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The Spanish-American War was not a major war yet it marks an important turning point since it led to the recognition of the United States as a powerful nation. The United States had a special interest in Cuba owing to its proximity and strategic location. Quite a number of Southerners had wanted the annexation of Cuba before the Civil War. Cuban insurrectionists attempted to get American aid in their struggle for independence after the war. Spain however maintained their hold on the Pearl of Antilles tenaciously, this being the last best chunk of her great empire in America. In 1895, the Cubans revolted partly because of the depression in the sugar industry which came as a result of the increased rates on sugar in the Wilson-Gorman Tariff Act (Bradford, 1993:56).
Numerous factors led to the war against the Spanish. On a broader sense, there were those individuals who advocated for a new imperialism and a big navy. Of less importance were the fairly substantial investments in Cuba and trade relations. The desire for naval bases in Cuba and in the Spanish possessions in the Pacific were probably of much more consequence. The thought of assuming the burdens of and glory of an empire interested the American public. This was indicated by the popularity of the war. According to some historians, the yellow journalism in America was the single most important cause for the involvement of the United States in the war (Klose & Lader, 2001). The Hearst and Pulitzer papers carried lurid headlines of the abuses carried by the Spanish against the Cubans in an attempt to sell their papers. The sympathy of the American public was stirred by the policy of forcing Cuban guerrillas and civilians in concentration camps where they lost their lives. The American anger was further aroused by de Lome letter which aided in bringing the war nearer. This was a private letter that was written by the Spanish minister in Washington to a friend (Musicant, 1998:3). This letter was stolen and published. Its content stated that McKinley was a “spineless politician”. Almost the same statement had been implied by Roosevelt of McKinley. This forced de Lome to resign.
However, the immediate cause of the war was the explosion of the Battleship “Maine” in Havana harbor. The Americans held that Spain was responsible for this explosion with the phrase “Remember the Maine” becoming the nation’s war cry. The American and Spanish government both wished to avoid a situation of war. The fighting could have been evaded and its avowed purposes achieved without going to war. The government of Spain realized that it was incapable of winning a war against the United States especially a war off the American coast. On the ninth of April, eighteen ninety eight, President McKinley received telegraphed concessions from Spain. This concerned the demands made with regard to Cuba. McKinley however sent to Congress his war message on April eleventh (Rosenfeld, 2000:78). A popular demand for war existed in the United States. The president was afraid that his administration and party would be ruined if he fails to meet the demands of the people. However, commercial interests sought to avoid the war because it would mean that trade would be disturbed and taxes would be increased.
The American navy was in an excellent state for war, ranking third among the world’s fleet during the time. As a way of expending the surplus revenue from the high tariffs, Chester A. Arthur’s administration had begun the construction of an iron navy (Trask, 1996: 67). The writings of Alfred Thayer Mahan, a retired navy captain and author influenced the development of a strong navy. He had argued in one of his books that the outcome of great struggles in the past had been decided by naval superiority (ibid 70). Propagandists made use of his arguments to root for a big navy and modern battleships. Theodore Roosevelt was another major navy advocate who played a big role in preparing the navy for war. In his book “The Naval War of 1812”, Roosevelt glorified the exploits of the American navy (in. Rosenfeld, 2000: 243). He had ordered George Dewey to station at Hong Kong to attack the Spanish Philippines in case of war.
The American navy had a leading role in the winning of the war owing to the nature of the conflict. The navy was in state of readiness in the immediate months before the outbreak of the conflict since some steel battleship had been recently built beside the navy making preparations prior to the war.
Roosevelt orders had also been carried out by Dewey who sunk the decrepit Spanish fleet with ease. He however had to wait for three months for reinforcement to capture the city of Manila. On august thirteenth, the city was captured with the aid of Filipino insurgents. The new British policy of friendliness with the United States was strengthened by an event in Manila Harbor. Dewey’s anger had been in several occasions aroused by the Germans who had five warships in Manila and a much more stronger force. However, the friendly cooperation between Dewey and the commander of a British force in Manila helped ease the tension. As such, the British came to the help of the Americans.
