American expansionism since the Spanish American war

American expansionism sincethe Spanish American war

From the time of the SpanishAmerican war until the beginning of the Cold War the United Stateswent from relative isolation to increased global involvement becauseof growing economic and political interest, Anglo-Saxon racism, fightAmerican manhood and threat to American interests. The consequencesof this increased global involvement on American society wereAmerican imperialism and Americanization of the world andtransformation of the economy. The 19thcentury and the first half of the 20thcentury were important eras in the American history. During thisperiod, the United States moved from an unknown immigrant nation to asuper power. Thisincludes the expansion of the United States in the west and the rapidindustrialization which transformed the economy. An important aspectof the 19thcentury history is the American civil war which resulted from thestruggle between powers for and against slavery. The events thatfollowed the American civil war, especially the reconstruction eraand the Gilded Age propelled the United States into a political andeconomic power in the global affairs. Throughout the 19thcentury, the United States adopted a relatively isolationism policy1.The United States was able to expand its power despite the unusualpolicy in the history of western civilization. However, resolving theissues in the reconstruction era and the impacts of rapid industrialdevelopment in the late 19thcentury, the United States changed from relative isolationism toincreased global involvement and expansionism. The Spanish Americanwar was a major turning point in the history of United States and itsinvolvement in the global affairs. It resulted into an increasedcommitment of America in the world and increased dominance. In thefirst half of the 20thcentury, although its moves were well thought and intelligentlyformulated, the United States played an important role in the globalaffairs. Since then, the American nation has had an influence on allaspect of the world, economics, politics, cultural, and socialaspects.

Reasons for globalinvolvement

The Spanish war

In the Spanish American war inthe late 19thcentury American policy makers favored the global involvement toexpand America’s expansionist and imperialistic interests. Theseinterests were spanked by the desire to expand the economic andpolitical interests of the United States in South America and otherparts of the world. In the history of the western powers, imperialismplayed an important role in the emergence of global powers2.For example, the emergence of European powers in the 18thand 19thcentury was as a result of imperialist policies. However, the UnitedStates approach to global involvement was relatively different fromEuropean imperialism. Throughout the 19thcentury, there were numerous debates among policy makers which wereconnected to expansionism.This led to expansion to the west through the acquisition ofLouisiana after the Mexican war. However, the United States wasstruggling with internal challenges, mainly the effects of theAmerican civil war. During the time of the Spanish war, the Americanterritory was consolidated and integrated, following thereconstruction period and the rapid industrial development. Forpolitical and economic reasons, the United States needed to extent itinfluences outside its territories3.In other parts of the world, mainly in Europe and Japan, rapidindustrial development forced the countries to look for markets fortheir produces and raw materials for their industries. As a result,some nations sought colonies in the late 19thcentury. The Spanish empire had a huge influence in South Americawhich was a huge market for Americans surplus production4.Policy makers in the United States noted these moves by othereconomic powers in the world which influenced them to pursueexpansionist foreign policies5. Historians have argued that the Spanish American war in the late19thcentury led to the age of American imperialism where the UnitedStates adopted an aggressive expansionist foreign policy. This wasfueled by the fact that increased political and economic influence inthe world was inevitable.

The 20thcentury marked a new era in the history of the United States. Asstated earlier, imperialism interests forced the United States toenter the global affairs, mainly for trade reasons. However, it isimportant to not that trade is not a sole reason to explain theexpansionism that marked the first half of the 20thcentury in the United States. Among the European powers, imperialismprovided cheap land to produce law materials as well as valuablenatural resources. These were very essential in the development ofthe European powers such as Britain which had colonies in differentparts of the world. However, some colonies are not likely to offersignificant market for surplus products nor are they likely toprovide substantive natural resources. In spite of this fact, theUnited States acquired influence outside its boundaries for tradereasons. To peruse the expansionism ideas the United States opted formore humane and diplomatic imperialism. When the opportunity to annexPhilippines emerged, the United States adopted an ambiguousrelationship with the people in the country. Apart from theindigenous people of the nation, the Americans assimilated the landowners and allowed them to have equal opportunities in the newarrangement.A similar relationship was maintained in the virginisland, Puerto Rico and other American territories6.

