Most Americans in the mid-1800s were not interested in further territorial expansion. In fact, many Americans opposed any type of imperial rule as it went against America’s political policies and threatened to bring in people of different cultures and religions; something that American already had enough of. However, several European countries were quickly expanding into Africa and Asia, threatening United States’ access to global markets. This new threat, combined with a collective belief in Darwinism, sparked American interest in global expansion. America’s international involvement between 1890 and 1905 definitely affected global politics as the United States became increasingly concerned with the affairs of smaller, less stable countries as well as gaining a more assertive global presence.
This new approach toward global politics forever changed America’s once indifferent attitude. The events following the American Revolution kept the United States occupied up until the mid-1800s. The United States was largely inactive in global politics as its leaders were more concerned with building the foundations of the country rather than expanding beyond the North American borders. The country’s economy grew with industrialization and by the 1890’s the United States had half of its petroleum sales overseas (Landsberry, 2010) . The United States and its economy became very dependent on foreign trade. Almost simultaneously, European powers began seizing territory in Africa and Asia. Despite America’s indifference towards any involvement in global politics, the rising power of these European countries was concerning.
Darwinism, a belief in the survival of the fittest, prompted Americans to consider further expansion to prevent being shut out of global markets that supported the American economy. Others were convinced that much of the world was uncivilized and it was the United States’ duty to spread the Anglo-Saxon civilization. Some were strictly focused on national power and insisted that the United States’ global power was dependent upon a strong navy. Yet there were still some who maintained that the United States must respect the rights of other nations (Irvin, 2007). Carl Shurz, a well-known politician, also held this peaceful perspective. He wrote,
“In its dealings with other nations (the United States) should have scrupulous (careful) regard, not only for their rights, but also for their self-respect. With all its resources for war, it should be the great peace power of the world. It (America) should seek to influence mankind, not by heavy artillery, but by good example and wise counsel. It should see its highest glory, not in battles won, but in wars prevented. It should be so invariably (always) just and fair, so trustworthy that other nations would instinctively turn to it as the great preserver of the world’s peace” (Irvin, 2007).
Nonetheless, the United Sates pursued imperialism in the Spanish-American War in 1898. The Spanish-American War was a conflict that President William McKinley wanted to avoid. Anti- Spanish propaganda instigated America’s interest in the war and pressure from the Democratic Party and several industrialists finally persuaded the president to engage in what eventually lead to the fall of the Spanish Empire. The war originally began as an American intervention of the Cuban War of Independence however tensions escalated quickly after the American battleship Maine mysteriously sank in the Havana harbor (Brinkley, 2012).
The Treaty of Paris ended the war and gave the United States control of the Philippine islands, Guam, and Puerto Rico (Brinkley, 2012). The United States has already shifted the balance of power in their first confrontation beyond North American borders. Now in control of outside territories, the United States was faced with the responsibility of maintaining its new colonies. This proved to be very difficult in the Philippines, where rebellious groups of guerilla warriors waged war on American soldiers. The Philippine War went on for four years and caused thousands of causalities, both native and American alike.
The rebels maintained that they had valid leader who would lead a stable government and they did not need help from Spain or the United States. The war ended in 1902 when the United States finally agreed to assist in the Philippines independence from colonial rule (Brinkley, 2012). “America did not attempt to expand its territories after the Philippine War as imperialism did not proved to be more dangerous than it was lucrative” (Landsberry, 2010) . Instead, its leaders decided to expand the country’s power and by increasing its influence over foreign nations. President Roosevelt was very interested in international involvement. His affairs became known as the ‘Big Stick Policy’ (Irvin, 2007).
The name came from his famous quote “I have always been fond of the West African proverb: ‘Speak softly and carry a big stick; you will go far” (Irvin, 2007). This attitude was one of quiet assertiveness. President Roosevelt, like Carl Shurz, believed that it was the United States’ duty to set a good example for the rest of the world.
He took it a step further by insisting that Americans intervene in the affairs of other countries that were too weak or unstable to protect themselves. He focused on countries located on the Western Hemisphere in accordance with the Monroe Doctrine; a document forged by President Monroe that assured the European countries of the United States’ dominance over the Western Hemisphere. President Roosevelt’s promise to protect weaker nations is known as the Roosevelt Corollary to the Monroe Doctrine (Irvin, 2007) .
Although the United States may have not been entirely successful at imperialism, it did make its mark on global politics. It disabled the Spanish Empire and changed the American reputation from indifferent and isolated to assertive and strong. President Roosevelt reiterated the Monroe Doctrine, making the world aware of the United States’ presence in foreign affairs. In the short time from 1890 to 1905, the United States of America transformed its identity in preparation for the war ahead.