Understanding the American Past: American History and Its Interpretation

By Edward N. Saveth | Go to book overview

The Business Attitude toward the Spanish__American War

by JULIUS W. PRATT

[Reprinted by permission from Expansionists of 1898, The Johns Hopkins Press ( Baltimore, 1936), pp. 232-252.]

In describing aspects of public opinion in the past, the historian, except for our most recent history, is limited to the written record. His method, therefore, differs from that of the analyst of contemporary opinion who has recourse to polls, questionnaires and punch cards processed through IBM machines. These are relatively recent innovations, and although historians have made use of polling data in order to analyze public reactions to such a recent event as World War II,1it is impossible for them to go, questionnaire in hand, back into the remote past.

Despite the absence of quantitative data throughout most of our history, a number of historical monographs have been written about aspects of American public opinion. For historians interested in this aspect of research, the ebullient spirit of the American people at the time of the Spanish-American War has provided an attractive field for analysis. Joseph E. Wisan's The Cuban Crisis is a detailed and meticulously-documented account of how events in Cubabetween 1895and 1898were treated in six New Yorknewspapers. Published in 1934, Wisan's study antedates most of the experimental work in the field of propaganda analysis which was done in the middle and late 1930's. A different kind of approach to the problem of the climate of opinion is Walter Millis's The Martial Spirit, in which the author, drawing upon a variety of sources,

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