Imperialism In America Essay, Research Paper
Imperialism in America: A world power emerges
American imperialism seems at first to be an oxymoron. After all, when this country was established, it was done so by a group of people fleeing the imperialistic oppression of their own homeland. These people had a dream of creating a place where a man could live for himself, free of the subjugation of his government or any other coercive force. This seemed like a relatively simple dream to fulfill at the time, when America was new and lacking the corruption of power. As it grew, however, the simplistic approach to life in the U.S. altered drastically. The power that came with the size and wealth that was soon associated with America brought changes in attitude. People began to wonder why America would even think about limiting its ambition to one continent when so much opportunity was at its fingertips. What it meant to be American was no longer to be free; it was to have power.
Webster defines imperialism as the policy, practice, or advocacy of extending the power and dominion of a nation especially by direct territorial acquisitions or by gaining indirect control over the political or economic life of other areas, or broadly, the extension or imposition of power, authority, or influence. Though some may not know it, and others may not want to admit it, that is exactly what America did. In a lull of such local problems as reconstruction and industrialization, Manifest Destiny was once again sovereign of the American initiative. This nation, from its inception had a lust for real estate. From the original chants of “manifest destiny” to the calls for the annexation of Indian territories our nation has been driven to acquire land. In America s youth, land was needed for economic expansion. That expansion was limited to the continent though. It gained lands mainly in the west and by the end of the 19th century, the entire continental United States was in our possession. The turn of the century brought a change however, and the citizenry of this country began to turn their eyes out to sea (Document C). The United States no longer sought new lands to farm and work, nor did they need new areas for their geological resources; the motives had changed. They became more political and the United States was now driven by the temptations of world power. It was known that this world power came with ruling the seas; if a country had power over the oceans and a strong navy, it could dominate over other nations (Document E). And so it became a race of the nations to see who could attain the most land and become most powerful. The unoccupied lands in the seas became grab-bag goodies for all the racers (Document A). As Josiah Strong mentioned back in 1885, the lands were limited, but there was no doubt they would be taken within a short period of time (Document B). The result of the competition for power would show the fittest contestants survived.
The Spanish – American War in the final years of the 19th century perfectly demonstrate this “new” imperialism. In addition, the American intrusion into Chinese affairs during the Boxer rebellion is
also a proof for the new motives, which governed our international attitude. By the end of the 19th century Spanish forces in Cuba were in all out battle with nationalist rebels. The Spanish army had tortured and killed thousands of innocent Cubans in their efforts to maintain control of Cuba. The American “Yellow Press” under the leadership of Pulitzer and others wrote horrific articles about the war in Cuba and called for the imposition of the United States into the matter under the flag of moral obligation. President McKinley and his war hungry Congress saw this as a perfect opportunity to have a “nice little war” and bolster the status of the United States in the international community. The war with Spain also gave McKinley an excuse to invade the Spanish-controlled Philippine islands, an important naval site, which would give the United States a voice in the Far East. At this point, many anti-imperialists argued that America had lost sight of what it stood for. They saw the desire America had to gain possession of the Philippines as a greedy one, another criminal aggression just like the war, which had ended after the United States Navy massacred the meek Spanish Armada and defeated the Spanish forces at San Juan Hill (Document D). Despite the anti-imperialist disapproval, the United States acquired the Philippine islands, a strong voice in Cuban affairs, and most importantly, status. The control of the Philippine islands gave the United States a chance to spread the dreams of democracy and all other American traditions and modes of life. The Supreme Court decided in 1901 that the power to acquire territory implies not only power to govern that territory, but power to prescribe upon what terms the U.S. will receive its inhabitants, and what their status shall be in what Chief Justice Marshall termed the American empire. . . . (Document H). This meant that it did not matter how foreign the inhabitants were to the claiming nations habits or traditions. They had to abide by them because once the land was acquired by that nation, they immediately became citizens of it.
Clearly the forces working behind the Spanish – American War were far different then those that led our forces, only a few decades earlier, into the western frontier. Once the United States had established it’s presence in the Far East it felt obliged to oversee all that went on in the area. So when Chinese nationalists rebelled against the controlling government, the United States was most eager to get into the action. At the time the United States had issued the “Open Door Policy” which called for the equal financial treatment of all foreign governments, basically protecting equal privileges among nations trading with China (Document G). The Boxer rebellion, as it would later be called, gave the United States a chance to strengthen the unpopular policy. There were 2,500 United States troops that were eventually sent into the area, giving the United States the power to push ahead its own personal agenda in China. The threat of political instability and the chance to further outstretch its political sphere of influence were the
driving factors behind the United States’ involvement in this affair. The Imperialistic McKinley government was not going to sit idly while the other nations of the world edged the United States out of China. These two isolated incidents, when analyzed from a historical frame of reference reveal a growing change in the imperialistic tendencies of the United States towards the end of the 19th century. This time was indeed a continuation of past expansionism in the sense of gaining land, however it was also a departure due to the fact that the expansion was a result of different motives and gained land outside of the continents borders. The United States was determined to gain a voice in the international arena for the political status it would generate and the strategic benefits it would foster. This country was settled as a satellite to it’s mother country, Great Britain, and now it would spread out its own imperialistic wings to cover the globe with it’s own political motivations and moral conscience.