Reasons For American Expansion Essay, Research Paper
During the 1880 s and 1890 s America underwent a dramatic change in foreign policy. Except for a brief interlude with Manifest Destiny in the 1840 s, the country had been in a state of isolationism from the inception of independent government. Near the turn of the century, this policy changed to one of competitive interest in and foreign ex-change with other countries. Industrial and mercantile expansion required new markets; the editorials and stories of the so-called yellow press sparked the interest of the peo-ple; religious missionaries spread their message to groups which expanded as rapidly as did modes of travel; as well as the acceptance (if somewhat altered) of the theory of Dar-winism by the wealthy backers of government officials. Another cause of this policy shift was the mass colonization effort by the English, Germans, and Russia, and the American need for a superior navy.
American factories and mills were producing far more than this country could consume, and foreign markets for export were desperately needed to sell off the excess. This cry for new markets was partially heeded with the illegal acquisition of the Hawai-ian Islands by the American Navy. Rich investors flocked to this new island paradise to market their products, consisting mostly of wheat, a foreign grain to the natives. When these investors demanded statehood in order to reduce tariffs on the produce that they had invested in on Hawaii, the current president, Cleveland, flatly denied them on the basis that it was immoral. Hawaii was not the only non-American island in which the rich in-vested. Much money was poured into the sugar cane and exotic fruits of Cuba as well.
At this time, a startling development arose in Cuba. The natives had decided to rebel against the highly oppressive Spanish government. Wealthy news editors, includ-ing William Randolph Hearst and Joseph Pulitzer, helped incite the public into a war frenzy by publishing somewhat untruthful stories about the atrocities the Spanish in-flicted upon the native Cubans. In an effort to gain a wider following, Hearst sent the budding young artist Frederick Remington to Cuba to draw pictures of the atrocities the papers had described. Remington wrote that he found no evidence of any such atrocities, but at Hearst s insistence, he drew them anyway. With public opinions highly in favor of rescuing the Cubans, the government began to consider the idea of intervention. The de-ciding factor came when the rebels, realizing that their greatest potential savior was in nearby America, began burning the sugar-cane fields in which so many Americans had invested. Outraged businessmen stormed congress and demanded that it intervene. A conscientious Cleveland said no, ending his presidential career and any hope for reelec-tion.
As tensions began to rise in the US, congress stationed the warship Maine off the Cuban coast for the protection of the American population residing there. When the ship exploded the newspapers immediately blamed Spain, despite proof that it was acci-dental combustion in one of the ship s powder rooms. The government could no longer ignore the American people. The new president, McKinley, asked congress to declare war on Cuba, and, with the wealthy investors goading them on, congress quickly re-sponded. When it came time to best Spain s navy there were doubts; however, one of the most important reasons for bringing America out of its isolationism was the sobering re-ality that England had drastically improved its navy. The race to keep up had revitalized the American fighting spirit, and our navy, though small, was new and included the latest nautical innovations. Thus, when it came time to battle the much-decayed Spanish fleet stationed in the Philippines, America had a decided advantage. The Spanish fleet was quickly and easily destroyed, and the reinforcements Spain sent were similarly dis-patched. In these conflicts, America lost only a single crewman.
Energetic Theodore Roosevelt now roared onto the political scene. He ran as the Vice-President for McKinley, who was assassinated six months after taking office. A strong proponent of Darwinism, he believed the world belonged to the strong, and that meant America. As Roosevelt s popularity grew following his success with the famous Rough Riders in Cuba, and with the public s enthusiasm for his views, he was able to further the new foreign policy. He actively protected the smaller foreign nations sur-rounding America and was wildly excited with the idea of a canal for increasing the mo-bility of our Navy. It was through his leadership that the Panama Canal would later be constructed.
Religion was another factor that helped to push expansion. With the near acqui-sition of Hawaii, Cuba, and the Philippines, the missionaries spied fertile lands to seed with their faiths. Missionaries went by the hundred to save the godless natives. Al-though their religious conversion was not very effective, they engineered important social change. Along with government volunteers they vastly improved the schools, the roads, and the sanitary conditions in both Cuba and the Philippines. Unfortunately, the newly conquered countries did not enjoy our protection, despite the noticeable improvement in their general welfare. America reluctantly honored its self-denying Teller Amend-ment, and withdrew from Cuba; however, congress would not completely give up such a strategic prize, and forced the Cubans to write into their new constitution the Platt Amendment. This amendment gave America the right to intervene with troops when they saw fit, to lease naval and coal refueling stations without dispute, and to prevent Cuba from signing treaties with other countries or contracting further debt beyond their re-sources. The Philippines were also to be released, being far beyond our reach to properly control or protect from the Eastern powers.
There were many reasons for American expansion at the turn of the century. Strong needs combined to form a single unifying goal–expansion. Our need for a navy helped stimulate our military growth, in turn allowing us to defeat Spain and gain access to Cuba and the Philippines. Our missionaries, needing new peoples to whom to spread their gospel, quickly descended on these new nations, and our merchants soon opened trade. The driving force behind all of these decisions was the need for a safety valve. With no more frontier, no place to explore and expand to, America had grown restless. When cries of distress came to us from the outside world we were all too ready for some action, some excitement, a bully fight with which to vent our excess energies.