Instant History: The Spanish-American War and Henry Watterson's Articulation of Anti-Imperialist Expansionism


  • Emma Snowden Wichita State University


Spanish-American War, anti-Imperialist expansion, Henry Watterson, historical writing, historical writers, historical literature


The two contradictions encompassed in the title of this essay reflect those to be found in Henry Watterson's History of the Spanish-American War, Embracing a Complete Review of Our Relations with Spain. Published in 1898, with a preface dated a full two months before the signing of the Treaty of Paris that officially concluded the war, this "history" is one that Watterson freely admits was written concurrently with the events it purports to describe impartially. Watterson himself was something of a contradiction: a Confederate war veteran who supported a strong and undivided Union; a fervent southern Democrat who advocated expansion, though not imperialism, as a means of attaining free trade; and a longstanding editor of the Louisville Courier-Journal whose colorfully-worded and impassioned editorials impacted political discourse on a national level, but who scorned the trends of sensationalism and yellow journalism. Indeed, it should be noted that initially Watterson's own opinions on the war and the acquisition of overseas territories were far from the crystallized viewpoint he presents in his not-unsubstantial 660-page volume. Nor were they as coolheaded as the book's clear attempts to offer balanced accounts of motivations and causes of events in the war, which certainly tones down the enthusiasm Watterson had progressively developed for the war and the expansionist opportunities it presented.1