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The Spanish American War (1898-1901)

Study Questions

Puerto Rico & Cuba After the Treaty of Paris

Review Test

What factors led into the conflict between Spain and the Cuban Nationalists (insurrectos) in 1895?

The Cuban Nationalists moved against Spain partly because they thought the US was likely to aid them. The US was investing increasing amounts of money into Cuban sugar production ($50 million by 1895) and conducted a trade with Cuba worth $100 million annually. From the 1860s on, the US had even tried to purchase Cuba from Spain several times. Other causes behind the Cuban revolt in 1895 include a general opposition to a long history of Spanish control and the Wilson-Gorman Tariff of 1894. The tariff, which raised prices on sugar imported from Cuba in order to protect US sugar growers, ended up hurting the Cuban economy significantly. Hard times in Cuba led to public unrest and conflict with the Spanish regime.

How did yellow journalism manipulate public opinion? Why did newspapermen like Hearst engage in such journalism?

The whole point of yellow journalism was to produce exciting, sensational stories, even if the truth had to be stretched or a story had to be made up. These stories would boost sales, something very important in this period, when newspapers and magazines were battling for circulation numbers. In regard to the situation in Cuba in the mid-1890s, yellow journalism sought to exploit the atrocities in Cuba to sell more magazines and newspapers. Spanish behavior was always represented as exaggeratedly bad, and political cartoons depicted "Spain" as a nearly subhuman and brutal monster, while "Cuba" was usually depicted as a pretty white girl being pushed around by the Spanish monster. As soon as conflicts erupted in Spain, the yellow presses knew they had a story. Once US opinions were inflamed over Cuba, Hearst in particular tried to do everything he could to whip the public into such a frenzy that a war would start. Once at war, Hearst knew his papers would have no end of interesting and sensational articles to publish, and would profit from this.

Why did the USS Maine explode?

The explosion of the Maine is still a topic for debate today. At the time, the US claimed a Spanish mine had blown it up, while the Spanish investigation team said it blew up because of internal mechanical problems. At the time, Americans accepted the mine hypothesis, and went to war. However, a 1970s study by the US Navy suggested that an internal boiler room problem may have caused ammunition and weapons magazines to explode. Other recent studies, by the Smithsonian and National Geographic, have suggested other possibilities. To this day, the real reason for the explosion of the Maine remains a mystery.

Why did Congress pass the Teller Amendment?

In order to prove the righteousness of the US cause in the war against Spain, Congress decided to send a message to the European powers, which thought the United States was just making an imperialistic land-grab for Cuba. Congress passed the Teller Amendment, in which the US promised not to annex Cuba, but to liberate it as an independent state. Thus, the US claimed to be fighting the war not for selfish gain, but to liberate an oppressed people and promote justice in the world. As events would show, US behavior in the war did not remain so totally pure and idealistic.

Why was Theodore Roosevelt so eager to have Dewey attack the Spanish fleet in the Philippines, a move that certainly would not help in the liberation of Cuba? Furthermore, why would the cautious McKinley ever approve such a move?

The reason involves Mahan's theories. In order to protect trade and influence throughout the world, Mahan advocated a series of island coaling stations throughout the world. (Since US ships ran on coal at the time, they needed places to stop and refuel) In taking the Philippines from the Spanish, the US hoped to gain a coaling station to help the US Navy patrol in the Far East, keeping Asian markets open to US traders and merchants. Here, with the move against the Philippines, the initial goal of liberating Cuba expressed in the Teller Amendment seemed to be giving way to a war for imperialist expansion.

Discuss America's imperialist episode in 1898, when it took four colonies. Was this an aberration or the beginning of a new trend?

