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Empire Beyond the Seas

Richard A. Silocka

Contents of Curriculum Unit 78.03.07:

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Imperialism is a word with different meanings for different people. The word refers to a stronger nation’s gaining control of a weaker one. But the term is also used to describe the spread of power or authority without the actual taking over of any land. Historian C. Vann Woodward has called imperialism an “elastic term,” a word with evil meanings. He says this freely used word is a “convenient form of verbal shorthand” to tell of the gulf between nations “who took and have” and those “who lack and want.” Nations are labeled “imperialist” when, to protect or extend their own interests, they try to influence the people of other nations. Among the world’s unsolved problems are the questions of how much influence is proper, and what forms of influence are acceptable.

Colonial imperialism has historically meant the actual occupation and rule of a territory or colony by a foreign nation. Political imperialism means the use of either diplomacy or military force to influence the internal affairs of a weaker nation. Economic imperialism means controlling key aspects of a less powerful nation’s economy. Social-cultural imperialism includes the impact one culture has on another, especially if that impact is uninvited. In the social-cultural sense of the word, for example, the Coca-Cola signs around the world have been labeled as a form of American imperialism.

In the colonial sense of the term, the United States acted as an imperialist power in 1898, when it won a war against Spain and acquired several colonies. The events of 1898 are worth studying because of their long-term effect on the American dream. When the United States acquired colonies, many people saw a basic contradiction. Less than 125 years earlier, Americans had fought and won a war for independence from foreign rule. How could Americans now justify their rule over other peoples? This unit looks at some of the reasons why the United States acquired an overseas empire.

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Overseas Expansion

The American spirit of “Manifest Destiny” which had remained unbroken since the founding of the Republic reached one of its peaks at the end of the nineteenth century. The years following the Civil War had seen a steady preparation for this. In 1867, for example, William H. Seward, Secretary of State under Lincoln and Johnson, purchased Alaska from Russia. His successors used the new American foothold in the North to declare that the Bering Sea was to be an area in which American authority was absolute. In other areas of the Pacific, as well as in Latin America, the growing assertiveness of the United States became more and more evident as the century drew to a close.

One spectacular illustration of the American sense of destiny was occasioned by a border dispute which arose between Venezuela and the colony of British Guiana. The dispute was a long-standing one, but it came to a head when gold was discovered in the area. Britain repeatedly refused to submit the dispute to arbitration. In 1895 Secretary of State Olney wrote a note to the British Prime Minister in which he reasserted the Monroe Doctrine and claimed that no European power had the right to interfere in “American” affairs. Olney denounced European imperialism and proclaimed that the Americas lay within the United States “sphere of influence.” “Today,” he wrote, “the United States is practically sovereign on this continent, and its fiat law upon the subjects to which it confines its interposition.”

To support Olney’s position, President Cleveland obtained funds from Congress for a commission to determine the boundary between Venezuela and British Guiana. He declared that it was the duty of the United States to enforce the findings of this commission “by every means in its power,” which meant war if Britain remained adamant. At this time, however, various alliances were being formed on the continent of Europe, all of which excluded Britain. As a result, Britain was most anxious to have the friendship of the United States and she therefore refrained from forcing the issue and using her vastly superior naval power. The boundary question was resolved when Britain agreed to accept the decision of an arbitration tribunal which in the end upheld the British case.

Another aspect of the “sphere of influences” interpretation of the Monroe Doctrine was revealed in 1889, when delegates from the Latin American republics met with representatives of the United States in the first of what was to be a regular series of conferences. The delegates established the International Bureau of American Republics which later became the Pan-American Union, with its headquarters in Washington. Although the Union set up many useful committees for the purpose of exchanging information, the Latin American nations regarded it as an instrument of American influence, or even domination. Their conviction that they were not equals with the United States in the Union was strengthened when the American government directly interfered with a revolution in Chile in 1891 and a trade dispute in Brazil in 1893. More and more, it became apparent that the main concern of the United States in Latin America was to exclude European influence and to support politicians who were favorable to the expansion of American trade and investment.

In Chile, Peru, Costa Rica, and other Latin countries, Americans invested heavily in railways and copper, silver, and tin mines and grew increasingly influential in the politics of these countries. In 1899 the owners of American banana plantations formed the United Fruit Company, an American corporation which soon dominated the economic life of small states like Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Santo Domingo and Guatemala. The company, which also had large interests in Cuba and Colombia, came to exert great influence upon the policies of the American government towards the so-called “banana republics” in Latin America.

The expansion of the United States into the Pacific was also vigorous, if less firmly supported by public opinion. Ever since Commodore Matthew C. Perry opened Japan to American trade in 1853, American businessmen had taken an increasing interest in the commerce of the Pacific. Supported by farm-state representatives, Congress in 1856 passed a law enabling the President to annex any island which was rich in guano, a natural fertilizer. As a result, the United States acquired a considerable number of tiny islands in the Pacific. Other islands such as Samoa, with its fine harbor of Pago Pago, were desired as coaling stations for the United States Pacific trading ships. In 1878 a treaty with the ruling Samoan monarch gave the United States the harbor rights sought by American businessmen. But in 1889 the Germans, who also had economic interests in the islands, sought to undo this agreement by overthrowing the Samoan government. The matter was temporarily settled in that same year when Britain, Germany, and the United States established a joint “protectorate” over Samoa. Ten years later a new agreement gave Pago Pago to the United States and the rest of Samoa to Germany.

