Jane Doe

HIST 150

Word count: 1145


Agree or disagree: “The reason for the United States’ involvement in the Spanish-American War had more to do with internal affairs than anything.”


As one way of showing significance, she places this question within the broader context of events.


Arguments opposing this position are addressed early.

The US invasion of Cuba during the Spanish-American War of 1898 had more to do with domestic political concerns than any other factor.[JH1]   US interest in helping Cuba achieve independence also stemmed from the idea that a war with Spain would provide economic and political benefits.  Indeed, newspapers in the US prodded public opinion into accepting that war would be inevitable and desirable.  Studying the Spanish-American War and its aftermath helps us to understand the contours of Western imperialism during the nineteenth century.  Moreover, the political and economic dominance of the US over Cuba after 1898 may also be situated within a larger context of competition over colonies as Western nation-states, including the United States, sought to expand their power.[JH2] 

Author brings in detailed, factual information from her textbook and primary sources.

Politicians and business leaders in the United States put a great deal of pressure on the government to use its military power to help expand markets overseas.  By the end of the nineteenth century, the US had entered an era of unprecedented industrial expansion.  Better methods of farming, printing, and improved railways were being developed.  During the early 1890s, however, the US had experienced a series of financial ‘panics’, or severe recessions, which threatened the country’s prosperity (“Crucible”).  In this time of ‘boom and bust’ cycles of economic growth, thousands of people lost jobs and hundreds of businesses and banks closed.  Leaders in industry and government believed strongly that to continue to grow the economy, the US needed to establish more of a presence in Asia, Africa, and Latin America (Pérez, 189).

The intense competition among Western powers over territory and resources during the late nineteenth century also provides an important backdrop to understanding the US path to war against Spain in 1898.  France, Russia, Germany, and Great Britain were all clamoring for colonies in order to enrich themselves within the context of the industrial revolution (“Crucible”).  Beginning in the 1880s, for example, the Belgian king, Leopold II, sought to establish a colony in the Congo in central Africa.  At the time, colonies were inextricably linked with a nation’s status as a world power in large measure due to the potential for resources taken from the land.  In 1885, Western powers gathered at the Berlin Conference and recognized Leopold’s claims, and Congo emerged as his own personal colony.  [JH3] When it was discovered that the colony was a rich source for natural rubber, an important commodity for the Industrial Revolution, Leopold employed Belgian officers and local Congolese leaders to establish labor camps throughout the region in order to produce rubber at all costs.  The thinking of the time was that those nations which had the most prosperous colonies (with the most attractive natural resources) were also able to benefit economically (Pérez, 213).  US business interests focused on possible expanding their investments in the sugar industry in Cuba.  Indeed, the US already had a vested interest in the economic prosperity of the island (Pérez, 214).

Before the war, US leaders were divided on whether to intervene in domestic politics in Cuba.  Since 1868, Cuban insurgents had fought for independence from Spain, but at the conclusion of the Ten Years’ War (1868-1878), any chance at achieving this goal seemed impossible.  Another large-scale insurgency took root in 1895, and rebel groups in Cuba appeared all over the island.  At first, President William McKinley did not favor going to war against Spain.  In fact, he called on Spain to find a “peaceful solution” (Pérez, 216[JH4] .  He feared that the US might become embroiled in an unwinnable overseas intervention with no end in sight.  In addition, he was a member of the generation that had fought the US Civil War, and he believed that war should never be conducted unless all other options were tried and failed.  On the other side, Theodore Roosevelt, the Assistant Secretary of the Navy, strongly advocated for war against Spain.  Roosevelt, and the majority of US citizens of his generation for that matter, believed that they did not have a war to call their own[JH5]  (“Crucible”). 

When news reports from Cuba pointed to abuses by the Spanish military against Cuban civilians, this spurred interest among the US public.  In the late 1890s, William Randolph Hearst controlled The New York Journal, one of the largest circulating newspapers in the United States.  When he began to publish stories about the plight of the reconcentrados, rural villages being herded into towns and living in squalor and starving conditions, the US public was outraged (Pérez, 269).  Other newspapers tried to outdo each other with gruesome stories of death and torture and heart-wrenching images of starving children.  Political cartoonists throughout the United States more often depicted Cuba as a damsel in distress, needing to be saved by Uncle Sam.  The US public could not help but to be moved by these images.  A growing population of Cuban refugees in Key West and New York also pushed for intervention in order to help liberate Cuba[JH6] .

The media helped to push for war as tensions between the US and Spain grew.  On February 9th, the contents of a personal letter written by Spanish diplomat, Enrique D. Dupuy de Lome, leaked to the press.  In it, Dupuy de Lome referred to McKinley as a “weak, lowly politician who caters to the rabble”.  In bold letters, the headline of Hearst’s The New York Journal read: “The Worst Insult to the United States in Its History” (Pérez, 202[JH7] ).  Soon, US public opinion shifted toward favoring a war with Spain. 

Days later, on February 15th, the battle USS Maine, which was sent to Havana harbor on a routine observation visit, exploded, killing 268 men on board.  An investigation that took place decades later concluded that the explosion had been caused by a problem with the vessel’s internal combustible engine, but it did not matter.  The US public demanded intervention, and the US Congress immediately declared war.  A skeptical McKinley was forced to concede (“Crucible”).

The US declaration of war against Spain in 1898 represented the culmination of several interrelated forces in US domestic politics.  There was a great deal of pressure from business groups to expand markets in light of a series of devastating downturns in the US economy.  Many believed that pulling Cuba closer into the sphere of US influence would benefit the US in many ways.  In addition, political leaders invoked deep historical prejudices and made appeals to nationalism and militarism in the run up to the war against Spain[JH8] .  The media, particularly popular newspapers, such as The New York World and New York Journal, sensationalized events.  These factors better explain why the US decided to intervene in Cuba.


THESIS: 9/10






OVERALL GRADE: 45/50 x 2=90/100




 [JH1]Jane has clearly stated her position.  Her thesis is easily identifiable and directly answers the question.

 [JH2]Jane has contextualized issue and has provided an explanation about why the question is significance (i.e. So what?  Who cares?).  Jane could have also provided a few words about how she was going to organize the essay or what type of evidence she was going to incorporate into the essay.

 [JH3]Jane provides relevant background information with as much specific information as possible (e.g., names, dates, etc).

 [JH4]Notice that Jane has incorporated dates, names, and other detailed factual information in her paper.  Historians (and critical thinkers) like detailed information.  Arguments need to be supported with facts and evidence.

 [JH5]Notice how Jane made the transition from one paragraph to another.  This is a classic, chronological way of organizing the essay.  In addition, the topic sentence of the paragraph fits well with the central argument in the opening paragraph AND clearly notes what will follow below.

 [JH6]Notice in this entire paragraph the way that Jane writes.  In particular, look at the verbs.  She tries to vary her language as much as possible so that she doesn’t repeat herself.  Instead of constantly using “is”, “was”, “has”, or “have” to tell her story, she uses rich verbs, such as “articulated”, “argued”, “granted”, and “mobilized” to push the essay forward.  Bring a thesaurus if needed.

 [JH7]Notice here how the quotations are integrated into the paper.  Never let the evidence ‘speak for itself’.  Provide as much context as needed.

 [JH8]There are many ways to conclude an essay (e.g., summarize the arguments, explain the result of an event, or re-state in a different way why this issue is significant).  Jane has also proofread her essay before turning it in so that she minimizes spelling and grammatical errors.  Compare this essay with the rubric, how would you grade it?