Anglo-Saxonracism and fight American manhood also played an important role inthe increased global involvement by the United States. According tothe “fighting for American manhood”, a book by Kristin Hoganson,the policy makers in the united stated were concern with the changesin the American society in the late 19thcentury7.The rapidindustrial development resulted into increased number of womenworking in urban centers and factories. The pursuit of careers byladies was viewed as unladylike. Since the United States could notfight with itself, like in the case of the civil war, the policymakers had to find a way through which American men could proofthemselves to be the same paragons. This forced them to get involvedin conflicts in the global scene, opening up increased internationalactions.The evolutiontheory by Charles Darwin brought Anglo-Saxon racism and socialDarwinism which also influenced American action in the internationalaffairs. According to the theory, racial differences made someracial groups more fit for survival compared to others. Thisled to the belief that the Anglo-Saxon nations were fit for economicand cultural success. Anglo-Saxon races included races from Englandand United States. To prove Anglo-Saxon superiority in terms ofeconomic success, Christian superiority and civil liberties theUnited States was involved in more international issues8.

First World War

Atthe beginning of the First World War, the United States refused to bean ally in the war.President Wilson preferred to be an associated power looking foropportunities to prevent a full scale war in Europe which couldthreaten economic interest of the America, especially in Europe. Thiswas the idea behind the famous Fourteen Point Plan which was aimed atprotecting the new found interests of the American nation9.For example,President Wilson thought of a world with free trade, a League ofNations and freedom in the see. The United States interests,especially political and economic interests were viable in apolitically democratic and free trade world. However, the interestsof the United States were threatened by the event in Europe thatforced the United States to enter the war and change the course. Forexample, when the German forces killed 159 Americans by sinking theLusitania in 1915, there was no doubt that the interests of UnitedStates were at threat. Additionally, the Zimmerman telegram which wasintercepted by the British on its way to Mexico influenced Americanleader to act first since American territories were a main target inthe war10.Although the main reason for entering the First World War against theGermans was to protect the political and economic interests of theUnited States, President Wilson speech to the senate argued that theintention was to liberate the world11.

The Second World War andCold War

The protection of Americaninterests in the increasingly globalised world motivated the UnitedStates to be engaged in the Second World War and the cold war. Thereis no doubt that although the First World War had been ended, therewere unsettled conflicts between the conflicting wars. However, theevents of the late 1920s and 1930s which threatened the United Stateseconomy slowed down its quest for international role.Thus, the same reasons that resulted into the First World War emergedin the late 1930s. The European powers such as Germany had assembledtheir military power to accomplish the unsettled business in theFirst World War.In addition to the threats from European enemies,the United States interests were also threatened by the growingpowers from the east. The United States interests in Philippines andChina were threatened by Japan. However, the United States navy wasunable to check the growing interest of the Japanese in the pacific12.When the Germans attacked United States Merchant ships moving to theUnited Kingdom and Japan invaded China the decision to enter the warwas very certain. This was not until Japan forces made the famousPearl Harbor attack forcing the United States to mobilize itspowerful force against Japan. The war with Japan resulted intoGermany and Italy declaring war with the United States. Although theevents of the Second World War stamped the authority of the UnitedStates in global affairs due to its economic and military power, thesocialist Soviet Union remain a threat to the interest of the UnitedStates, especially in South America. The United States was determinedto maintain the status quo of a friendly south due to economic andpolitical interests. The increased activity of the soviets threatenedthe interest of America, resulting into the cold war13.

