Spain used to be one of the top dogs in the game of world empires, however, by the 1890s (about the start of our Gilded Age/ Progressive Era), Spain’s overseas empire had been greatly reduced. They were left with Cuba, the Philippines, Puerto Rico, and a few other small islands.
The Cubans were poor and did hard labor working on the sugar and tobacco plantations. Jose Marti had led a group of Cuban exiles (living in the U.S.) back home to Cuba and declared Cuba’s independence in 1895. Spain was not going for this at all. Spain responded by send the Spanish Armada (Spanish Navy) with the Spanish Army to “crush” the rebellion. The Spaniards were very brutal and inhumane in their methods to crush/repress the uprising taking place in Cuba. The Spaniards would barricade entire villages with barbed wire, and the people would start to die of disease and starvation. (Not a pleasant way to go.)
The things taking place in Cuba raised humanitarian concerns here in the United States. The events started to be reported by newspaper journalists such as; Joseph Pulitzer and William Randolph Hearst. These newspapers and the journalists deliberately sensationalized the news, depicting the Spaniards as ‘murderous brutes’ in order to sell more papers. This technique became known as Yellow Journalism and it is making a strong come back in today’s society. Although their unbalanced reporting increased circulation of their papers, it gave Americans a VERY distorted and inaccurate picture of the events taking place in Cuba. Americans were becoming more and more concerned with how they were going to protect their investments in and trade with Cuba.
In the early months of 1898, a letter by De Lome, the Spanish ambassador, was published in the newspapers across the United States. The De Lome Letter outraged Americans. It said that our President (President McKinley) was “weak” and had no backbone.
Shortly after this the U.S.S. Maine was sent to Cuba to protect the lives and property of Americans. It was anchored in Havana Harbor. The U.S.S. Maine exploded and sunk, killing 258 U.S. sailors and injuring many others. Although the cause of the explosion was unknown, the Hearst and Pulitzer newspapers blamed the Spanish for sabotage.
The sinking of the Maine set off a large amount of protests here in the states. The Spanish government responded with a denial of sabotage and was willing to halt its fighting against the Cuban rebels and even open the Cuban prison camps, but they still refused to grant Cuba its independence.