American Expansion Overseas


Imperialism: the policy of establishing colonies and building empires for economic gain, national prestige, and religious or missionary purposes.

European powers of the 1400's and 1500's (Great Britain, France, Spain, the Netherlands, and Portugal) long ago started building their colonies.

By the mid-1800s much of the world was colonized or had experienced colonization (Africa, Asia, South America).

During the age of New Imperialism powerful nations with few colonies began to compete for un-colonized land to become more powerful (Belgium, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia).

Superior technology, especially military technology, enabled European nations and Japan to colonize less developed countries.

Economically, colonies served as sources of raw materials and as markets for manufactured products produced in the colonizing country.

The American Attitude

Traditionally many Americans did not want the U.S. to become a colonial power due to memories of America's own colonial past and the democratic spirit of the American Revolution and War for Independence.

The West already functioned much like a colony because Americans could always move people and business to the West when conditions were bad in the East. Manifest Destiny was America’s version of expansionism. Cheap land to the West provided opportunity to many.

"Seward's Folly" and "Seward's Icebox" of 1867 for $7 million were terms applied as critiques of Secretary of State William Seward's plan to purchase Alaska from Russia.

Then Gold was discovered in Alaska in 1897; people realized that Alaska was a bargain and began to favor acquisition of additional territory.

By the late 1800's America was a leading exporter of both agricultural goods and manufactured products. At the same time the U.S. faced serious competition in overseas markets and needed raw materials from overseas.

Consequently business leaders and farm groups started to lobby the government to work to keep markets open overseas. However prior to 1898 it was mainly preachers, scholars, politicians, and military leaders who advocated expansionism, not business leaders.

Josiah Strong, a minister who wrote the book "Our Country", argued that the American branch of the "Anglo Saxon race" had to civilize the peoples of Latin America, Asia, and Africa through colonization.

Congress responded to the new attitude and expanded the capabilities of the Navy, established the Naval War College in Newport, Rhode Island, and by 1895, the "Great White Fleet" with tough steel sheets to protect the hulls and superstructures, was under construction.

The Spanish-American War

American sympathies were with the plight of the Cubans in their struggle with Spain.

Cubans were poor, working for starvation wages, while wealthy landowners controlled the land and economy. Spanish misrule and economic crisis angered both the landless working poor and landowners. Also in 1894 the Wilson-Gorman Tariff placed a 40% duty on raw sugar...the main crop in Cuba piled up in warehouses.

There was a Cuban Revolution in 1895 (and previously in 1868). Spanish General Valeriano Weyler "The Butcher" was responsible for the suffering of thousands: concentration camps, death, destruction, economic chaos, starvation and disease resulted.

At first the American government adopted policy of neutrality since legally the issue did not concern the U.S.

However, Americans had invested more than $50 million in Cuban plantations, transportation projects, and businesses.

Jose Marti, Hispanic American prose writer, aroused sympathy for the plight of the Cubans.

American newspapers inflamed public opinion. William Randolph Hearst's New York Journal and Joseph Pulitzer's New York World, used sensationalism to increase sales. They supported revolutionists.

Other newspapers across the country imitated the successful strategies of Hearst and Pulitzer, even conservative papers argued that the US had a responsibility to restore order in Cuba.

President McKinley attempted to avoid war for fear of disrupting the American economy and returning it to a depression.

Feb 9, 1898, newspapers printed a letter stolen from the Spanish minister (in the mail) and critical of McKinley.

February 16, The Battleship Maine was sunk with 250 lives lost after an explosion (had been sent to protect American lives and property). Americans jumped to conclusion that Spain was responsible.

America declared war on April 19, 1898 despite Spanish concessions.

Teller Resolution: US claimed no "sovereignty, jurisdiction, or control" over Cuba, respected right of Cubans to select their own government.

Commodore George Dewey in Hong Kong with a fleet was sent to the Philippines, the center of Spanish power in the Pacific. Americans defeated the Spanish navy in a day due to the superior range of American guns. On May 1, the Spanish lost 170 men, Americans lost just one of heatstroke. Manila surrendered on August 14, 1898 after American transports arrived with a strong landing party. U.S. had the support of the army of Emilio Aguinaldo, Filipino patriot.

In the Caribbean the American navy destroyed the Spanish fleet as they left Santiago and attempted to make it to the open sea.

When the war started, U.S. had only 28,000 in the military. After war was declared, 200,000 volunteered.

Roosevelt resigned as Assistant Secretary of the Navy to lead the Rough Riders in Cuba. He led the famous charge up San Juan Hill above Santiago.

The first American troops in Cuba were poorly trained and equipped, had inadequate and low quality food, equipment, medicine, and supplies. Hundreds died needlessly of dysentery, typhoid, malaria, and yellow fever

Clara Barton directed the American Red Cross and provided aid.

Armies fought on June 24, 1898, and Spanish surrendered by July 17, 1898. The War lasted only about one month.

Paris October 1898 Peace Treaty. The Spanish surrendered Cuba, Puerto Rico, Guam, & Philippines, America paid Spain $20 million. Congress annexed Wake Island in the Pacific.

Question: In 1898 Expansionists were pleased that America now had overseas possessions in addition to the Midway Islands. Was it wise and proper for the U.S. to behave as the European nations and join the race for empire? What about the national aspirations of the conquered peoples? How were these aspirations dealt with by the Americans?