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Prints and Maps of the Spanish American War

The Philadelphia Print Shop, Ltd.Historical Prints

Spanish American War
& American Philippine War
A brief history


Spanish American War

The Spanish empire, which was at one time the world's greatest, had been reduced to but a few colonies as the nineteenth century drew to a close: Cuba, Puerto Rico, the Philippines, and the Carolina, Marshall, and Mariana Islands. Spain no longer had the resources nor will to hang on to even these colonies, and local guerrilla forces in the Philippines and Cuba fought for independence. In order to increase readership, newspaper publishers such as Joseph Pulitzer and William Randolph Hearst sensationalized tales of Spanish atrocities, stirring up the American public to call for intervention in Cuba. Famously, when Frederic Remington requested to be recalled from Cuba, as "There is no war," Hearst cabled back, "Please remain. You furnish the pictures and I'll furnish the war." Interventionist public sentiment merged with the desire by the American military to flex its muscle, American business's desire for full access to the Cuban economy, and a chauvinistic belief that American "manifest destiny" made Cuba a natural target for expansion. Inevitably, these forces led to open conflict between the United States and Spain.

On February 15, 1898, the American battleship USS Maine exploded in Havana harbor, sinking with a loss of 260 men. The cause of this explosion was then, as it is now, unclear, but the American press cried out that this was a despicable example of Spanish sabotage. "Remember the Maine! To hell with Spain!" In response to public and economic pressure, President William McKinley went to Congress to ask for authority to send American troops to Cuba to 'end the civil war.' Congress declared Cuba "free and independent," demanded Spanish withdrawal, and authorized the use of American force towards that end; on April 25, Congress declared war on Spain.

The war was fought both in the Pacific and Caribbean. On May 1, Commodore George Dewey's Pacific fleet defeated the Spanish fleet in the Battle of Manila Bay, supported on land by Philippine nationalists. On Cuba, the Marines landed and established a base at Guantanamo Bay on June 10. Then, despite a failed plan to block Santiago Harbor, poor Spanish strategy led to the defeat of the Spanish fleet and American control of the waters around Cuba. American troops, with assistance from Cuban independence fighters, took control of Cuba by August and about the same time took over Puerto Rico.

With both Spanish fleets incapacitated, isolating their land troops, Spain sued for peace. Hostilities were halted on August 12, and the Treaty of Paris was signed on December 10. Through this short war, and with relatively few casualties, the United States had gained the Philippines, Guam, and Puerto Rico, while Cuba achieved a limited independence. Equally important was the establishment of the United States as an imperial power with considerable public support for further expansion.

American Philippine War

The acquisition of an empire proved, however, a mixed blessing for the American possession of the Philippine Islands ran counter to the long-standing desire of the Filipinos for independence. In the latter part of the nineteenth century, the rise of an educated Filipino middle class led to demands for independence from Spain. On of the most vocal leaders of this movement, José Rizal, was arrested and executed for subversion in 1896, the year an insurgency group was formed, led by Andres Bonifacio and then Emilio Aguinaldo. The Filipino insurgents worked with the American forces during the Spanish American War, fighting for their independence, which was declared by Aguinaldo in August 1898.

However, with the Treaty of Paris, Spain sold the Philippine Islands to the United States for $20 million, and the Americans then considered this part of their new empire. On January 1, 1899, Aguinaldo was declared president of the Philippine Republic, but the United States would not recognize his government. Tensions mounted between the Filipinos and the Americans, and war started in February (called by the Americans the "Philippine Insurgency"). By the end of the year, the Filipino military had dissolved, but they kept fighting a guerrilla war against the U.S. troops. The Americans were faced with a counterinsurgency campaign that became just as brutal as that of the Spaniards before (which the Americans had condemned at the time). This war dragged on until it was officially ended on the 4th of July, 1902.

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