The Primary Terms and Motivating Factors of American Imperialism

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Words: 1595 |

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8 min read

Published: Dec 3, 2020

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Words: 1595|Pages: 4|8 min read

Published: Dec 3, 2020

The Primary Terms and Motivating Factors of American Imperialism
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The essay analyzes the transition of the United States from isolationism and continental expansion to imperialism during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. It explores the various motivations and factors that contributed to this shift, including economic, exploratory, political, religious, and ethnocentric aspects.

Economically, the United States sought new markets and resources for its rapidly growing production during the machine age. This expansionist approach led to the establishment of markets and production facilities in Latin America and beyond, driven by increased nationalism and a desire for profit. The acquisition of raw materials and access to markets became essential for economic growth.

Exploratory motives played a role in the shift as well, with the Manifest Destiny inspiring Americans to explore and claim new territories. Imperial explorers aimed to be the first to make new discoveries, leading to territorial acquisitions like Samoa and Puerto Rico.

Politically, the United States felt the need to protect its homeland security and citizens' interests, which drove the country to expand its defenses and alliances. This included the Monroe Doctrine and the Open Door Policy, both aimed at safeguarding American sovereignty and trade.

Religious motivations involved missionary efforts to convert and educate in newly acquired territories, spreading Western values and culture. The essay also highlights the role of ethnocentrism, where the belief in cultural superiority contributed to the idea of expanding American influence and beliefs.

By the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the U.S. shift from isolationism and continental expansion to imperialism. The primary motivations and factors that led to this were economic, exploratory, political, religious, and ethnocentric. Colonists provide cheap raw materials and guaranteed markets for European and U.S. trusts and monopolies during this time. This era was where the late 19th century imperialism was criticized as a capitalist scheme where colonies were subordinate for pure economic gain by big businesses. Some people like the revolutionary and leader of the Bolshevik in the Soviet Union, Vladimir Lenin, and a British theorist, J.A. Hobson attributed to these claims. One of the reasons the U.S. shift from isolationism and continental expansion to imperialism is due to economic motives. Throughout the machine age, American production grew rapidly. America began to look for new markets where it was led by increased nationalism. American businesses began developing markets and production facilities in Latin America. The nation was practicing expansionism where they moved into regions to do business. In order to get the most out of resources, markets, and trade, people would often be in a rush to get there. Seeking a way to maximize profit was a goal for imperial governments and private companies. Raw materials were provided to European factories and markets by colonists who were dependent. They did this because it was needed to manufacture products. This was after the Industrial Revolution. Cheap labors were in demand. People wanted to sell or buy so having access to markets were important.

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Economic expansion was the result of these. Like new lands, steels, metals, crops, natural resources were also in demand. Many places were sought out. One would be the in Egypt where the Suez Canal was highly regarded. Trading posts, warehouses, transportation infrastructure were established by imperial merchants. America wanted to find new markets for trade. In order to achieve finding new trading countries and markets, they extended their colonial power beyond. Such would be having engaged and open up trade with Asian markets with China and even becoming a colonial power in the Philippines. Their desire to trade with other countries around the world made them shift from isolationism to imperialism. Another reason the U.S. shift from isolationism and continental expansion to imperialism is due to exploratory motives. During this era, the Manifest Destiny played a role in this where people were motivated to go beyond and search for new territories to explore. They wanted to see places unknown to them and had a sense of adventuring. Some did it for imperial expansion where they had a sense of destiny for them while others did it for national or personal fame, and, Discovery, mapping, and claiming territories were imperial explorers’ goals. They wanted to be the first to make new discoveries before their competitors. One of their explored and half conquered land was Samoa. It was known for its great harbor. The U.S. military were interested to build a base there. However, both Germany and Great Britain had first come before the U.S.

Although there almost rose a battle between the three countries, they later came with a peaceful term where they divided Samoa with both Germany and the U.S., and Great Britain having given some regions in another part of the pacific. The aftermath of the Spanish American War also gave the country a new territory, which was Puerto Rico. Americans’ aspiration to search for lands allowed the nation to gain new grounds as it move towards diplomacy. One of the different causes on why the U.S. shift from isolationism and continental expansion to imperialism is due to political motives. The cause for this was because countries felt as if there were threats to be made to their homeland security where it may posed harms to their citizens or even their prestige of imperial power. And this was why political reasons often lift up as responses to imperial power. Supremacy was fought with competition as patriotism stirred up. Countless empires wanted to advance their defenses and even increase their lands. They wanted to have various routes to their armies and alliances, and to do this they would search for tactical territories. It also opened doors to both the Monroe Doctrine and the Open Door Policy. Newly free independent colonies of Latin America were being intervened by Europeans. Due to this, the Monroe Doctrine, which was a U.S. foreign policy, aims to prevent it. It was to warn European powers to stay away from their affairs and the same could be said for them or else there may be war.

