The United States is a global hegemonic power, with cultural and military influence in all corners of the world. The United States constitutes an influential empire which expands to every continent, and this influence has resulted in a complex history between many different parties across the entire globe. The United States has certainly commanded a strong presence in North America, and this presence has come to shape the rich history that is the history of the United States of America. The United States would experience previously unheard of levels of economic and societal expansion during the period known as the age of imperialism, and this expansion would feed a steady desire for new markets and sources of raw materials. The United States would move to secure these interests through various imperialist actions throughout the Americas.
An imperialistic ideology has various benefits for a rapidly expanding country like the United States. With the rapid expansion of the countries population following the independence and the industrialization of the country, new sources of land and resources would come into high demand. These new sources of land and resources which would come under the eye of the United States would prove to already be inhabited by others, including natives and those who would settle in the americas following European colonization of the New World. This would allow for a scenario where the United States would utilize their position of power to expand their borders at the expense of the indigenous populations already settled there. American historian, William Williams, would write, “The routine lust for land, markets or security became justification for noble rhetoric about prosperity, liberty, and security (Williams).”
An idea of a United States’ claimed manifest destiny would also become a powerful influence in American history and would motivate a massive western expansion of the United States. Having demonstrated their special aptitude for liberty and self-government on the North American continent, the United States would claim the need to spread their institutions and values to the “inferior races” throughout the World. America’s claimed Manifest Destiny would not include only the idea of a “historically sanctioned right to continental expansionism”, but also includes “the providentially assigned role of the United States to lead the world to new and better things” (Stephanson). What would start out as a Puritan sense of Christian supremacy and purpose would expand into a nationwide desire to convert the supposed “savages” into loyal consumers of American goods. This would quench the expanding United States’ thirst for additional markets, while also feeding the idea of a proposed American exceptionalism.
The theory of American exceptionalism has often been used to justify the United States’ imperialistic policies during the imperial age. A similar duty was supposed to be imposed on the white race during the imperial age, the duty known as the “white man’s burden”. This duty claimed it is the responsibility of the white races to govern and educate the more “backward” colored peoples, and would also be used to justify intervention on the part of the United States. Those who subscribed to this ideology believed that whites have an obligation to rule over peoples of other cultural backgrounds, and that it was the responsibility of whites to encourage the cultural development of these people (Winthrop). Americans would use this philosophy to justify imperialist actions as attempts to incorporate these cultures into the economy, providing a much needed source of demand for the growing nation.
Another massive show of United States imperialism would come in the form of the Monroe Doctrine. In this policy the United States would claim the Western Hemisphere an American sphere of influence. Any additional efforts by European nations to interfere or settle in North and South America would be considered an act of aggression requiring direct intervention by the United States. The doctrine would provide grounds for American imperialist expansion in the Western Hemisphere, while also providing for reciprocal non-interference in transatlantic relations by the United States. The idea behind the Monroe Doctrine was to avoid the complications that would naturally arise from European intervention in the America’s, which could potentially turn the America’s into a battleground for “Old World” powers in pursuit of their own imperialist ideals (Mariano).
American imperialism would often take place in the form of military intervention into the affairs of other nearby states. One powerful example of American imperialism which would result in military action would be the Spanish-American War. The Spanish had long been in conflict with the Monroe Doctrine through the colonization of Cuba, and the United States would attempt to promote the Monroe Doctrine by demanding Cuban independence from Spain. Although the main conflict would be Cuban independence, the war would be fought in both the Caribbean and the Pacific, as the United States would attempt to take full advantage of the conflict by moving into the Philippines as well.
Following the mysterious sinking of the U.S. Maine in Havana Harbor, The United States would come to blame the Spanish for the destruction of the U.S. Maine, a claim the Spanish would deny. The Spanish had long been in conflict with the Monroe Doctrine with the colonization of Cuba and the event would provide great cause for the United States’ entry into the conflict. The United States would declare war on Spain under the guise of a moral crusade to bring there Cuban hostilities to an end, but the failure of President McKinley to make any mention of Cuban Independence or to recognize the Cuban Republic illustrates the United States desire to retain freedom of choice regarding future imperialistic policy in Cuba (Oggel). The Spanish would attempt to compromise, but the United States would refuse anything less than the complete independence of Cuba. The American military would then move into to occupy Cuba through both land an sea campaigns to ultimately end Spanish colonial rule in the Western Hemisphere.
The United States would not limit there imperial actions to the Western Hemisphere, the United States would also drive to extend influence across the Pacific and would come to instigate a military conflict in the Philippines as well. A conflict that would become known as the Philippine-American War. The conflict would ultimately arise from the sovereign First Philippine Republic’s attempt to resist an invasion and ultimate annexation by the United States following the the United States questionable acquisition of the Philippians from Spain for a compensation of $20,000,000 following the Spanish-American War. It was becoming increasingly clear to the the First Philippine Republic that the United States was not going to recognize the sovereignty of the Philippians, and this would ultimately lead to war between the two parties. The war would ultimately result in thousands of military and civilian deaths, mostly the result of cholera. The Philippine military would continue to suffer defeat from the superior United States Army, and the First Philippine Republic would ultimately surrender and sign an oath to accept the United States’ authority over the Philippians, effectively ending the conflict. President McKinley’s administration would go on to justify the “scored earth” imperialistic policies used during the war as attempts to “uplift and civilize” the Filipinos. However, American policy in the Philippines would usually favor the interest of the local elites, turning the previous island of small farmers into a low-wage plantation economy (Foner, pg. 673).
