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6.8: USS Maine

Difficulty Level: At Grade Created by: CK-12
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On February 15, 1898, an explosion in Cuba’s Havana Harbor sunk the ship the U.S.S. Maine. Of \begin{align*}354\end{align*}354 people onboard, \begin{align*}266\end{align*}266 died. It is unclear what caused the explosion, or whether it occurred on the ship or near it, but Cuba was a colony of Spain, and sensationalistic American newspapers blamed Spain for the attack. Amid popular calls to “Remember the Maine,” the U.S. declared war on Spain. The Spanish-American war, in which the U.S. won Cuba, Puerto Rico, and the Philippines, marked the emergence of America as a leading world power. As you read the documents below, try to determine what really happened to the Maine, thinking carefully about what kind of evidence each source uses to support its argument.

New York Journal and Advertiser

Source: Excerpt from New York Journal and Advertiser, February 17, 1898. Purchased by William Randolph Hearst in 1895, the Journal published investigative and human interest stories that used a highly emotional writing style and included banner headlines and graphic images.


Assistant Secretary Roosevelt Convinced the Explosion of the War Ship Was Not an Accident.

The Journal Offers \begin{align*}\$50,000\end{align*}$50,000 Reward for the Conviction of the Criminals Who Sent \begin{align*}258\end{align*}258 American Sailors to Their Death.

Naval Officers All Agree That the Ship Was Destroyed on Purpose.


George Bryson, the Journal’s special reporter at Havana, writes that it is the secret opinion of many people in Havana that the war ship Maine was destroyed by a mine and \begin{align*}258\end{align*}258 men were killed on purpose by the Spanish. This is the opinion of several American naval authorities.

The Spaniards, it is believed, arranged to have the Maine drop anchor over a harbor mine. Wires connected the mine to the magazine of the ship. If this is true, the brutal nature of the Spaniards will be shown by the fact that they waited to explode the mine until all the men had gone to sleep.

Spanish officials are protesting too much that they did not do it. Our government has ordered an investigation. This newspaper has sent divers to Havana to report on the condition of the wreck. This newspaper is also offering a \begin{align*}\$50,000\end{align*}$50,000 reward for exclusive evidence that will convict whoever is responsible.

Assistant Secretary of the Navy Theodore Roosevelt says he is convinced that the destruction of the Maine in Havana Harbor was not an accident. The suspicion that the Maine was purposely blown up grows stronger every hour. Not a single fact to the contrary has been produced....


  1. Sourcing: What kind of newspaper was this article published in? How does this influence its trustworthiness?
  2. If you had read this article in 1898, what would you believe caused the Maine explosion? What evidence for this conclusion does the article provide?

Maine’s Hull Will Decide - New York Times

Source: New York Times, February 17, 1898.

Established in 1851, the New York Times provided investigative coverage of local New York issues and events, as well as national and international news.


Divers Will Inspect the Ship’s Hull to Find Out Whether the Explosion Was from the Outside or Inside.

Magazines of War Ships Sometimes Blow Up Because of Too Much Heat Inside –

Hard to Blow Up the Magazine from the Outside.

It has been a busy day for the Navy Department. The war ship Maine was destroyed in Havana Harbor last night. Officials in Washington and Havana have been sending cables all night long. Secretary Long was asked whether he thought this was the work of the enemy. He replied: “I do not. I am influenced by the fact that Captain Sigsbee has not yet reported to the Navy Department. It seems he is waiting to write a full report. So long as he has not made a decision, I certainly cannot. I should think from the signs, however, that there was an accident – that the magazine exploded. How that came about I do not know. For the present, at least, no other war ship will be sent to Havana.”

Captain Schuley, who knows a great deal about war ships, did not entertain the idea that the Maine had been destroyed on purpose. He said that fires would sometimes start in the coal bunkers, and he told of such a fire on board another war ship that started very close to the magazine. The fire became so hot that the heat blistered the steel wall between the fire and the ammunition before the bunkers and magazine were flooded with water to stop the fire. He did not believe that the Spanish or Cubans in Havana had either the information or the equipment necessary to blow up the magazine, while the Maine was under guard.


  1. Sourcing: What kind of newspaper was this article published in? How does this influence its trustworthiness?
  2. If you had read this article in 1898, what would you believe caused the Maine explosion? What evidence for this conclusion does the article provide?

Section Questions:

  1. Which of the two articles is more believable? Cite specific examples from the text to support your claim.

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