Lecture: American Imperialism (1877-1914)

Pancho Villa, President Wilson's nemesis

proved an elusive foe in Mexico


I. Roots of Expansion


A.    Diplomacy in the Gilded Age


1)    in 1880 the U.S. population was 50 million and it was the second leading industrial nation in the world

2)    While the Civil War put the U.S. in opposition to France and England, during the Gilded Age, the U.S. became inward-focused and isolationist

3)    The U.S. purchased Alaska from Russia in 1867, though it was nicknamed "Seward's Folly" at the time

4)    Pres. Cleveland halted an American takeover by the sugar interests in Hawaii in 1890, claiming it was out of spirit with America's non-interventionist tradition


B.    Economic Expansionism


1)    As America's economy surged, companies began building factories overseas

2)    Need to export goods to balance foreign debt

3)    While most goods went to Europe and Canada, non-western markets were seen as important for future growth


II. Creation of U.S. Foreign Policy


A.    Captain Mahan’s The Influence of Seapower Upon History (1890) argued that control of the seas was key to become an international power. He called for a canal linking the Pacific and Atlantic.

B.    In 1890 funding for three battleships was approved in development of a two-ocean navy.

C.    The U.S. challenged Britain during a border dispute between Venezuela and British Guiana, promising it would use force to protect its interests


III. Sources of Imperialist Ideology


A. Social Darwinism—if the U.S. wants to survive, it needs to expand


B. Belief in the inherent superiority of the Anglo-Saxon race and the thought that with privilege comes responsibility (Kipling’s White Man’s Burden)


C. A new manifest destiny strain (John Fiske) developed, suggesting that every nation should be English in language, religion, and customs


D. Turner Thesis suggested that as the American frontier closed, interests would turn outward to foreign frontiers


IV. Spanish-American War (Cuba & Philippines) See Spanish-American War Chart


V. Filipino Insurrection


  1. Following the Spanish-American War, the U.S. did not want to return the Philippines to Spanish rule, have complete U.S. colonial rule, or let the Filipinos govern themselves


  1. Treaty of Paris provided that the U.S. pay $20 million for the Philippines, though anti-imperialists argued that the U.S. should not conquer and subjugate alien peoples


  1. A war between U.S. soldiers and Filipino insurgents broke out (1899-1902), leading to the U.S. using concentration camps to control rebels


  1. In 1916 the Jones Act committed the U.S. to granting Philippine independence. This did not occur until after the Japanese surrendered in 1945.


VI. Teddy Roosevelt on the World Stage


  1. TR’s motto: “Speak softly and carry a big stick” (especially a big navy)


  1. TR helped Panama break free from Colombia and authorized building of the canal, though Congress was split “(I took the canal zone and let Congress debate”). Canal completed in 1914


  1. Roosevelt Corollary to Monroe Doctrine—unrestricted American right to determine Caribbean affairs



VII. Open Door Policy in Asia


  1. In 1890 Secretary of State Hay sent the European powers the “Open Door” note, claiming the U.S. had the right to equal trade in China


  1. Boxer Rebellion—1900. The U.S. joined European powers in resisting the Chinese Boxer’s attack on foreign embassies in Peking


  1. Pres. Taft used “dollar diplomacy” to counter Japanese power in Asia, though when the Chinese Revolution of 1911 overthrew the Manchu Dynasty, the U.S. supported the nationalists and entered a rivalry with Japan.


VIII. Woodrow Wilson and Mexico


A. Opposing dollar diplomacy as a bullying tactic and unfairly supporting American businesses, Wilson insisted U.S. foreign policy should follow democratic principles


1)    Following the overthrow of Mexico’s dictator (Diaz) by Madero, who was murdered by Huerta in 1913, Wilson refused to recognize Huerta’s government

2)    The U.S. began to support Huerta’s opponent, Carranza, and occupied Veracruz.

3)    Carranza’s rival, Pancho Villa, raided across the New Mexico border, causing Wilson to send troops led by Gen. Pershing into Mexico to capture Villa, which they never did.