Spanish-American War: U.S. Declares War on Spain

The U.S. rationale for the Spanish-American War was a desire to intervene in Spain’s harsh rule of its colony Cuba, just 90 miles offshore from Florida. The American public grew increasingly angry as stories of Spanish atrocities circulated in the U.S. press during the 1890s. When the U.S. battleship Maine sank in Havana harbor under mysterious circumstances on 15 February 1898, American war fever grew to a crescendo, and the administration of President William McKinley knew it had to take action.

After a flurry of diplomatic activity, the U.S. formally demanded “that the government of Spain relinquish its authority and government in the Island of Cuba,” which the Spanish refused to do – accentuating the point by breaking off diplomatic relations with the United States. The U.S. Congress responded on 25 April 1898 by declaring that a state of war with Spain had existed since April 21. The Spanish-American War, now formally recognized, was underway.

An article about the U.S. declaring war on Spain, Aberdeen Daily News newspaper article 26 April 1898
Aberdeen Daily News (Aberdeen, South Dakota), 26 April 1898, page 1

Here is a transcription of this article:

The Declaration

Senate and House Promptly Act on the President’s Recommendation That a State of War Be Declared to Exist between This Country and Spain

House Passed the Bill in Less Than Two Minutes

President’s Message

WASHINGTON, April 26. – It took the House less than two minutes to pass the resolution presented by the Foreign Affairs Committee, in response to the message of the President making a formal declaration of war. The Senate was nearly as expeditious. The declaration is as follows:

A Bill Declaring That War Exists between the United States of America and the Kingdom of Spain

Be it enacted, etc.:

First – That war be, and the same is hereby declared to exist, and that war has existed since the 21st day of April, A.D., 1898, including said day, between the United States of America and the Kingdom of Spain.

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Second – That the President of the United States be and he is hereby directed and empowered to use the entire land and naval forces of the United States, and to call into the actual service of the United States the militia of the several states to such an extent as may be necessary to carry this act into effect.

Senate Amendments Dropped

WASHINGTON, April 26. – The Senate has agreed to the House war bill. Amendments of the Foreign Relations Committee were dropped. In executive session Mr. Turpie made a speech in favor of recognition of belligerency, and Mr. Morgan made a speech chiding Congress for not acting sooner on the declaration of war.

President’s Message

Text of the Communication Sent to Congress Asking for a Formal Declaration of War

WASHINGTON, April 26. – The President’s message to Congress recommending a declaration of war against Spain is as follows:

To the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America:

I transmit to the Congress for its consideration and appropriate action, copies of correspondence recently had with the representative of Spain in the United States, with the United States minister at Madrid, and through the latter with the government of Spain, showing the action taken under the joint resolution approved April 20, 1898, “for the recognition of the independence of the people of Cuba, demanding that the government of Spain relinquish its authority and government in the Island of Cuba, and withdraw its land and naval forces from Cuba and Cuban waters, and directing the President of the United States to use the land and naval forces of the United States to carry these resolutions into effect.”

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Upon communicating with the Spanish minister in Washington, the demand which it became the duty of the executive to address to the government of Spain, in obedience to said resolution, the said minister asked for his passports, and withdrew.

The United States minister at Madrid was in turn notified by the Spanish minister for foreign affairs that the withdrawal of the Spanish representative from the United States had terminated diplomatic relations between the two countries, and all official communications through their respective representatives ceased therewith.

I recommend to your especial attention the note addressed to the United States minister at Madrid, by the Spanish minister of foreign affairs on the 21st inst., whereby the foregoing notification was conveyed. It will be perceived therefrom that the government of Spain, having cognizance of the joint resolution of the United States Congress, and in view of things which the President is thereby required and authorized to do, responds by treating the representative demands of this government as measures of hostilities, following with that instant and complete severance of relations by its action, which, by the usage of nations, accompanies an existent state of war between sovereign powers.

The position of Spain being thus made known, and the demands of the United States being denied with a complete rupture of intercourse by the act of Spain, I have been constrained in exercise of the power and authority conferred upon me by the joint resolution aforesaid, to proclaim under date of April 22, 1898, a blockade of certain ports of the north coast of Cuba, lying between Cardenas and Bahia Honda, and of the port of Cienfuegos on the south coast of Cuba, and further in exercise of my constitutional powers, and using the authority conferred upon me by the act of Congress, approved April 22, 1898, to issue my proclamation dated April 23, 1898, calling for volunteers in order to carry into effect the said resolution of April 20, 1898. Copies of these proclamations are hereunto appended.

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In view of the measures so taken, and with a view to the adoption of such other measures as may be necessary to enable me to carry out the expressed will of the Congress of the United States in the [resolution], I  now recommend to your honorable body, the adoption of a joint resolution declaring that a state of war exists between the United States of America and the kingdom of Spain, and I urge speedy action thereon to the end that the definition of the international status of the United States as a belligerent power may be made known, and the assertion of all its rights and the maintenance of all its duties in the conduct of a public war may be assured.

(Signed) William M’Kinley.
Executive Mansion, Washington, April 25, 1898.

Note: An online collection of newspapers, such as GenealogyBank’s Historical Newspaper Archives, is not only a great way to learn about the lives of your ancestors – the old newspaper articles also help you understand American history and the times your ancestors lived in, and the news they talked about and read in their local papers. Did any of your ancestors serve in the Spanish-American War? Please share your stories with us in the comments section.

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