On April 25, 1898, the United States declared war on Spain following the Battleship Maine’s sinking in Havana harbor on February 15, 1898. The war ended with the signing of the Treaty of Paris on December 10, 1898. As a result, Spain lost its control over the remains of its overseas empire – Cuba, Puerto Rico, the Philippines Islands, Guam, and other islands.
Beginning in 1492, Spain was the first European nation to sail westward across the Atlantic Ocean, explore, and colonize the Amerindian nations of the Western Hemisphere. At its greatest extent, the empire that resulted from this exploration extended from Virginia on the eastern coast of the United States south to Tierra del Fuego at South America’s tip, excluding Brazil and westward to California and Alaska.
Across the Pacific, it included the Philippines and other island groups. By 1825 much of this empire had fallen into other hands. In that year, Spain acknowledged the independence of its possessions in the present-day United States (then under Mexican control) and south to the tip of South America. The only remnants that remained in the empire in the Western Hemisphere were Cuba and Puerto Rico and across the Pacific in the Philippine Islands and the Carolina, Marshall, and Mariana Islands (including Guam) in Micronesia.
Following the liberation from Spain of mainland Latin America, Cuba was the first to initiate its own struggle for independence. During the years from 1868-1878, Cubans personified by guerrilla fighters known as “Mambises” fought for autonomy from Spain. That war concluded with a treaty that was never enforced. In the 1890s, Cubans began to agitate once again for their freedom from Spain.
The moral leader of this struggle was José Martí, known as “El Apóstol,” who established the Cuban Revolutionary Party on January 5, 1892, in the United States. Following the Grito de Baire, the call to arms on February 24, 1895, Martí returned to Cuba and participated in the first weeks of armed struggle when he was killed on May 19, 1895.
The Spanish-American War & The Philippines Islands
The Philippines, too, was beginning to grow restive with Spanish rule. José Rizal, a member of a wealthy mestizo family, resented that his upper mobility was limited by Spanish insistence on promoting only “pure-blooded” Spaniards. He began his political career at the University of Madrid in 1882, where he became the leader of Filipino students there. For the next ten years, he traveled in Europe and wrote several novels considered seditious by Filipino and Church authorities. He returned to Manila in 1892 and founded the Liga Filipina, a political group dedicated to peaceful change.
He was rapidly exiled to Mindanao. During his absence, Andrés Bonifacio founded Katipunan, dedicated to the violent overthrow of Spanish rule. On August 26, 1896, after learning that the Katipunan had been betrayed, Bonifacio issued the Grito de Balintawak, a call for Filipinos to revolt. Bonifacio was succeeded as head of the Philippine revolution by Emilio Aguinaldo y Famy, who had his predecessor arrested and executed on May 10, 1897. Aguinaldo negotiated a deal with the Spaniards, who exiled him to Hong Kong with 400,000 pesos that he subsequently used to buy weapons to resume the fight.
During the 1880s and 1890s, Puerto Ricans developed many different political parties, some of which sought independence for the island while others, headquartered like their Cuban counterparts in New York, preferred to ally with the United States. Spain proclaimed Puerto Rico’s autonomy on November 25, 1897, although the news did not reach the island until January 1898, and a new government was established on February 12, 1898.
U.S. interest in purchasing Cuba had begun long before 1898. Following the Ten Years War, American sugar interests bought up large tracts of land in Cuba. Alterations in the U.S. sugar tariff favoring home-grown beet sugar helped foment the rekindling of revolutionary fervor in 1895. By that time, the U.S. had more than $50 million invested in Cuba, and annual trade, mostly in sugar, was worth twice that much. The fervor for war had been growing in the United States, despite President Grover Cleveland’s proclamation of neutrality on June 12, 1895. But sentiment to enter the conflict grew in the United States when General Valeriano Weyler began implementing a policy of Reconcentration that moved the population into central locations guarded by Spanish troops and placed the entire country under martial law in February 1896.
By December 7th, President Cleveland reversed himself, declaring that the United States might intervene should Spain fail to end the crisis in Cuba. Inaugurated on March 4, 1897, President William McKinley was even more anxious to become involved, particularly after the New York Journal published a copy of a letter from Spanish Foreign Minister Enrique Dupuy de Lôme criticizing the American President on February 9, 1898. Events moved swiftly after the explosion aboard the U.S.S. Maine on February 15. On March 9, Congress passed a law allocating fifty million dollars to build up military strength. On March 28, the U.S. Naval Court of Inquiry finds that a mine blew up the Maine. On April 21st, President McKinley orders a blockade of Cuba, and four days later, the U.S. declares war.
The Spanish-American War
Following its declaration of war against Spain issued on April 25, 1898, the United States added the Teller Amendment asserting that it would not attempt to exercise hegemony over Cuba. Two days later, Commodore George Dewey sailed from Hong Kong with Emilio Aguinaldo on board. Fighting began in the Philippine Islands at the Battle of Manila Bay on May 1st, where Commodore George Dewey reportedly exclaimed, “You may fire when ready, Gridley,” and the Spanish fleet under Rear Admiral Patricio Montojo was destroyed.
Dewey did not have enough manpower to capture Manila,so Aguinaldo’s guerrillas maintained their operations until 15,000 U.S. troops arrived at the end of July. On the way, the cruiser USS Charleston stopped at Guam and accepted its surrender from its Spanish governor, who was unaware his nation was at war. Although the two belligerents signed a peace protocol on August 12, Commodore Dewey and Maj. Gen. Wesley Merritt, leader of the army troops, assaulted Manila the very next day, unaware that peace had been declared.
In late April, Andrew Summers Rowan made contact with Cuban General Calixto García who supplied him with maps, intelligence, and a core of rebel officers to coordinate U.S. efforts on the island. The U.S. North Atlantic Squadron left Key West for Cuba on April 22 following the frightening news that the Spanish home fleet commanded by Admiral Pascual Cervera had left Cadiz and entered Santiago, having slipped by U.S. ships commanded by William T. Sampson and Winfield Scott Schley. They arrived in Cuba in late May.
Representatives of Spain and the United States signed a peace treaty in Paris on December 10, 1898, which established the independence of Cuba, ceded Puerto Rico and Guam to the United States, and allowed the victorious power to purchase the Philippines Islands from Spain for $20 million. The war had cost the United States $250 million and 3,000 lives, of whom 90% had perished from infectious diseases.