Essays On The Uss Maine

44c. "Remember the Maine!"

National Archives

U.S.S. Maine entering Havana harbor January 25, 1898, about 3 weeks before the explosion and sinking.

There was more than one way to acquire more land. If the globe had already been claimed by imperial powers, the United States could always seize lands held by others. Americans were feeling proud of their growing industrial and military prowess. The long-dormant Monroe Doctrine could finally be enforced. Good sense suggested that when treading on the toes of empires, America should start small. In 1898, Spain was weak and Americans knew it. Soon the opportunity to strike arose.

Involvement in Cuba

U.S. Naval Institute

The U.S.S. Maine in Havana harbor, January, 1898

Cuba became the nexus of Spanish-American tensions. Since 1895, Cubans had been in open revolt against Spanish rule. The following year, Spain sent General Valeriano Weyler to Cuba to sedate the rebels. Anyone suspected of supporting independence was removed from the general population and sent to concentration camps. Although few were summarily executed, conditions at the camps led over 200,000 to die of disease and malnutrition. The news reached the American mainland through the newspapers of the yellow journalists. William Randolph Hearst and Joseph Pulitzer were the two most prominent publishers who were willing to use sensational headlines to sell papers. Hearst even sent the renowned painter Frederick Remington to Cuba to depict Spanish misdeeds. The American public was appalled.

The Maine Sinks

In February 1898, relations between the United States and Spain deteriorated further. Dupuy de Lôme, the Spanish minister to the United States had written a stinging letter about President McKinley to a personal friend. The letter was stolen and soon found itself on the desk of Hearst, who promptly published it on February 9. After public outcry, de Lôme was recalled to Spain and the Spanish government apologized. The peace was short-lived, however. On the evening of February 15, a sudden and shocking explosion tore a hole in the hull of the American battleship Maine, which had been on patrol in Havana harbor. The immediate assumption was that the sinking of the Maine and the concomitant deaths of 260 sailors was the result of Spanish treachery. Although no conclusive results have ever been proven, many Americans had already made up their minds, demanding an immediate declaration of war.

McKinley proceeded with prudence at first. When the Spanish government agreed to an armistice in Cuba and an end to concentration camps, it seemed as though a compromise was in reach. But the American public, agitated by the yellow press and American imperialists, demanded firm action. "Remember the Maine, to hell with Spain!" was the cry. On April 11, 1898, McKinley asked the Congress for permission to use force in Cuba. To send a message to the rest of the world that the United States was interested in Cuban independence instead of American colonization, Congress passed the Teller Amendment, which promised that America would not annex the precious islands. After that conscience-clearing measure, American leaders threw caution to the wind and declared open warfare on the Spanish throne.

The Destruction of USS Maine
Check out the Naval Historical Center's website on the U.S.S. Maine for an overview essay on the sinking of the ship, a page full of historic photos and art, and lists of casualties and survivors. An excellent resource.

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The Platt Amendment
The text of the Platt Amendment, passed by Congress in 1901, which set out guidelines for relations between Cuba and the United States in the wake of Cuba's freedom from Spain.

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The World of 1898: Cuba
This Library of Congress website includes an extensive background essay on Cuba in the months leading up to the Spanish American War. The timeline from 1898 through 1899 is illustrated.

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U.S.S. Maine Memorial
The anchor and the mast of the U.S.S. Maine form part of the memorial to the American lives lost when it was sunk in 1898. This site has pictures of the memorial and two newspaper articles written for the 100th anniversary of the event, one written from the U.S., the other from Cuba, proof that time alone does not settle controversy.

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Yellow Journalism
A webpage devoted to yellow journalism from PBS's Crucible of Empire website. Illustrated and has links to biographies and further information.

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"Remember the Maine": The Beginnings of War

Soon after their invention, motion pictures became a popular attraction in vaudeville and variety stage venues. Events such as the Spanish-American War increased the movies' popularity, since films of the war sparked great interest and patriotism in theater-goers. Their interest was certainly strengthened by the press which exploited the events occurring in Cuba in order to attract a larger circulation. Sensationalist stories of Spanish atrocities abounded in the newspapers and encouraged motion picture producers to take advantage of a potentially lucrative situation.

