1. To what extent were the political and economic causes for American imperialism in the 1890s a continuation as well as a departure from the political and economic causes for America’s Manifest Destiny during the 1840s and 1850s?
By the mid-eighteenth century, America had established itself as one of the strongest nations with a well-established military and naval base as a result of its involvement in imperialism; a period of rapid expansion, colonization, and competition with other stronger nations of the world such as Germany, Japan, France, and Britain. The American progress and ultimate recognition as a powerful nation was a gradual process, taking years before actualization. Even though the American Expansionism of the 1890s was fuelled by political and economic causes that had influenced the nation’s past expansionism, it was to a larger extent a departure from the political and economic causes of the past through its desire to pursue better economic and political mileage.
Both the Manifest Destiny of the 1840s and American imperialism of the late eighteenth century focused on expansionism propelled by the belief in white Anglo-Saxon superiority, faith in American expansionism, and a desire to acquire territory for economic and political purposes. In the mid-eighteenth century, many Americans held a strong belief that the expansion across the American continent was inevitable since it was a God-given privilege. Americans were greater than all the native occupants of the land, who were majorly the Indians, British, and Mexicans. The expansion, therefore, according to the Americans, would benefit the less privileged since it would promote better democracy and governance, Christianity as well as civilization (Rudyard Kipling) Economic and political gains such as the desire to open new markets for US industrial goods, securing of trade routes, coaling stations, ports, and ensuring a steady supply of raw materials became paramount towards the nineteenth century and thus were the main reasons for the westward expansion.
Expansionism of the 1890s
Even though the principles behind the expansionism of the 1890s related to those of the 1840s, there are distinct causes that shape the historical advancements into newer interpretations. Whereas the old policies on expansion focused on acquiring adjacent territories for further settlement, agriculture and making them America territories, the new economic and political causes included the desire to make the acquired territories the American States, as sources of raw materials and the available market for American finished products.
The Supreme Court’s verdict to deny some inhabitants of the Philippines territory with the claim that the Constitution did not ”follow the flag” in the Insular Case further proves that America was unwilling to grant new territories equal status to other states, instead have them serve as colonies for economic benefits, a move that contrasts the settlement –based expansion principles of the 1940s.
Another political cause for the expansionism in the late eighteenth century that differs from that in the 1840s was America’s determination to be the world superpower. Such intrigues only increased tension and threatened world peace since other nations also developed the urge to be identified as the most influential in the world. There was thus an increased competition to acquire as many foreign territories as possible by the other powerful nations. According to Alfred Thayer Mahan, a naval expert, America needed to acquire as many territories as possible to gain economic benefits. Besides, the United States was supposed to acquire economically strategic territories ahead of other powers which were also competing to gain economic and geopolitical advantages. Roosevelt actively engaged in acquiring foreign territories, for instance by engaging in the Spanish-American war to acquire Manila Bay from the Spanish Philippine territory, leading to tensions and war in 1898.
Theodore Roosevelt, serving as the United States President then, further expressed the desire to make America politically stronger and proposed to the Congress the dominance ideologies through the Annual Message. The aggression proposed by President Roosevelt indicated a different strategy to imperialism because the previous attempts in the 1840s only focused on expanding borders while remaining isolated from world affairs.
Towards the end of the eighteenth century, the American expansionism divulged from the initial guidelines to extending their territories as it was in the 1940s. Despite maintaining the original discourse in gaining continental expansion, the ideologies of the expansionism towards the end of the eighteenth century focused more on political and economic advantages at the expense of spreading the blessings of liberty, Christianity and civilization, as well as good governance as previously intended. As the United States continued to become powerful, the economic and political motives under the Manifest Destiny only satisfied selfish economic and political power that only increased tension with other countries.
Mahan, Alfred Thayer. The Interest of America in International Conditions. Transaction Publishers, 1910.
“Rudyard Kipling, “The White Man’S Burden” (1899) | The American Yawp Reader”. Americanyawp.Com, 2019, https://www.americanyawp.com/reader/19-american-empire/rudyard-kipling-the-white-mans-burden-1899/.
Wps.Prenhall.Com, 2019, http://wps.prenhall.com/wps/media/objects/107/110377/ch21_a4_d2.pdf.
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