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Brief History and Facts about the Spanish-American War

At a time in American history when more and more Americans know painfully little about U.S. history, all Americans would benefit from a review of the brief history and facts about the Spanish-American War. A study of this war reveals the end of one great empire, and the presumed rise of another.

Brief History and Facts about the Spanish-American War

The Spanish-American war arose in 1898 and was fought between the United States and Spain. For generations, Spain ruled Cuba, and revolts were mounting against what Cubans saw as the Spanish oppressor. Americans followed these revolts closely, given Cuba’s proximity to the U.S. and its own complex history with Spain. Several times, war nearly broke out, as with the Virginius Affair in 1873.

Virginius Affair of 1873

In 1873, Spain captured the American ship, The Virginius, off the coast of Jamaica, and took her to Cuba. Aboard the ship was American Captain Joseph Fry, his 52 crewmen, who were mostly Americans and Englishmen, and 103 passengers, who were mostly Cubans. When The Virginius was brought ashore by the Spaniards, Fry and members of his crew were tried and convicted as pirates, and summarily executed. The furor that followed within America and Great Britain against Spain made war seem imminent, until Spain agreed to return The Virginius, and paid restitution both to the U.S. and to Great Britain for the deaths of Fry and the other crewmen.

War Approaches

Americans grew increasingly weary of reported Spanish aggression against Cubans and others. Then The Maine, an American ship, sank in Havana Harbor under dubious circumstances. Over 300 American sailors were killed or wounded as a result of the sinking of The Maine, and American journalists were certain Spain was to blame.

Journalism appeared to play a critical role in the approach of the war, and the brief history and facts about The Spanish-American War all seemingly point to journalists’ obsession with Spain. In fact, reporters from major American newspapers were sent to Cuba to examine supposed Spanish atrocities, which reportedly included cannibalism and systematic torture of Cuban dissidents. Even though there is much discussion as to the veracity of such reports, Americans firmly believed Spain was their primary enemy.

When Americans considered Spanish aggression and the sinking of The Maine, war appeared inevitable. The cry was heard throughout the nation, “Remember The Maine! To hell with Spain!”

Spain declared war on April 23, 1898, while the he U.S. declared the start of the war as April 21, 1898. The Spanish-American War was underway.

The War Ensues

The Spanish-American War lasted for 10 weeks and at the center of the conflict was the fight for Cuban independence. The American Navy and military soundly defeated the Spanish in a number of battles, and the war saw the introduction of Teddy Roosevelt as a war hero. Flanked by a largely African-American regiment, Roosevelt led a successful charge at Kettle Hill in Cuba, and came home a military and future political giant. After these victories, American success was clear. By late 1898, the U.S. and Spain signed the Treaty of Paris. The brief history and facts about the Spanish-American War led up to this treaty, which heavily favored the U.S.

The Treaty of Paris

In the treaty, the U.S. gained temporary control over Cuba. The U.S. also assumed authority over the Philippines, Guam, and Puerto Rico. The Treaty of Paris also marked the official end of the Spanish Empire, and had a lasting effect on Spain.

Furthermore, the Treaty of Paris marked a new era of expansionism for the United States. Talk of America’s “Manifest Destiny,” began expanding the nation’s power from one ocean to another, and to embark on expansion throughout the world. Leaders like Teddy Roosevelt were firm expansionists, while others, like Andrew Carnegie and Mark Twain strongly opposed the idea of America as an Imperialist power.