In 1895 the Cubans had had enough. Their Spanish government was corrupt, oppressive, incompetent, and in all ways grating to the Cuban people. Spain, the sick man of Europe, was a representative of everything distasteful about Imperialism in its management of Cuba. The simmering anger came to a boil with the Cuban Revolution. The revolters engaged in a policy of scorched earth, trying to do enough damage to either boot Spain out from queesiness or drag the United States from economic damage to valuable investments. American sympathies duly went to the Cubans since the country always did have a soft spot for spunky peoples taking up the battle flag against their snooty European rulers. Many demanded involvement in the conflict, however President Grover Cleveland absolutely refused to recognize either side of the conflict. It looked like the US would remain firmly rooted in neutrality, as it usually had throughout the conflicts of the Old World during the 19th century.

President Cleveland did not count on William Randolph Hearst and his yellow journalism, however. The newspaper owner, in a cut-throat struggle with his arch-rival Joseph Pulitzer, sensationalized the conflict by taking the rather brutal treatment of Cubans under the strain of the Spaniards and exaggerating it even farther. Americans were righteously indignant to an extent never before witnessed. Cleveland, and the next similarly-sentimented president William McKinley, had no weapon to wield against the explosive new force of mass media. The last straw for the American public was the explosion of the battleship Maine, which Hearst portrayed as a treacherous planted bomb attack by the Spaniards (it was actually an exploding boiler). McKinley could no longer hold off the dogs of war.

Europeans looked on cynically as it appeared their belligerent little brother across the pond was finally getting in on the imperialism game, a little late perhaps. Success against the Spanish wasn't expected, this was the backward, oh-so-naive United States we were talking about, but even if they did the moral stature with which the Americans went into the fight would soon be compromised. Instead of being freed, the Cubans would gain a new master. That's how these things work, after all.

Except the Europeans weren't correct. Before the fight began, the legislators rammed through a self-congratulatory amendment to the declaration of war called the Teller Amendment. It proclaimed that when the United States had triumphed, the Cubans would be given full autonomy as their own separate country. No gimmicks. No fine print. Representatives of the Old World were a bit taken aback, but skepticism prevailed. "Right, whatever you say, Uncle Sam."

Despite initial predictions, the United States not only drove out the Spaniards, they absolutely trounced them in the Spanish-American War. The last remnant of Spanish control over distant lands was crushed with the seizure of Cuba, Puerto Rico, and the Phillipines. To add insult to injury, the United States actually followed through with the Teller Amendment. Cuba became its own independent country, and US troops moved out. Score a blow against the greed of human nature!

..not quite. Though the United States did follow through with letter of the law, they didn't quite embrace the spirit of it. The US worried a grasping European power like Germany would quickly move in to tear the fledgling nation to pieces. Not only would this defeat the whole purpose of getting involved with the Cuban Revolution to begin with, it would also be a bitter disappointment to those swelled with pride at the United States' latest accomplishment. The product of this was the Platt Amendment, attached to the Cuban constitution. It gave several provisions that restricted Cuban autonomy in the interests of the United States. While not directly violating the Teller Amendment, these last minute changes of heart did dampen it somewhat.


Bailey, Thomas A., David, Kennedy M., Cohen, Lizabeth. The American Pageant: A History of the Republic, 11th ed. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1998

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