In attempting to research a balanced account of the Spanish-American War, one discovers an uneven collection of documents. There are many more sources available for the United States than for Spain and Cuba. The United States possesses a rich record, which is open to public research. Besides the diplomatic archives, there are the papers of McKinley, his private secretary, the secretary of state, the secretary of the navy, and several unofficial advisers. The debates of Congress are illuminated by many collections of senatorial papers. Newspapers, published memoirs, and letters of participants are also valuable.
By contrast, Spanish private papers are almost nonexistent, and those fragmentary records that do remain are often in private collections, which are difficult for foreign scholars to use. There are no Sagasta papers, none for his foreign ministers, and only a few scattered letters of cabinet officers. Spain published diplomatic documents in three Red Books in 1898 and 1899, but it produced these to win European sympathy. The Red Books are unreliable; the foreign ministry edited many documents and gave no indication where the cuts were made. Unfortunately, many scholars have gone no farther than these documents, which are available in English translation ([ Spain], Spanish Diplomatic Correspondence). Since the English text is more useful to my readers, I have cited Red Book documents where possible, but only after comparing them with the original Spanish messages and making certain that the Red Book translations are correct. Spain's diplomatic archives are complete and well ordered, but its colonial records are scattered and in disarray, particularly toward the end of Cuban rule, when colonial organization was breaking down. Most military records are beyond the reach of foreign scholars, and the diplomatic initiatives of the queen regent are not available. Fortunately, Spain had a liberal press law, and Madrid's newspapers carried a great deal of information about political and diplomatic events. In addition, foreign diplomats in Madrid were knowledgeable and wrote regular reports about Spanish politics.
The Cuban record is also incomplete. Having no foreign ministry or centralized bureaucracy, the Junta did not have well-organized records. The Cuban government began in the 1920s to collect, organize, and preserve the historical