Why Did the U.S. become an Imperial Power?

6 June 2016

Americans had always sought to expand the size of their nation, and throughout the 19th century they extended their control toward the Pacific Ocean. However, by the 1880’s, many American leaders had become convinced that the United States should join the imperialist powers of Europe and establish colonies overseas. Imperialism, the policy in which stronger nations extend their economic, political, and cultural control over weaker territories, was already a trend around the world. Most Americans gradually warmed to the idea of expansion overseas. With a belief in manifest destiny, they already had pushed the U.S. border to the Pacific Ocean.

Seeing that other nations were establishing a global military presence, American leaders advised that the United States build up its own military strength. One such leader was Admiral Alfred T. Mahan of the U.S. Navy. Mahan urged government official to build up American naval power in order to compete with other powerful nations. As a result of the urging of Mahan and others, the United States built nine steel-hulled cruisers between 1883 and 1890. The construction of modern battleships such as the Maine and the Oregon transformed the country into the world’s third largest naval power.

Why Did the U.S. become an Imperial Power? Essay Example

In the late 19th century, advances in technology enabled American farms and factories to produce far more than American citizens could consume. Now the United States needed raw materials for its factories and new markets for its agricultural and manufactured goods. Imperialists viewed foreign trades the solution to American overproduction and the related problems of unemployment and economic depression.

Cultural factors also were used to justify imperialism. Some Americans combined the philosophy of Social Darwinism, a belief that free-market competition would lead to the survival of the fittest, with a belief in the racial superiority of Anglo-Saxons. They argued that the United States had a responsibility to spread Christianity and “civilization” to the worlds “inferior peoples.” This viewpoint narrowly defined “civilization” according to the standards of only one culture.

The United States pursued and achieved several foreign policy goals in the early 20th century. Americans believed in the superiority of free-enterprise democracy, and the American government attempted to extend the reach of this economic and political system, even through armed intervention. First, it expanded its access to foreign markets in order to ensure the continued growth of the domestic economy. Second, the United States built a modern navy to protect its interests abroad. Third, the United States exercised its international police power to ensure dominance in Latin America.

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