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The Gilded Age & the Progressive Era (1877–1917)

History SparkNotes

The Spanish-American War: 1898–1901

The Rise and Fall of Populism: 1892–1896

Roosevelt’s Big Stick Diplomacy: 1899–1908

Events
1898 Anti-Imperialist League forms USS Maine explodes in Havana Harbor Spanish-American War begins United States annexes Hawaii Congress passes Teller Amendment Admiral Dewey seizes Philippines at Manila Bay
1899 Aguinaldo leads Filipino Insurrection
1900 Congress passes Foraker Act McKinley is reelected
1901 Insular Cases decided Congress passes Platt Amendment
Key People
William McKinley -  25th U.S. president; asked Congress to declare war on Spain because he feared public opinion would turn against him
Theodore Roosevelt -  Assistant secretary of the Navy at outbreak of war; resigned and organized “Rough Riders” volunteer unit to fight the Spanish in Cuba
William Randolph Hearst -  Prominent “yellow journalist” who published sensational stories about atrocities in Cuba, inciting American public opinion against Spain
George Dewey -  Navy commander who launched a surprise naval attack on the Spanish fleet in Manila just hours after war began; defeated the Spanish in several hours without losing a single man
Emilio Aguinaldo -  Philippine freedom fighter; helped American forces defeat Spain in the Philippines but later turned against the United States

The Crisis in Cuba

William McKinley entered the White House just as the nation was nearing a crisis with Cuba. Just ninety miles south of Florida, Cuba was still under Spanish control despite past American efforts to wrest it away. In the 1890s, falling sugar prices led Cuban farmers to rebel against their Spanish overlords in a bloody revolution. Spanish forces tried to crack down on the insurrection by herding all suspected revolutionaries, including children, into internment camps.

Americans became aware of the situation in Cuba via “yellow journalists” such as the famous newspapermen William Randolph Hearst and Joseph Pulitzer, who printed sensationalized stories about the events. In competition for readership, each man tried to outdo the other. Hearst, for example, sent painter Frederick Remington to Cuba with the order, “You furnish the pictures, and I’ll furnish the war!” hoping to boost sales with exclusive coverage of the conflict.

The USS Maine

Already agitated by the articles of yellow journalists, Americans were outraged by the Dupuy de Lôme letter, which was intercepted and published in newspapers in 1898. In the letter, Spanish ambassador Enrique Dupuy de Lôme derided McKinley as a dimwitted politician. Inciting even greater public outrage, though, was the mysterious explosion of the USS Maine in Havana Harbor a week later, which killed more than 250 U.S. servicemen. American investigators concluded erroneously that a mine had destroyed the ship, despite Spain’s insistence that there had been an accident in the ship’s boiler room. Although history proved Spain correct, Americans rallied under the cry “Remember the Maine!” and clamored for war.

War Preparations and the Teller Amendment

Although McKinley did not want to go to war with Spain, he feared that if he failed to respond to strong public opinion for the war, William Jennings Bryan and his “free silver” platform would win the election of 1900. McKinley thus requested a declaration of war from Congress in April 1898; Congress consented on the grounds that the Cuban people needed to be liberated. To justify this cause, Congress passed the Teller Amendment, which promised Cuba independence once the Spaniards had been driven out.

The Philippines

The resulting Spanish-American War was quick and decisive and crumbled the Spanish Empire. Acting against direct orders, Assistant Secretary of the Navy Theodore Roosevelt, an ardent expansionist, ordered Commodore George Dewey to seize the Spanish-controlled Philippines in Asia. Dewey defeated the Spanish fleet in a surprise attack on Manila Bay without losing a single man. Congress then annexed Hawaii on the pretext that the navy needed a refueling station between San Francisco and Asia. While Dewey fought the Spanish at sea, Filipino insurgent Emilio Aguinaldo led a revolt on land. Although Britain did not participate in the fighting, it did help prevent other European powers from defending Spain.

The Rough Riders

The U.S. Army, meanwhile, prepared for an invasion of Cuba with over 20,000 regular and volunteer troops. The most famous of the volunteers were the Rough Riders, under the command of Lt. Colonel Theodore Roosevelt, who had left his civilian job to fight the “splendid little war.” As the Rough Riders’ name implied, they were an assortment of ex-convicts and cowboys mixed with some of Roosevelt’s aristocratic acquaintances. Roosevelt and the Rough Riders helped lead the charge and take the famous San Juan Hill outside the city of Santiago. Cuba eventually fell, prompting Spain to retreat.

The Treaty of Paris

In the Treaty of Paris that formally ended the war, Spain granted the United States Cuba, Puerto Rico, and Guam, and McKinley graciously agreed to buy the Philippines for $20 million. The United States did eventually honor the Teller Amendment and withdrew from Cuba in 1902, but not before including the Platt Amendment in the Cuban constitution, establishing a permanent U.S. military base at Guantánamo Bay.

Postwar Headaches

The war gave McKinley more headaches than it cured. First, McKinley was faced with an insurrection when Emilio Aguinaldo turned against American forces in the annexed Philippines. It took several years of jungle warfare before the insurrection was put down, but even then, Filipinos resisted assimilation into American culture.

Second was the problem of what to do with all the new people in the territories America had taken over. In 1901, the Supreme Court ruled in the Insular Cases that people in newly acquired foreign lands did not have the same constitutional rights as Americans living in the United States. Congress nonetheless upheld the 1900 Foraker Act that granted Puerto Ricans limited self-government and eventually full U.S. citizenship by 1917.

Finally, McKinley had to contend with the new, vocal Anti-Imperialist League and its prominent membership. The league challenged McKinley’s expansionist policies and the incorporation of new “unassimilable” peoples into the United States.

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