The Spanish-American War
Nationalist rebels in Cuba had been resisting Spanish
rule since 1895. Americans became increasingly sympathetic to the
rebels’ cause primarily because of sensationalist news reports about
Spanish brutality. Embroiled in a vicious circulation war, New York
newspapers—especially the New York Journal, owned
by William Randolph Hearst, and the New York
World, owned by Joseph Pulitzer—exaggerated
and even invented accounts of atrocities committed by the Spanish
military against the rebels. These inflammatory journalistic practices,
called yellow journalism, convinced much of the American
public to side with the rebels, and to call for government action
against Spain. In April 1898, McKinley got the opening he desired.
A U.S. ship, the Maine,
exploded in Havana. The cause of the explosion was unknown, but
the Spaniards were blamed. McKinley sent a war message to Congress and
was authorized to use force in the interest of Cuban independence.
The Spanish-American War lasted only two
months. Before the war, Spain, a long-established imperial power,
had been feared as a formidable enemy. But Spain’s strength had been
overestimated, and the U.S. easily overwhelmed the Spanish forces.
One of the most famous battles was the U.S. capture of San Juan
Hill in Cuba, an attack led by Theodore Roosevelt,
who headed the volunteer Rough Riders unit. America’s easy victory
established the U.S. as a significant presence on the world stage,
and signaled Spain’s demise as a military powerhouse.
With the Treaty of Paris, which
ended the war in December 1898, Cuba achieved independence and Spain
ceded the Philippines, Guam, and Puerto Rico to the U.S. for a payment
of $20 million. America’s decisive war victory, coupled with the
nation’s economic prosperity, led to an overwhelming reelection
win for McKinley in 1900. The victory also encouraged the government
to further demonstrate American strength abroad.
The Spanish-American War lasted only two months
and ended in a decisive victory for the United States, encouraging
the government to further demonstrate its strength abroad.