentration camps' that were cesspools of hunger and disease. Actions like Weyler's were not difficult to sensationalize!
Another effective piece in the papers was the De Lome Letter. The letter was written by Enrique Dupuy de Lome, who was the Spanish Minister to the United States. The letter was stolen and ended up being published in Hearst's New York Journal. In the letter, De Lome says President McKinley is 'weak and catering to the rabble and, besides, a low politician who desires to leave a door open to himself and to stand well with the jingos of his party.' A jingo is basically an extremely patriotic person who is likely to favor an aggressive foreign policy.
The last - and arguably final - piece the papers had to sensationalize that moved the U.S. to war was the sinking of the U.S.S. Maine. The Maine was sent to Cuba to protect Americans in Havana. An explosion destroyed the ship and killed 268 sailors. This tragedy was effectively used by the papers. The journal even offered $50,000 for anyone leading to the perpetrator! The obvious enemy was Spain, and this really got American sentiment going!
All of these sensational stories, especially the sinking of the Maine, put a great deal of pressure on the U.S. Government. So, President McKinley sends a letter to Spain suggesting an armistice, or an end to hostilities. He asks that Spain close its re-concentration camps and that Spain grant Cuba its independence.
Spain agrees to a cease fire and to closing the camps, but won't go as far as Cuban independence. Some say Spain agreed to all of the terms, and the U.S. went to war anyway.
This means war! When Spain won't meet his demands, Mckinley officially asks congress to declare war on Spain. On April 25th 1898, war is declared; 17,000 troops are sent to handle this conflict. Two groups stand out in particular. One is Theodore Roosevelt and his Rough Riders. The other group was actually the largest group in the conflict - they were the Buffalo Soldiers. The Buffalo Soldiers were originally the African American soldiers who made U.S. 10th Calvary, but the name Buffalo Soldiers came to be used for all the African American regiments formed just after the civil war.
The war only lasts four months! Its short duration is largely due to the fact that the U.S., at this time, had a larger navy than Spain, and on top of that, Cuba is only 90 miles from Florida. About 2,400 troops die in the war, but only about 400 of them die in battle. The majority die from malaria and yellow fever.
The Treaty of Paris, signed December 10, 1898, officially ends the war. The terms of the treaty annex Guam, the Philippines, and Puerto Rico. This means that they are added on to the U.S. as protectorates. They still have some self-governance, but the U.S. has a great deal of influence.
Cuba is officially awarded independence - the U.S. stakes a bit of a claim there too! Under the Platt Amendment, Cuba is considered a protectorate of the U.S., and since it is under U.S. protection, a military base is constructed at Guantanamo Bay.
In summary, an era of U.S. imperialism ushers in the expansionist policies of the U.S. Yellow journalism builds up stories about General Weyler, the De Lome Letter, and especially the U.S.S. Maine. The U.S. sends Theodore Roosevelt, the Rough Riders, and the Buffalo Soldiers to fight the war. The war is short, and the U.S. gains influence in the Caribbean and in the Philippines.
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Chapters in History 104: US History II
- 1. Reconstruction and the Gilded Age (1865-1877) (5 lessons)
- 2. Industrialization and Urbanization (1870-1900) (11 lessons)
- 3. The Progressive Era (1900-1917) (8 lessons)
- 4. American Imperialism (1890-1919) (8 lessons)
- 5. The Roaring 20s (1920-1929) (10 lessons)
- 6. The Great Depression (1929-1940) (6 lessons)
- 7. World War II in America (1941-1945) (9 lessons)
- 8. Post-War World (1946-1959) (6 lessons)
- 9. The Cold War (1950-1973) (7 lessons)
- 10. Protests, Activism and Civil Disobedience (1954-1973) (8 lessons)
- 11. The 1970s (1969-1979) (6 lessons)
- 12. The Rise of Political Conservatism (1980-1992) (6 lessons)
- 13. Contemporary America (1992-2013) (3 lessons)
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