Why did the Spanish American war start?
The Spanish American War started in large part as a response to the Cuban struggle for independence, which began in 1895. The United States had large business investments in Cuba which garnered over $100 million a year. The revolution was vastly destructive to these investments. Furthermore, the Spanish reprisals against the Cuban populace garnered a lot of sympathy in the US. The maltreatment of the Cuban people was sensationally documented in several American newspapers. Popular demand for US intervention in Cuba was supported by the majority of Congress but opposed first by President Grover Cleveland and then later by James McKinley.
As riots broke out in Havana, the US sent the battleship Maine to Cuba to protect its citizens and their property there. On February 15, 1898, an explosion sunk the Maine in Havana Harbor, killing 260 American sailors. Spain was quickly blamed for the incident, and an outcry for action ensued with the slogan "Remember the Maine."
With American support for intervention in Cuba at an all-time high, and Spain's inability to end the revolution, President McKinley issued an ultimatum declaring that Spain must end its maltreatment of the Cuban people or face war with America. Separately, McKinley informed Spain that they must relinquish control of Cuba entirely.
In April, McKinley asked Congress for the power to use the military "to secure a full and final termination of hostilities between the government of Spain and the people of Cuba," to which Congress enthusiastically agreed. The US Navy then set up a blockade of Cuba. Spain rejected the ultimatum and responded by declaring war on the United States on April 22.
The Spanish American War resulted in part due to the sphere of influence that existed between the US and Cuba. The two had become linked economically; the US investing in Cuba's sugar plantations, mines and railroads.
Cuba and Puerto Rico were Spain's last held colonies in the Western Hemisphere. Cuban rebels had tried unsuccessfully in the past to revolt against Spanish rule. Jose Marti, one such rebel, fled to the US and was influential in gaining US support of Cuban independence from Spain. Many equated the Cubans' desire to those of the US colonists who sought independence from Great Britain.
President Cleveland wished for the US to remain neutral, but pressure to become more involved was growing by the time President McKinley came into office. 3 factors came into play:
1. Yellow Journalism: Sensationalized reporting in which writers often exaggerate and make up stories to influence readers. The New York Journal and the New York World both printed horrific stories of the Cubans suffering under Spanish rule. American sympathy grew.
2. The De Lome Letter: De Lome was a Spanish ambassador to the US. He wrote a letter to Spanish officials describing US President McKinley as weak. The letter was published in the New York Journal. Even Americans who did not support their president were angered that outsiders would insult their leader - so support for going to war increased.
3. The Maine: Less than a week after the De Lome letter was printed, The Maine was sunk in Havana, Cuba. This was a ship that President McKinley had sent to the region a month earlier to be available for an American evacuation if needed. 258 Americans were killed, and "Remember the Maine", became an additional rallying cry for war against Spain.
Congress authorized President McKinley to spend 50 million dollars for war preparations. The US would go on to begin and win what became a two-front war; defeating Spain in both Cuba in the Caribbean Sea, and in the Philippines in the Pacific Ocean.