By the 1890s, the only remaining Spanish colonies in the Western Hemisphere were Cuba and Puerto Rico. The former was of great interest to the United States because of a profitable trade in sugar. The relationship deteriorated quickly, however, following enactment of the Wilson-Gorman Tariff in 1894, which removed Cuban sugar from the free list. The resulting duties severely impacted the sugar business in Cuba and sparked a widespread depression. In 1895, the harsh economic conditions touched off another in a series of insurrections by the native people against the Spanish government.
William McKinley took office in early 1897 and made it known that he favored neutrality in the fight between Spain and its colony. An increasing segment of American public opinion differed with the president, however, due in large part to calculated efforts of the yellow press to stir up hatred against the Spanish.
In late 1897 and early 1898, it appeared that McKinley’s peace efforts had succeeded. Spain had been persuaded to liberalize its regime in Cuba.
Two international incidents, the publication of the de Lôme letter and sinking of the U.S.S. Maine, would occur in rapid succession and destroy the fragile hope of peace.