Manifest destiny and the Spanish American War
In the mid-1880s politicians, scholars, editors, and ministers continued to support the concept that it was America’s manifest destiny to be the guiding light of the world. America was claimed to have perfected liberty for its inhabitants, which probably came as a surprise to the former slaves and their descendants in the segregated South, as well as the immigrants living in the tenements of the Northern cities. American women were still seeking the vote, with little support and less success. For the proponents of manifest destiny was time to move the concept of American virtues overseas, and the revolution against Spanish rule in Cuba was an opportunity to bring them to the benighted island.
During the Spanish American War the United States Navy destroyed Spanish Naval squadrons in the Philippines and Cuba, and swept aside Spanish troops on the island of Cuba. Cuba had long been a target for American expansion, but the United States did not retain the island following the brief war with Spain. The United States did however expand into the Pacific by forcing Spain to cede the Philippines and Guam. In the Caribbean the US claimed the island of Puerto Rico. That same year President William McKinley annexed the Hawaiian Islands, formerly the Republic of Hawaii, claiming that the United States needed the islands, “…as much and a good deal more than we needed California. It is manifest destiny.”
The annexation of Hawaii included Midway Island (which is actually an island group), Palmyra Island, and Johnston Island, among others. Manifest destiny extended into the Pacific. Part of the reason was the need to maintain overseas coaling stations for the coal burning ships of the day, and part of the reason was to deny their use by potential enemies. The Pacific islands were acquired as colonial possessions, rather than as territories intended to become additional states, for over a century all have remained US possessions (other than the Philippines and the state of Hawaii). Cuba was considered a protectorate of the United States.
The Spanish American War was the end of Spain as an imperial power and as an international power, a gap into which the American government promptly stepped. What some called manifest destiny others, including Grover Cleveland, called imperialism, since none of the territories acquired by the United States were likely to become states. Hawaii finally did, after years of heavy American military presence altered the demographic makeup of the islands. Within a few years of seizing the former Spanish territories, the United States acquired the Canal Zone, a step in the completion of the Panama Canal begun by France, which they had failed to complete.
The great empires of Europe, the Russian, German, French, and of course the global British Empire, viewed this expression of manifest destiny, if that is what it was, with increasing alarm. The Germans, British, and Dutch competed for the wealth of the Southwest Pacific, with its reserves of oil, rubber, and coal. So did the emerging Japanese empire. From the end of the Spanish American War through the end of the Cold War the United States considered the Pacific to be a vital part of its national interests, and still maintains military bases and satellite tracking and communications stations throughout its vast expanse.