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1 The Collision Of Cultures
2 Britain And Its Colonies
3 Colonial Ways Of Life
4 The Imperial Perspective
5 From Empire To Independence
6 The American Revolution
7 Shaping A Federal Union
8 The Federalist Era
9 The Early Republic
10 Nationalism And Sectionalism
11 The Jacksonian Impulse
12 The Dynamics Of Growth
13 An American Renaissance: Religion, Romanticism, And Reform
14 Manifest Destiny
15 The Old South
16 The Crisis Of Union
17 The War Of The Union
18 Reconstruction: North And South
19 New Frontiers: South And West
20 Big Business And Organized Labor
21 The Emergence Of Urban America
22 Gilded-age Politics And Agrarian Revolt
23 An American Empire
24 The Progressive Era
25 America And The Great War
26 The Modern Temper
27 Republican Resurgence And Decline
28 New Deal America
29 From Isolation To Global War
30 The Second World War
31 The Fair Deal And Containment
32 Through The Picture Window: Society And Culture, 19451960
33 Conflict And Deadlock: The Eisenhower Years
34 New Frontiers: Politics And Social Change In The 1960s
35 Rebellion And Reaction In The 1960s And 1970s
36 A Conservative Insurgency
37 Triumph And Tragedy: America At The Turn Of The Century

An American Empire - Document Overview

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In 1889 the prominent Massachusetts Congressman Henry Cabot Lodge observed that "our relations with foreign nations today fill but a slight place in America politics, and excite generally only a languid interest." Indeed, Americans after the Civil War gave scant attention to world affairs. They instead focused their energies on the domestic concerns associated with industrial development and the settling of the western frontier. At the same time, presidents and the Congress steadfastly refused to entangle the nation in foreign crises and controversies.

During the 1890s, however, this period of "splendid isolationism" abruptly ended as the United States rushed to join European nations in competing for overseas empires. By 1900 America had won an easy victory over Spain, acquired far-flung possessions in the Pacific and Caribbean, and assumed a significant new role in world affairs.

How did this happen? How was it that a nation long committed to a non-interventionist foreign policy had become an expansionist imperial power and world leader? The reasons are many and complex, involving long-developing commercial and strategic interests, missionary impulses, and a quest for international prestige, but the catalytic event was the Spanish-American War in 1898.

Elected president in 1896, William McKinley pursued a diplomatic solution to the protracted war in Cuba between Spanish forces and Cuban guerrillas. But after the sinking of the American battleship Maine in Havana harbor on February 15, 1898, Republican leaders such as Theodore Roosevelt and Henry Cabot Lodge urged immediate military action against Spain. Even Democrat William Jennings Bryan argued that "the time for intervention has arrived. Humanity demands that we shall act." But McKinley counseled caution and asked the nation to withhold judgment until an investigation of the tragic event could be undertaken.

On March 27, 1898, the investigating board reported that an external explosion caused the sinking of the Maine. Most people assumed the culprits were Spanish, but skeptics asked why they would do something to provoke American intervention? McKinley used the report as an excuse to send the Spanish government an ultimatum: either accept American efforts to mediate the dispute and allow for Cuban independence or risk war. When the Spanish refused, McKinley succumbed to public pressure and asked for a declaration of war.

The "splendid little war" against Spain, as Republican John Hay called it, lasted only 113 days. During the summer of 1898, American forces defeated the Spanish army and navy, and on August 12, Spanish officials signed a preliminary peace treaty. Some 5,500 Americans had died in the Spanish-American War, but only 379 of them were killed in battle. The rest fell victim to a variety of accidents and diseases: yellow fever, malaria, and typhoid.

Although the United States officially declared war against Spain on behalf of the Cuban struggle for independence, America in the end took control of Puerto Rico, the Philippines, Guam, and Wake Island, completed the annexation of Hawaii, and established a protectorate over Cuba. Soon thereafter, the United States "acquired" the right to build an inter-oceanic canal in Panama, repeatedly used military force to intervene in the internal affairs of Central American nations, and undertook a major diplomatic initiative in Asia known as the Open Door policy.

By 1900 the United States had thus become a great world power with global responsibilities. While advocates of American expansionism rejoiced in such developments, others lamented the abandonment of many of the principles and policies that had served the nation well since 1776. "Mr. Dooley," the popular cartoon character created by Finley Peter Dunne, looked back to "th' good old days befur we became . . . a wurrld power." He recalled that "our favrite sport was playin' solytare," but now that the nation had become a participant in the game of power politics, "be Hivens we have no peace iv mind."

Under President Theodore Roosevelt (1901–09), the United States asserted its right to intervene in the internal affairs of Latin American nations. In perhaps his most controversial action, Roosevelt helped Panama break away from Colombia in order to facilitate the building of an American canal across the isthmus. In 1904 a financial crisis in the debt-ridden Dominican Republic led Roosevelt to announce his "corollary" modifying the Monroe Doctrine: it allowed for American intervention in other countries in the Western Hemisphere in order to preempt such actions by European governments eager to collect debts. However well-intentioned, such interventionist policies helped generate among Latin Americans an intense resentment of the United States and "Yankee imperialism. " Roosevelt's swaggering rhetoric and bold actions led one Argentine writer to lament the bullying tactics of the "Colossus of the North."


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