History Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for historians and history buffs. It's 100% free, no registration required.

Sign up
Here's how it works:
  1. Anybody can ask a question
  2. Anybody can answer
  3. The best answers are voted up and rise to the top

What did the Spanish-American war look like from Spain's perspective? Did the general population support the war? What were the reasons why Spain lost, was the general public aware of these reasons during/after the war, and what did they do about them? Thanks!

share|improve this question
I tool the liberty to remove the north-american tag which is not very relevant since the war was in south america and the united-states tag is present anyway. On the other had I added the social-history tag which seems appropriate. – Felix Goldberg Jun 25 '13 at 9:35
I've updated my answer, adding a source – Voitcus Jun 25 '13 at 13:48
up vote 7 down vote accepted

How would it matter if people support war when Spain was not the aggressor? They supported it as it was a defensive war. In these times it was obvious to fight.

I read a Polish book, some years ago, later on the evening (I live in CET zone) I will provide this as a source if someone is interested, but the main idea was that Spanish knew they were about to loose. EDIT: I added this below as UPDATE 2

It was just a matter of honour for them. I think, however, they did not expect it would end so soon and in such decisive way.

The reasons were obvious: long distance from Spain both to Cuba/Puerto Rico and Philippines, much worse navy and fighting (on Cuba) in fact on enemy terrain. After losing the core of her navy, Spain was not able to continue fightings.

The Wikipedia states

The loss of Cuba caused a national trauma because of the affinity of peninsular Spaniards with Cuba, which was seen as another province of Spain rather than as a colony (...) The Spanish soldier Julio Cervera Baviera, who served in the Puerto Rican Campaign, published a pamphlet in which he blamed the natives of that colony for its occupation by the Americans, saying: "I have never seen such a servile, ungrateful country [i.e., Puerto Rico].... In twenty-four hours, the people of Puerto Rico went from being fervently Spanish to enthusiastically American.... They humiliated themselves, giving in to the invader as the slave bows to the powerful lord."

You might want to read it further, as it is shown, that the war led eventually to economic success for Spain. Please also read about Generation of '98.


As Felix Goldberg noticed in his comment below the post, the problem seems to be more complicated than I expected at first.

It is clear that US wanted to control Cuba and did some provocations (like USS Maine), but it was Spain who declared war. In the Library of Congress there is a timeline of events and shortly the Cuban insurrection (but this could be some disorder) began, than Philippine revolution started.

It seems that Spain asked European powers for assistance, eg. on 1896-08-09

Great Britain foils Spain's attempt to obtain European support for Spanish policies in Cuba.

[1896] William Warren Kimball, U.S. Naval Academy graduate and intelligence officer, completed a strategic study of the implications of war with Spain. His plan called for an operation to free Cuba through naval action, which included blockade, attacks on Manila, and attacks on the Spanish Mediterranean coast.

(The last part proves Felix's note about not losing core of her fleet but core of expeditionary forces. Spain could have had some knowledge and the threat of attack in Europe could be serious).

This suggests that USA made aggressive policy against Spain, while Spain was attempting to find (after military suppression, however) peace solution, for example on 1898-01-01 Spain grants limited autonomy to Cuba. (it was before USS Maine).

On 1898-03-29

The United States Government issued an ultimatum to the Spanish Government to terminate its presence in Cuba. Spain did not accept the ultimatum in its reply of April 1, 1898.

It was obvious that Spain could have not accepted it. It was a common practice, and such ultimatum was a direct reason of the WW1. This was also backed by newspaper propaganda. What I may suppose, such ultimatum was not welcomed in Spain and moreover, on 1898-04-13

The U.S. Congress agreed to President McKinley's request for intervention in Cuba, but without recognition of the Cuban Government.

This is obviously aggressive policy against interior policy of Spain. So on the same day or before April 19th

The Spanish government declared that the sovereignity of Spain was jeopardized by U.S. policy and prepared a special budget for war expenses.

This eventually led to declaration of war by Spain.


The book I was referring to was "Wojna amerykańsko-hiszpańska na morzu 1898" by Paweł Olender.

Some citations (translated by myself):

[page 10]

Z biegiem czasu w obozie hiszpańskim zaczęły ujawniać się tendencje pojednawcze. W paździeniku 1897 r. został odwołany z Kuby gen. Weyler, zwolennik bezpardonowej walki z powstańcami, a w niecały miesiąc później rząd hiszpański nadał Kubie autonomię.

Over the time, the Spanish camp was beginning to show trends conciliation. On October 1897, General Weyler, a relentless supporter of the fight against insurgents, was dismissed from Cuba and in less than a month later, the Spanish government gave autonomy to Cuba.

In the Cuba herself there were also anti-American riots:

[page 11]

(...) w większych miastach Kuby, szczególnie tam, gdzie spory procent stanowili Hiszpanie, dochodziło raz po raz do wystąpień antyamerykańskich. Między innymi, 15 stycznia oraz w przeciągu kilkunastu następnych dni, doszło do gwałtownych demonstracji zorganizowanych przez nacjonalistów hiszpańskich w Hawanie.

