What caused the Spanish-American War?

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The Spanish-American war, the first major overseas conflict for the United States, began in 1898. Though there were a great number of causes that built up to this conflict, there were two that were the most immediate and obvious. The first was the fact that the United States were continually...

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The Spanish-American war, the first major overseas conflict for the United States, began in 1898. Though there were a great number of causes that built up to this conflict, there were two that were the most immediate and obvious.

The first was the fact that the United States were continually supporting the struggle of Cuba. Three years earlier, a revolt had broken out in Cuba, and guerrilla forces were fighting to take their independence from Spain. Through reporting about Spanish cruelty towards the Cubans, public opinion was directed in support of war with Spain.

The second cause was the explosion and sinking of the USS Maine in Havana Harbor. Though the precise nature of the accident had not been determined, it caused a major political uproar in the US due to the suspicion that Spain was responsible.

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The Spanish-American War (1898) had both background and immediate causes. Despite its brevity, it had an important impact on both nations.

The primary background cause of the war was a revolt in Cuba. Cuba was part of Spain's empire in the late nineteenth century, but its people sought independence. A rebellion broke out in 1895, and the Cubans were brutally oppressed. Thousands of Cubans died in Spanish-run detention camps.

The events in Cuba became known to the American public by what became known as yellow journalism. The New York Journal and the New York World tried to outdo each other with sensational headlines. Consequently, American public opinion became very hostile to Spain.

President Grover Cleveland and President William McKinley both wanted to avoid war. But events would force President McKinley to take action.

In February 1898, an American ship, the Maine, was visiting Havana harbor when it blew up. The exact cause of the explosion has never been determined, but Spain was blamed for the loss of the ship and loss of American lives. At about the same time, the New York Journal published a letter written by the Spanish ambassador, Depuy de Lome. The letter was highly critical of President McKinley and the Spanish ambassador resigned. The President, to his credit, was not pushing for a war. Nevertheless, public pressure for war was huge, and the U.S. declared war in April 1898.

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The Spanish-American War had many different causes.

The immediate cause of the war was the explosion of the battleship USS Maine in Havana, Cuba.  This, coupled with what the US saw as an unsatisfactory response by the Spaniards, led to the war.  However, there were deeper causes to this war. 

One major cause of the war was American sympathy for the cause of the Cuban rebels.  Americans were naturally disposed to support rebellions against what they saw as tyrannical European rule.   They were particularly unhappy with Spain because they felt the Spanish were treating their Cuban subjects quite brutally.  This feeling was whipped up by the “yellow journalism” of the time. 

Another major cause of the war was the desire on the part of many Americans for a war.  There were two main reasons for this.  First, some Americans, like Theodore Roosevelt, felt that Americans needed to fight a war to improve their toughness as a nation.  They felt the country was becoming too soft and needed to challenge itself.  Second, there was also the feeling that the US should gain itself an empire.  Some Americans, like Alfred Thayer Mahan, wanted the US to take an empire so that it would be militarily stronger than it had been.

These were the major causes of the Spanish-American War.

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The Spanish-American War had many causes. One was American imperialistic fever. The United States wanted to get into the colonial race quite badly, and taking possessions owned by the weakened Spanish Empire seemed like the easiest way to acquire valuable assets in the Caribbean and the Pacific. A war for imperialism would not go over well with the American people, so yellow journalists focused on Spanish atrocities being committed in Cuba, where Cuban rebels were fighting for their independence and Spanish authorities were trying to stop the resistance. Though the Spanish rounded up friendly Cubans into crowded camps, there were no cases of wanton human rights abuses. Frederic Remington, noted Western painter, went to Cuba to report on the human rights abuses. He wired back that he could not find any. His boss, William Randolph Hearst, told Remington to supply the pictures and Hearst would supply the war. The stories about Spanish atrocities moved newspapers even if they were not true. Another point to consider was that the United States went to war to protect American sugar interests in Cuba and Puerto Rico.

The final incident that led to the war was the sinking of the U.S.S. Maine in Havana Harbor in 1898. The American press claimed that it was due to a Spanish mine, when in reality it was caused by an explosion from within the ship, probably a boiler explosion. When the harbor was later dredged it was found that the hole in the ship was convex rather than concave, thus implying an internal explosion. The United States went to war and a few short months later found itself the owner of new colonies.

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