Far more important to the United States in its expansionist mood was the acquisition of the Hawaiian Islands, first visited by American missionaries in the 1820’s. Economic ties soon strengthened the religious connection. American immigrants produced sugar and pineapples there for the home market, and sailed their whalers into Hawaiian ports. Increasingly concerned about the dangers presented by imperialist rivalries in the Pacific, the Americans strengthened their naval power by securing from the Hawaiian government in 1887 the exclusive right to use Pearl Harbor. In the same year, seeking still greater control, American businessmen engineered the overthrow of the corrupt government of King Kalakaua of Hawaii and forced him to accept a new form of government—called the “Bayonet Constitution” by the Hawaiians—which gave white foreigners the vote and disfranchised the bulk of the native population. Six years later, when the Hawaiians under Queen Liliuokalani tried to regain power, the American community rose against them and set up a republic. Although the American minister in Hawaii supported the rising and authorized the use of American troops, the Cleveland administration in Washington was not enthusiastic about the means adopted and refused to annex the islands at that time.

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The New Imperialism

By 1898 the United States, like the nations of Europe, was caught up in a wave of imperialism. During the nineteenth century, the United States had filled out her continental domain and reached tentatively into Latin America, Alaska, and the Pacific. The new American imperialism of the twentieth century was a different matter, involving the annexation of far-flung islands in the Caribbean and the Pacific and the use of financial influence and naval power to secure control over the policies of other states.

Imperialism in the United States had roots similar to European imperialism. American capitalists sought new areas in which to invest their surplus money, new sources of raw materials to feed American industry, and new markets for industrial products. Since the achievement of these goals was felt to require the cooperation of government through appropriate foreign diplomatic policies and the use of armed forces, there developed an intimate relationship between business policy and American foreign policy. At the same time, as the economic depression lifted after 1896, a more confident national spirit began to assert itself in the United States. Americans wished to turn away from the painful years of civil war, industrial strife, and political bitterness, and to immerse themselves in some kind of unifying national achievement. Given these strong motives, other arguments for entry into the world of imperial competition fell quickly into place. The application of Social Darwinism to international relations led easily to the conclusion that the United States should use its new economic and military power to protect what the British poet Rudyard Kipling called “the lesser breeds without the law” and show them the road to republican democracy. Finally, it was confidently asserted that the United States must seize and safeguard the approaches to the New World or else its national security would be precarious in a world of grasping imperial powers and military alliances.

In the 1880’s and 1890’s many powerful advocates of imperialism appeared. The most literate imperialist was Captain A. T. Mahan of the United States Navy. In his book The Influence of Sea Power Upon History and in many other articles and books, Mahan argued that British power had always depended upon the naval superiority which enabled her not only to act decisively in war, but to build the sinews of economic and military strength by controlling colonies, naval stations, and even world commerce. As the proper inheritor of this British power, Mahan continued, the United States must act quickly to build a large navy and emulate earlier British imperial policies. It was therefore imperative that the United States control the Caribbean and construct a canal through the Central American isthmus. Mahan also expanded the current doctrine of Social Darwinism. The white Anglo-Saxons, he declared, had proved their exceptional power to survive in the evolutionary race and should face up to the challenge of the future, the principal feature of which would be an epic struggle between Eastern and Western civilizations.

A powerful group of young Republicans supported Mahan’s arguments for a great navy and an imperialist foreign policy. Among the most prominent of these were Senators Henry Cabot Lodge of Massachusetts, Albert Beveridge of Indiana, and William McKinley of Ohio. Theodore Roosevelt, who became Assistant Secretary of the Navy in 1897, and John Hay, who became Ambassador to London in 1897 and Secretary of State in 1898, were other prominent Republican imperialists. Their ranks were strengthened by the support of a number of Democrats outside Congress and several influential editors, clergymen, and businessmen. One of the most voluble spokesmen of American imperialism was Josiah Strong, a minister who crusaded for reform in the cities but who also believed firmly in the superiority and “Manifest Destiny” of the American branch of the Anglo-Saxon people. In a widely read book, Our Country, he proclaimed that the “peculiarly aggressive traits” developed by Americans were calculated to spread reform, social justice, and “spiritual Christianity” across the face of the earth.

Bowing to this imperialist persuasion, Congress passed a Naval Act in 1890, which appropriated money to construct ships of every class. By 1900 the United States Navy, with an official policy of being “second to none,” had become the world’s third-largest sea force. The Navy was more than ready for the crisis that developed in 1898 in the affairs of Spanish Cuba.

