A Great Piece of History: Spanish-American War

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Spanish-American War

There are countless events that have contributed to the United States establishment of dominance in the world. The question that remains is which conflict/period was primarily responsible for bringing the United States to the forefront of international relations? While there are many periods in the history of the United States that may seem deserving of this honor, it is evident that the Spanish-American War separates itself as the dominant factor. The Spanish-American War provided the United States an opportunity to utilize its informational resources to gain support from its citizens in an effort to expand its military presence in both the Pacific and Caribbean, which in turn deepened its world trade and brought the United States to the forefront of international relations as a global power.

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Prior to the start of the Spanish American War the United States had, through the establishment of the Monroe Doctrine, practice isolationism, but this drastically changed with the outbreak of war with Spain (1). From observing the success of Great Britain, Germany, and Japan, Theodore Roosevelt, Assistant Secretary of the Navy, determined that strong imperial powers had large, world-class navies and for the United States to take its proper place as a world power it had to create a powerful navy of its own (2 Theodore Roosevelt, the US Navy Page 3). Roosevelts’ public explanation for creating a large navy was that it would prevent war, but simultaneously planned for one. Roosevelt had a plan for his navy a year before the Spanish-American war began (3 Theodore Roosevelt, the US Navy Page 3).

The cause of the Spanish American war was a result of several factors including the United States wanting to protect its international economic interests and promote its expansion. The United States also sympathized with the struggle of Cubans and Filipinos for independence from a weakening Spain. These countries had been gearing up for a revolution throughout the nineteenth century, which helped tremendously in the war. The sinking of the Maine, which was sent in January of 1898 to Havana Harbor in Cuba to protect Americans. On the evening of February 15, 1898 the Maine was sunk. This was blamed on the Spanish and was the spark that finally set off war between the United States and Spain. Newspapers portrayed the war as necessary and countries such as Cuba has having magnificent opportunity, such as the National Tribune. The American media, through publications such as this, played an important part in the United States’ declaration of war. The media prompted American citizens to demand retribution for the supposed attack on the USS Maine.

The outcome of the war was largely dependent on sea power, which was a department the United States easily outclassed Spain in and allowed the United States to display its military might. Spain had nothing to match the four new battleships; Indiana, Iowa, Massachusetts, and Oregon, which formed the backbone of the North Atlantic Squadron. Even more superior to their antiquated Spanish antagonists in the Philippines were the protected cruisers of Commodore George Dewey’s Asiatic Squadron. Thanks largely to the energy and enthusiasm of the assistant secretary of the navy, Theodore Roosevelt, the U.S. ships had engaged in battle maneuvers and target practice and were well supplied with fuel and ammunition. Officers and men were confident and aggressive, whereas their Spanish opponents knew they were doomed to defeat.

On May 1, 1898, U.S. Commodore George Dewey defeated the Spanish defense at Manila Bay. His dominance in this battle boosted the confidence of the United States and set up the capture of the Philippines. Dewey intelligently used the strategies he learned from Farragut to destroy all of the Spanish vessels commanded by Spanish Admiral Patricio Montojo within hours. This established control of the Spanish naval base at Cavite, which led to the Spanish surrender. Only eight American sailors were injured and U.S. ships were basically unscathed in the battle. The victory at Manila Bay ensured that the United States would win the Spanish-American War and finally put an end to Spanish influence in Far East Asia and the Pacific.

Taking Cuba was the first priority of the United States in the Spanish-American War. The Fifth Army Coprs of the United States fought its first battle at Las Guasima. The battle raised American morale, but this came at a cost. The enemy was well seasoned and, while they were outnumbered, had much better knowledge of the terrain along with much better positioning. This allowed Spanish forces to inflict a great deal of damage on the inexperienced and not well equipped U.S. troops. The battle allowed the U.S. to show their courage and determination against a much better prepared Spanish army.

On July 1, 1898, U.S. forces seized the San Juan Heights after a chaotic and confusing battle. The victory was costly, but opened paved the way for the United States to take Santiago de Cuba. The battle also made Theodore Roosevelt a national hero and positioned him as a future president, which was critical to the future success of the United States. This makes the battle of San Juan Hill another vital battle not just for the Spanish-American war but for the future success of the United States.

On July 3, 1898, the American blockade was attacked by the Spanish squadron at Santiago in its attempt to escape from the harbor. The battle was an overwhelming victory for the United States, which eliminated Spain’s naval presence in the Western Hemisphere.

The immediate impacts of the war were plentiful and supporters of U.S. expansion were thrilled with the results. The final terms were set on December 10 with the negotiation and signing of the Treaty of Paris. Cuba gained its independence, while the United States gained control of Puerto Rico, Guam, and the Philippines. The U.S. paid nothing for Puerto Rico and Guam, but it gave Spain $20 million for the Philippines. These were only some of the immediate results as the United States experienced a great deal of diplomatic, military, information, and economic effects.

