The Rough Riders

GabeAmerican History(ML), Mini Lessons

Read from Common Sense American History eBook.:

On Feb. 15, 1898, the Maine exploded in Havana harbor, killing 235 sailors and quickly sinking the ship. No cause was ever determined for the explosion. Whether it was the result of a Spanish mine or coal dust igniting has never been proven. But the national press, including the newspapers of Joseph Pulitzer and William Randolph Hearst, used the crisis to antagonize for war against Spain. After Congress threatened to push for war, McKinley secured $50 million to fund the purchase of weapons; he then sought negotiations with the Spanish to end the conflict.

However, an American inquiry which blamed the Maine explosion on the Spanish and a nationalist outage—labeled jingoism—pushed McKinley toward war; it was declared on Apr. 11, 1898. “At last, God’s hour has struck,” imperialist Senator Albert Beveridge argued. “The American people go forth in a war holier than liberty—holy as humanity.”

The first success in the Spanish-American War came not in Cuba but in the Spanish colony of the Philippines. There, Admiral George Dewey’s fleet dispatched from Hong Kong before the declaration of war by Assistant Secretary of the Navy Theodore Roosevelt, and sailed into Manila Bay and destroyed the Spanish fleet with the loss of one American life.

Americans flocked to recruiting stations to join the military and when the four-month conflict ended in Aug. 1898, a total of 5,462 Americans had died. Only 379 died in combat, the rest from disease. Theodore Roosevelt resigned his commission, bought his own fancy Brooks Brothers uniform, paid for a ship and led a ragtag group of soldiers known as the Rough Riders into combat in Cuba, solidifying his reputation not only as an imperialist, but as an American hero.

  1. Why did the United States abandon its policy of staying out of foreign wars?
  2. Intervention in other countries is usually motivated by two, sometimes complementary and sometimes competing motivations: national interest in protecting borders, American citizens’ rights abroad, and commerce or access to resources, on the one hand, and to promote human rights, democracy, and freedom on the other. How do you think we, as a country, should balance these two motivations?
  3. Do you think soldiers are heroes? If so, why. If not, why not?

This reading is an excerpt from Certell’s Common Sense American History eBook.  Certell offers curriculum materials and eBooks free of charge for students and teachers.  Click Here to download the Common Sense American History materials.

Image Citation:

26, Jan. 2018, Troop K, Rough Riders [Digital photograph].  Retrieved from <>