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The Spanish-American War

American interest in Cuba was almost as old as the Republic itself. Before the Civil War that interest had been mostly on the part of slaveholders who viewed Cuba as a possible new slave state. After the war, American investment in Cuban sugar plantations, processing plants, and railways had grown steadily and by 1898 amounted to more than fifty million dollars. At the same time the United States had become the major market for the sugar upon which the economy of Cuba rested. In 1894, however, the American duty on foreign sugar was increased, a move which brought economic ruin to Cuba. The Cubans, who with the Puerto Ricans were the last of Spain’s subjects in the New World, were driven to desperation by this aggravation of their perennial poverty. Although the Cubans had been in chronic revolt against Spain since the 1860’s, the fresh outbreak of rebellion in 1895 led some Americans to fear that success for the rebels might mean occupation of the island by another European power, possibly France, which through its project to build a Panama Canal already had interests in that area.

Other factors combined to tempt American imperialists to think of intervening in the Cuban revolt. Cubans purposely damaged American property on the island, in the hope that the United States would intervene to protect its interests and ultimately help overthrow Spanish rule. Some American businessmen thought it would be well worthwhile to impress the Latin American countries with the new power of the United States. The idea of acquiring Cuba, or a naval station there, also fitted admirably into the ideas of Mahan’s followers. Finally, in attempting to put down the revolt the Spanish government resorted to a ruthless policy of repression. General “Butcher” Weyler and his 200,000 troops showed no mercy as they herded thousands of Cuban rebels into concentration camps. The sensational press in the United States covered the Cuban revolt in lurid detail, printing highly colored stories and drawings of Spanish atrocities. The Spanish press replied in kind: “Scoundrels by nature, the American jingoes believe that all men are made like themselves ... they are not even worth our contempt, or the saliva with which we might honor them in spitting at their faces.” As newspaper circulation soared, an increasing number of Americans demanded that their government take action to liberate the Cuban people.

For a time there seemed some chance of a peaceful solution to Cuba’s problems: the Spanish government in Madrid recalled Weyler and abandoned the “concentration camp” policy. Then, in February 1898, came a new crisis which made war with the United States almost inevitable. The great battleship, the U.S.S. Maine, had been blown up by “enemy” action. The big navy men in the government and the popular press clamored for war with Spain. A flood of letters and personal appeals urged President McKinley to send a war message to Congress.

The President was reluctant to yield to this pressure, for the American ambassador in Madrid had just informed him that the Spanish government had agreed to meet every American demand, including an immediate armistice with the rebels. Spain was willing to accept independence, autonomy, or American annexation as a future for Cuba. But the weak McKinley could not resist the popular clamor for war and finally accepted the arguments of close advisers like “Teddy” Roosevelt: the United States, he argued, needed a war to keep it from getting “flabby” and to advance its world mission. Other Republican leaders believed that a war would unite the nation and reduce the mounting demand for political reform as well as the demand for government regulation of business that had been stimulated by the economic depression of the 1890’s. On April 11, 1898, McKinley sent a message to Congress in which he said nothing of the latest reports of Spanish concessions and urged Congress to declare war against Spain.

The “splendid little war,” as Secretary of State John Hay described the Spanish-American War, found the United States generally ill-prepared. The Navy, however, was ready. Roosevelt, the Assistant Secretary of the Navy, had anticipated the war and had ordered Commodore George Dewey, in charge of the Pacific fleet, to stand ready to seize Manila, the capital of the Spanish colony of the Philippines. Aided by the benevolent neutrality of the British naval force in the area, Dewey succeeded in his mission. In Cuba American military success owed more to Spanish incompetence than to United States skill. The Secretary of War was a Michigan politician who had been more interested in patronage than in proper maintenance of the Army. Thus American troops fought in heavy winter uniforms in the Cuban heat and far more died of disease than from enemy action. Nevertheless, several reputations were made in the Spanish-American War. The outstanding hero to emerge from the war was Teddy Roosevelt, who organized a troop of cavalry known as the Rough Riders, and who was present at the principal battle of the war, the capture of San Juan Hill. In reality, the dangerous positions on the hill had been taken by American Negro troops before Roosevelt’s famous charge was executed; but the charge caught the fancy of the people of the United States and did much to aid Roosevelt’s later political career.

The treaty with Spain, which ended the war in 1898, reflected the expansionist enthusiasm stimulated by the war itself. The United States took from Spain Puerto Rico in the Caribbean, and Guam and the Philippines in the Pacific. Cuba was given “independence” as an American protectorate. The United States paid twenty million dollars compensation to Spain for these acquisitions, and spent many more millions as well as hundreds of lives subduing a fierce three-year rebellion against American rule in the Philippines. An amendment to the Congressional declaration of war had specified that Cuba should not be annexed, and it was not; but a measure passed in 1901 seriously limited Cuban sovereignty by leaving control of Cuban foreign and financial policy in United States hands.