The Open Door Policy was a doctrine that was set up in 1899. It offered protection to China as it forbid the European nations from taking their territory and exploiting their economies. This sees that China and both the U.S. and imperial powers to maintain a healthy relationship to trade. The U.S.’s desire to do this was to keep trading with China by protecting its sovereignty and lands. Foreign policies also the lead the U.S. entry into World War I. The U.S. also wanted to build a Panama canal where it had numerous advantages. One would be that it connected the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific. Second, it enlarged their reign in Latin America. And third, it certainly aided the speed to where the U.S. navy could travel faster. The Platt Amendment established by Roosevelt in 1903 allowed America to control Cuba where the U.S. had the right to intervene in Cuba’s affairs if domestic order were to become broken. Under this, without U.S. approval, Cuba could not make a treaty with another nation. And the United States was able to build a naval base and coaling station on granted land. With regards to this, President Theodore Roosevelt’s Big Stick Policy, also known as the Roosevelt Corollary, came into place. It was where the U.S. keeps intervening with Latin American claiming that they posed a threat to American provinces. President Roosevelt announced that in order to keep order in Latin America, the U.S. had the right to use military force. American foreign policy continued to stay close to the Monroe Doctrine. This gave America’s rights to be like an international police force. It allows them to get involved anywhere in the Western Hemisphere where it felt its national security was at stake. There was also the Treaty of Kanagawa in 1854. It was when the U.S. sent Matthew Perry to talk to Japan’s emperor with one large battleship. After a while, Perry later came back to the foreign country with seven warships where Japan finally agreed to trade with the U.S. The use of political systems through regulations increased America’s influence to other nations.

Another cause on why the U.S. shift from isolationism and continental expansion to imperialism is due to religious motives. Religious people such as Christians would often go on missionaries to seek new members and convert them for their beliefs but also for their empire. During imperial expansion, there were various different missionaries. For example, in Europe Christians missionaries would spread Western values like culture in the nineteenth century. In conquered lands, they would make establishment for their churches. Other countries like France and Great Britain also led missionaries. These events usually also expose other people through interactions of the language of imperial nations either by religious or academic learning. American Missionary Association was established for African Americans after the Civil War and put schools to educate them. This organization supported many freed blacks with education. Numerous churches whose purpose was to believe in ruling of the gospels were known as Evanlangical. The Social Gospel was a Protestant Christian intellectual movement in the early 20th century. Christian values were pertaining to society issues. Such problems they made aware of were child labor, use of alcohol, poor labor unions, racial tensions, war involvement, and many more.

Of the progressive movement, they were the religious wing. This meant that they battle against social problems like impoverishment, corruption, and distress. Although there were various issues, religious missions no doubt paved a way for Americans to spread their cultural beliefs. Other incentives on why the U.S. shift from isolationism and continental expansion to imperialism is due to ethnocentric motives. This meant that people felt one culture was better than the other. Imperial nations felt that their beliefs were higher in rank than those of other groups where the strong would increase in wealth by have more intelligence and the weak are lazy and would become illiterate and poor. One factor that contributed to this was social Darwinism. This lead to the assumption that superior groups overtake the weaker ones in socially and politically like survival of the fittest. Because of this, the U.S. believed that their expansion would bring success to people of other culture with theirs. There was also a movement called Eugenics. It became popular in the 1920s and 1930s.

The drastic change from America’s first policy of isolationism was also continuously reformed and expressed by its intervention in the political affairs of other nations. The United States grounded their reasoning for imperialism in the self-convinced notion of superiority over inferior races in need of freedom from their oppressors. The Panama Canal project is an example of what began first as political mediation from America, helping the Panamanians declare independence without any interference from Colombia. America was then granted control of the Panama Canal Zone. Executed through the signing of the Hay-Bunau-Varilla treaty on Nov. 18, 1903, an agreement between the United States and Panama, it granted canal rights across the Isthmus of Panama in transaction for protection of the newly established republic as well as financial reimbursements. Upon completion of the Panama Canal on August 15, 1914, the canal became an extremely dynamic geopolitical strategic possession, having a massive economic impact and making America at the time, the most powerful nation on earth.

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People felt that they needed to separate themselves from those who don’t share common or even have undesirable traits. They would even force cultures upon those who don’t have the same ideologies as them as imperial expansion grew from isolationism and continental expansion. Overall, the primary motivations and factors that led the U.S. to imperialism were economic, exploratory, political, religious, and ethnocentric. The late 19th and early 20th centuries was the U.S. shift from isolationism and continental expansion to finally having engage with other countries through the use of exertion. It extended the country’s power and influence through military force. The use of diplomacy gave America the chance to expand exponentially.

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The Primary Terms and Motivating Factors of American Imperialism. (2022, Jun 15). GradesFixer. Retrieved December 3, 2023, from
“The Primary Terms and Motivating Factors of American Imperialism.” GradesFixer, 15 Jun. 2022,
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