Explosion of the USS Maine

Historical content: 
American Imperialism
Historical skills: 
Contextualization, Sourcing, Use of evidence



Use the background information, the documents below, and your knowledge of history to answer the questions that follow. 

Source text: 

Document A: In 1898, the battleship USS Maine was sent to Havana, Cuba, to protect U.S. interests during a Cuban revolt against Spain. On February 14, the vessel exploded and sank. Many Americans blamed Spain, and the incident helped trigger the Spanish-American War. The excerpt below is from an official report of a U.S. Naval Court of Inquiry into the sinking of the Maine. The report was released on March 21, 1898.   

“… [T]he vertical keel [of the ship] is broken in two and the flat keel is bent at an angle similar to the angle formed by the outside bottom plating. This break is now about six feet below the surface of the water, and about thirty feet above its normal position.
. . . . In the opinion of the court, the MAINE was destroyed by the explosion of a submarine mine, which caused the partial explosion of two or more of her [ammunition storage rooms] . . . . The court has been unable to obtain evidence fixing the responsibility for the destruction of the MAINE upon any person or persons.”

Document B: This excerpt appeared as a front-page story on March 6, 1898, in The San Francisco Call. 

“The Call correspondent has the best of grounds for saying that Consul General Lee   . . . has been quietly conducting an investigation of his own, independently of the Naval Court; that he has employed detectives who have obtained front Havana sailors evidence strongly pointing to a plot to destroy the Maine, and that he filed a report with the State Department expressing the opinion that although the Spanish Government was not in any way responsible for the Maine's destruction, it appears the work was done by Spaniards who were sympathizers of [Spain’s governor in Cuba] Weyler.”

Question 1: In the weeks after the loss of the Maine, confusion about what caused the explosion added to American tensions with Spain over Cuba. How does Document A provide evidence of this confusion?

Question 2: How does Document B also provide evidence of this confusion?

About the Assessment

Like Opposition to the Philippine-American War, this assessment gauges students’ ability to reason about how evidence supports a historical argument.  Students must explain how a report by the Naval Court of Inquiry and a San Francisco newspaper article both support the conclusion that confusion surrounded the sinking of the USS Maine at the time.