The switch to imperialist behavior and the taking of colonies that happened in 1898 has been a topic of great historical attention. After all, the US has generally claimed to be against colonies, and an advocate of freedom, democracy, and self-government for all. Some historians believe that this imperialist period was a "Great Aberration", a mistake that the US would never repeat, and one that goes against everything the US stands for. Others think that America really continued to have a kind of "informal colonial" influence throughout the twentieth century. By "informal colonialism", they mean that the US has promoted democracy to open markets for its manufactures and sources of raw materials, in the same economic relationship that European powers had with their colonies. Under this view, the colony grabbing of 1898 (Guam, Hawaii, Philippines, Puerto Rico) was only the most obvious episode of American imperialism before it discovered more subtle methods of economic domination, known as "informal imperialism" or "neo-imperialism".

What single factor led to the greatest number of US deaths during the Spanish- American War?

Disease. Although the US defeated the Spanish army handily, disease came close to defeating the US Army. Malaria, typhoid, dysentery, and yellow fever plagued American troops, who were fighting in the tropics for the first time in US history. In all, while the Spanish only killed about 400 American soldiers, around 5,000 US soldiers died from disease. As a result of the Spanish-American War, Walter Reed, a pathologist and biologist working for the US Army, began groundbreaking work into the causes of yellow fever.

What reasons were behind the US annexation of the Philippines under the Treaty of Paris?

The American annexation of the Philippines in order to "Christianize" the Filipinos seems to make little sense, since the Filipinos were almost entirely Catholic, and had been for centuries. Partially, this US desire was based on the American public's ignorance. Many people just assumed that the Filipinos were all "heathens". While plenty of Americans knew the Filipinos were Catholics, zealous American Protestants, who considered Catholicism only barely removed from heathenism, still largely dominated in the US. The decision to annex the Philippines was also justified in terms of an American adoption of the British idea of a "white man's burden," which required that "racially superior" nations such as the United States had a duty to share their wisdom and government with their "little brown and yellow brothers" all over the world. Arguments made for the annexation of Philippines in 1898 represent some of the most racist and paternalistic strains in American thought. But as is usually the case with the United States, business interests also supported annexation of the Philippines. While Wall Street and business insiders like Mark Hanna had originally opposed the war, they all argued for the annexation of the Philippines. The Philippines, they said, had a population of 7 million people, which was a sizeable new market for American manufactured goods. Also, following Mahan's theories, the Philippines would provide an American coaling station and naval base to protect US trade interests and maintain stability throughout Asian waters. With both the public and big business largely behind annexation, McKinley pushed for the acquisition of the Philippines.

Why did William Jennings Bryan (A Democrat) help the Treaty of Paris (pushed by the Republicans) pass the Senate in 1899?

Bryan knew that if the treaty passed, the nation would see the Republicans, the majority party at the time, as responsible for annexation. In the election of 1900, Bryan hoped to run against McKinley on an anti-Imperialist platform, and by passing the treaty, he hoped to associate the Republicans with Imperialism. Bryan expected imperialism to quickly become unpopular, giving the Democrats an issue to criticize the Republicans over. Unfortunately for Bryan, not enough voters were upset about imperialism by 1900 to aid his cause: he still lost to McKinley. Bryan also suggested that the sooner the US annexed the Philippines, Guam and Puerto Rico, the sooner the US could prepare them for independence.

Why did the Filipinos revolt against American rule? What role did Emilio Aguinaldo play?

During the Spanish-American War, the Filipinos had fought with the Americans against the Spanish, thinking that the Americans were there to liberate them, just as the Americans were liberating Cuba. When they learned that the Americans were not going home, they felt betrayed. On Jan 23, 1899, the Filipinos proclaimed an independent republic and elected long-time nationalist Emilio Aguinaldo president. The US sent in reinforcements to put down this "rogue" government. Fighting against the Filipino nationalists, who were using guerilla warfare, lasted for about three years. Ironically, the war against Aguinaldo's guerilla fighters was much more difficult and bloody for the US than the relatively easy Spanish-American War. On March 23, 1901, the US finally put down the Filipino revolt by capturing Aguinaldo. After being forced to take an oath and accepting a pension from the US government, Aguinaldo retired, and never led further revolutions.

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