Another force which would contribute to the advancement of United States imperialistic policies would be yellow journalism. Yellow journalism is sensationalism or biased stories from newspapers, often used to advance a certain agenda. The United States would benefit often from yellow journalism which would aide to maintain positive public opinion in favor of the imperialist actions taken by their leaders. Yellow journalism would often take place in the form of multicolumn headlines, oversized pictures, and dominant graphics, which would prove responsible for inflaming national sentiments through slanted news stories which would oftentimes advocate for American imperialistic policy. Yellow journalism mi mostly perceived as a late 1800’s phenomenon and would be used to great effect during the Spanish-American War (Ferguson).
The United States would go on to expand the already ambitious Monroe Doctrine during the United States’ interventionist actions in Panama through the addition of what would become known as the Roosevelt Corollary to the Monroe Doctrine. President Roosevelt strongly believed in the imperialist notion of “civilized” and “uncivilized nations, and that it was the responsibility of the United States to establish order in an unruly world (Foner, pg. 728). The Roosevelt Corollary would contend that the United States had the right to exercise “an international police power” in the Western Hemisphere, significantly expanding on the Monroe Doctrine’s original pledge to defend the Western Hemisphere against future European intervention. President Roosevelt would use this philosophy to justify the United States’ backing of the separation of Panama from Columbia, an act deemed necessary to facilitate the construction of the Panama Canal. President Roosevelt had long been a proponent of naval expansion and deemed the canal necessary to facilitate the movement of commercial and naval vessels between the two oceans. The canal would also open up American markets in the Eastern United States to additional markets, such as Hawaiian sugar.
Another example of American Imperialistic policy would be the political takeover and eventual annexation of the Hawaiian Islands by the United States. By the late 1800’s Hawaii’s economy had come to be dominated by American owned sugar plantations which employed a workforce of native islanders and other immigrants. In an imperialistic attempt at power, a group of mostly American business leaders established the Committee of Safety to stage a coup against the established Hawaiian government. In January of 1893, Queen Lili’uokalani was overthrown and replaced by a provisional government composed entirely of the members of the Committee of Safety. The former Queen would attempt in vain to restore her position of power, but the self established provisional government would remain in control of Hawaii’s government, until the states eventual annexation by the United States government (Kūhiō). Hawaii was closely tied to the United States through treaties and exemptions on certain tariffs prior the overthrow of the Hawaiian government, and even provided provisions for the establishment of the Pearl Harbor naval base. President Bill Clinton would also go on to eventually sign a resolution expressing regret to the native Hawaiians for the overthrow of the kingdom of Hawaii.
American imperialism has no doubt imposed a powerful influence on the many cultures it has come to impact around the world. Often times, American imperialism would come at the expense of the various cultures and indigenous populations who would come under the crosshairs of American expansionist policy. The Monroe Doctrine would persist to justify much of the United States imperialist actions in the Western Hemisphere during the age of imperialism, and President Roosevelt would go on to expand on the Monroe Doctrine with the Roosevelt Corollary. The doctrine and corollary would be used often to justify military intervention, such as in the case of the Spanish-American War. Elements of American culture would also be used to advance American imperialism, such as the perceived “white mans burden”, and yellow journalism. American imperialism has come to impact world history in many ways, and while it has often been accompanied with conflict, it has greatly contributed the United States’ hegemonic status in the world community.
William Appleman Williams, “Empire as a Way of Life: An Essay on the Causes and Character of America’s Present Predicament Along with a Few Thoughts About an Alternative” (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1996), S1.
Stephanson, Anders. Manifest Destiny: American Expansionism and the Empire of Right. New York: Hill and Wang, 1995. Print.
Jordan, Winthrop D., and Winthrop D. Jordan. The White Man’s Burden: Historical Origins of Racism in the United States. New York: Oxford University Press, 1974. Print.
Oggel, Terry. Spanish-American War., 2006. Print.
Mariano, Marco. “Isolationism, Internationalism and the Monroe Doctrine.” Journal of Transatlantic Studies 9.1 (2011): 35-45. Print.
Ferguson, Cleveland. Yellow Journalism., 2009. Print.
Foner, Eric. Give Me Liberty: An American History. New York: W. W. Norton & Co, 2014. Print.
Kūhiō Vogeler. “Ua Mau Ke Ea, Sovereignty Endures: An Overview of the Political and Legal History of the Hawaiian Islands by David Keanu Sai (Review).” The Contemporary Pacific 25.1 (2013): 210-2. Print.