Concerned with the situation in Cuba, in January 1897 the US sent a warship, the USS Maine, to Cuba under captain Charles D. Sigsbee. The Maine's mission was purportedly friendly, its job to investigate the situation and provide an escape for American should things get out of hand. Shortly after the Maine set out, Hearst's newspaper intercepted a letter from Spain's minister in Washington, Dupuy du Lome. The letter spoke rudely of President McKinley. Of course, Hearst did not refrain from publishing the scandalous Lome letter. The letter appeared in the February 9, 1898 of the New York Journal. The letter outraged Americans and embarrassed Spain. Dupuy du Lome was forced to resign over the matter, and tensions between the US and Spain increased.
Six days after Hearst published the Lome letter, the USS Maine sailed into Havana harbor. The surprised Spanish, who had only been given a few hours notice that the Maine was coming, were quite upset. Although the Maine claimed to be on a friendly mission, it was a powerful warship. The Spanish authorities felt that the US was trying to intimidate them and was interfering with Spanish sovereignty by trying to affect Spanish policy toward the Cuban insurrectos.
On February 15, 1898, in an event that still remains a mystery, the Maine suddenly exploded as it sailed around Havana harbor. This was a tragedy for the United States, as 260 out of 350 American sailors and officers died in the explosion. Hearst's newspaper immediately published a story with the headline, "The Warship Maine Was Split In Two By An Enemy's Secret Infernal Machine!'' The destruction of the Maine created an uproar in America, which, influenced by Hearst, immediately held Spain responsible. In fact, the details of the explosion were still not clear. Investigations by both the US and Spain began, and not surprisingly, they disagreed. While the Spanish investigation team claimed that the explosion was only an accident caused by some internal problem on the ship, the American investigation said the explosion must have been caused by a Spanish mine in the harbor. The yellow press exploited this story, whipping the US into an anti-Spanish frenzy. Newspaper circulation soared as the public demanded war with Spain. War would come, and when it did, the cry of "Remember the Maine" would be heard frequently.
Why did the US send the Maine to Cuba? Officially the claim was that it was simply a normal patrol, more of a friendly fact-finding mission than anything else. The real mission of the Maine was probably geared towards protecting US interests. Should a crisis approximating the 1897 riots by insurrectos break out, the US wanted a warship in the vicinity ready to evacuate American citizens in Cuba. And of course, the US had long been interested in increasing American influence in Cuba. Perhaps the Maine was a first step in this direction.
The true nature of the USS Maine explosion has long been one of the great mysteries of American history. At the time, Americans already had a negative view of Spain and almost instantaneously concluded that the explosion was caused by Spanish treachery. For a while after the Spanish-American War, most people accepted the answer that the American investigative commission gave: that a Spanish torpedo or mine blew up the Maine. The Spanish investigative commission, which was never allowed very close to the Maine's wreck anyway, disagreed. According to the Spanish side of the story, some internal problem with the ship caused the explosion. Perhaps a boiler or a combustion engine exploded, they said. It turns out that they Spanish interpretation may well have been correct. In the 1970s, Admiral Hyman Rickover of the US Navy took another look at the Maine. According to Rickover's investigation, it appeared most likely that an internal mechanical problem had caused a stockpile of ammunition and gunpowder stored nearby to explode. Rickover's conclusion was almost identical to the Spanish claims. A third possibility, that the US intentionally exploded the Maine in order to give the nation a reason for going to war, seems to be an unlikely conspiracy theory with little supporting evidence. Nonetheless, some in Cuba hold this theory today. And despite Rickover's study in the 1970s, the case is still not settled. A later investigation by the Smithsonian turned up numerous plots against the Maine, suggesting a mine or some type of sabotage. Computer modeling studies financed by National Geographic have demonstrated that, based on the wreckage, the explosion could have been caused by either a mine or an internal mechanical accident. Most likely, the causes behind the explosion of the USS Maine will never be known with complete certainty. But whatever the reason for the explosion, the event played directly into the hands of pro-war hawks, jingoists, and yellow journalists like Hearst.