Consequences of globalinvolvement

The most important consequenceof expansion foreign policies in the United States was the advent ofAmerican imperialism and Americanization. The events of the SpanishAmerican war resulted into the desire by the United States to havecolonies in other parts of the world. Since it was a surprise policydue to the criticism by the American policy makers on the colonialismby European power, American imperialism was relatively different. TheAmerican imperialism aimed at economic and cultural, political andcultural influence outside the United States through indirect rule.Nonetheless, it involved the expansion of political and economicterritories. This led to the annexation of several territoriesincluding Hawaii, Philippines, Puerto Rico and Guam. However, it isimportant to note that other expansion were observed in the early19thcentury, but imperialism emerged during and after the SpanishAmerican war14.Thus, there have been arguments about whether the last decade of the19thcentury was a rare moment in history which marked the emergence ofAmerican imperialism. Nonetheless, the need for expansion of theAmerican economic and cultural influence resulted intoAmericanization of the world societies15.The Americanization of the global societies and the advent of newform of imperialism, American imperialism, created new market forAmerican goods and solidified the role of the United States in theglobal affairs. The American economy grew rapidly due to rapidindustrialization and the increased confidence in among theAmericans.By the end of the 19thcentury, the British and other European powers had no option butcorporate with the ranging power of Americanization. Although Romeand Germany was resistance, Europe and other parts of the world wererevolutionized by the emerging American principles16.

The engagement of the UnitedStates in international affairs had huge economic impacts. One of thereasons why the United States entered the international arena was toprotect its economic interests. By the end of the Second World War,the United States had evolved into the largest economy in the world17.The successes in the international affairs especially in the FirstWorld War increased confidence among the Americans. As a result, the1920s were characterized by rapid economic development due toindustrialization. The new foreign policies increased theinteractions between the United States and other parts of the world.This created market for American goods in the United States marketsas well as foreign markets. The confidence among the Americansmotivated them to create wealth, resulting into a consumption basedsociety. The Americans were also motivated by the Darwinism whichargued that the Anglo Saxons were the superior races. The competitivespirit propelled the American economy beyond the reach of othereconomies in the world, including the European economic powers18.

However, althoughinternational involvement made the United States a superpower, therewere some economic costs. For example, in the Second World War, theincreased involvement in global affairs expanded the federalgovernment powers.In the New Deal,the federal government aimed at creating a more powerful governmentwhich included involvement in the lives of its citizen. The Americangovernment was converted from welfare states into a war state.Between 1890 andthe cold war era, the United States had between involved in fourmajor armed conflicts. This type of government required moreemployees in the military and administration. Additionally, wars arevery expensive and are dependent on economic power of a nation. Thus,the government had to increase taxes and government debts to fund thewars. Forexample, during the Second World War, civilian employees ingovernment increased by four folds, over fifteen million peopleentered the military, half of the taxes were used to finance the warand national debt grew by six folds. This has huge economic impacts.Despite these negative impacts, especially in the Second World War,the involvement of the United States in the global affairs made thenation stronger19.As a result,some historians have argued that the expansionism foreign policiesadopted by the United States in the 20thcentury made the United States a super power. Consequently, the 20thcentury is referred to as the American century in some literatures.


There are numerous changesthat happed between the late 19thcentury and the first half of the 20thcentury which has a huge influence on the United States. The SpanishAmerican and the surrounding events marked a turning point in thehistory of America. The United States became more active in theglobal affairs through massive changes in its foreign affairs policy. Traditionally, the United States had adopted a relativelyisolationist foreign policy where it concentrated in internal affairsand remained quiet in the global scene. These changes were motivatedby a number of factors mainly political and economic interest as wellas Anglo-Saxon racial superiority. In the 20thcentury, there was an increased need for the United States to defendits interests within and outside its borders. This includespolitical, social and economic interest. This forced the UnitedStates to enter into war with European and Asian powers such asGermany and Japan. Some of the major consequences of Americaninvolvement in global affairs were economic transformation, emergenceof American imperialism and Americanization of the global society.These consequences influenced the American and the whole worldthroughout the 20thcentury.



