Born in Valencia, Spain, Enrique Dupuy de Lôme came from a family of French origin who settled in Spain. After completing his legal studies at the University of Madrid in 1872, Dupuy de Lôme entered diplomatic service. During the following years he served in a variety of posts including Japan, Belgium, Uruguay, Argentina, the United States, Germany, and Italy. In 1892 he was named Spanish Minister to the United States.
Although the years of President Grover Cleveland's second term (1892-1896) were relatively peaceful for the Spanish Minister, they were marked by increasing tension as Cleveland attempted to maintain a policy of neutrality toward the 1895 Cuban war of independence. When President William McKinley took office in March 1897, he was determined to reverse his predecessor's policy. He decided to renew the customary courtesy visits of U.S. warships to Havana and ordered that the brand-new battleship Maine be sent as a friendly gesture. When Secretary of State William R. Day informed Dupuy de Lôme of the President's proposal, the Spanish Minister consented and the Maine sailed.
The Minister found himself having to support policies he personally opposed and to behave cordially to President McKinley. He expressed his private views in a letter dated December 1897 stating that in his opinion the U.S. President-elect was indecisive and irresolute, and that further negotiations with the Cuban insurgents would be futile. The letter somehow reached the Cuban rebels.
By February 9, 1898 Secretary Day already had a copy of the letter in his possession. Minister Dupuy de Lôme admitted authorship of the letter and had previously transmitted his resignation to Madrid. Meanwhile the New York Journal, owned by William Randolph Hearst, had printed an English translation of its contents under the banner headline, "The Worst Insult to the United States in Its History." By nightfall, the entire nation knew the contents of the letter and McKinley quickly demanded that the Spanish government apologize. The required response was received from Spain on February 14; two days later the Maine lay at the bottom of Havana harbor.