Was the Maine explosion an unfortunate accident that pushed the US into a war that might otherwise have been avoided? Possibly, but given US actions prior to the explosion (such as the Maine's voyage to Cuba or Theodore Roosevelt's orders to Commodore George Dewey to attack the Spanish fleet at Manila in the case of a war with Spain), it seems that the United States had been gearing up for war prior to the explosion. The Maine explosion just provided the impetus.
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On April 25, 1898 the United States declared war on Spain following the sinking of the Battleship Maine in Havana harbor on February 15, 1898. The war ended with the signing of the Treaty of Paris on December 10, 1898. As a result Spain lost its control over the remains of its overseas empire -- Cuba, Puerto Rico, the Philippines Islands, Guam, and other islands.
Beginning in 1492, Spain was the first European nation to sail westward across the Atlantic Ocean, explore, and colonize the Amerindian nations of the Western Hemisphere. At its greatest extent, the empire that resulted from this exploration extended from Virginia on the eastern coast of the United States south to Tierra del Fuego at the tip of South America excluding Brazil and westward to California and Alaska. Across the Pacific, it included the Philippines and other island groups. By 1825 much of this empire had fallen into other hands and in that year, Spain acknowledged the independence of its possessions in the present-day United States (then under Mexican control) and south to the tip of South America. The only remnants that remained in the empire in the Western Hemisphere were Cuba and Puerto Rico and across the Pacific in Philippines Islands, and the Carolina, Marshall, and Mariana Islands (including Guam) in Micronesia.
Following the liberation from Spain of mainland Latin America, Cuba was the first to initiate its own struggle for independence. During the years from 1868-1878, Cubans personified by guerrilla fighters known as mambises fought for autonomy from Spain. That war concluded with a treaty that was never enforced. In the 1890's Cubans began to agitate once again for their freedom from Spain. The moral leader of this struggle was José Martí, known as "El Apóstol," who established the Cuban Revolutionary Party on January 5, 1892 in the United States. Following the grito de Baire, the call to arms on February 24, 1895, Martí returned to Cuba and participated in the first weeks of armed struggle when he was killed on May 19, 1895.
The Philippines Islands
The Philippines too was beginning to grow restive with Spanish rule. José Rizal, a member of a wealthy mestizo family, resented that his upper mobility was limited by Spanish insistence on promoting only "pure-blooded" Spaniards. He began his political career at the University of Madrid in 1882 where he became the leader of Filipino students there. For the next ten years he traveled in Europe and wrote several novels considered seditious by Filipino and Church authorities. He returned to Manila in 1892 and founded the Liga Filipina, a political group dedicated to peaceful change. He was rapidly exiled to Mindanao. During his absence, Andrés Bonifacio founded Katipunan, dedicated to the violent overthrow of Spanish rule. On August 26, 1896, after learning that the Katipunan had been betrayed, Bonifacio issued the Grito de Balintawak, a call for Filipinos to revolt. Bonifacio was succeeded as head of the Philippine revolution by Emilio Aguinaldo y Famy, who had his predecessor arrested and executed on May 10, 1897. Aguinaldo negotiated a deal with the Spaniards who exiled him to Hong Kong with 400,000 pesos that he subsequently used to buy weapons to resume the fight.
During the 1880s and 1890s, Puerto Ricans developed many different political parties, some of which sought independence for the island while others, headquartered like their Cuban counterparts in New York, preferred to ally with the United States. Spain proclaimed the autonomy of Puerto Rico on November 25, 1897, although the news did not reach the island until January 1898 and a new government established on February 12, 1898.
