CREATING AN EMPIRE 1865—1917
THE ROOTS OF IMPERIALISM
The United States had a long-established tradition of expansion across the continent.
Republican Senator Henry Cabot Lodge now urged the country to build an overseas
empire, emulating the European model of
based on the acquisition and
exploration of colonial possessions.
B. Ideological and Religious Arguments
Some intellectuals, for example, invoked social Darwinism, maintaining that the United
States should engage in a competitive struggle for wealth and power with other nations.
“Survival of the fittest.”
As European nations expanded into Asia and Africa in the 1880s and 1890s, seeking
colonies, markets, and raw materials, these advocates argued that the United States had to
adopt similar policies to ensure national success.
To many Americans, the industrial progress, military strength, and political development
of England and the United States were proof of an Anglo-Saxon superiority that carried
with it a responsibility to extend the blessing of their rule to less able people.
John Fiske, a philosopher and historian, popularized these ideas in his oft-repeated lecture
“Manifest Destiny.” Such attitudes led some expansionists to favor imposing American
ideas and practices on other cultures regardless of their own values and customs.
American missionaries also promoted expansionist sentiment. Hoping to evangelize the
world, American religious groups increased the number of Protestant foreign missions
six-fold from 1870 to 1900.
C. Strategic Concerns
Alfred Thayer Mahan, a naval officer and president of the Naval War College,
emphasized the importance of a strong navy for national greatness in his book
Influence of Sea Power upon History
. To complement the navy, Mahan proposed that the
United States build a canal across the Isthmus of Panama to link its coasts, acquire naval
bases in the Caribbean and the Pacific to protect the canal, and annex Hawaii and other
Pacific islands to promote trade and service the fleet.
found a receptive audience. Still more vocal advocates of Mahan’s program
were a group of nationalistic Republicans, predominately from the Northeast. They
included Henry Cabot Lodge, Theodore Roosevelt, Whitelaw Reid, Albert Shaw, John
Hay and Elihu Root.
Even so, Mahan was not solely responsible for the large-navy policy popular among
imperialists. Its origins went back to 1881, when Congress established the Naval
Advisory Board, which successfully lobbied for larger naval appropriations.
D. Economic Designs
One reason for the widespread support for a larger navy was its use to expand and protect
America’s international trade. Nearly all Americans favored economic expansion through