America Becomes a World Power

 

Overview America's place among the countries of the world changed in the late 1800's. Some Americans felt that the United States had a duty to spread its way of life to other parts of the world. America's relations with other countries changed, especially with Spain. American news­papers fueled anti-Spanish feelings in the United States. Such events soon led to the Spanish American War. By the war's end, America had become a world power.
 

Changes in American Foreign Policy. America's relations with other countries of the world changed in the last years of the 1800's. In particular, America's relations with Spain worsened, in part, because of America's desire to set up overseas colonies. This desire for overseas growth gave new meaning to the idea of manifest destiny. Manifest destiny had been a belief of the mid-1840's that America had a God-given right to spread its way of life across North America. With the closing of the western frontier in 1890, many Americans looked overseas for room to grow.
 

The rapid growth of American industries in the years after the Civil War also brought changes to American foreign policy. As the industries grew, new demands arose for greater supplies of raw materials. This demand was heightened as well by the swift growth in America's population. As a result, American businesses began to seek new suppliers of raw materials, new markets for American products, and greater trading privileges. American over­seas colonies seemed to be one way to satisfy these needs. However, America's actions led to strained relations with Spain - first in Cuba, then in other parts of the world.
 

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Relations With Cuba. As early as the 1840's some Americans had become interested in taking over Cuba. To them, Cuba was a source of necessary farm products, a source of cheap labor, and a possible new slave state. But because of sectional differences between the North and the South within the United States at the time, Cuba was never considered for statehood. Nevertheless, many wealthy Americans invested money in Cuba as well as in Puerto Rico and in other countries throughout the Caribbean area.
 

For the most part, American investments in Cuba were put into sugar plantations. This brought about great changes in the Cuban economy. Until this time, the Cuban economy was based on many farm crops. But as more American money was put into the Cuban sugar-growing industry, Cuba became largely a one-crop country. This meant that the main part of the Cuban economy depended upon sugar growing. And many Cuban plantation owners as well as their workers had to depend upon the American market for sale of their sugar.
 

This Cuban-American arrangement worked well for many years. Then, in 1890, Cuban­American trade grew even stronger. In that year Congress passed the McKinley Tariff. Because of this act, Cuban sugar could be sent to the United States free of any import duties. That is, no import tax of any kind had to be made on Cuban sugar. As a result, Cuban sugar sold well in the United States. The Cuban economy grew to an all-time high. But a greater number of Cuban workers depended totally on these sugar sales for their jobs.
 

Then, in 1894, Cuban-American trade nearly came to a standstill. In that year Congress passed the Wilson-Gorman Tariff Act. One part of this law put a 40 percent charge on all sugar that was brought into the United States. This was done to help American sugar growers in Hawaii and in the United States. As a result, Americans bought little Cuban sugar because its price was so high. This caused a great drop in Cuban sugar sales in the United States. It also had terrible effects in Cuba. With little demand for Cuba's one product in its only market - the United States - most Cubans had no work, no money, and little food. This led to great suffering in Cuba and to political disorder.

 

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American Newspapers and Public Opinion.  In 1895, one year after the Wilson-Gorman Tariff became law, a violent uprising against Spain broke out in Cuba, a Spanish colony. Spain had done little to help Cuba to rebuild its economy after the collapse of the Cuban­American sugar trade. Spain sent General Valeriano Weyler y Nicolau to Cuba to end the fighting. Unfortunately, General Weyler y Nicolau's ways of dealing with the Cubans were brutal. As a result, General Weyler y Nicolau became known as "The Butcher." In many ways, his methods led to further discontent and violence in Cuba.
 

At the onset of the uprising, a few American newspapers reported on these developments. These stories seemed to stir American interest in Cuba's problems with Spain. And as the newspapers reported on the cruelty of the Spanish against the Cubans, their reading audiences grew. The country's largest newspapers discovered that stories about Spanish wrongdoing in Cuba increased the number of newspapers that were sold. In New York City, stories about the Cuban uprising became top news in the city's two leading newspapers. These were the World, owned by Joseph Pulitzer, and the Journal, owned by William Randolph Hearst. Each newspaper hoped to attract readers away from the other newspaper. Because of this competition, the newspapers told their reporters in Cuba to make their reports exciting. In story after story Americans learned about the bravery of the Cubans and about the savagery of the Spanish. Many reports compared the Cuban uprising to the American Revolution.

