The Spanish-American War of 1898 lasted only a few months. It resulted in a U.S. victory that not only ended Spain's colonial rule in the Western Hemisphere but also marked the emergence of the United States as a world power, as it acquired Puerto Rico, the Philippines, and Guam. THEODORE ROOSEVELT's military exploits in Cuba catapulted him onto the national stage and led to the vice presidency and, ultimately, the presidency.
The conflict had its origins in Spain's determined effort in the 1890s to destroy the Cuban independence movement. As the brutality of the Spanish authorities was graphically reported in U.S. newspapers, especially Joseph Pulitzer's New York World and William Randolph Hearst's New York Journal, the U.S. public began to support an independent Cuba.
In 1897 Spain proposed to resolve the conflict by granting partial autonomy to the Cubans, but the Cuban leaders continued to call for complete independence. In December 1897, the U.S. battleship Maine was sent to Havana to protect U.S. citizens and property. On the evening of February 15, 1898, the ship was sunk by a tremendous explosion, the cause of which was never determined. U.S. outrage at the loss of 266 sailors and the sensationalism of the New York press led to cries of "Remember the Maine" and demands that the United States intervene militarily in Cuba.
President WILLIAM MCKINLEY, who had originally opposed intervention, approved an
April 20 congressional resolution calling for immediate Spanish withdrawal from Cuba. This resolution precipitated a Spanish declaration of war against the United States on April 24. Congress immediately reciprocated and declared war on Spain on April 25, stating that the United States sought Cuban independence but not a foreign empire.
The war itself was brief due to the inferiority of the Spanish forces. On May 1, 1898, the Spanish fleet in Manila Bay in the Philippines was destroyed by the U.S. Navy under the command of Commodore George Dewey. On July 3, U.S. troops began a battle for the city of Santiago, Cuba. Roosevelt and his First Volunteer Cavalry, the "Rough Riders," led the charge up San Juan Hill; he emerged as one of the war's great heroes. With the sinking of the Spanish fleet off the coast of Cuba on July 3 and the capture of Santiago on July 17, the war was effectively over.
An ARMISTICE was signed on August 12, ending hostilities and directing that a peace conference be held in Paris by October. The parties signed the TREATY OF PARIS on December 12, 1898. Cuba was granted independence, and Spain agreed to pay the Cuban debt, which was estimated at $400 million. Spain gave the United States possession of the Philippines and also ceded Puerto Rico and Guam to the United States. Many members of the U.S. Senate opposed the treaty, however. They were concerned that the possession of the Philippines had made the United States an imperial power, claiming colonies just like European nations. This status as an imperial power, they argued, was contrary to traditional U.S. foreign policy, which was to refrain from external entanglements. The Treaty of Paris was ratified by only one vote on February 6, 1899.