The latter part of the nineteenth century was marked by the heightened interest for territory acquisition and expansion in the United States of America. This period was named the Age of Imperialism (Mehta, 2018). American imperialism was partially based on the fact that they had a mission to spread democracy and liberty to other parts of the world. The most notable instances of American interest in expansion was Hawaii annexation in 1898, which enabled the US to have control over the Hawaiian Islands. Thereafter, several other colonies such as Puerto-Rico, Philippines, and Guam were acquired. Although the idea of imperialism was welcomed by most of the American citizens, the American Anti-Imperialist League and other groups opposed it. This paper examines the reasons behind American interest in imperialism.
Industrialization in the United State increased tremendously in the later years of 1800. Products from big companies were more than the needs of the Americans. This influenced the industries to market their products abroad. Also, there was a need for more land for the production of raw materials such as sisal, sugar, coffee, and silk, which were being imported by the manufactures from dependent colonies. Land scarcity and lack of market made the Americans believe that their economic opportunities were shrinking. For these reasons, the imperial government sought to expand their businesses and maximize their profits by colonizing the areas with cheaper access to raw materials, cheap labor, and market.
All the traders were at liberty to build several warehouses and trading post in the market areas. However, they were in tough competition with each other over strategic places with better trade, market potential, and resources. For instance, the Egypt Suez Canal was considered strategic by merchants because it provided a shorter route from Asia to Europe. The American government wanted to be powerful, hence they established a strong naval base for business protection. Hendry Lodge stated that “In the interests of our commerce and of our fullest development, we should build the Nicaragua Canal, and for the protection of that canal and for the sake of our commercial supremacy in the Pacific we should control the Hawaiian Islands and maintain our influence in Samoa” (Lodge, 1895). This sentiments shows that the Americans wanted more control over the choke points, so they ended up colonizing the regions.
The imperial nations had an urge to explore the unknown regions. Some American traveled to the colonies for a sense of adventure while others voyaged as part of scientific research (Mehta, 2018). However, the imperial explorers wanted to discover, claim territory, and map before their competitors, for national glory and to facilitate their expansion goals. Politically, the growth of imperial power and patriotism prompted some nations to strive for supremacy. This is because it gave them a sense of security, prestige, and national pride. The empires also curved territories to provide smooth access for their people, armies and navies worldwide. Thus, perceived threats to prestige and security of the imperial power and the Americans citizens in the foreign lands triggered the political motives of colonization.
The Americans professed that their cultural values and beliefs were more superior. They thought imperial conquest will liberate inferior people from their poor culture. In addition, the Americans also colonized other nations due to their racist conviction that conquering of inferior races will lead to civilization (Mehta, 2018). The Americans also assumed that Christianity made them morally superior to other religions. Therefore, they sent missionaries to the conquered territories to spread Christianity during the expansion period. As a result, they also introduced western values and language to the natives through religious interactions and education.
On June 15, 1898, The American Anti-Imperialist League organization was formed to oppose imperialism. This association was against the Philippines annexation to an American insular. The league claimed that imperialism created unnecessary war, which was camouflaged as a liberation war. Besides, the anti-imperialists believed that republicanism doctrines were violated by the expansion interest, they also claimed that Americans should obtain consent from the natives before governing them.
The opposition groups never based their arguments on religious, commercial, and humanitarian grounds basis, rather, they alleged that colonization and annexation of other nations contravened the U.S ideals of isolation and self-governance. They claimed that this ideals had been expressed in George Washington’s Farewell speech, in the U.S Declaration of Independence, and Abraham Lincoln‘s Gettysburg Address (Kochin, 2019). The anti-imperialist point of view was defeated in the 1900 public opinion election. This implied that the younger reformists’ were already in favor of gaining more power through expansion to other territories.
The pro-imperialist claimed that the utilization of extensive trade would spread the US fortune. They justified their interest by claiming that they needed to spread their wealth to become a super nation. On the other hand, the Anti-Imperialist League founded their arguments on an older generation perspective. Since they gained citizens trust based on the crucial role of abroad markets for America’s power and wealth, the supporters of imperialism had a stronger argument.
Kochin, M. S. (2019). Communications and Empire: George Washington’s Farewell Address. American Political Thought, 8(3), 347-364.
Lodge, C. L. (1895). Henry Cabot Lodge on expansionism. Web.
Mehta, U. S. (2018). Liberalism and empire: A study in nineteenth-century British liberal thought. University of Chicago Press.