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!

  • 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. Jun 25, 2013 at 9:35
  • I've updated my answer, adding a source
    – Voitcus
    Jun 25, 2013 at 13:48
  • 2
    @FelixGoldberg Neither Cuba nor the Philippines were in South America last time I checked a map. Cuba shores are just a few miles from Miami.
    – Rekesoft
    May 10, 2019 at 11:36

7 Answers 7


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 lose. 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 fighting.

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, e.g. 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 sovereignty 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.

  • 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. Jun 25, 2013 at 9:15
  • 1
    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. Jun 25, 2013 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, 2013 at 9:25
  • @FelixGoldberg I updated the answer
    – Voitcus
    Jun 25, 2013 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 and the general feelings of the population at that moment..

Spanish-American war is known informally in Spain as "The Cuban War". It mainly represents the end of the Spanish Empire as we lost the last colony. 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 considered America as our empire...

About the Maine explosion

There are three theories about it:

  • It was an accident (Probably the correct)
  • It was originated by Americans to have a Casus Belli (Cuba & Spain)
  • It was an attack from Spain (US, supported by war interested groups: William Randolph Hearst and Joseph Pulitzer)

The theory of an inside job was widely spread among Spanish population in that moment and following years ("What an useful coincidence"). Nowadays the people think that was an accidental explosion. Nearly no one in Spain believes that it was an attack from Spain.

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 and 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. Most of the people 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 "two 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 and I remember my grandparent, an air force general, telling me his vision of this history. He was born in 1920 and he really felt, influence of his father and the rest of the society, the pessimistic view and sadness. It was shocking seeing how important this was for him. He thought Spain had an incorrect approach about colonies and we should had followed a different approach as the British did with the Common Wealth.

Twenty years later something similar happened again in Spain: 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.
  • 1
    If you want more support for the accidental nature of the explosion on the Maine, a good source is Admiral Hyman G. Rickover's book covering the investigation into that incident. How the Battleship Maine Was Destroyed Mar 21, 2016 at 13:09
  • Thanks. It would be cool to know more about it. In that moment the general feeling in Spain was something like what a suspicious coincidence!. Now the feeling is "Maine? Cuban War? What is this?" :-) Mar 21, 2016 at 15:15
  • 1
    I think there are good odds that the second series of El Ministerio del Tiempo will end up covering the Cuban War in more detail than it has to date, and that will raise its profile among Spanish jóvenes. Mar 26, 2016 at 11:32
  • Maybe. That show is being a big success in Spain :-) Mar 28, 2016 at 10:38
  • 3
    You really need to drop the conspiracy theory junk about the Maine being blown up by the US. There were cheaper ways to get a war started in those days than losing a battleship and crew.
    – Oldcat
    Apr 8, 2016 at 0:05

Spain's feeling was that this was another instance of meddling in "internal affairs" by the expansionist American Colossus. Yes, Spain declared war to "preserve her honor," but Spain really had no reason to hope for success.

By about 1900, America had nearly four times the population and eight times the GDP of Spain. (This was a near-reversal from the relationship in 1800.) Moreover, the Americans had been the first to build ironclads, and by 1900, only Britain and Germany had stronger navies than the Americans (France had about the same).

The current thinking is that the blowing up of the Maine, the official casus belli, was accidental. At the time, both sides accused the other of "manufacturing" an incident. While probably neither occurred, Spain had less cause to do such a thing than America.

Spain had spent the previous two and half centuries "losing" her empire. This was just the latest in a string of losses that showed how much the rest of the world, including the American "newcomer," had passed Spain by. The country swallowed this with resignation.


A war non-wanted by Spain but was used by press as a justified case to defend cuba.

In the final XIX. century had just discovered new updated modern armament, however, in that moment, was one step behind big power.

In the navy, the new adquisitions were 1 submarine, 1 battleship, 4 heavy cruisers, 4 destroyers and the rest of the fleet was simply to modernize the obsolete armament of the warships. In quality, the majority of the warships were outdated by the time of the war, In quantity were a lot. The biggest warships were 2 Ironclad (outdated) and 1 battleship (recently acquired). So, in correct terms, was in process to modernize the navy.

When the war started, the oldest warships were in Philippines so thats why for the modern US navy was like a "walk". In contrast, Cuba was reinforced with the new 3 destroyers and new 4 heavy cruisers that were modern for the time, but they faced to the big 5 US Battleships. I mean, too much for them.

The case of the army was like the navy, also modernizing, machineguns, modern rifles etc... in spite of acquiring new innovations didnt arrive to the whole infantry.

At the end, USA was facing Spain in its worst moment. The rif war in the middle of First world war marked the last chance to recover the ancient status. That war was costly but at the end recovered reputation. Spain had the fleet completely modern, even, the air force and tanks industry born.