The navy’s strategy in the Atlantic was to prevent Spanish reinforcement from being landed by blockading Cuban ports. The navy however failed as a Spanish fleet managed to slip into Santiago harbor (Klose & Lader 2001:109). Hobson’s attempt to sink the old ship failed but he was nevertheless hailed as a hero for his daring attempt. The Spanish fleet was later sunk as it attempted to escape. Since the Civil War, the United States army had been neglected which led to confusion and unnecessary loss of life in the Spanish-American War. The officers were characterized by political appointments and old age. The army’s inefficiency was symbolized by an event where an overweight commander of Cuban invasion had to lifted into his saddle (ibid 167). Much confusion was also brought about in Florida by the sudden increase in the size of the army. As much as the American army was inefficient confused, they met an even more disorganized opponent. They landed near Santiago, winning the two engagements as they approached it. The Spanish force were forced out of Santiago harbor and destroyed. The war ended in less than four months after it was declared. The war thus became important in shaping the United States foreign policy.
In October eighteen ninety eight, the commissioners from United States and Spain met to draw up the terms of the Treaty of Paris. Three members of the Senate were appointed by McKinley to the peace commission so as to offer it representation in drafting the terms of a treaty that it would be asked to ratify (Bryan, 1970). The terms granted Cuba independence but with Spain retaining the heavy Cuban debt. It also ceded to the United States Guam, Puerto Rico and Philippines. The United States thus had at its possession overseas empire and the responsibility of governing alien people. The decision to keep Philippines reflected the the wishes of the American people who suddenly became imperialist minded. The Americans were absorbed into the idea of extending their national prestige by ruling an empire. Businessmen also expected that they would find opportunities for profit in investments and loans, establishing a source of raw materials for industry and selling in the Philippine market. America would also be offered a base for carrying out large trade in the Far East. There was also the possibility of the islands falling within the influence of Germany, Japan or other powers interested in East Asia. The subjugation of an alien people was opposed by some individuals in the Senate, both Republicans and Democrats.
Even though the Spanish-American War required little national effort, its consequences were far reached especially for the United States foreign policy. With the complete end of the Spanish empire in the Americas and the United States acquisition of the Pacific, the United States immediately became active in the affairs of the Orient. This involvement of the United States with other powers marked its turn from isolationism of the past. It became recognized as a world power. Soon after the war, Cuba got her independence even though it became an American dependency under the status of protectorate. The Platt Amendment of 1901 stipulated that Cuba could not make any international agreement that is likely to infringe its sovereignty without the consent of the United States. Again, the United states could intervene whenever it is deemed necessary to preserve Cuban independence and political stability. Cuba also granted two naval bases to the United States.
The United States subsequently intervened in Cuba under the Platt Amendment by sending troops or diplomatic persuasion (Bryan, 1970:89). Cuba was further subordinated to the United States by the greatly increased American investment and economic superiority. In Puerto Rico, the bloodless occupation was followed by rapid progress. This took place under the supervision of American military. Congress established a civil government under the Foraker Act of 1900. This included the first elective legislature in the newly acquired lands. A pattern of government was set by this Act for the other possessions. Generally, the pattern of government that was established in the newly acquired lands was much like the governments set up by the Congress in the mainland territories (ibid 93).
The Filipinos on the other hard were largely upset by the decision of the congress not to grant them independence which led to an insurrection. Both the Republicans and Democrats favored independence for the Philippine even though they differed on the time period that they were to be introduced to self government. At the turn of the twentieth century, a Philippine Commission was headed by William Howard Taft to establish a civil government. Taft was appointed a governor a year later and with the assistance of Filipino members, the Commission exercised executive and legislative functions and set up a framework of government.