The films of the Spanish-American War in the Library of Congress' collections are from two companies, the Edison Manufacturing Company and the American Mutoscope & Biograph Company, both of which played a prominent role in filming subjects related to the war.

After riots broke out in Havana, Cuba, in January 1898, the battleship U.S.S. Maine was sent there to safeguard American interests, although the Secretary of the Navy, John D. Long, insisted that it was only making a friendly call. A mysterious explosion destroyed the Maine on February 15, 1898, while in the Havana Harbor. Although the cause of the explosion was unknown, the American public soon became consumed with "war fever," blaming the Spanish in Cuba for the attack.

The Biograph Co. reacted quickly to this event by taking the film Battleships "Iowa" and "Massachusetts" and retitling it as Battleships "Maine" and "Iowa" to capitalize on popular interest. Biograph also took advantage of a visit to New York by the Spanish battleship Vizcaya on February 28 to film it.

Cameramen Billy Bitzer and Arthur Marvin were sent almost immediately by Biograph to Cuba to film events related to the increasing tensions. There they filmed the wreckage of the Maine and other motion pictures in Havana. Other Biograph film crews were sent to Washington, D.C., to film ships, cavalry, and Theodore Roosevelt. The resulting motion pictures proved very popular to vaudeville audiences who were eager to see views of the situation.

The Edison Manufacturing Co. was determined not to let Biograph dominate the market for films of this fast-approaching war and hired William Paley, an independent cameraman, as a licensee to cover the Cuban crisis. Newspaper publisher William Randolph Hearst supplied transportation for Paley and a reporter from the New York Journal, Karl Decker, on the Journal's dispatch yacht Buccaneer. Paley first went to Key West, Florida, where he filmed Burial of the "Maine" Victims. Other films he shot in the Key West area include War Correspondents, which featured a staged race between reporters to the cable office to telegraph war news, and the U.S. Battleship "Indiana", part of Admiral Sampson's North Atlantic Squadron that would see action in a blockade of Cuba and the Battle of Santiago de Cuba. Paley then traveled down to Havana Harbor where he filmed Wreck of the Battleship "Maine" and Morro Castle, Havana Harbor. Afterwards, he traveled to Washington, D.C., where he filmed Secretary of the Navy Long and Captain Sigsbee of the Maine on the steps of the Navy Department.

On April 19, 1898, Congress passed a joint resolution recognizing Cuban independence and demanding Spanish withdrawal from Cuba, which was signed by President William McKinley the following day. The President was also granted the power to use military might to enforce the resolution. Spain officially broke off relations with the United States on April 21, enabling Congress to declare on April 25 that a state of war had existed between the two countries since April 21.

Paley was sent back to Florida in May to film preparations for the war. Tampa, Florida, was one of the main assembly points for troops to be trained and acclimatized to tropical conditions. The Expeditionary Force that was to invade Cuba was assembled at Tampa consisting mostly of the Fifth and Seventh Corps. The Fifth Corps was made up of regular soldiers, rather than volunteers. The Army in Tampa was unprepared to deal with such a large influx of troops. A shortage of supplies, food, and proper accommodations resulted. Boredom also became rampant as the army waited for orders to leave Tampa. Paley filmed the troops performing various duties in Tampa before they shipped out to Cuba, those shipping out included the Rough Riders and the 2nd Battalion of Colored Infantry. Paley also filmed escaped Cuban reconcentrados--Cubans who had been forcibly relocated into concentration camps in Cuba by the Spanish authorities. Approximately 100,000 Cubans had died in these camps as a result of poor living conditions, which caused many in the U.S. to decry their use. Paley filmed the first ship to leave with troops to the front, the transport Whitney which carried a battalion of the 5th Infantry.

On May 20, 1898, the Edison Manufacturing Company released a special supplement to its catalog entitled War Extra, which included the Paley films. This bulletin offered "pictures of stirring camp life, transportation of troops and general bustle of military preparations." It further promised that the motion pictures would be "sure to satisfy the craving of the general public for absolutely true and accurate details regarding the movements of the United States Army getting ready for the invasion of Cuba."

Films of the Beginnings of War

Films of Military Preparations


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