Maine (U.S.S.), Sinking of

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Maine (U.S.S.), Sinking of

Spanish rule in Cuba was based on repression (the act of dominating and controlling people with force), and the Cubans revolted in 1895. Spain's response was to round up three hundred thousand Cubans and put them in camps where they could not help the rebels. Spain's behavior angered many Americans, who believed Cuba should be independent of Spanish rule.

Throughout 1897, President William McKinley (1843–1901; served 1897–1901) tried to convince Spain to give Cuba its independence. In November of that year, Spain gave Cuba limited independence and closed the camps. (Limited independence meant that regarding political matters within Cuba, it could govern itself; international matters would still be governed by Spain.) The peace was short lived; in January 1898, pro-Spanish demonstrators rioted on the streets of Havana, Cuba. McKinley sent the U.S. battleship Maine to the Havana harbor to protect American citizens who had arrived to help Cuba and to let Spain know that America still valued its relationship with Cuba.

The Spanish minister to the United States, Enrique Dupuy de Lôme (1851–1904), wrote a private letter to a friend back in Spain that was intercepted by the Cubans. The Cubans, in turn, leaked the letter to the U.S. media. The letter described McKinley as weak and indicated that the Spanish were not negotiating in good faith with the United States. Published in the New York Journal, the letter infuriated Americans, who saw it as an attack on the honor of both their president and their nation.

The situation worsened when the Maine exploded and sank on February 15, 1898. The explosion killed 266 crewmembers. A U.S. Navy investigation concluded that the explosion had been caused by an outside source, presumably a Spanish mine. (More recent scholarship has speculated, however, that the explosion probably occurred because of internal problems with the ship itself.) McKinley did not want to go to war, but he saw no alternative at this point. He ordered U.S. ships to block Cuba's ports; America and its president wanted an end to the Cuban crisis. On April 23, 1898, Spain declared war on the United States. Two days later, America declared war on Spain. The Spanish-American War lasted just over three months. Fewer than four hundred American soldiers died in battle; many more died from disease. Cuba remained independent, but Spain ceded Puerto Rico, Guam, and the Philippines to the United States for $20 million.