The Spanish-American War had achieved much of the program advocated by the imperialists, who immediately began to consolidate and expand their gains. One of the peace negotiators remarked that the acquisition of the Philippines made the Pacific an American lake, into which much commerce and investment was expected to flow. The success of the war, and general business prosperity, helped to bring about another Republican victory in 1900, in which McKinley was reelected, with Theodore Roosevelt, the hero of the Rough Rider charge at San Juan Hill, as his vice-president. Despite the founding of an Anti-Imperialist League, which gained the adherence of men in both parties, popular opinion supported the new aggressiveness of United States policy and, for good or ill, the United States was launched on an imperial course which would sweep her ever more surely into world politics.

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The Course of Imperialism

John Hay, McKinley’s Secretary of State, followed up the new American gains in the Pacific by active intervention in Chinese affairs. In 1899, in diplomatic notes to Russia, England, and Germany, he enunciated an “Open Door’ policy to be followed by Western powers in their relations with the Chinese empire. Each of the three recipients of the notes already had territorial concessions and special trading rights in China. By these means they discriminated against other foreign traders and ignored the Chinese customs laws. The Chinese government was weak and corrupt and could not prevent the foreign powers from acting as they wished. In his note Hay declared that European powers active in China should support the Chinese tariff collectors. This policy would be of advantage to the United States because the Chinese had already granted concessions on duties to American imports. The other powers accepted Hay’s position in principle, especially since it did not involve any restriction on their acquisition of territory in China. In 1900 a rebellion, known as the Boxer Rebellion, broke out against foreign control of China. The United States participated with the other European powers and Japan in suppressing it and in forcing the payment of an indemnity by the Chinese government. The Americans agreed, however, that their share of the indemnity should be used to promote Chinese education.

In 1901 President McKinley was assassinated. Theodore Roosevelt became President and under him the imperial movement quickened. In 1904-05, Japan and Russia fought a war in which Japan was speedily victorious. Afraid that Japan might move to exclude the United States from the China Sea trade, Roosevelt accepted a Japanese request to mediate between the belligerents. Thus the treaty ending the Russo-Japanese War was concluded by negotiators meeting in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. The Treaty of Portsmouth also heralded the expansion of Japanese power in the Pacific. This ominous development induced Roosevelt to send the American navy on a “training cruise” around the world, as an exhibition of power. Nevertheless, the President arranged an agreement in 1908 in which Japan and the United States agreed to uphold the Open Door principle in China and to recognize the integrity of China and each other’s interests in the Pacific .

At home, Roosevelt moved quickly to consolidate United States control of the Caribbean and to construct a canal through the Isthmus of Panama. In 1901 Secretary of State John Hay turned to good use the growing willingness of Britain to cooperate with the United States by concluding a treaty by which Britain accepted the American plan to build a canal under United States authority. The route selected by the United States lay through the province of Panama, part of the Republic of Columbia.

Hay negotiated a treaty with Columbia by which that country granted to the United States a strip of land across the isthmus in return for ten million dollars and an annual payment of two hundred and fifty thousand dollars. The Colombian Senate, however, refused to ratify the treaty. Rather than be held up by this obstruction, Roosevelt gave clandestine support to several groups who wished to foment a rebellion in Panama and to detach that province from Colombia. On November 3, 1903, the U.S.S. Nashville anchored off Panama and on the following day a “spontaneous” rebellion began. Other American ships joined the Nashville and prevented Colombia from suppressing the revolt. On November 6 the State Department recognized the rebel government and within a week Roosevelt received the chief organizer of the revolt as Ambassador of the new Republic of Panama. At once a treaty was arranged by which Panama granted the United States a permanent zone across the isthmus in return for the ten million dollars and two hundred and fifty thousand dollars annuity proposed to Colombia. In later years Roosevelt reminisced, “If I had followed traditional conservative methods, I should have submitted a dignified state paper of probably two hundred pages to the Congress and the debate would be going on yet, but I took the Canal Zone and then left Congress—not to debate the canal, but to debate me, and while the debate goes on, the canal does also.”

The Panama Canal, completed in 1914 after heroic engineering efforts, added greatly to the naval capability of the United States, and stimulated the economy of the entire West Coast. But the method of its acquisition strained relations between the United States and Latin America for a long period of time. Although the United States made a compensation payment of twenty-five million dollars to Colombia in 1921, the payment did little to soothe outraged Latin American opinion. Roosevelt’s motto was that in diplomacy one should “speak softly and carry a big stick.”

