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Discursive Essay on the essence of Manifest Destiny

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The United States was growing in its influence on nations all over the world but originally exerted their way of life and beliefs during the colonization of America. This exertion continued to the twentieth century but took another form over time. Now, America’s influence on other nations’ economies and societies, although very similar to Manifest Destiny, became known as American Imperialism. Manifest destiny was a term coined during the sixteenth century of America, which led to further the expansion of colonization from the east to western America. Another belief in America at this time that had an influence in American society was Social Darwinism. Due to the influence and beliefs of Social Darwinism, many Americans believed they were improving the lives of Native Americans in the sixteenth century who lacked their technology and enlightenment. Colonizers believed they were spreading the ideas of “industry, democracy, and Christianity to developed “savage” societies.” (3) These responsibilities, tied into the ideas of both the sixteenth and twentieth centuries, led to Americans believing that western expansion and assimilation in the United States was “justified and inevitable”.

The expansion occurring in the United States didn’t go unnoticed, and other countries seemed to be lacking in the progress America was undergoing. Many saw how different America was becoming as it became an independent nation and began to “spread democracy and liberty as American exceptionalism.” (3) The combination of these beliefs and ideas and other nations seeing America as a leading world power, further pushed the United States toward imperialism. American imperialism reached its peak in the late 1800s through WWII and the mid-1900s. There were many countries including Germany, Korea, and Austria that experienced America’s influence on their government and economy as a whole. As America’s power and influence continued to grow, it wasn’t afraid of taking advantage of its dominance to gain control over other country's assets In 1898, during the Annexation of Hawaii, the United States took control of Hawaii’s “ports, buildings, harbors, military equipment, and public property”(3) to their disposal. American imperialism, with its substantial influence, is the modern idea of Manifest Destiny with less of the lack of consent the U.S. had in the past towards other people groups.

The Progressive movement was an early-20th-century reform movement seeking to return control of the government to the people, to restore economic opportunities including social and political reform, and to correct the injustices in American life. Progressives were concerned about the influence of U.S. interventions and colonialism. They also wanted to shine a light on the American government and wanted a more “transparent and accountable government” (4) that was doing everything in their power to improve the lives of American citizens. Progressives wanted more opportunity and equally shared democracy among all Americans. They fought to establish a system for selecting government employees based on merit rather than the patronage or spoils system. Progressives also favored increased political rights policies for women and U.S. workers to help protect American citizens against discrimination and race when participating in political activity which would further ensure everyone’s nature of justice. As the presence of large businesses and monopolies began to become more predominant in America, Progressives began to question their power after a series of journalistic exposes revealed their questionable business practices.

Many Progressives, including U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt, saw no conflict between imperialism and reform at home -to them, both were forms of uplift, reform, and improvement, and so they saw in these new colonies, an opportunity to further the Progressive agenda around the world. However, after the horrific violence of the Philippine-American War in 1902, some Progressives expressed their opposition to America’s global intervention and imperialism. Under the leadership of U.S. Senator Robert La Follette, Progressive opposition to foreign intervention further increased under the Dollar Diplomacy policies of Republican President William Howard Taft.

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However, Progressives remained mostly interested in domestic issues, and Republican Progressives sometimes hesitated to break party lines on foreign policy, hoping to ensure greater influence on domestic matters within the Republican Party. Similarly, after the election of Democratic President Woodrow Wilson, Democratic Progressives also tended to follow Wilson's lead on foreign policy issues, while the partisan reaction against them was led by Republican Progressives. President Wilson was more reserved when it came to U.S. intervention in foreign nations compared to Roosevelt, but in regard to the Mexican Revolution, he decided to intervene. In the 1908 presidential election, Howard Taft was chosen as the Republican candidate. Taft was a 350-pound Secretary of War, a mild progressive and an easygoing man wouldn’t be too hard to negotiate and confront in the mind of Roosevelt and other Republican leaders. from the onset of his administration, Taft did not live up to Roosevelt’s standards or the expectations of other Progressives. In fact, many politicians were surprised that his mild progressiveness beliefs differed from the “Progressive ideas and policies that Roosevelt endorsed.” (5) He lacked Roosevelt’s strength of personality and was more passive in his dealings with Congress.

The first major blow to the Progressives during Taft’s administration was the Payne-Aldrich Tariff of 1909, of which many Americans felt were excessive tariffs. After this session, the House of Representatives passed a bill that moderately restricted tariffs, but their legislation was severely modified when it reached the Senate. Radical Senators, led by Nelson W. Aldrich of Rhode Island, tacked on hundreds of revisions that effectively raised tariffs on almost all products. Taft eventually signed the bill and declared it “the best bill that the Republican Party ever passed.” This action dumbfounded Progressives and marked the beginning of an internal struggle for control of the Republican Party. (5) A major rift occurred in the Republican Party as a result of Taft’s straying from Progressive policy. The party was split down the middle between the “Old Guard” Republicans who supported Taft and the Progressive Republicans who backed Roosevelt.

This division in the Republican Party allowed Democrats to regain control of the House of Representatives in a landslide victory in the congressional elections of 1910. (5) The split in the Republican Party made the Democrats optimistic about regaining the White House for the first time since 1897. They sought a reformist candidate to challenge the Republicans and decided on Woodrow Wilson, a career academic and the current progressive governor of New Jersey. Wilson’s “New Freedom” platform sought reduced tariffs, banking reform, and stronger antitrust legislation. Wilson’s platform called for an assault on “the triple wall of privilege,” (5) which consisted of tariffs, banks, and trusts, and rarely has a president set to work so quickly.

His first objective was to reduce the prohibitive tariffs that hurt American businesses and consumers. In an unprecedented move, Wilson personally appeared before Congress to call a special session to discuss tariffs in early 1913. Moved and stunned by Wilson’s eloquence and force of character, Congress immediately designed the Underwood Tariff Bill. This bill was the first to bring a significant reduction of duties since the mid-1800s. In order to make up for the loss in revenues caused by the lower tariffs, the Underwood Bill introduced a graduated income tax.

After tackling the tariff, Wilson turned his attention to the nation’s banks. Wilson considered two proposals: one calling for a third Bank of the United States, the other seeking a decentralized bank under government control. Siding with public opinion, Wilson called another special session of Congress in June of 1913. Wilson heavily endorsed the idea of a decentralized bank during this session with Congress and them to radically change the banking system. So, Congress passed the Federal Reserve Act, which would create a Federal Reserve Board, which would oversee a system of 12 regional reserve districts, each with its own central bank. Many believed was the “greatest piece of legislation passed between the Civil War and Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal.” (5) This new system also issued Federal Reserve Notes, paper currency that quickly allowed the government to adjust the flow of money, which are still in use today. The Federal Reserve Act was instrumental in allowing America to meet the financial challenges of World War I and emerge from the war as one of the world’s financial powers.

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