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The Factors and Sources of American Imperialism

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After the civil war, the Americans hardly had any interest in expansionism. However, by the 1890s, some Americans wanted to pursue the idea of Manifest Destiny which had already inspired their ancestors when they acquired the territories from Native Americans and later on from Mexico. Despite the fact that Americans, at the turn of the 20th century, were not zealous about overseas expansion, however, Americans were also conscious about the European imperialist designs. In fact, European powers like France, Germany, Britain, and Russia were contesting to control foreign lands and resources. Therefore, the fear of dwindling natural resources and the depression of 1890s encouraged the business elite to search for new markets. Moreover, some ideological factors like New Manifest Destiny and the idea of Natural Selection by Charles Darwin inspired many Americans to follow the course of imperialism. The manifestations of American imperialism can be seen in the form of their annexation of Hawaii and Samoa.

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Moreover, Americans controlled Philippines and Puerto Rico also. Here a significant question requires answer that what were the factors and sources which led America to follow the agenda of imperialism? Roots of American imperialism, however, can be traced in the economic, strategic, and ideological reasons. To take the economic factors first, European power’s intentions of imperialism were clear to America. They feared that European imperialist powers would control overseas resources and the Americans would be left with nothing. Moreover, the dream for a commercial empire in Asia-Pacific, supported by William Henry Seward, has an equal importance to put the Americans on the way of imperialism. In the second place, Mahan’s the Influence of Sea Power Upon History provided a new strategic dimension to American foreign policy which ultimately led towards the expansionist designs. Finally, some ideological factors like Darwin’s natural selection and the idea of the new manifest destiny further encouraged Americans to enhance overseas territories. Undeniably, the manifestations of American imperialism can easily be witnessed in their conduct regarding annexing Hawaii and Samoa islands. Americans had covet intentions to annex Hawaii because it was a strategic way station in their sea route to China. Resultantly, America annexed Hawaii in 1889, and later on, Samoa Island in 1899.

Furthermore, Americans fought war with Spain over the control of Philippine and Cuba. In 1898, America attacked Spanish forces in Philippine and signed a defense agreement with Philippines which still continues. In the same way, America supported Cuba against Spain and played a substantial role in eliminating Spain from Cuba. Similarly, Puerto Rico was also the part of Spanish empire and which was later on occupied by America during the America-Spanish war and through Jones Act of 1917, Puerto Rico was declared as an American territory. The American imperialism and expansionism was nothing to do with small groups rather it had the ambitions of an elite class- missionaries, intellectuals, business leaders, and commercial farmers. In addition, it was supported by many influential political leaders. For example, Theodore Roosevelt was an ardent imperialist who always supported the idea of expansionism, and his strongest argument was that the America had already passed the region and now deserves to expand its territories overseas. He adopted a policy which is known as the “Roosevelt Corollary” to the Monroe Doctrine. “The united states,” he claimed, had the right… to intervene in the domestic affairs of its neighbors.” In addition, Henry Cabot Lodge fervently supported the idea of imperialism. He aptly remarked,” 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.” Conversely, the idea of American imperialism drew criticism from different sections of American society. For example, The Anti- Imperialist League was created in 1898 to fight against annexation and expansionism. Similarly, Allan Brinkley (2001) wrote about some other anti-imperialists such as Andrew Carnegie, Mark Twain, and Samuel Gompers believed that imperialism was immoral. Others feared that introducing other inferior Asian races would pollute the American population. Likewise, the American industrial workers apprehended about the availability of cheap labor from colonized territories.

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In the same way, conservatives worried about the large standing army and entangling foreign alliances that they believed imperialism would require and that they feared would threaten American liberties. William Appleman Williams (1980) criticized, “The routine lust for land, markets or security became justifications for noble rhetoric about prosperity, liberty and security.” In brief, American idea of imperialism has been criticized on several grounds. In a nut shell, at the turn of the 20th century, American also entered in the race of imperialism against the European powers who were contesting to take control over foreign lands. Economic, strategic and ideological factors compelled America to adopt the course of expansionism. In their course of imperialism, America annexed Hawaii, Samoa, Philippine, and later on Puerto Rico from Spain. This very idea of expansionism was supported by an elite class of American society, for example, Theodore Roosevelt was an ardent supporter of imperialism. Nevertheless, this idea was also criticized by many other sections of American society.

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