  • This answer would be stronger with sources.
    – MCW
    Mar 20, 2016 at 15:06
  • USA was attacking Spain in its weakest moment just trying to modernizing the outdated navy and army. Mar 21, 2016 at 17:24
  • Compare with the ww2 when USA and Japan were in their best moment. The navy world ranks: USA 2º and Japan 3º. UK was the first but were in two fronts with majority of the fleet concentrate in Europe. That war was a real war. Mar 21, 2016 at 17:32
  • All I recall is Great Britain calling Spain the "sick man of Europe" at the time and the Charge up San Juan Hill™ being anything but...with top of the line German Officers and weapons guarding that position actually. Jun 25, 2016 at 14:01

From Spanish perspective Cuba was as Spanish as modern day Alaska o Hawaii American for the USA. The war was considered as civil unrest.

Yet, the war has been dragging on intermitently for years, and the small, but steady number of casualties turned the public opinión as tired of the war as was the Viet-Nam war for the American public after 1968.

The fleet was not outdated, the average age of the main ships of the line was 10 years.

Nevertheless, the design reflected a strategic differences with the US fleet: The strategic scenario handled was that Spain might fight a seagoing campaign on two fronts: Cuba and the Philipines. As such, ships must have great seagoing capabilities and authonomy. To achieve this, they somewhat needed to sacrifice armour and firepower (speed and moeuvring would compensate for this). On the other side, the US fleet was the oppsite: Designed as leviathans for coastal defense, they had faulty designs (rememeber the Maine and her explosión) and rather por seagoing capabilities. But on the other side they sported a very consitent armour and firepower. With this in mind, the original Spanish plan was to dedícate the fleet for commerce riding and hit-and-run tactics along the US Eastern coast, which was largely unprotected with outdated 1860's rempart. This looked feasible, as experience showed that they always outmanoeuvred the US fleet. The British Empire forbade this possibility arguing about the liberty of the seas. As such -and mainly for political reasons- the fleet was sent to a pitched battle both in Manila and Santiago with the expected results: Whilst the hit-per-shot ratio was greater on the Spanish side tan on the US, the Spanish shells could not pierce US armour, whilst the US could... simple physics. That is why the Spanish commander Cervera tried again and again to reason with Madrid about the folly of engaging the US fleet at 70 miles of US territory.


Only has to see the differences:

The battle of Cuba:

Spanish Fleet:

  1. 4 heavy cruisers
  2. 2 destroyers.

American Fleet:

  1. 5 battleships
  2. 1 heavy cruiser
  3. 2 light cruisers.

At the battle of Manila Bay:

Spanish Fleet:

  1. 2 medium cruisers (outdated, did not even have any metal armor)
  2. 4 light cruisers
  3. 1 gunboat.

American Fleet:

  1. 1 heavy cruiser
  2. 3 medium cruisers
  3. 2 gunboats.

The differences are outstanding.

In Spanish possession were:

  1. 2 Ironclads (outdated)
  2. 1 modern battleship
  3. 3 destroyers
  4. 1 submarine
  5. 1 heavy cruiser
  6. Several light cruisers.

The armament couldnt be said as outdated "the Hontoria guns" were good for that time, even were exported to the UK but the best guns and the best armour was for the only Spanish Battleship Pelayo.

These are the best details of the Spanish navy in that time.

  • Don't forget Panama as well. At the time there was "Gran Colombia" which was a very impressive Empire on paper. The Germans moved strongly into Venezuela after Teddy's little "adventure"...one that caused a great deal of diplomatic effort to "keep cool" during his Presidency. Jun 25, 2016 at 14:07

In reality, Spain was not in such a bad technological position: the Spanish fleet had the first military submarine (1888) and the first destroyer (1887) in history, however they didnt have modern shypyards to build them.

The ironclads and the first battleship were made in French sypyards, and the destroyers in UK.

The shipyard In Cadiz built submarines (since 1888), and Bizcaye (in Basque country) the cruisers (starting in 1889). The renowned Galician shipyard was not ready until 1909 to build battleships. In other words, Spain needed more time to renew the fleet. At the time of the Spanish-America war, Cuba received the first Spanish-Basque modern cruisers with the new British made destroyers designed by Spanish engineers. In other words, the USA had the capacity to build and modernize their fleet rapidly and earlier than Spain. So, at the time of the war, Spain was not ready.

Many Spanish industrial companies were in commercial alliance with UK. Even in WW1 many ships for the Spanish merchant fleet were sunk by the German navy.

Spain was a country trying to reach the level of big European powers, after a long period of instability in the greater part of the 19th Century. It even was investing a lot in technology military, behind only the USA. "Spain was in race running but with the rivals having a lot of advantage".

  • Your last sentence looks like its supposed to be quoting someone. Who? Do you have a link?
    – T.E.D.
    Jul 29, 2016 at 20:51
  • Its only the a personal expression of the situation of spain in that moment. Jul 30, 2016 at 9:39
  • The destroyer was the project of Fernando Villaami, the design was approved and was order to built in a British Shypyard the success of the warship was awarded with the idea to make a serie of this ship for the navy. In contrast, the submarine was the project of isaac Peral. The design was approved but with not enthusiasm, fact that limited the capacity of the Inventor. In spite of success of all the tests was considered a secondary warship without importance and was leave it for later. Aug 5, 2016 at 12:13

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