In 1905, asserting the right of the United States to intervene in the affairs of the Dominican Republic, Roosevelt proclaimed a corollary to the Monroe Doctrine. When the Latin republic defaulted in its foreign debt payments Roosevelt intervened in order to prevent a European creditor nation from employing forcible means of collecting. In cases of “chronic wrong-doing” by an American nation, said Roosevelt, the United States must itself act as policeman, since by the Monroe Doctrine it denied to European nations the right of intervention in the Americas. Following this doctrine under Roosevelt and the next two Presidents, Taft and Wilson, the United States intervened with her armed forces in the Dominican Republic, Haiti, Honduras, Nicaragua and other nations. Indeed, between 1900 and 1930, most of the Caribbean republics were little more than American protectorates. The period from 1909 to 1913 saw a particularly emphatic phase of imperialism, sometimes described by the term “dollar diplomacy.” Philander Knox, President Taft’s Secretary of State, induced American banking houses to extend their investments in Latin America and then to act as virtual government agencies. President Wilson professed aversion to “big stick” methods, but such procedures continued to be used after he became President in 1913. In Mexico, where American investment in railways, oil wells, mines, and cattle had reached the impressive figure of over a billion dollars by 1913, Wilson intervened both indirectly and directly in support of the opponents of the “strong man” Huerta, who was a threat to the stability required by United States investors. While Wilson insisted that his motives were liberal, the argument failed to impress Latin Americans.

By the time World War I broke out in Europe, the United States had become a major world power. Its imperial interests reached across the Americas and to the Orient. Americans had participated in the important European conferences at the Hague (1899) and Algeciras (1906). While many Americans were increasingly critical of imperialism and of any diplomatic connection with European powers, the involvement of the United States in world trade and politics was to make it more and more difficult for America to remain aloof from world affairs.

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1. In the 1890’s the United States departed from its previous foreign policy of isolationism.
2.American territorial expansion of the early nineteenth century was dictated by the economic interests of her farmers; her expansion at the end of the century was dictated by the economic interests of her industries.
3.American expansion during the 1890’s was largely directed toward Latin America and the Pacific region.
4. The Spanish-American War was a major shift in American foreign policy away from isolationalism.
5.Probably the chief reason the United States went to war with Spain in 1898 was to carry forward a popular crusade to relieve the intolerable conditions in Cuba. The war, nonetheless, fitted into the imperialistic spirit of this period.
6.United States military success during the war with Spain was largely due to an augmented naval program, launched in 1883. The American Army, by contrast, was the victim of outdated methods and inept management.
7. The peace treaty that followed American victory in the war with Spain moved the United States into the ranks of the world’s colonizing powers. It was a situation about which the American people had mixed feelings.
8.In the 1880’s and 1890’s many powerful arguments in favor of imperialism appeared. Among these ideas were Social Darwinism (the writings of Captain A. T. Mahan), aggressive protestant missionary zeal, and racism as expressed in the writings of Rudyard Kipling.

