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The Spanish-American War & Panama Canal



The Spanish-American War

The president of the U.S. during the Spanish-American War was William McKinley.

The U.S. fought Spain in April-August 1898; the war started when the U.S.S. Maine, an American battleship, blew up in Havana, Cuba.  Cuba was owned by Spain, and the U.S. blamed Spain for the attack.  American newspapers also distorted facts and made the Spanish look much worse than they were, in what we call "yellow journalism."

The fighting lasted only 4 months, and the U.S. won.  Spain gave Cuba its independence, and also gave the U.S. three of its territories: the Philippines (a group of islands in Southeast Asia), Guam (a tiny island in the Pacific), and Puerto Rico (a large island in the Atlantic/Caribbean). 

The U.S. still owns Guam and P.R. today, and the Philippines became an independent country in 1946.

T. Roosevelt and the Panama Canal

McKinley was assassinated in 1901, and his vice-president, Theodore Roosevelt, became president.

Theodore Roosevelt was a war hero from the Spanish-American War, and wanted to show the rest of the world how powerful America was.  He said the U.S. should "speak softly and carry a big stick," which meant that America would deal with other nations by talking first, but would use military force in other countries if necessary to achieve its goals.  This idea of potentially bullying other countries to get what the U.S. wants is called "big stick diplomacy."

As part of his "big stick diplomacy" idea, Roosevelt helped Panama become free from Colombia; then the U.S. funded and built the Panama Canal, which linked the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans at the isthmus of Panama.  During the construction of the canal, thousands of workers died from mosquito-carried diseases, such as malaria and yellow fever; but after draining the swamps and putting up nets, the death toll decreased.

The canal opened in 1914.  Now, boats didn't have to go all the way around the bottom of South America just to get from one coast to the other.

The canal gave the U.S. access to world trade, and gave the U.S. Navy access to defend U.S. interests all over the world.



  • Millions of people immigrated to the U.S. in the early 1900s; many came because their home governments were too corrupt or weak; others came to make money and to have better opportunities.
  • A famous battle took place in the Black Hills of South Dakota, between the a group of U.S. Army soldiers, led by George Custer, and the Sioux Indians, led by Sitting Bull.  Custer and his men were slaughtered, at the Battle of Little Bighorn, also known as Custer’s Last Stand; but the Indians surrendered later.