Today in History: Armistice ends the Spanish-American War

August 12th, 2013

On August 12, 1898, the United States and Spain signed an armistice agreement, bringing an end to the Spanish-American War. The agreement, called the “Protocol of Peace,” marked a decisive American victory and signaled the transition of the US into a world power, with Spain relinquishing control over Cuba, Puerto Rico, Guam, and the Philippines.

In the late 19th century, the American public held very negative views of Spanish control of Cuba. A combination of Cuban revolts against Spanish rule and anti-Spanish yellow journalism coverage by William Hearst and Joseph Pulitzer angered citizens. When the American battleship USS Maine was mysteriously sunk in the Havana harbor on February 15, 1898, the public held the Spanish responsible. Despite some investigations concluding that the Maine’s sinking was caused by an internal explosion, frequent cries of “Remember the Maine!” encouraged Congress to declare war on Spain on April 21, 1989.

The war was short-lived but geographically diverse, with the ten-week war spanning both the Caribbean and the Pacific. American naval forces outnumbered and overpowered the Spanish garrison in Cuba and the Philippines, leaving both of the Spanish fleets incapacitated. Theodore Roosevelt, who would be elected president in 1912, rose to fame for founding the “Rough Riders,” a volunteer group of cavalry that fought in Cuba during the war.  On December 12, 1898, Spain and the United States signed a Protocol of Peace, putting an end to official hostilities. In the weeks that would follow, tense negotiations between the two nations resulted in the Treaty of Paris, which gave the United States control over all of Spain’s colonies outside of Africa. The United States allowed Cuba to form its own civil government, though establishing a permanent base at Guantánamo Bay.

The American public was generally pleased with the acquisition of the Spanish colonies with US Ambassador to the United Kingdom John Hay famously declaring it a  “splendid little war,” but there were some outspoken critics. Mark Twain, for instance, argued that the motivations for war were misplaced, and that the public was blind to the suffering of America’s opponents.  

Read Twain’s satirical essay, The War Prayer, to learn more about Twain’s opposition to the war.

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