Peace and Power

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From start to finish, news of the Spanish-American War gripped Americans from coast to coast. In this photo, a crowd of ten thousand gather in Dawson City, Alaska to hear news of the "sea fight at Santiago" in Cuba. Courtesy of University of Washington.

The Spanish-American War was over almost as quickly as it started.

In November 1898, the US and Spain met in Paris to draft a treaty. Initially the US stood firm in its commitment to independence. Congress went so far as to add the Teller Amendment to the war declaration to prohibit the annexation of Cuba. Peace negotiations, however, revealed the US's more opportunistic, more imperialistic agenda. The Treaty of Paris granted independence to Cuba and forced Spain to cede Guam, Puerto Rico, and the Philippines to the US.

The war also established the policies and players of America’s growing empire. Most notably Theodore Roosevelt became a national hero. Memoirs, silent films, and traveling shows celebrated how he and his Rough Riders, a volunteer cavalry regiment, fought through Cuba. Roosevelt channeled this celebrity and bravado into his political career. As president, he "walked softly and carried a big stick," aggressively defending American territory and policy. He assured critics: "so long as a nation shows that it knows how to act with decency… it need fear no interference from the United States." Still, he and his supporters pressed on to make the "United States the dominant power on the shores of the Pacific Ocean."

The age of imperialism had begun.