Grades 11-12 | Argumentative | Text-Dependent
Carefully read through the primary and secondary source texts, listed below, on the events and actions that led the United States to enter the Spanish-American War.
Write an essay in which you integrate the information from these texts into a coherent understanding of the events and actions that led to the outbreak of the Spanish-American War, noting any discrepancies -- both factual and rhetorical -- among sources. Then consider how these factual and rhetorical differences can change our understanding of past events. Your essay should include your opinion as to which author presents the strongest argument on which events and actions were responsible for the Spanish-American War. Be sure that your essay includes evidence from the texts to support your position.
The Crucible of Empire: William Randolph Hearst
William Randolph Hearst: The Father of Yellow Journalism
Pesky, but Harmless
Reaction in the United States
Regarding public opinion, Sigsbee1 concluded that Spain had set off the explosion. William Randolph Hearst immediately filled his front pages with coverage of the event, which he believed meant war for the nation and increased profits for his paper. Before any facts had been determined, one Journal headline proclaimed that “THE WARSHIP MAINE WAS SPLIT IN TWO BY AN ENEMY’S SECRET INFERNAL MACHINE.” Hearst printed an announcement that his newspaper would pay a fifty-thousand-dollar reward for information that linked Spain to the disaster.
A war cry swept across the nation: “Remember the Maine! To hell with Spain!” Outraged citizens across the land, further enraged by the inflammatory newspaper accounts, demanded speedy action to teach the Spaniards that they could not attack the United States without fear of reprisal.
Assistant Secretary of the Navy Theodore Roosevelt proclaimed that the Maine had been “sunk by an act of dirty treachery on the part of the Spaniards,” and hoped that before the day ended McKinley would order the navy to Havana. The eager young politician, never one to ﬂinch from a challenge, offered his own services in the war.
However, McKinley wanted to wait until hard facts arrived before making any decisions.
I don’t propose to be swept off my feet by the catastrophe. My duty is plain. We must learn the truth and endeavor, if possible, to ﬁx the responsibility. The country can afford to withhold its judgment and not strike an avenging blow until the truth is known. The Administration will go on preparing for war, but still hope to avert it.
Board of Inquiry Seeks to Learn The Truth
What McKinley awaited were the results of an official board of inquiry set up to examine the cause of the explosion. In the aftermath of the disaster, reports ﬁltered in to John D. Long, Secretary of the Navy, that seemed to clear Spain of any involvement. Long learned that not only the Maine but other warships in the U.S. ﬂeet had experienced problems in their coal bunkers. It seemed that the coal had a dangerous tendency to smolder if left sitting for too long. Before the Maine’s sinking, crews of two other ships had discovered smoke in their coal bunkers which required them to immediately shovel out the coal and smother the smoke. Nearby wood had been charred in the incidents, signaling that they had come perilously close to explosions themselves. More than one dozen bunker ﬁres had occurred aboard U.S. ships in the previous three years.
The Washington Star interviewed many naval officers, and most believed that the explosion occurred inside the Maine’s coal bunkers. Making the possibility even more likely, according to these officers, one of the Maine’s coal bunkers was next to an ammunition storage room.
1. Captain of the USS Maine
“The Sinking of the USS Maine,” J. Wukovits. Copyright © 2002.