Back in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the world was a place of conquest. European countries were taking over Africa and the United States was quietly taking over the Caribbean and Pacific. It is surprising that a country as important at this time as the US was could go through a large expansionist time period and do it with as little attention as was paid. I guess Europe was just too important. Late nineteenth-century and early twentieth-century US expansion was a continuation of past US expansionism because of the ways in which the land was acquired and how Americans generally felt about it and expansionism was a departure because of the reasons it was done for.
American expansion of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries was much like the expansion of past time periods in US history in more than one way, but one of the main ways was how the land was acquired. America has always been a land of fighting. In our short 124 year history (up until 1900 that is) we had already been involved in five large wars and many other smaller skirmishes. Two of those wars that really show how American expansionism had stayed the same were the Mexican-American and Spanish-American Wars. While neither was fought to expand to expand the country, expansionism was one of the main backstories for both. In the Mexican-American War, America was fighting for Texas, Arizona, New Mexico, and California among other places. In the Spanish-American War, we were fighting for the Caribbean and the Philippines among other places. Even with half a century of time passing between wars, Americans and their expansionist ideals stayed the same. This is not the only way that it stayed the same, though.
American expansionism of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries was also like past American expansionism because of how the general populace felt about it. As in the days of Tejas and the Westward movement, Americans felt as if it was our “destiny” to expand. Americans felt as if we had the “God-given” right to expand. We felt as if the world was ours for the taking. If this time period didn’t already have a nickname (The Gilded Age) it could be known as “Manifest Destiny 2” or something even more clever. There are always people who don’t share this point of view, for example, the American Anti-Imperialist League who saw the Spanish-American War as a “criminal” act and this whole time period as a “betrayal of American institutions” (Doc D). But just as there are people against the ideal, there are people for it like Senator Albert J. Beveridge who celebrated America getting the Philippines in his Speech to the 56th Congress (Doc E) and Alfred T. Mahan who said that we needed a stronger naval force to protect the area of the future Panama Canal and other interests because “The growing production of the country demands it” (Doc B). But even though Gilded Age expansionism was very similar to past expansion, it was also very different.
Gilded Age expansion was done for much different reasons than that of previous times of expansion in US history. In the past, expansionism was done to, as the name implies, expand, or for religious reasons (we had to convert the Native Americans, of course). Gilded Age expansionism was done more for political and economic reasons. One of the main reasons that the United States wanted the Philippines was so that we could have a stronghold in Asia and easy access to markets in China, Japan, and other places in Asia. (That’s the main reason Senator Beveridge was so happy.) Document G, a cartoon depicting Uncle Sam standing in front of a giant door (to China) while the traditional European powers, Germany, the UK, France, and a few others, looking past through the door to the markets in China. This cartoon is saying that the only way to these markets was through the United States. Political reasons were another way in which expansionism changed in the Gilded Age. In this “new” expansionism, America was expanding to civilize these rugged, unkempt societies, at least according to Teddy Roosevelt. President Roosevelt said that America’s interests in other nations were only to protect what the Monroe Doctrine stated and to civilize the peoples of these rugged countries (Doc F). He also stated that once these countries were civilized, we would leave (Doc F). But that didn’t happen because we were in the Philippines until 1946 and we are still in Guam, Puerto Rico, and American Samoa along with a couple of other places. Apparently, expansionism has changed a lot over the years.
America went through an expansionist phase that went largely unnoticed by the global audience of the time, who was more interested in Europe’s imperialistic age over Africa. Even though America’s expansionism went largely unnoticed, it allowed America to gain power in the world, develop our economy through markets in Asia, and show that we were (and still are) a force to be reckoned with militarily through the Spanish-American War. Without this time in American history, America may not have been able to survive through the two World Wars, Depression, and everything else that would happen in the near future.