Spanish-American War: Interpretation 3

Walter LaFeber

The Cambridge History of American Foreign Relations

Support for the Spanish-American War, as many historians have argued in the past, was fueled by the American press in light of the sinking of the Maine in Havana Cuba. Historian Walter LeFaber argues that President McKinley was not entirely influenced by the press, but had been setting his sights on Cuba and the Philippines for some time. When first elected, McKinley argued against wars of conquest, however, as time went on and problems in the Caribbean escalated and U.S. investments were continually threatened there, the president realized that his foreign policy needed to be amended. LeFaber argues that through a careful and calculated process, McKinley brought a united nation into war on his own terms. President McKinley had to gather support for his plan on a military, economic, and political level. First, McKinley conferred with his military advisers and concluded that Spain was not a formidable foe, but was one the U.S. could defeat. Next, McKinley had to secure support from the American business community. He argued that war would not harm investments, but would help protect them. By subduing the ongoing problems in the Caribbean, McKinley held that the U.S. could stimulate profits in iron, steel, textiles, and food processing. Finally, McKinley had congress to deal with. Congress overwhelmingly supported war with Spain, but could not decide whether or not to recognize the Cuban revolutionary government. By not recognizing the new Cuban government, McKinley could secure freedom of action once thwarting Spanish control. LeFaber argues that McKinley forced the House and Senate to not recognize the new Cuban government in order to allow the widest freedom of action in the aftermath of the war. In the end, it was McKinley who actively sought control in the Caribbean and South Pacific in his plan to secure future U.S. investments.

Walter LaFeber, The Cambridge History of American Foreign Relations, Vol. II: The American Search for Opportunity, 1865-1913 (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1993) 129-159.