American Imperialism (1865 – 1914)
*The Causes of American Imperialism*
- Between the Civil War and WWI, American foreign policy reflected a nation of expansionists and imperialists – cultural, economic, and otherwise. Of course,
the US was not alone in this course of action: Germany, Great Britain, Japan, and other powers acted no differently.
- So, what led the US to undertake its imperialist ventures? Generally, e/t foreign policy is determined by an elite group of leaders [instead of more directly
by the people, as most people don’t give a crap], it really ends up reflecting the domestic climate of the country. So, the most relevant causes are as
I ECONOMICALLY there were three main factors:
– The US reversed its unfavorable balance of trade for the first time in 1874 due increasing agricultural and
manufacturing exports. Since the livelihood of Americans was subsequently connected to world conditions, the US needed to have a
strong foothold as a world power to protect its trading interests.
The Search for New Marketplaces
– The era was one of economic expansion, and most of the leaders felt that expansion should
know no borders, and that the gov’t should help American entrepreneurs abroad by using US power.
Economic “Safety Valve”
– In addition to the sheer profit motive from foreign sales, some feared [due to the crashes and such]
that foreign commerce was needed as a
to relieve economic woes like overproduction, etc.
II IDEOLOGICALLY & CULTURALLY there were several means of motivation/justification:
American Exceptionalism/Manifest Destiny
– Americans have special qualities that make them, well, SPECIAL and deserving of
taking over the world. Our values, our ideas…everything about us should be spread!
– Other races aren’t capable of self-government! Only
are, so we should “help” them out. To heck w/diplomacy – they
– And who says we shouldn’t reign triumphant? Darwin always said the best race would win out.
Obsession with Masculinity
– In other words, the “nice” version of American Exceptionalism (the idea that we’re special). The
missionaries just made it all godly and altruistic and everything, as many really believed that they were benefiting the people they
subjugated b/c they were giving them “liberty” and “prosperity.”
- Enough of that. Now what the heck actually happened?
*US Ambitions Abroad: 1860 – 1880*
- The American empire grew slowly over time, prompted by leaders like
William H. Seward
[NY Senator, Secretary of State 1861 – 1869], who saw a huge
US empire including Canada and surrounding islands. This empire, he thought, would come together naturally through gravitation towards the US and trade.
- Some of Seward’s schemes included…