The Rise Of American Empire

The idea of American Imperialism had both its advocates and its critics. One only needs to look at a map to see which side won. America has greatly expanded since its own phase as a colony of the greatest European Empire of the time. America became her own Empire through the accusation of vast territories through many different mean. “Sometimes she purchases the mighty morsel, sometimes she forms it … by the natural increase of her own people, sometimes she “annexes,” and sometimes she conquers it (“Manifest”).”
The rise of American Empire received support because in many ways it seemed a proper product of past American history and tradition (Healy 47). Several American ideals – such as: expansionism, progress, mission, and racial inequality – were some of the main assumptions held of imperialism (Healy 34). The idea of Manifest Destiny had been with Americans long before the term was coined by John L O’Sullivan in 1845 (Sanford 26). American had been an expansionist nation since its earliest days (Brinkley 604). Americans saw themselves as expanding more than just political boundaries. They saw themselves as expanding the frontiers of freedom and carrying forward civilization and Christianity as their mission from God (Healy 35). Americans felt that their building of a new and better society in the heathen lands was the very embodiment of progress (Healy 37).
American’s concept of their superiority over all other races did not just promote the idea of Empire but justified and mandated imperialism (Healy 39). “It would seem that the White race alone received the divine command, to subdue and replenish the earth! for it is the only race that has obeyed it – the only one that hunts out new and distant lands to subdue and replenish (Benton).” With “us” being the superior race, all their rights as their own society and culture are irrelevant. They are unfit even for themselves and need our direction and government. Without a sense of equality between them and us, we can do anything without a sense of guilt and, in fact, must do everything. According to American, races as well as individuals must follow Social Darwinism’s laws of survival of the fittest (Brinkley, 606).
American imperialism also possessed the solution to several arising problems in that time (Healy 34). America desired to keep up with the imperialist fever that was raging through the European countries (Brinkley 604). Europe had already conquered and possessed a vast majority of Africa and other “uncivilized” lands. This provided these countries with new raw materials and foreign markets. America was falling behind. America had already practiced transcontinental imperialism for decades, but without extra-territorial imperialism America was being left out. The “closing of the frontier” had produced widespread fear that America’s natural resources would dwindle, necessitating foreign alternatives (Brinkley 605). The prolonged business depression in 1893 also encouraged the economic interest in the foreign markets available through imperialism (Healy 45).
Imperialism was supported by beliefs and current events, but also by numerous people of power. Business was interested in imperialism because of the possibility of new markets. The majority of the population, including popular authors like Rudyard Kipling, supported imperialism because of the concept of the “civilizing mission”. And government supported imperialism as a means of gaining both political and military power.
Both President William McKinley and President Theodore Roosevelt supported the rise of American imperialism. At first it seemed as though President McKinley was unsure of whether to become and imperialist nation or not (McKinley). However, he held the same beliefs – expansionism, progress, mission, and racial inequality – as the majority of society so eventually he succumbed to the imperialist urge (McKinley). His statement explaining his attitudes towards the Philippines exemplifies the attitude held:
“(1) That we could not give them back to Spain – that would be cowardly and dishonorable; (2) that we could not turn them over to France or Germany – that would be bad business; (3) that we could not leave them to themselves – they were unfit for self-government; (4) that there was nothing left for us to do but to take them all, and to educate the Filipinos, and uplift and civilize and Christianize them (Malcolm).”
Theodore Roosevelt advocated imperialism in Latin America. He added the Roosevelt Corollary to the Monroe Doctrine in order to legalize his interventions in the Caribbean and other Latin American countries (Brinkley 673). He intervened in several Latin American countries, including the Dominican Republic, under the auspices of the Roosevelt Corollary (Brinkley 673). Teddy Roosevelt and “The Big Stick” was a popular saying explaining his attitude in Latin America, as his means of acquiring the Panama Canal through forced revolution suggests (Brinkley 675).
Although imperialism held the majority of popular support there was still a large anti-imperialist movement. Morrison I. Swift, a radical socialist, Andrew Carnegie, Samuel Gompers, who thought that imperialism would hurt the working class, and Samuel Clemens (Mark Twain) were all among this movement (Healy 220). Unfortunately, the anti-imperialist movement was largely unsuccessful. This was partly due to the fact that imperialism was widely supported, but it was also due to the fact that was largely elitist and not oriented to the masses (Healy 222). They refused to join a political party on principle and were unsuccessful because of their elitist attitude (Healy 222).
The rise of American imperialism won over the Anti-Imperialism movement. This was largely due to the fact that the majority of Americans believed in the causes behind and beliefs supporting the rise of Empire. These are such as the civilizing and christianizing mission and they expansion of American ideals. The thin veil of the Blessings of Civilization for Export might not have hidden the Actual Thing from the People Sitting in Darkness (Clemens), but it did seem to hide it from “People Sitting in Light”.
Works Cited
Benton, Thomas Hart. Speech on the Oregon Question: Delivered in the Senate of
the United States. Washington, D.C. May 22, 25, and 28, 1846.
Brinkley, Alan. The Unfinished Nation: A Concise History of the American
People. Volume II, Third Edition. Boston: McGraw-Hill, 2000.
Healy, David. US Expansionism: The Imperialist Urge in the 1890’s. University
of Wisconsin Press: Madison, Wisconsin, 1970.
Malcolm, G. A. and Kalaw, M. M. “President McKinley Explains His Attitude
toward the Philippines, 1900.” Philippine Government. Boston, 1932: 63.
“Manifest Destiny – A Rendezvous for Rogues.” The Annals of San Francisco.
New York, 1855.
McKinley and American Imperialism.
Sandford, Charles L. Problems in American History: Manifest Destiny and the
Imperialism Question. John Wiley and Sons, Inc.: New York, 1974.
Word Count: 971

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