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Unit Outline

I. Imperialism as a force in world affairs in the last quarter of the nineteenth century
A. A stronger force in Europe than U.S. because of major European powers’ scramble for territory
B. Economic causes
C. Patriotic and idealistic causes
D. Meaning of “the white man’s burden” and resentment of other races
E. Men and causes leading to American imperialism
II. The Spanish-American War, 1898
A. The Cuban rebellion of 1895Ð1898
1. American sympathy with revolutionists stirred by “yellow press”
2.Difficulties of remaining neutral
3.Spanish refusal to compromise
4.Sinking of the Maine
B. The declaration of war
1.Explanation for popularity of war measures with most Americans
2. McKinley’s reluctance to go to war
3.Final action by McKinley and Congress bringing us to war
a. Teller Amendment
b. Significance
4.Extent to which U.S. was justified in going to war
C. Our military record
1.On land
a. Evidences of inefficiency
b. San Juan and the “Rough Riders”
c. Capture of Santiago
d. Occupation of Puerto Rico
e. Reasons for success
2. On the sea
a. Sampson’s defeat of Cervera’s fleet off Santiago
b. Dewey’s victory at Manila Bay and resulting capture of Manila by American troops
c. Reasons for American success
D. The peace treaty
1. Debate on whether U.S. should acquire the Philippines
a. Arguments for, including McKinley’s justification
b. Arguments and important leaders against
2. Final terms of the Treaty of Paris (1898)
E. Results of the War
1. Domination of Caribbean
2. Annexation of Hawaii
3. Colonial possessions, responsibilities, and interests in Far East
III. American policy towards China
A. Helplessness of China before 1900
1. Beginning of process of parceling out Chinese territory
a. European spheres of influence and relation to American opportunities for trade
2. Reasons for American opposition
3. Effect of ownership of Philippines on our concern about what happened in China
B. John Hay and the Open Door Policy
C. The Boxer Rebellion
1. American help in preventing partition
2. American help in scaling down indemnities
D. American gestures of good will
IV. Our overseas empire
A.Main problems in governing an overseas empire
1. Form of government
2. Granting American citizenship to all
3. Allowing foreign goods to enter U.S. without duty
B. Reasons Hawaii constituted no real problem
C.Puerto Rico
1. Benefits of American rule
2. Difficulties under American rule
3. Degree of self-government given Puerto Rico
a. Explanation of right of any Puerto Rican to enter U.S. at present time
b. Extent to which we control Puerto Rico at present time
D. Difficulties in ruling the Philippines
1. Reasons for doubting ability of Filipinos to rule themselves
2. The Philippine insurrection and American military action
a. Reasons American military action against Filipinos violated American traditions
b. American policy as announced by McKinley
3. Ways in which American imperialism in Philippines differed from most European imperialism
a. Achievements of American rule in the Philippines
b. Extent to which we have reason to be proud or ashamed of our record
E. Problem of Constitution following the flag
1. Decision of Supreme Court in “insular cases”
2. Later Congressional legislation
F. American relations with Cuba
1. Reasons U.S. felt it should not withdraw immediately
2. American achievements in Cuba
3. Cuban progress toward self-government
a. Meaning of Cuba as American protectorate
b. Restrictions of Platt Amendment and extent, if any, to which it violated Teller Amendment
c. Circumstances under which U.S. secured Guantanamo
d. Evaluation of record of U.S. in Cuba in early nineteenth century
V. Imperialism as a political issue
A. Meaning of imperialism
B. Role in the election of 1900
C. McKinley’s awareness of America’s new position in the world and its relation to needed tariff changes
VI. Theodore Roosevelt, President
A. Circumstances under which he became Vice-President
B. Circumstances under which McKinley was assassinated
VII. Roosevelt’s foreign policy in the Caribbean
A. Defense of Venezuela from possible European aggression in 1902
1. Nature of German action
2. Nature of American action
3. Most recent challenge to Monroe Doctrine
B. The Roosevelt Corollary to the Monroe Doctrine
1. Problems posed by Drago Doctrine
2. Explanation of Roosevelt Corollary
a. Implications for U.S. and Latin America
b. Extent to which it enlarged Monroe Doctrine
3. Circumstances under which Roosevelt Corollary first used
a. Collection of Dominican custom duties by U.S. in 1905
VIII. Roosevelt’s diplomacy in the Far East.
A. Reason policy of the “Big Stick” not applicable
B. Difficulties in maintaining Open Door in China and defending Philippines in event of attack
1. Value in keeping balance of power between nations with territorial ambitions in Far East.
2. Meaning of Roosevelt’s reference to the Philippines as the “Achilles heel” of American defense.
a. Did World War I prove T. R. right or wrong?
b. Did World War II prove T. R. right or wrong?
C. Japanese and Russian policies of expansion lead to Russo-Japanese War
1. Reason American public opinion at first favorable to Japan
2. Effect of ease of Japanese victories
3. Roosevelt as peacemaker
a. Final provisions of Treaty of Portsmouth
b. Effect on balance of power in Far East
c. Effect on Japanese public opinion toward U.S. because of failure to secure money indemnity from Russia
d. Nobel Peace Prize to Roosevelt
IX. Later difficulties with Japan
A. T. R.’s attempt to solve them
1. Playing up of “yellow peril” by “yellow press”
2. Discrimination against Japanese children in California public schools as a result of rising opposition to Japanese immigration
a. Japan’s part in compromise effected by the Gentlemen’s Agreement
b. U.S. part in compromise
B. Settlement regarding the balance of power in the Far East
1. Root-Takahira Agreement of 1908
2. Roosevelt’s demonstration of American naval power
C.Failure under President Taft to prevent discrimination against American businessmen in Manchuria
X. Other Rooseveltian diplomacy
A. Roosevelt’s involvement in European politics with respect to Morocco
1. Success and significance of intervention
2. Attitude of U.S. Senate and its significance
B.Support of use of arbitration for settling international disputes
1. Meaning of arbitration
2. American participation in Hague Conferences of 1899 and 1907 and establishment of Hague Tribunal
3. U.S. record of use of arbitration in previous administrations and in the Roosevelt period
4. Significance of restrictions placed in arbitration treaties made with individual countries at this time
5. Role arbitration plays or should play in our present foreign policy
C. Improvement of the Army and Navy
1. Manner in which this was effected
2. Elihu Root as Secretary of War
3. Relation of such improvement to effective American diplomacy
D. Improvement of the diplomatic corps
1. Manner in which this was effected
2. Elihu Root as Secretary of State
XI. Evaluation of foreign policy of Theodore Roosevelt
A. Desirable elements
B. Undesirable elements
C. Extent to which this period and the McKinley period indicate a willingness to take on world-wide responsibility

