The Spanish-American War: Causes, Goals & Results

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  • 0:05 Causes
  • 4:02 War
  • 5:38 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Clint Hughes

Clint has taught History, Government, Speech Communications, and Drama. He has his master's degree in Instructional Design and Technology.

The Spanish-American war was a new kind of war involvement for the U.S. It was not for freedom, it was not an internal conflict. It was fought over expansion and the idea of spreading American influence in the Caribbean and in the Philippines.


We're going to start by looking at some of the causes - number one being yellow journalism, which was really pushed to the forefront by William Randolph Hearst and Joseph Pulitzer. We're going to look at how it was fought by Teddy Roosevelt's Rough Riders and the Buffalo Soldiers. And we're going to look at how it was ended by the Treaty of Paris and how it resulted in expanding U.S. control in the Caribbean and the Philippines.

So, was this thing fought in Spain or the U.S.? The Spanish-American War is a different beast than other wars in which the U.S. had been involved at this point. It was not for freedom. It was not to protect U.S. borders. And it was not an internal conflict, such as in the civil war. The Spanish-American War was fought over influence - it was about imperialist and expansionist drives.

What is imperialism? Well, it is when a nation works to expand its power and influence. The two primary methods of imperialism are military conquest and political diplomacy.

During this period of imperialism, there were many influences driving the U.S. government and popular opinion. One of these forces was yellow journalism. Yellow journalism is a sensational form of journalism. These journalists exaggerate, twist, and inflame the news to influence public opinion, cause action, and, above all else, sell more papers than their competitors! The two biggest names pushing the U.S. toward war with Spain with yellow journalism were William Randolph Hearst and Joseph Pulitzer.

While these men's newspapers were very sensational, they pulled them from real events. One of the stories used effectively (especially by Hearst) was about the exploits of General Valeriano Weyler. Hearst published very graphic and biased stories about General Weyler's brutality in Cuba. Make no mistake, General Weyler was referred to as 'Butcher Weyler,' and he did relocate rebels to 're-concentration camps' that were cesspools of hunger and disease. Actions like Weyler's were not difficult to sensationalize!

Another effective piece in the papers was the De Lome Letter. The letter was written by Enrique Dupuy de Lome, who was the Spanish Minister to the United States. The letter was stolen and ended up being published in Hearst's New York Journal. In the letter, De Lome says President McKinley is 'weak and catering to the rabble and, besides, a low politician who desires to leave a door open to himself and to stand well with the jingos of his party.' A jingo is basically an extremely patriotic person who is likely to favor an aggressive foreign policy.

The last - and arguably final - piece the papers had to sensationalize that moved the U.S. to war was the sinking of the U.S.S. Maine. The Maine was sent to Cuba to protect Americans in Havana. An explosion destroyed the ship and killed 268 sailors. This tragedy was effectively used by the papers. The journal even offered $50,000 for anyone leading to the perpetrator! The obvious enemy was Spain, and this really got American sentiment going!

All of these sensational stories, especially the sinking of the Maine, put a great deal of pressure on the U.S. government. So, President McKinley sends a letter to Spain suggesting an armistice, or an end to hostilities. He asks that Spain close its re-concentration camps and that Spain grant Cuba its independence.

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