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America's Role in Imperialism

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In the modern day, society, especially in America doesn’t understand imperialism. Nowadays, imperialism is more hush hush and doesn’t show up in the news. Whether it is an overthrown leader lead by a conspiracy or covert agents being dropped into another region to sabotage the political landscape, imperialism has shaped into a completely different monster from what it used to be. In the olden days all major superpowers competed to their fullest to see who can expand their territories the furthest. This allusion of becoming the worlds strongest superpower caused meaningless lives to be lost and entire economies to be destroyed, because of economic greed.

Always fun to talk about how America played a role in imperialism, because whenever it comes to overthrowing other regions that are deemed inadequate, the U.S is always at the forefront. The U.S was so active in imperialism, that they even coined a fancy term for it, ‘Manifest Destiny’. Manifest Destiny was a phrase which invoked the idea of divine sanction for the territorial expansion of the United States. The term was coined by an American newspaper editor, but the government adopted the phrase in its true form.

Most textbooks refer to the Spanish-American War as our first imperialist movement but honesty why don’t we look at presidents such as Jefferson or Monroe as imperialists when they made it clear that they believed “Euro-Americans had the right to spread from sea to sea and Americanize anyone in their wake?”. Historians keep arguing that before 1898, the U.S. was not involved in imperialism, but rather was expanding into land contiguous with its existing territories. When they realized that this wasn’t convincing enough, they simply stated the acquired land was intended for American settlement and they claimed, was ordained by God and was not imperialistic!

Not everyone was onboard with this idea of Manifest Destiny in America, there were a couple of reasons for this. One was that imperial rule seemed inconsistent with America’s political principles. The other was that the United States was uninterested in acquiring people with different cultures, languages, and religions. However, politicians believed that the United States had a duty to Americanize less fortunate societies. So why imperialism, why did America decide to become so aggressive and become judge and jury of whether a foreign land was theirs or not? Before getting into that, it is important to note that America was not the first to get into this game of land grabs.

By the mid-1890s, a shift had taken place in American attitudes toward expansion that was sparked by a European scramble for empire. “Between 1870 and 1900, the European powers seized 10 million square miles of territory in Africa and Asia, a fifth of the world’s land mass. About 150 million people were subjected to colonial rule”. Any war, economic or political issue seems to have the same two root causes; money and power. Each can be broken down extensively. When it comes to power, things get complex quick. The definition of power to be kept in mind, is the capacity or ability to direct or influence the behavior of others or the course of events. The U.S used to be a tiny speck on the worldwide map, consisting of only 13 colonies geolocated on the eastern land mass of the North Americas. In a mere 200 years, America went from gaining independence from England to one of the top three superpowers in the world. Stretching its land mass from east to west and allocating strategic territories from sea to sea: that is power.

By the end of the nineteenth century, farms and factories in the United States were producing considerably more goods than Americans could consume. For the nation to continue its rise to wealth, it needed foreign markets. Europe wasn’t a viable option, the governments there, like that of the United States, protected domestic industries with high tariff on imports. Americans had to look to faraway lands, weak countries that had large markets and resources but had not yet fallen under the sway of any great power. America used its widely increasing power to play the world like a fiddle. It used its spread-out geographic territories to place military equipment and manpower in these isolated regions. It uses these mechanics to suppress any other nation from speaking out against their practices or attempting a rebellion.

Leading on to Social Darwinism, which was a belief that “the world’s nations were engaged in a struggle for survival and that countries that failed to compete were doomed to decline” heavily contributed to a new and bolder imperialistic thrust on part of the United States. Kind of ironic when you remember this is what the United States went to war to free themselves from. And the 2nd reason, yet most important resource for mankind, money, was the greatest allocation of greed when it came to imperialism. It is undeniable that the world operates on a simple premise; money comes, and money goes, whoever holds on to the most money is most powerful. It is pointless at this point to discuss the benefits of money, money simply does it all. The U.S currency used to be very lowly ranked in comparison to other superpowers, however at the halfway mark of the 20th century the USD skyrocketed to 1st place surpassing both the euro and the British pound and become the entire worlds reserve currency.

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Onto the most controversial topic; whether the methods used for imperialism were justified. Say you want to take a lollipop from a child, there are 3 tactics you can employ. One is to manipulate them into giving it to you, another is to take it while they aren’t paying attention and lastly you can snatch it right out of their hands. These were the various tactics used by the United States to further expand their reign as a dominant power on the globe. A few examples are needed to conceptualize these tactics. In comparison with the first option a good example which would be the Adams–Onís Treaty, this was a treaty between the United States and Spain in 1819 that ceded Florida to the U.S and defined the boundary between the U.S and New Spain. This treaty was the outcome that the U.S came to with Spain regarding land disputes in Spanish Texas. America decided that they had a right to annex parts of Spanish territory in Texas because they believed they had a right to the land, even though that land was colonized by many Spanish colonists. Thus, in an ‘attempt at diplomacy’ the U.S manipulated Spain out of their land in Florida; in trade, the U.S would give in to its conquest into acquiring Spanish Texas and not go to battle with Spain.

