History of American Imperialism
America has never been a nation that was overlooked or seen as unimportant. The desire for power and importance never let the proud nation shy away from any challenge or give up without a fight. America began using all of its assets to rise above other opposing nations and to become the major powerhouse of the world. Many new policies were imposed to push expansionism forward and support beneficial economic changes as well. However, as these modifications were happening, Americans could not release the ideas of Social Darwinism and Manifest Destiny which fueled their growth in the past.
Even though new methods to obtain power and climb the global scale of power arose, the consistency of old beliefs and practices show how American expansionism has altered to a degree, but not significantly enough to be considered a true departure from the past.
During the late nineteenth century, other power houses began to challenge and inspire America to break away from their idea of isolationism.
European superpowers such as Germany, Russian and Britain had begun to take over more land and territories outside of their designated countries. They used their “grab bags” to take control of Africa and Asia, in order to remain powerful, influential, and to expand further (Doc A). America was not left without nothing. As citizens in Asia and Africa were being taken over by heavy European powers, Cuba was rising in revolt against Spain. America was concerned for Cuba and the damage done in the revolt because of economic investment.
They could possibly loose an investment stake of about $50 million in Cuba and an annual trade stake of about $100 million. Americans finally got involved once one of their rescue ships had been sunk and their plans for the Panama Canal were put in jeopardy. After much fighting and many deaths, most due to disease, America and Spanish negotiators met in France and freed Cuba from Spain’s hold. The Cuban revolt resulted in Hawaii becoming an official state of American, helping American economics because of the large sugar production. The new peace treaty relinquished Puerto Rico, Guam and the Philippines from Spain, allowing them to become American territories. This accumulation of new land and people led to several developments in economics, politics, and social standards.
China became a main point of economic interest for many different countries after Japan defeated it in 1895. This allowed for Japan, Russia and Germany to attack the vulnerable economic spheres. A significant change involving China and its attackers was the Open Door Policy established by America (Doc G). The policy promoted that China would be more inclusive to all nations as long as they respected certain Chinese rights. It was a promotion for fair competition between all the different nations in one country. America initially proposed the new policy because the advancement of other super powers worried Americans. There had been an increase in power and productivity of the economy. The economy had become so productive at the same time that the polarization of wealth had become so marked that the domestic market was no longer sufficient to soak up all the goods that the economy was producing. Although the policy was approved by other nations, China did not want to allow foreign powers to come in and take over. This led to the Boxer Rebellion. Thousands of foreigners and Chinese Christians were murdered and the foreign diplomatic community in Beijing was besieged. America’s attempt to be successful and compete with other super powers proved to be futile seeing as the Open Door Policy did not benefit anyone in the long run. This illformed policy demonstrates how America had been motivated by the possible increase in wealth and benefits to their economics. This motivation is the same motivation that led them to annex Hawaii and keep Europeans out of Latin America. Future political decisions ensued in order to protect the economy and settle social challenges.
Obtaining many new lands at one time and having dominion over millions of people of different cultures was a very unexpected change. It caused the American government to make decisions about the foreigners citizenship and government. Congress was very unsure if they should annex the new territories because of the different of race, habits, laws, and customs of the people. It was decided that the new territories will be denied citizenship for a few years until stable governments could be established and trusted, but the United States would still have dominance over the people native to each territory (Doc H). It was not surprising that Congress debated granting citizenship and then withheld it because it happened very often to people who were not Anglo-Saxon. African Americans, Native Americans, and many European immigrants, such as Irish and Germans, were not granted citizenship for hundreds of years because they were of a different race or different origin. The policy of granting citizenship had remained unchanged compared to previous expansionism.
The failure of the Open Door Policy did not stop European powers from interfering with American expansionism. Latin American countries, such as Venezuela and the Dominican Republic, were in debt to Germany and Britain. The president at the time, Theodore Roosevelt, feared them coming into Latin America and violating the Monroe Doctrine. He then passed the Roosevelt Corollary, which started that the United States would intervene with Latin America’s economic affairs with other nations. Roosevelt saw it as a way to keep Germany out of Latin America so that they would not be able to interfere with the proposed canals of Panama and Nicaragua, threaten a naval base in Haiti or negatively affect Hawaii. The changes made by Roosevelt to the preexisting doctrine kept Europeans out of Latin America, allowed the United States navy so grow significantly to act as an offensive power and ensured no foreign state acquire a coaling position within a few thousand miles of San Fransisco (Doc C). Roosevelt’s corollary to the Monroe Doctrine would be put to use aggressively over the course of the century to justify dozens of deployments of the navy. The change to the doctrine is not as impactful at it initially seems because the effect is relatively the same. Europeans are staying out of Latin America, while the United States has control and gets to decide what happens. This control over people who were not Anglo-Sexton lead to several different reactions based off of skin color and how they were seen.
Social Darwinism is a theory that has been used to justify imperialism and expansionism. It is natural selection which allows the strongest to survive and prosper. For centuries Anglo-Saxons have seen themselves as the strongest, who are superior to other races and immigrants. This ideology did not change when the Philippines became a territory. If anything it was made even more prominent. Members of the Congress believed that the Philippines belonged to America forever and was given to them by God because they are God’s chosen people (Doc E). Many white scholars and leaders claimed that Anglo-Saxons were better than other races and ethnic groups and possessed a unique capacity for self-government. The ability to self govern was the main reason they did not grant Filipinos their independence. There was a belief that they were incapable of being able to have a strong, dependable government. Even though there were many Americans who felt superior to the citizens of the Philippines, there were also anti-imperialists who felt sympathetic. Anti-Imperialists believed that the method of gaining the Philippines was wrong and immoral because of the blood shed and the corruption of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States (Doc D). This different point of view did not have enough supporters to make an significant impact to imperialism as a whole. The Anglo-Saxon mindset would not change because now their God given superiority was being challenged, not only by anti-imperialist but also by foreigners from Latin America and farther (Doc B). This challenge did not deter them away from their desire to keep expanding and to assimilate the Filipinos. The idea of Manifest Destiny as been part of the American Identity ever since they began to move out west and tied to assimilate native Americans and immigrants into the national culture. Once again, it was their God given right to the land and people that lay before them. “Benevolent assimilation” was used to get Filipinos accustomed to American culture, but in reality ‘benevolent assimilation’ was implemented more for American goals than for Philippine self-determination. These social continuations were the greatest of all because they kept Americans in power and suppressed anyone who did not come from the great nation.
During the late nineteenth century and into the early twentieth century, many events occurred that allowed American expansionism to continue. Changes arose, some entirely new and some made to preexisting ideas, which promoted expansion even further. However, the continuations during this time period is what gave the inspiration to continue the desired growth and allowed America to obtain their destined outcome. Therefore despite influential changes expansionism was not a departure of what it had been in the past.