Today in History: The Spanish-American War Begins

April 24:  Spanish-American War- Spain declares war on the United States after rejecting US ultimatum to withdraw from Cuba.

April 25:  Spanish-American War- The United States declares war on Spain following the sinking of the Battleship USS Maine in Havana harbour on February 15.

 

The Spanish-American War of 1898, saw the independence of Cuba.  Some would argue that this claim to independence was dubious at best, a farce at worst.  Cuba was freed from the clutches of their European masters but took on a dependent relationship with the United States in its stead.

Throughout the second half of the 19th century, US economic interests in Cuba grew exponentially.  In fact, though still a Spanish colony, the vast majority of Cuba’s trade and investment was with the United States.  Growing weary of the yolk of colonialism in the face of independent Latin American nations around them, Cubans sought their own freedom.  The Ten Years War (1868-1878) was a failed attempt to secure independence for this tropical gem.  Some prominent Cubans even favoured annexation by the United States to move away from Spanish control.  The US, in turn, repeatedly offered to buy the island and was refused each time.

Revolutionary poet and lawyer José Martí, was one of a group of Cuban nationalists who rejected the failure of the Ten Years War and had fled into exile to plot the next great Cuban rebellion.  1895 saw the outbreak of another vicious fight for Cuban independence.

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José Martí

 

Over the next three years, Spanish warfare was barbaric, with the implementation of concentration camps to hold and slay the guerilla-like Cuban patriots.  The US was too economically invested in Cuba to remain uninvolved.  The expansionist call of Manifest Destiny still too great to be ignored.  The cries of business and religious leaders to help rescue Cuba from savage Spanish rule, too evocative and seductive.

US President McKinley would not be able to stave off pressures to intervene in Cuba after the events of February 15, 1898.  In the late hours of that night, one of the first American battleships, the USS Maine, mysteriously exploded and sank, killing 268 men and shocking the American government and population.

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Newspapers.com

 

Although history is still unable to provide the true facts behind this explosion, blame was laid at the feet of the Spanish colonists.  Subsequently, diplomatic measures to address the issue went unresolved.  In the United States, righteous indignation continued over Spain’s brutal suppression of the Cuban patriot fighters.  US businessmen continued to bemoan the continued and significant losses to American investment.  These factors led the US Congress to declare war on Spain in April 1898.  The Spanish were no match for the US military and were summarily defeated on land and at sea by August 1898.

In December, 1898, the Treaty of Paris was signed between the United States and Spain, officially ending the Spanish-American War.  Cuba gained its independence and the US won the territories of Puerto Rico, Guam, and the Philippines, all former Spanish possessions.

 
Embed from Getty Images (Havana)

 

Although an independent nation, Cuba would maintain a very close relationship with the United States due to economic necessity and the Platt Amendment, signed in 1902.

Article III (of the Platt Amendment)

The Government of Cuba consents that the United States may exercise the right to intervene for the preservation of Cuban independence, the maintenance of a government adequate for the protection of life, property and individual liberty.

 Article IV (of the Platt Amendment)

To enable the United States to maintain the independence of Cuba and to protect the people thereof, as well as for its own defense, the Cuban Government will sell or lease to the United States the land necessary for coaling or naval stations at certain specified points to be agreed upon with the President of the United States.

The Platt Amendment would be abrogated in 1934, when US President Franklin D. Roosevelt implemented the Good Neighbour Treaty.

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FDR

 

References:

Skidmore, Thomas E., and Peter H. Smith. Modern Latin America. 6th ed., Oxford University Press, 2005.

Stewart, Rosemarie E. The United States in the Caribbean. Heinemann, 1982.

The Maine Explodes|https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/the-maine-explodes

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I’m a Latin American Studies teacher, teaching Latin American History and Politics and Basic Spanish. I love reading, writing, teaching and travelling. 

4 thoughts on “Today in History: The Spanish-American War Begins

  1. Informative post! I am enjoying learning so much from your blog and I do remember that Treaty of Paris.

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