There are also times when America just swooped in and declared that ‘X’ land is theirs as if it was a fact for ‘Y’ reason. For instance, the land of Hawaii was closely linked by business and trade to the U.S by the 1880s. In 1893 business leaders overthrew the Queen of Hawaii and sought annexation. President Grover Cleveland strongly disapproved, so Hawaii set up an independent republic, the Republic of Hawaii. However, a more neutrally stanced man, President William McKinley, came along and realized the need for advanced naval bases to fend off Japanese ambitions; secured a Congressional memorendum in 1898, and the republic of Hawaii joined the U.S.

Lastly, America is no beginner to taking things it wants by force. A notable push for imperialism by the United States can be found from the outcome of the Spanish-American War. On December 10, 1898, the Treaty of Paris which ended the war was signed. The treaty transferred control of the Philippines from Spain to the United States. This agreement was not recognized by the Philippine revolutionaries. They declared war on United States on June 2, 1899. In 1901, Emilio Aguinaldo, president of the Malolos Republic, was captured by American forces and pledged his allegiance to the American government. The U.S unilaterally declared an end to the conflict in 1902 and took over control of the Philippine islands. Understatingly, the people who gained from this expansionism was the U.S government with stronger political powers. But most of all, businesses were the most beneficiary, they now had access to lands abroad and good import and export via new routes never available to them before, taking in boat loads more money. This led to a boom in the U.S economy and its military might; having access to strategic land points in which to strategize military bases. However, this expedition did not fervor without any victims. Whole nations collapsed, people were forced to adopt traditions unaccustomed to them and very many people lost their so called ‘independence’ and many more were meaninglessly killed, often soldiers used as puppets in these ventures.

Adding to the fact came New Imperialism. In 1899, about fifteen years after the Conference of Berlin fast-tracked Europe’s partitioning of Africa, African-American preacher Henry Parks eagerly believed the fate of Africa as a continent would be determined during the twentieth century. By that time, he had become Secretary of Home and Foreign Missions. Parks promised Christian redemption of Africa within the new century, “he went on a rampant mission to convince other African Americans that it was their duty to conquer the continent of Africa for God, for Africans, for themselves.” However, surprisingly, the Scramble for Africa was not as popular for the U.S as its European counterparts; most of the African territories were left to be colonized by European powers, although the U.S always has some sort of deal struck out with these nations to share the land for resources and military bases.

Now focusing on the New Imperialism association with the United States comes two prime examples, Cuba and the Philippines. In accordance with Kinzer’s book, President McKinley who succeeded Cleveland had reason to worry about the Cuban issue: Cuba had been raked with endless conflict between itself and Spain for close to 30 years. “Cuban rebel leaders were promising that once in power, they would launch sweeping social reforms, starting with land redistribution”. According to Kinzer, in 1898 it finally came to an end when U.S troops came to Cuba’s aid after the Spanish had ‘evidently’ bombed a U.S warship in the Havana harbor and helped it defeat Spain, in which Cuba became independent. During this New Imperialism, Americans ceased to be satisfied with solely holding territory on the North American mainland, from which they originated. They became consumed with a majestic new idea – coined the ‘White Man’s Burden’, which was that of a United States whose influence extended around the world.

The U.S had perfected a sort of mechanism for taking control of foreign lands. It would firstly act as a helping hand, giving a foreign land aid in terms of money, supplies or troops. But very soon to follow it, would declare itself as their ruler and would threaten military action along with harsh economic sanctions until the country would undoubtedly have to give in, as the U.S was such a superpower. It would then proceed to stuff a never-ending list of “diplomatic treaties” down the countries throat until it was left with nothing but a few plots of land under its own native control. And from there on out the Americas would put their own leaders in place, in their newly acquired land and run it like a puppet state. Same scenario went for both Cuba and the Philippines. Both had natives fighting and dying for independence and then all of a sudden, they are right back under colonial rule, all that changed is the superpower that is ruling them.

In the case of the Philippines, the U.S got involved in the conflict they had with Spain because according to Kinzer, the revolutionary conflict struck fear into the hearts of American businessmen, who had more than $50 million invested on the island, most of it in agriculture. Therefore, McKinley was dumbfounded by what to do with Cuba, on one hand he didn’t want to impose in another foreign battle but on the other he was being pressured by big businesses to take charge of the island. After much deliberation ‘in his own, hidden mind’ he decided that he had to free Filipino people and show them the light of God. He sufficed that it was necessary to show his foreign mates that Christianity was the way and to free them of their tyrannical rule by Spain.

Whatever way you look at it, America has asserted itself in almost every single conflict, war, diplomatic struggle, or tyrannical expansion in one way or another. Most recently being the U.S military expansion into the Middle East followed by an increased presence in African peninsulas. We don’t know much about this stuff because U.S news medias do not or can not cover this type of discussion. Thus, it is sufficed to say that imperialism started from the United States inception and will most likely last for many, many more decades.



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America’s Role in Imperialism. (2022, September 01). Edubirdie. Retrieved December 1, 2022, from
“America’s Role in Imperialism.” Edubirdie, 01 Sept. 2022,
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