The Spanish-American war established the United States’ diplomatic influence in the world and established a new generation of Americans, who were determined to further the nation’s influence around the world. One important result of the war was the Roosevelt Corollary, which was a result of President Roosevelt’s fear that all of Latin America was vulnerable to European attack. Although this was an addition to the Monroe Doctrine, it was clearly another giant step away from the policy of isolationism established by the Monroe Doctrine. The war also created a an energetic, self-confident, and determined generation of Americans who believed it was their duty to spread the United States’ democracy, Christianity, and capitalism to the world and ensure the U.S. took its rightful place alongside the great powers of the world. The strategic success achieved by the Navy during the Spanish American War also helped pave the way for Theodore Roosevelt’s rise to Commander in Chief. Theodore Roosevelt, whose rise to Commander in Chief can be traced to the Spanish-American War, was the driving force to the United States’ continued success after the war. President Roosevelt’s big stick foreign policy, which resulted in the United States sending troops of invasion to Latin America over 35 times by the end of the 20th century and establishing an undisputed sphere of influence throughout the hemisphere, would have a lasting effect on both U.S. diplomacy and its military (ushistory). Within a few years of the war’s conclusion, the United States had made the Caribbean a U.S. lake, was taking a leading part in the politics of the Far East (with initiatives such as the Open Door Policy), and was preparing, in spite of itself, to play a determining role in the affairs of Europe.

Informative: The Spanish-American War is often referred to as the first “media war.” Journalism of 1890s successfully used yellow journalism to portray the issues with Spain in a dramatic manner to emphasize the need for American intervention. This allowed millions of newspapers to be sold in America, which resulted in the American public supporting the war effort. Many argue that without the sensational headlines and stories about Cuban affairs, American support for intervention may have been very different. As a result the U.S. press proved its worth and far reaching influence. The United States would go on to use the media to gain much needed support from its citizens in future critical wars such as World War I and II (pbs).

The United States’ dominant victory in the Spanish-American War validated the views advanced by Roosevelt, Mahan, and other proponents of naval expansion and greatly improved the nation’s pride in its military. (ushistory) One important result was the establishment of Roosevelt’s motto: speak softly and carry a big stick. Roosevelt’s big stick was the powerful, new American navy. It was believed that using this naval might to back the United States’ interests would allow the United States to simultaneously defend its territory and avoid war (ushistory). The war also allowed Mahan, Stephen B. Luce, Henry C. Taylor, William S. Sims, and other reformist officers to successfully press for improved management, administration, and logistical support of the Navy. The impact the war had on sailors and marines was also significant. American sailors enjoyed the praise of the public for their performance in the war, which helped established a tremendous amount of pride in the nation’s military. The experience gained by the Marine Corps provided the U.S. Marine Corps, who were searching for an expanded mission at the turn of the century, with great support.

The Spanish-American War of the war was an economic boon in the United States and the establishment of the United States as a global trading power. The United States was successful in its initial desire to protect its interests in Cuba. The US even managed to gain potentially lucrative territory overseas, including Hawaii with its fruitful sugar plantations and a promising fishing industry. The war provided an opportunity in which President McKinley and the American public were in favor of acquiring the islands. Supporters of annexation argued that Hawaii was vital to the U.S. economy, as it would serve as a strategic base that could help protect U.S. interests in Asia, and that other nations would surely take the islands if the United States did not. This led to, at McKinley’s request, a joint resolution of Congress to make Hawaii a U.S. territory on August 12, 1898 (history). The importance of the islands is undisputable as they have played a vital role in every aspect of the United States success, notably World War II when it proved critical to US success in the Pacific. The United States would surge forward to become the greatest economic power in the world and it is clear that a great deal of this success can be traced back to the Spanish American War.

While there have been many periods in our nation’s history that have aided to the growth and far reach of our nation, the Spanish-American War clearly stands apart. The war marked the United States’ step away from the Monroe Doctrine and towards center stage of international relations. It also expanded military presence in both the Pacific and Caribbean and deepened its world trade. The Spanish American War has been and remains critical to the success of the United States as a global power.


  1. Marolda, Edward J. Theodore Roosevelt, the U.S. Navy, and the Spanish-American War. New York, NY: Palgrave, 2001.
  2. “Seeking Empire.” Ushistory.org. 2008. Accessed October 22, 2018. https://www.ushistory.org/us/44d.asp.
  3. The National tribune. (Washington, D.C.), 28 April 1898. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress. https://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn82016187/1898-04-28/ed-1/seq-1/.
  4. “The Spanish-American War, 1898.” History.state.gov. Accessed November 10, 2018. https://history.state.gov/milestones/1866-1898/spanish-american-war.
  5. The World of 1898: The Spanish-American War. Loc.gov, Library of Congress, 22 June 2011, loc.gov/rr/hispanic/1898/intro.html.
  6. Titherington, Richard H. A HISTORY OF THE SPANISH-AMERICAN WAR. Freeport, NY: Books for Libraries Press, 1971.
  7. “Yellow Journalism.” PBS. Accessed October 24, 2018. pbs.org/crucible/frames/_journalism.html.
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A Great Piece Of History: Spanish-American War. (2019, Jul 30). Retrieved December 7, 2022 , from

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