(...) in the larger cities of Cuba, especially where large percent of people were Hispanic, there were occurring from time to time anti-American demonstrations. Among other things, on January 15th, and within the next few days, there were violent demonstrations organized by Spanish nationalists in Havana.

[page 29]

Dowództwo nad ostatnim zespołem [floty] powierzono (...) kontradm. Cerverze. Był to bez wątpienia oficer zdolny, energiczny, odważny i zdyscyplinowany, (...) jednak wybranie go na to stanowisko było o tyle błędne, że nie wierzył on zbytnio w możliwość zwycięstwa nad Stanami Zjednoczonymi. (...) Na usprawiedliwienie tego faktu można jedynie dodać, że podobnie myślała wówczas większość oficerów liniowych marynarki hiszpańskiej i władzom trudno było znaleźć kogoś odpowiedniejszego na to stanowisko.

The command of the last unit [of the fleet] was given to (...)Rear-admiral Cervera. It was undoubtedly a capable officer, energetic, courageous and disciplined, (...), but nominating him was wrong as he did not believe too much in the possibility of victory over the United States. (...) As the justification for this one can only add that, just thought the majority of line officers of the Spanish Navy and it was difficult for authorities to find someone more suitable for the position.

(later a memo of Cervera taken from S.G. Nunez The Spanish-American War. Blocades and Coast Defence, Washington 1899, pp. 33-34)

The book says nothing about common people in Spain. It seems, that as military officers were against the war, they were forced to act by politicians.

share|improve this answer
Overall, good answer and +1. I have a quibble though: wikipedia says: "With two obsolete Spanish squadrons sunk in Santiago de Cuba and Manila Bay and a third, more modern fleet recalled home to protect the Spanish coasts, Madrid sued for peace." So it seems that Spain did not lose the core of her navy after all. – Felix Goldberg Jun 25 '13 at 9:15
Another thing: You seem to assume that the Spanish people supported the war, which stands to reason. But it'd be nice to see some sources or references for that. – Felix Goldberg Jun 25 '13 at 9:15
By core of fleet I meant expeditionary force. And, I really have no prove for the support (I'm wondering why OP accepted the answer as I'm awaiting for an extended one), but this is an assumption made on basis of 19th cent. people thinking. There were no protests like "Hands of Viet Nam" etc. As Cuba "was considered" to be a Spanish province, it was obvious to defend it. But I read more deeply in the subject and the war was declared by Spain, so I will edit my answer. – Voitcus Jun 25 '13 at 9:25
@FelixGoldberg I updated the answer – Voitcus Jun 25 '13 at 9:46

I am not really an expert on history but I can give you a insider view (I am Spanish) from what we study at school and from what my grandfather told me.

Spanish-American war is known informally as "The Cuban War". It mainly represents the end of the Spanish Empire as we lose the last colonies. We still had at that time some colonies in Africa (Morocco, Sahara and Guinea) but for some reason it was considered "The End of the Empire", probably because we consider America as our empire...

About the Maine explosion

Maine explosion was an accident or originated by Americans to have a Casus Belli. The theory of an inside job was widely spread about population in that moment. Nowadays most of the people think that was an accidental explosion.

About the war itself

The general feeling is that we were drawn into war by Americans. Even if the Spanish Army in Cuba was ok, the Spanish Navy was clearly obsolete, they had no chance against modern warships. The Spanish Admiral Cervera was ordered to break the blockade. He thought it was a suicide, he sent a telegram to Government in Spain but honored the order. He sailed close to the coast to make easier for sailors to save their lives. Spanish government tried to prosecute Cervera but he was so popular that charges were withdrawn.

Everybody in Spain thought that Cervera was a hero with an impossible task by corrupt politicians.

After the war

As Voitcus correctly indicates, Cuba was another province of Spain with same rights as regions like Madrid or Galicia. Most of the Spaniards felt humiliated.. by their own country. People thought that there were to Spains: The official one, a fake Spain and the real one, sad, poor and pessimistic.

This war is the origin of "Generation of 98", an important cultural movement.

I studied this at school buy I remember my grandparent telling me this history. He was born in 1920 and he really felt, influence of his father and the rest of the society, that pessimistic view and sadness. He told me that Spain had an incorrect approach about colonies and we should had followed a different approach as the British did with the Common Wealth.

20 years later something similar happened again in Spain when the Annual Disaster, where irregular troops from Morocco defeated the "superior" Spanish regular army, again because of corruption.


  • Even people in Spain knew that Cubans were unhappy, they felt Cuba was part of Spain and totally supported the war.
  • Losing Cuba War meant the End of the Spanish Empire
  • The aftermath overall feeling was pessimism.
share|improve this answer

Your Answer


By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.