Turning Point: Spanish – American War

You will need Cornell Notes for this lesson.

History is, at its core, a story. The story of history is complex, replete with converging and conflicting story lines comprised of several hundred, if not thousands or millions, of individual actions that influence the narrative as told in modernity. War is often the confluence of events, the tipping point where decisions of individuals become the actions of nations. Like all stories, war stories are compelling because they have a clear beginning, middle, and end. Wars start with a climax, build to a greater apex, and end with conflict.

Unlike any war in American history, the Spanish-American War shaped what America would become and in many ways ushered in a version of America its founding fathers feared most: an empire.

Perhaps the best place to start is with an overview of American conflict after the Civil War. Click here to watch a video about the growth of American influence throughout the world. Pay particular attention to the portion of the video pertaining to the Spanish-American War and acquisition of Hawaii. After the video, you should be able to briefly explain how the Spanish-American War was a turning point for America.

Nothing begins without an idea being spoken and a plan being written. The man responsible for the idea of an empire was known as Alfred Thayer Mahan.

Click here to read about the ideas of Mahan that gave rise to Americans want to build an American empire. Write a half page summary of the text you will read. Be sure to include the names of the publications Mahan penned, and the ideas for “vigorous foreign policy” he favored.

The industrialization of America gave politicians the means to build a large, ironclad armada; a fleet of ships unlike any fleet in human history. With Mahan’s idea fueling political dreams of conquest, and Carnegie Steel Company factories supplying cheap, high-quality steel to U.S. Navy ship-builders on a near continuous basis, the only element politicians needed was a cause to rally public support for a war on which to build an empire.

Spain provided the opportunity for American politicians to seize everything they ever wanted in one moment. President William McKinley recognized that moment, he knew he had to own it, to never let it go.  McKinley understood he would only get one shot. He did not miss his chance to blow oxygen on the flames of war. That particular moment came in the form of a rebellion in Cuba where the Cuban people were fighting persecution by their Spanish rulers.

The USS Maine was sent to Havana Harbor to act as a show of force in support of the Cuban rebels and intimidate the Spanish.  Click here to read about the USS Maine’s fate.  After reading the article, write your answer to the following question:

Was the USS Maine sunk by hostile forces or was there another explanation for the sinking of the vessel?

No matter your opinion on the matter, one thing is certain: The American press took the story and spun it into a tale of tragedy.  The American press convicted the Spanish government of an act of war. The phrase REMEMBER THE MAINE!!! became the rally cry for the cause to build an American empire.

From April 1898 to August 1898, American forces battled the Spanish for Cuba, Puerto Rico, the Philippines, and Guam. Theodore Roosevelt emerged as a war hero for his efforts in Cuba at the helm of the infamous Rough Riders. Click here to open Google Tour. Once inside Google Tour, research and build a map of the conflicts that took place during the Spanish-American War.  Be sure to include:

  1. The location of the sinking of the USS Maine.
  2. One example of Yellow Journalism concerning the sinking of the USS Maine.
  3. The location of the battle which made the Rough Riders famous.
  4. The name of the treaty that officially ended the war and the date and location it was signed.
  5. The territories ceded to the United States at the conclusion of the war.
  6. Pictures and a short narrative about each location.

You will be presenting your Google Tour to the class! Be prepared to answer questions about the Spanish-American War and the impact it had on expanding American influence.  





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