What Caused the Spanish-American War?

After rebellion broke out in Cuba in 1895, the Spanish-American war began when reports of Spain’s vicious military tactics led to public outcry in the United States. The destruction of an American battleship, the USS Maine, and the U.S. government’s resolution to stop Spanish occupation by force sparked further conflict.

During the Cuban rebellion, Spanish troops captured accused rebels and detained them in concentration camps; disease and starvation ravaged more than 200,000 people. American journalists published sensationalized stories about the malicious treatment and executions, rousing the public against Spanish tyranny. In February 1898, writer William Randolph Hearst incited more outrage by publishing a private letter written by a Spanish ambassador who harshly criticized President McKinley.

Days later, the sinking of the USS Maine in Havana Harbor claimed 260 lives, and the lack of explanation or culpability for the explosion made Americans believe the Spanish were responsible. Despite attempts at an armistice, the U.S. government disagreed with the Spanish plans to allow limited sovereignty in Cuba. In early April 1898, the U.S. Congress countered with a resolution supporting total Cuban independence and declared the U.S. government’s right to oversee Spanish withdrawal from the country, if necessary. On April 24, the Spanish declared war, and the American declaration was issued on the following day.