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Suggestions for Reading

Imperialism is a vast and controversial subject that has led to an extensive literature, much of it highly biased and argumentative, some of it extremely difficult because of the complex economic issues involved. A readable book that provides a comparative perspective is D. K. Fieldhouse, The Colonial Empires from the Eighteenth Century* (New York: Delacorte, 1966), which includes the United States. In a short essay, “Imperialism,” in C. Vann Woodward (ed.), The Comparative Approach to American History* (New York: Basic, 1968), pp. 253-270, Robin W. Winks suggests some ways American imperialism was different, and again in an essay of the same title in The Encyclopedia Americana, 1971 edition, Winks contrasts imperialism and colonialism. The theoretical problem of American expansion is treated from a new left perspective in William Appleman Williams, The Contours of American History* (New York: Quadrangle, 1966); from a more dispassionate centrist position in R. W. VanAlsyne, The Rising American Empire (New York: Oxford University Press, 1960); and by a distinguished French writer, Claude Julien in America’s Empire (New York: Pantheon, 1971). The best presentation of the variety of rationalizations for continental expansion is Albert K. Weinberg, Manifest Destiny: A Study of Nationalist Expansionism in American History* (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins, 1935), although the book is difficult to read. To contrast empires, read Mark Naidis, The Second British Empire, 1783-1965: A Short History (Reading, Mass.: Addison-Wesley, 1970). A lively, sometimes erroneous, but moving book is Dee Brown’s Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee: An Indian History of the American West* (New York: Bantam, 1972). Robert M. Utley, The Last Days of the Siou Nation* (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1963), is a beautifully written record of the last major Indian resistance, whereas Edward H. Spicer, in Cycles of Conquest: The Impact of Spain, Mexico, and the United States on the Indians of the Southwest, 1533-1960* (Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 1962), has provided a full and fine series of case studies in cultural impact. Wilbur R. Jacobs, Dispossessing the American Indian: Indians and Whites on the Colonial Frontier* (New York: Scribner, 1972), is pungent.

Two highly readable general accounts of America’s expansion overseas are Foster Rhea Dulles, The Imperial Years (New York: Crowell, 1956), and Walter Millis, The Martial Spirit: A Study of Our War with Spain* (New York: Viking, 1965), which is especially good on McKinley. A general reinterpretation of American growth overseas is provided by Walter LaFeber in The New Empire: An Interpretation of American Expansion, 1860Ð1898* (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1963), whereas H. Wayne Morgan, in America’s Road to Empire: The War with Spain and Overseas Expansion* (New York: Wiley, 1965), presents a contrary view. The best history of the war itself is Frank Freidel, The Splendid Little War* (Boston: Little, Brown, 1958), which is light reading and heavily illustrated. One may also find a variety of opinions on the causes of the war and the desirability of American expansion assembled in four books of readings: Milton Plesur, Creating an American Empire, 1865-1914* (New York: Jerome S. Ozer, 1971); Theodore P. Greene, American Imperialism in 1898* (Boston: Heath, 1955); J. Rogerts Hollingsworth, American Expansion in the Late Nineteenth Century: Colonist or Anticolonialist?* (New York: Holt, 1968); and Richard E. Welch, Jr., Imperialists vs Anti-Imperialists: The Debate over Expansion in the 1890’s* (Itasca, Ill. Peacock, 1972).

*Paperback Eds.

The best books on specific issues are, on the Far West, Norman A. Graebner, Empire on the Pacific: A Study in American Continental Expansion* (New York: Ronald, 1955); on the Open Door, Marilyn Blatt Young, The Rhetoric of Empire: American China Policy, 1895-1901 (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1968), and Thomas J. McCormick, China Market: America’s Quest for Informal Empire, 1893Ð1901 (New York: Quadrangle, 1967); on Cuba, David F. Healy, The United States in Cuba, 1898Ð1902: Generals, Politicians, and the Search for Policy of the United States: A Brief History* (New York: Wiley, 1968), and on the anti-imperialists, Robert L. Beisner, Twelve Against Empire: The Anti-Imperialists, 1898-1900* (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1965), which is a lively book, and E. Berkeley Tompkins, Anti-Imperialism in the United States: The Great Debate, 1890-1920 (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1970). The best overall treatment is Ernest R. May, Imperial Democracy* (New York: Harcourt, 1961).

On the Pacific Islands and Hawaii, useful books include Merze Tate, The United States and the Hawaiian Kingdom: A Political History (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1965), which is highly detailed, and Earl Pomeroy, Pacific Outpost: American Strategy in Guam and Micronesia (Stanford, Cal.: Stanford University Press, 1951), which is not. A journalist for the New Yorker, E. J. Kahn, Jr., has written a vivid and moving book, Reporter in Micronesia (New York: Norton, 1966). An excellent chapter on the war in the Pacific against Aguinaldo may be found in Leslie E. Decker and Robert Seager II (eds.), America’s Major Wars: Crusaders, Critics, and Scholars, 1775Ð1972, vol. 2:1866-1972, from The Study of American History, Vol. II, pp. 647-648 (Reading, Mass.: Addison Wesley, 1973).

The general theory of imperialism presents major problems for the reader not well versed in economics, and there are only a few books by which one may begin to stalk the problem. A clear and short survey is Raymond F. Betts, Europe Overseas: Phases of Imperialism (New York: Basic, 1963). Robert Huttenback’s The British Imperial Experience* (New York: Harper & Row, 1966), although it is limited to a single nation, is very lively. Broader in scope is Robin W. Winks (ed.), The Age of Imperialism* (Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1969).

*Paperback Eds.


The Ambassadors—Henry James

Hawaii—James Michener

Mr. Dooley—Finley Peter Donne

Textbooks Used in Preparation of Unit

Building the United States, Chapters 73-76, Harcourt, Brace Jovanovich, Inc., 1971.

Let Freedom Ring, Chapter 21, Silver Burdett Co., 1977.

