Student Work

Spanish-American War: Paper A

"The explosion of the U.S.S. Maine caused the United States to invade Cuba in 1898." Use the documents provided and your own knowledge to evaluate this statement. Do you agree with this explanation of the causes of the Spanish American War? Why or why not? Use and cite evidence from the documents to support your analysis of this statement.

Student A

. . . Although the explosion of the US Maine ignited it,[1] Spain and America had quarrels with each other that ran far deeper. These issues, centered around Cuba, would have come to a head eventually no matter what. The explosion of the US Maine was a relatively small event which, at any other time, would have had little impact on foreign policy.[2] However, because it occurred at the tense time it did, it sparked the Spanish-American war.[3] This is very different from saying it caused the war. . . . The United States had bigger reasons for the invasion, both humanitarian and self-serving, and seems to have used the explosion of the US Maine as a focus for propaganda to justify it.[4]

Among the United States’ stated reasons for [the] invading of Cuba were humanitarian issues. These are mentioned in "Document B: McKinley’s War Message," and explained in detail in "Document C: Spanish Reconcentration camps."[5] This document describes the horrible conditions in the camps that the Spanish relocated the Cubans to. These camps were filthy, with little food or water. Seventy-seven percent of the Cubans in them died. (Lee, 1897). The United States felt it had a duty to stop these human rights violations, which was a big part of the reason for invading Cuba.[6]

  1. The words "although" and "ignited" signal that she will argue against the idea that the Maine was the single cause; rather, there were previously existing causal conditions.
  2. With these two sentences, she argues that the explosion of the Maine was neither necessary nor sufficient to cause the War.
  3. This statement clearly argues that it was the timing of the Maine that mattered not the explosion itself.
  4. This thesis statement clearly lays out her argument, minimizing the role of the Maine while connecting it to other causes. The "bigger reasons" are not only categorized neatly (humanitarian and self-serving), but also bring some nuance and complexity as she, unlike many students, sees the possibility of mixed motives, rather than relying on an all-good or all-bad explanation.
  5. After using her topic sentence to indicate which part of her thesis statement she will elaborate in this paragraph, she shows her careful intertextual reading where McKinley "mentions" these issues, and Document C specifies them.
  6. Here she cites the "Camps" document (even if somewhat unquestioningly) and then she clearly states how this information supports her argument.


The Spanish-American War inquiry asks students to explain the causes of the War by evaluating the statement: "The explosion of the U.S.S. Maine caused the United States to invade Cuba in 1898." The document set presents a variety of long and short-term causes that challenge the notion that the explosion of the Maine singularly caused the war. With careful reading, students will understand that there were multiple causes for the war. Above is one of two examples of student work that address this question, but do so in fundamentally different ways.

Student A, in the essay excerpt above, successfully answers the inquiry question, presenting a clear thesis that captures mixed motives and casts the explosion as less important than other causal factors. This thesis guides the organization of her essay.

For a less successful approach, see Paper B where the student does not answer the prompt and radically departs from the inquiry question and sources available.