U.S. interest in purchasing Cuba had begun long before 1898. Following the Ten Years War, American sugar interests bought up large tracts of land in Cuba. Alterations in the U.S. sugar tariff favoring home-grown beet sugar helped foment the rekindling of revolutionary fervor in 1895. By that time the U.S. had more than $50 million invested in Cuba and annual trade, mostly in sugar, was worth twice that much. Fervor for war had been growing in the United States, despite President Grover Cleveland's proclamation of neutrality on June 12, 1895. But sentiment to enter the conflict grew in the United States when General Valeriano Weyler began implementing a policy of Reconcentration that moved the population into central locations guarded by Spanish troops and placed the entire country under martial law in February 1896. By December 7, President Cleveland reversed himself declaring that the United States might intervene should Spain fail to end the crisis in Cuba. President William McKinley, inaugurated on March 4, 1897, was even more anxious to become involved, particularly after the New York Journal published a copy of a letter from Spanish Foreign Minister Enrique Dupuy de Lôme criticizing the American President on February 9, 1898. Events moved swiftly after the explosion aboard the U.S.S. Maine on February 15. On March 9, Congress passed a law allocating fifty million dollars to build up military strength. On March 28, the U.S. Naval Court of Inquiry finds that a mine blew up the Maine. On April 21 President McKinley orders a blockade of Cuba and four days later the U.S. declares war.
Following its declaration of war against Spain issued on April 25, 1898, the United States added the Teller Amendment asserting that it would not attempt to exercise hegemony over Cuba. Two days later Commodore George Dewey sailed from Hong Kong with Emilio Aguinaldo on board. Fighting began in the Phillipines Islands at the Battle of Manila Bay on May 1 where Commodore George Dewey reportedly exclaimed, "You may fire when ready, Gridley," and the Spanish fleet under Rear Admiral Patricio Montojo was destroyed. However, Dewey did not have enough manpower to capture Manila so Aguinaldo's guerrillas maintained their operations until 15,000 U.S. troops arrived at the end of July. On the way, the cruiser Charleston stopped at Guam and accepted its surrender from its Spanish governor who was unaware his nation was at war. Although a peace protocol was signed by the two belligerents on August 12, Commodore Dewey and Maj. Gen. Wesley Merritt, leader of the army troops, assaulted Manila the very next day, unaware that peace had been declared.
In late April, Andrew Summers Rowan made contact with Cuban General Calixto García who supplied him with maps, intelligence, and a core of rebel officers to coordinate U.S. efforts on the island. The U.S. North Atlantic Squadron left Key West for Cuba on April 22 following the frightening news that the Spanish home fleet commanded by Admiral Pascual Cervera had left Cadiz and entered Santiago, having slipped by U.S. ships commanded by William T. Sampson and Winfield Scott Schley. They arrived in Cuba in late May.
War actually began for the U.S. in Cuba in June when the Marines captured Guantánamo Bay and 17,000 troops landed at Siboney and Daiquirí, east of Santiago de Cuba, the second largest city on the island. At that time Spanish troops stationed on the island included 150,000 regulars and 40,000 irregulars and volunteers while rebels inside Cuba numbered as many as 50,000. Total U.S. army strength at the time totalled 26,000, requiring the passage of the Mobilization Act of April 22 that allowed for an army of at first 125,000 volunteers (later increased to 200,000) and a regular army of 65,000. On June 22, U.S. troops landed at Daiquiri where they were joined by Calixto García and about 5,000 revolutionaries.
U.S. troops attacked the San Juan heights on July 1, 1898. Dismounted troopers, including the African-American Ninth and Tenth cavalries and the Rough Riders commanded by Lt. Col. Theodore Roosevelt went up against Kettle Hill while the forces led by Brigadier General Jacob Kent charged up San Juan Hill and pushed Spanish troops further inland while inflicting 1,700 casualties. While U.S. commanders were deciding on a further course of action, Admiral Cervera left port only to be defeated by Schley. On July 16, the Spaniards agreed to the unconditional surrender of the 23,500 troops around the city. A few days later, Major General Nelson Miles sailed from Guantánamo to Puerto Rico. His forces landed near Ponce and marched to San Juan with virtually no opposition.
Representatives of Spain and the United States signed a peace treaty in Paris on December 10, 1898, which established the independence of Cuba, ceded Puerto Rico and Guam to the United States, and allowed the victorious power to purchase the Philippines Islands from Spain for $20 million. The war had cost the United States $250 million and 3,000 lives, of whom 90% had perished from infectious diseases.
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