 

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The sensational reports on the Cuban uprising did more than sell newspapers. The reports shaped American public opinion. Many Americans were outraged by the actions of the Spanish forces as they were reported in the newspapers. Throughout the presidential campaign of 1896 and later, groups of Americans urged government leaders in the United States to go to war with Spain. These people felt that Americans should help the Cubans. President McKinley soon found that peace was difficult to keep.

 

The Demand for War. The call for American intervention in the Cuban uprising continued to grow. More and more people began to think that the United States should help the Cubans fight for their independence from Spain. In early 1898 several events took place that pushed America closer to war. The Hearst newspapers printed a secret letter on February 9, 1898. It had been written by Dupuy de Lome, a Spanish official in the United States. The letter stated that President McKinley was " ... weak and a bidder for the admiration of the crowd." It went on to call the President "a would-be politician." Many Americans were outraged at Spain because of this letter.
 

Several days later, a tragic event brought about more anti-Spanish feelings. An American battleship, the Maine, exploded in Cuba's Havana Harbor. The 260 Americans on the ship were killed. A rumor spread quickly that Spain had sunk the ship. "Remember the Maine!" was heard all over the country as many Americans called for war with Spain. Only a few people questioned whether Spain was really to blame for sinking the ship. Calls for war grew quickly.
 

President McKinley, however, hoped to stay out of war with Spain. In March 1898 the President sent an ultimatum to Spain. This was a final demand that, if not carried out at once, would lead to war. The ultimatum dealt with Spain's policies toward Cuba. The Spanish agreed to carry out the American demands listed in the ultimatum. But the desire for war was so strong in Congress, in the newspapers, and among the American people that the Spanish concessions were ignored. War with Spain was declared by Congress on April 19, 1898 .
 

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The War With Spain. The first fighting of the war broke out in the Spanish-ruled Philippine Islands in the western Pacific Ocean - not in Cuba. On May 1, 1898, Commodore George Dewey sailed his fleet of American warships into the harbor of Manila Bay in the Philippine Islands. The Americans easily sank the out­moded Spanish ships they found there. But Commodore Dewey had too few troops to attack the Spanish forces in the city of Manila itself. He had to wait for more American troops to join his forces.
 

In the meantime, Commodore Dewey gave guns, ammunition, and other war materials to anti-Spanish Filipino groups. Throughout the summer, these Filipinos fought for their independence from Spain. Thus by August, when more American soldiers were added to Commodore Dewey's command, Spanish power in the Philippine Islands was greatly weakened. The Americans easily took over the city of Manila on August 13, 1898.
 

Fighting the war was more difficult in Cuba itself. The American army was small. And many of the soldiers were new volunteers. They knew little of army life and ways of fighting. Furthermore, they were poorly supplied and outfitted. In fact, many new volunteers sailed to Cuba from Florida harbors in the hot spring of 1898. They wore winter uniforms made of wool. Some new soldiers were armed with little more than their own hunting gear.
 

Despite such problems, the most important fighting of the war took place in Cuba. The fighting broke out on June 24, 1898. American forces began to push the main Spanish army in Cuba southward to Santiago. One group of American soldiers, the "Rough Riders," captured San Juan Hill in a dramatic battle in this campaign.
 

The American navy also entered the Caribbean Sea to fight the Spanish. On July 2, 1898, the American fleet faced what was the remaining force of the Spanish navy. Once again, the American fleet was better prepared for battle. Within hours, the American navy had sunk the last Spanish warship. The American army then advanced to Santiago. Fifteen days later, Spain surrendered.
 

The Spanish American War ended six months after it began. But in that short time, the United States had changed its position among the powerful countries of the world. It had become a world power. Through its victory over Spain, America gained control of Puerto Rico, Guam, Wake Island, and the Philippine Islands. Cuba also came under American protection. More important, the United States had shown its ability to stand up to a European country.

 

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Ask Mr. Van Duyne for the Activity 3 Information Organizer. You  may download and print a copy if he is not available.

 

 

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