Patriot Info Blog America How Did the Spanish American War Lead to Debates in the US About Foreign Policy

How Did the Spanish American War Lead to Debates in the US About Foreign Policy

How Did the Spanish American War Lead to Debates in the US About Foreign Policy


The Spanish American War, which took place in 1898, was a significant event in American history that played a crucial role in shaping the country’s foreign policy. The conflict between the United States and Spain over the control of Cuba and the Philippines resulted in a decisive American victory, but it also ignited numerous debates and discussions about the nation’s role in global affairs. This article will explore how the Spanish American War led to debates in the US about foreign policy and its consequences on the nation’s international relations.

I. Causes of the Spanish American War:

Before delving into the debates, it is essential to understand the causes of the Spanish American War. The conflict erupted primarily due to the American sympathy towards the Cuban struggle for independence from Spanish colonial rule. The American media played a significant role in shaping public opinion through sensationalized reports, known as “yellow journalism,” which depicted Spain’s brutal treatment of the Cuban population. This growing sentiment, coupled with the mysterious explosion of the USS Maine in Havana harbor, led to a war fever in the US.

II. Debates on Interventionism:

The Spanish American War marked a turning point in American foreign policy as it thrust the nation onto the global stage. One of the key debates that emerged was whether the US should intervene in foreign conflicts. Many argued that the United States had a moral obligation to support the Cuban rebels in their fight against Spanish oppression. They believed that the nation’s democratic principles required it to aid other nations seeking independence and freedom. However, others argued that intervening in foreign conflicts would divert attention and resources from domestic issues.

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III. Imperialism vs. Anti-Imperialism:

The victory in the Spanish American War brought the United States new territories, including Puerto Rico, Guam, and the Philippines. This expansion raised a fundamental debate between those who supported imperialism and those who opposed it. Imperialists believed that the US should acquire colonies to establish a global presence and secure economic interests. They argued that colonization would provide new markets and resources, promoting the nation’s economic growth. On the contrary, anti-imperialists believed that acquiring colonies contradicted American ideals of self-determination and democratic values. They feared that imperialism would lead to the exploitation of people in the newly acquired territories and potentially drag the US into endless conflicts.

IV. Racial and Cultural Superiority:

Another relevant debate that arose from the Spanish American War revolved around racial and cultural superiority. The war brought the United States into contact with new peoples and cultures, challenging traditional perceptions of American exceptionalism. Some argued that the US had a civilizing mission to spread its values and institutions to “inferior” nations. This perspective was often rooted in racist ideologies that considered non-white populations as being incapable of self-governance. However, others rejected these notions, advocating for respect and equality among all nations, regardless of race or culture.

V. Impact on US Foreign Policy:

The Spanish American War had a profound impact on US foreign policy, shaping the nation’s approach towards international relations for years to come. The debates and discussions that emerged during this period influenced subsequent foreign policy decisions, including those related to World War I, World War II, and the Cold War. The war also marked a shift towards a more interventionist foreign policy, with the United States becoming increasingly involved in global affairs.

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Q: Did the Spanish American War directly lead to the US becoming a global superpower?

A: While the Spanish American War did contribute to the United States’ growing global influence, it was not the sole factor. The war marked a significant step in the nation’s expansionist ambitions, but it was the subsequent events, such as World War I and World War II, that solidified the US as a global superpower.

Q: What were the long-term consequences of the Spanish American War on US foreign policy?

A: The Spanish American War marked a shift towards a more interventionist foreign policy for the United States. It established a precedent for military interventions and the acquisition of overseas territories, leading to debates and discussions about America’s role in the world. These discussions influenced subsequent foreign policy decisions, especially during the 20th century.

Q: How did the Spanish American War affect relations between the United States and Latin American countries?

A: The Spanish American War improved relations between the United States and Latin American countries to some extent. However, the acquisition of Puerto Rico and the Philippines raised concerns among Latin American nations, as it seemed to signal a move towards imperialism. This led to tensions and suspicions between the United States and its Latin American neighbors, which persisted for several years.


The Spanish American War ignited debates in the United States about foreign policy, forever altering the nation’s approach towards global affairs. The conflict raised questions about interventionism, imperialism, racial superiority, and cultural equality, shaping subsequent discussions and decisions. The war’s impact on US foreign policy was profound, leading to a more interventionist stance and setting the stage for America’s rise as a global superpower in the 20th century.

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