(The UNITED STATES, 1865-1900 – continued)

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Cuba and the Spanish-American War

Many in the United States were outraged by what Spain was doing in Cuba. A war of independence from Spanish rule had begun there in 1895. It was guerrilla warfare, with Cubans generally favoring the guerrillas. Spain's General Weyler tried to separate the rural population and the guerrillas. Hundreds of thousands of Cubans were herded into camps, which were disease-ridden and centers of malnourishment. In the US press, Weyler was called a "Butcher." Some in the US were alarmed too because sugar cane fields were being burned and a lot of these fields were owned by US citizens. People in the United States who owned property there or were involved in trade with Cuba tended to support the rebels.

In late 1897, Spain removed General Weyler from Cuba and granted Cuba autonomy (self-rule in domestic matters). The new government proclaimed by the rebels rejected Spain's offer, opting instead for full independence. In January, 1898, the United States sent to Havana a battleship, the USS Maine, with words of friendship expressed to Spain through diplomatic channels. And Spain sent a naval ship to New York in exchange. The USS Maine was sent with the hope that it would have a calming influence in Cuba. But in February the ship blew up, killing 266. Spain proposed a joint investigation. The US refused, held its own inquiry and falsely concluded that the Maine was destroyed by a mine placed under the ship. Today it is believed to have been an internal explosion.

In the United States, "Remember the Maine" became a slogan. President McKinley detested war, and he had hoped that political pressure and negotiations would resolve the conflict in Cuba, but he gave into the kind of passion that occasionally swept the nation. He requested authorization from the US Congress to intervene in Cuba. Congress granted his request, by a vote of 311 to 6 in the House and 42 to 35 in the Senate. An ultimatum was sent to Spain either to leave Cuba or face war. On April 1 Spain sent its refusal, and the Spanish-American War began. 

And there were events that proud Americans could cheer about. On May 1, the US Navy destroyed Spanish ships at the Battle of Manila Bay in the Philippines – without any US casualties.

Tougher times were ahead after 10 June 1898, when US Marines landed at Guantanamo Bay. On July 1 the Battle of San Juan Hill was fought, killing 1,200 US citizens and 593 Spanish. In July, through the French Ambassador in Washington, Spain requested a cessation of hostilities and a negotiated peace.

On August 11, the US defeated Spain's forces on Puerto Rico, and on that day the US agreed to Spain's proposal to end the fighting. A formal peace treaty was signed in Paris in December. From Spain the US acquired the Philippines, Guam and Puerto Rico, and it recognized Cuba as independent.

In January, 1899, the United States claimed the uninhabited island of Wake, in the middle of the Pacific, for a cable link to the Philippines.

Filipinos did not assume that their nation was Spain's to give. They created a new constitution, but the United States refused to recognize the new republic, led by Emilio Aguinaldo, who had fought for independence as an ally of the United States. In the United States were strategists who believed that if the United States did not hold the Philippines other powers, such as Germany and Japan, would rush in and take possession. The alternative of establishing an alliance with the Philippines that included defending it against an invasion by other powers was either not considered or rejected. There were those who favored annexing the Philippines for greater access to trade. And some missionaries favored annexation, although Filipinos were already largely Catholic.

On February 4, near Manila, fighting erupted when two US Army privates fired upon and killed three Filipino soldiers. On February 6 the US Senate ratified the Treaty of Paris, and on that day President McKinley signed the bill that made the Philippines a US possession by US law. In the early months of 1899, US troops pushed northward into the central Luzon plain. The force under Aguinaldo retreated into the northern mountains, where they began guerrilla warfare, which spread to various other islands in the Philippine Archipelago.


Shoal of Time: A History of the Hawaiian islands, by Gavan Daws, MacMillan Company, 1968.

Overthrow: America's Century of Regime Change from Hawaii to Iraq, by Stephen Kinzer, 2006

American Colonies, by Alan Taylor, 2002.

On this site: Liliuokalani Describes the Coup of 1887

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