American Imperialism In the 19th and 20th Century

Topics: United States, World War II, Cold War Pages: 6 (1862 words) Published: September 18, 2014
“Imperialism is the policy, practice, or advocacy of extending the power and dominion of a nation especially by direct territorial acquisitions or by gaining indirect control over the political or economic life of other areas; broadly: the extension or imposition of power, authority, or influence” (1) American Imperialism has been a practice of the United States since before the American Revolution. Acts of greed and selfishness led to America’s first taste of imperialism. Christopher Columbus came to America over five hundred years ago. They fought the natives, took their lands by killing them and then made them slaves. Devine Manifestation was the belief that God sent them fourth to possess the land for expansion and growth. The United States, one of the most powerful countries in the world, has sought to expand, control, or influence nations and their people that are not strong enough to defend themselves successfully. The United States almost always has something to gain when “helping” other countries.

At the end of the nineteenth century, the United States stated to realize what potential they had as a world power. They had become the leading producer of wheat and cotton. They developed as an industrial nation, and were successful with producing favorable international treaties. United States leaders saw no reason they should not try to expand and become an imperial power. With the expanding economy, it was necessary for them to begin immediately before Europe had complete colonial control over the world. The United States was looking to build trading posts around the world so they could benefit from the wealth of other nations. During the 1890's, the United States did not think it was in their best interests to remain isolationist, so they decided to change and take their place as one of the world powers.

One of the largest reasons the United States isolation foreign policy changed was because of naval officer Alfred T. Mahan and his book, The Influence of Sea Power upon History, 1660-1783. In his book, Mahan laid out the strategy to control the seas by using ships to become an influential world power. He argued “no nation could prosper without a large fleet of ships engaged in international trade, protected by a powerful navy operating from overseas bases”(2) His book laid the foundation for the development of an expansionist foreign policy. Mahan called for the Panama Canal to be built so the east coast could be connected with Asian markets so that United States could become an integral part of foreign trade by selling their excess products. He also advocated for the development of naval bases in the Caribbean and Pacific on islands such as Hawaii, the Philippines, and Cuba. Many politicians, along with President Theodore Roosevelt, agreed with Mahan's ideas for foreign policy. Mahan supported Big Stick Diplomacy, the ideology that the United States should "speak softly but carry a big stick." The United States needed to become the police of the Caribbean by stepping into the affairs of other countries, only when necessary, in order to maintain the well being of North and South America. This policy became known as the Roosevelt Corollary to the Monroe Doctrine because the United States was confirming their power in the Caribbean rather than with European interventions.

It was not just the presidents and influential politicians but also the American public who believed the United States should begin to expand. Since the western frontier had been settled, Americans were looking for other ways in which to fulfill their "manifest destiny.” The new ideas of expansion went over well with the American people at the time, and so the actions the United States took was justified for the people.

It is clear historians would say that if the United States did not intervene in World War I or II, authority there would have stopped. This is because alliances would also have stopped in a Nazi Europe and...


Bibliography: Foner, Eric. Give Me Liberty! An American History. New York: W.W Norton & Company, 2012.
Hughes, Leighton James. "Has American Imperalism Shaped the World in the 20th Century?" e- International Relations. March 2012. http://www.e-ir.info/2012/08/30/has-american- imperialism-shaped-the-world-in-the-20th-century/ (accessed December 6, 2012).
International Communist Current. November 27, 2004. http://en.internationalism.org/ir/113_us_policy.html (accessed December 7, 2012).
Merriam-Webster Dictionary. 2012. http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/imperialism (accessed November 28, 2012).
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