A Foreign Naval Officer. “Canthe United States Afford to Fight Spain?” TheNorth American ReviewVolume 0164 Issue 483 (February 1897), p. 209-216.

Alexander, Mary and MarilynChildress. &quotThe Zimmerman Telegram.&quot SocialEducation 45, 4(April 1981): 266.

Grover Cleveland: AmericanInterests in the Cuban Revolution,1896,

Hamilton, Richard F. PresidentMcKinley, War and Empire.Vol. 1, PresidentMcKinley and the Coming of War, 1898.New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction Publishers, 2006.,+War+and+Empire.+Vol.+1,+President+McKinley+and+the+Coming+of+War&amphl=en&ampsa=X&ampei=PjUgVbCAIpXtar7KgdgN&ampredir_esc=y#v=onepage&ampq&ampf=false14

Niebuhr, Reinhold. Theirony of American history,Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2008.

Paul, Halsall. ModernHistory Sourcebook: American Anti-Imperialist League,1899,

The New York Public Library. AWar in Perspective, 1898-1998: Public Appeals, Memory, and theSpanish-American Conflict(New York Public Library),

Wilson, Woodrow. PresidentWilson`s Fourteen Points, Delivered in Joint Session,January 8, 1918. Web


Magee, Malcolm D. TheUnited States and the World: From the War with Spain until theBeginning of the Twenty-First Century,2015.

1Magee, Malcolm D. The United States and the World: From the War with Spain until the Beginning of the Twenty-First Century, 2015, chapter 3.

2The New York Public Library, A War in Perspective, 1898-1998: Public Appeals, Memory, and the Spanish-American Conflict (New York Public Library), p 1

3Magee, Malcolm D. The United States and the World: From the War with Spain until the Beginning of the Twenty-First Century, 2015, chapter 3.

4A Foreign Naval Officer. “Can the United States Afford to Fight Spain?” The North American Review Volume 0164 Issue 483 (February 1897), p. 209-216.

5 Hamilton, Richard F. President McKinley, War and Empire. Vol. 1, President McKinley and the Coming of War, 1898. New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction Publishers, 2006. P88

6Hamilton, Richard F. President McKinley, War and Empire. Vol. 1, President McKinley and the Coming of War, 1898. New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction Publishers, 2006. P 88.

7Magee, Malcolm D. The United States and the World: From the War with Spain until the Beginning of the Twenty-First Century, 2015. Chapter 3.

8Magee, Malcolm D. The United States and the World: From the War with Spain until the Beginning of the Twenty-First Century, 2015. Chapter 3.

9Magee, Malcolm D. The United States and the World: From the War with Spain until the Beginning of the Twenty-First Century, 2015. Chapter 5.

10Alexander, Mary and Marilyn Childress. &quotThe Zimmerman Telegram.&quot Social Education 45, 4 (April 1981): 266., p 1

11Wilson, Woodrow. President Wilson`s Fourteen Points, Delivered in Joint Session, January 8, 1918. Web, p 1

12Magee, Malcolm D. The United States and the World: From the War with Spain until the Beginning of the Twenty-First Century, 2015. Chapter 8.


14 Paul, Halsall. Modern History Sourcebook: American Anti-Imperialist League, 1899, p 1

15Paul, Halsall. Modern History Sourcebook: American Anti-Imperialist League, 1899,, p 1

16Magee, Malcolm D. The United States and the World: From the War with Spain until the Beginning of the Twenty-First Century, 2015, chapter 2.

17 Niebuhr, Reinhold. The irony of American history, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2008. P 203

18Magee, Malcolm D. The United States and the World: From the War with Spain until the Beginning of the Twenty-First Century, 2015, chapter 6.

19Magee, Malcolm D. The United States and the World: From the War with Spain until the Beginning of the Twenty-First Century, 2015, chapter 8.