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Role of the De Lome Letter in the Spanish American War

Instructor: Christina Boggs

Chrissy has taught secondary English and history and writes online curriculum. She has an M.S.Ed. in Social Studies Education.

Have you ever sent a text message or an email that started a fight with your friends? A similar situation happened in 1898, but instead of starting a fight among friends, it brought the United States closer to war with Spain! In this lesson, you will learn about the de Lome Letter.

Isolationism and Neutrality

Think about how many conflicts the United States has been involved with in the past ten years, and how many conflicts we're currently involved with around the world. There are quite a few! Over 100 years ago, however, the United States had a very different foreign policy. Instead of being an active participant in world conflicts, the United States had a policy of isolationism where it tried to avoid involvement in other countries' problems. As a result, many U.S. presidents around the turn of the 20th century embraced the idea of neutrality, or not taking sides. This was the policy at the beginning of the Cuban fight for independence from Spain starting in 1895.

Cuba, Spain, and the United States

In 1895, the small island of Cuba was not its own country; it was a colony of Spain. Cuban rebels were sick and tired of Spain's harsh rule from across the Atlantic Ocean and decided to take action. By 1895, the island was caught in a bloody conflict. Many Americans viewed the Cuban rebellion with serious concern. Cuba was roughly 100 miles off the coast of Florida. Having a small-scale war so close to home was bad both politically and economically. In addition, the United States increasingly wanted European powers to leave the Western Hemisphere.

Despite the fact public opinion was in favor of helping the Cuban rebels, President Grover Cleveland stuck to a policy of neutrality and did his best to keep the U.S. out of Spain's and Cuba's affairs. In 1897, Cleveland was succeeded by William McKinley as president. Just like Cleveland, McKinley was also reluctant to get involved in Cuba. While McKinley still wanted to stay neutral, he decided to send U.S. warships down into Cuban waters, including the country's newest ship, the U.S.S. Maine.

William McKinley
William McKinley

Enrique Dupuy de Lome's Letter

Just like today, countries during the 1800s sent foreign diplomats and ambassadors to live around the world. Spain was no different. Enrique Dupuy de Lome was the Spanish minister to the United States starting in 1892. He served under the Cleveland and part of the McKinley administrations. De Lome was not a big fan of McKinley's, and in February of 1898, people across the world knew all about it.

In December of 1897, Enrique Dupuy de Lome wrote a letter to one of his fellow diplomats living in Cuba. The letter was intercepted by a group of Cuban rebels who quickly forwarded it to the United States, all the way to the desk of the U.S. Secretary of State. Imagine writing a text message or an email that talks about someone you know, then accidentally sending it to that person! The de Lome Letter was very similar, but instead of just reaching a few people, it was published around the world.

On February 9, 1898, the entire contents of de Lome's letter were translated from Spanish to English and printed on the front page of the New York Journal. The paper's owner, William Randolph Hearst, published the story under the headline, 'The Worst Insult to the United States in Its History.' De Lome described McKinley as a weak president who only acted based on what Americans thought of him.

de Lome Letter
de Lome Letter

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