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6.9: The Spanish-American War

Difficulty Level: At Grade Created by: CK-12
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The sinking of the U.S.S. Maine may have provided an immediate justification for war with Spain, but other events in America and the world can be thought of as causes of the war. Considering the documents below alongside those you have already read, what caused the Spanish-American war?

Reconcentration Camps – Fitzhugh Lee

Source: Excerpt from unsigned enclosure included with telegram sent by Fitzhugh Lee, U.S. Consul-General in Cuba, November 27, 1897. Havana, Cuba.

By the late 1800s, the Spanish were losing control of their colony, Cuba. Concerned about guerilla warfare in the countryside, they moved rural Cubans to “reconcentration” camps where the Spanish claimed they would be better able to protect them. However, people around the world saw newspaper reports that described horrible conditions in the camps for the Cuban people, who were called “reconcentrados.” This account was sent to Washington, D.C., by Fitzhugh Lee, U.S. Consul- General in Havana, who said its author was “a man of integrity and character.” A consul-general is a government official living in a foreign city whose job is to protect U.S. citizens and promote trade. He would make periodic reports to his superiors in the U.S. Dept. of State.

SIR:... [W]e will relate to you what we saw with our own eyes:

Four hundred and sixty women and children thrown on the ground, heaped pell-mell as animals, some in a dying condition, others sick and others dead, without the slightest cleanliness, nor the least help...

...Among the many deaths we witnessed there was one scene impossible to forget. There is still alive the only living witness, a young girl of \begin{align*}18\;\mathrm{years}\end{align*}18years, whom we found seemingly lifeless on the ground; on her right-hand side was the body of a young mother, cold and rigid, but with her young child still alive clinging to her dead breast; on her left-hand side was also the corpse of a dead woman holding her son in a dead embrace...

The circumstances are the following: complete accumulation of bodies dead and alive, so that it was impossible to take one step without walking over them; the greatest want of cleanliness, want of light, air, and water; the food lacking in quality and quantity what was necessary to sustain life...

From all this we deduct that the number of deaths among the reconcentrados has amounted to \begin{align*}77 \;\mathrm{percent}\end{align*}77percent.


  1. Sourcing: Who was Fitzhugh Lee and why did he write this report?
  2. Close Reading: Notice Lee’s graphic descriptions of living conditions. How do these details affect you as you read? Why might these descriptions be so detailed?
  3. Contextualizing: If they could have seen this letter, how do you think people in the U.S. in 1897 might have reacted to this description of the reconcentration camps?

March of the Flag – Albert Beveridge

Source: Excerpt from Albert J. Beveridge’s Senate campaign speech, September 16, 1898. Beveridge gave this speech while he was campaigning to become a senator for Indiana. The speech helped him win the election and made him one of the leading advocates of American expansion.

Fellow citizens, it is a noble land that God has given us; a land that can feed and clothe the world;... It is a mighty people that he has planted on this soil... It is a glorious history our God has bestowed upon his chosen people;... a history of soldiers who carried the flag across the blazing deserts and through the ranks of hostile mountains, even to the gates of sunset; a history of a multiplying people who overran a continent in half a century... William McKinley is continuing the policy that Jefferson began...

The Opposition tells us that we ought not to govern a people without their consent. I answer: The rule of liberty that all just government derives its authority from the consent of the governed, applies only to those who are capable of self-government. I answer, We govern the Indians without their consent, we govern our territories without their consent, we govern our children without their consent.

They ask us how we will govern these new possessions. I answer: If England can govern foreign lands, so can America. If Germany can govern foreign lands, so can America. If they can supervise protectorates, so can America....

What does all this mean for every one of us? It means opportunity for all the glorious young manhood of the republic, the most virile, ambitious, impatient, militant manhood the world has ever seen. It means that the resources and the commerce of these immensely rich dominions will be increased...

In Cuba, alone, there are \begin{align*}15,000,000\end{align*}15,000,000 acres of forest unacquainted with the axe. There are exhaustless mines of iron.... There are millions of acres yet unexplored.... It means new employment and better wages for every laboring man in the Union....

Ah! as our commerce spreads, the flag of liberty will circle the globe... And, as their thunders salute the flag, benighted peoples will know that the voice of Liberty is speaking, at last, for them; that civilization is dawning, at last, for them Liberty and Civilization, those children of Christ’s gospel... Fellow Americans, we are God’s chosen people....


  1. Sourcing: For what purpose was this speech written? How does that influence what you can expect of it?
  2. Close Reading: What do the following phrases suggest about Beveridge’s view of Americans as compared with people of other nations?
    1. “noble land that God has given us”
    2. “applies only to those who are capable of self-government”
    3. “civilization is dawning, at last, for them”
  3. Contextualizing: According to Beveridge, what else was going on in the U.S. and the rest of the world that made expansion a good idea?

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