The American Dream, Unit B., Scott Foresmen, 1977.

These United States, Chapter 18, Houghton Mifflin Co., 1978.

The Study of American History, Vol. II, Chapter 31, Dushkin Publishing Group, 1974.

Audio-Visual Materials


1. Imperialism: Building an Empire. Critical Thinking Aides.
2. Internal Reform and International Responsibility. A367-13 SVE
3. The Rise of America as a World Power. Unit 30. Yale University Press Film Service.
4. Emergence of the United States as a World Power. 3 Filmstrips, 3 Cassettes Guidance Associates.
5. Theodore Roosevelt. Electronic History, Inc.
* Paperback Eds.


“U.S. Expansion Overseas—1893-1917.” Coronet Films. 20 minute color.

“History of the U.S. Navy—War with Spain 1865-1898.” 20 minute color. Produced by the Department of the Navy.


A set of forty slides produced by R. A. Silocka. Illustrating the Rise of America to World Power 1890’sÐ1900’s.

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Sample Activities for Students


The topic of American overseas expansion may be introduced in the following activity. Divide the class into several small groups. Ask each group to list on one side of a piece of paper the way in which they, their peers, and their families depend on or have been affected by countries outside the United States. They should consider such things as family ties, consumer goods, travel, military service. Then have them list on the other side of the paper the roles which the United States government played in any of the items of the first list. Here they might mention such things as import duties, passports, currency changes, military assignments, and citizenship processes. When the lists have been completed, have the groups compare and discuss their lists.

This activity should both personalize the study of foreign affairs for the class and should start students thinking about the ways in which nations become involved with each other and about the roles governments play in these involvements.

Map Work

1. On an outline map of the Caribbean area locate the following: Cuba, Puerto Rico, Santo Domingo, Venezuela, Nicaragua, Colombia, Panama, the Canal Zone, and the Panama Canal. With the completed map before you, discuss in class the strategic relation of countries listed above to the Panama Canal.
(figure available in print form)
2. On an outline map of the Eastern part of Asia and the Pacific locate the following: the Philippine Islands, China, Korea, Manchuria, Port Arthur, Japan, Wake Island, Guam, Samoa, Hawaiian Islands.
3. Prepare a map talk show about the economic and strategic importance of the Panama Canal to the United States.
4. On an outline map of the world show the areas acquired by the United States between 1865 and 1900, with the date when each was acquired.
5. On an outline map of the world, show places connected with The Spanish-American War, including Cuba, Santiago, Guantanamo Bay, Puerto Rico, the Philippines, Manila Bay, Guam; The Open Door Policy: Peking, Port Arthur, Formosa, Shantung Peninsula, Hong Kong, Manchuria.
6. Prepare an outline map of the world to show A) European colonial possessions acquired by 1815; B) those acquired between 1815 and 1914; C) American colonial holdings in 1914. How many of these are still colonies?

Names, Terms, Events, Places

Are you able to identify and explain the significance of the following:

Individuals and Groups:

Commodore Matthew PerryGeneral Valeriano Weyler
William H. SewardJoseph Pulitzer
Rough RidersWilliam Randolph Hearst
Walter ReedTheodore Roosevelt
George W. GoethalsCommodore George Dewey
Josiah StrongWilliam Jennings Bryan
Alfred Thayer MahanGeneral Leonard Wood
James G. BlaineEmilio Aguinaldo
Pan-American UnionJohn Hay
Queen LiliuokalaniBoxers


isolationism Social Darwinism
continentalism Big Stick
commercial imperialism customs union
Foreign markets “White Man’s burden”
debtor nation unincorporated territories
jingoism sphere of influence
Roosevelt Corollary Open Door
Dollar DiplomacyYellow Press
commonwealth statuscolony
Drago Doctrinetrusteeship
“Manifest Destiny”


annexation of Midway Maine
first Pan-American Congress joint resolution declaring
Russo-Japanese War Cuba free
Battle of Santiago Bay Teller Amendment
McKinley Tariff The Treaty of Paris, 1898
“republic” of Hawaii Insular Cases
Platt Amendment


Santo DomingoSan Juan Hill
Isthmian CanalGuam
Samoan IslandsPuerto Rico
ChinaPhilippine Islands
HavanaGuantanamo Bay


Divide the class into three groups and assign each group literature that was contemporary in 1898. One group can read Mr. Dooley on Ivrything and Ivrybody by Finley Peter Dunne. A second group can use a collection of writings by Mark Twain and the third can read through the writings of Theodore Roosevelt. Finley Peter Dunne was a prolific American humorist who commented on nearly everything; so did Mark Twain. Teddy Roosevelt was also free with his opinions. Therefore all three groups can complete the same reaction sheet on which they will summarize how their individual felt about American expansion, the Spanish-American War, the defects and strengths of Americans, the place of America in the world, the prospects for the future, etc. The individuals in each group will combine their findings as they meet to prepare a “TV commentary” to be made in class. Subsequent discussion can center on students’ reactions to each of the three. How much insight did each have into the American character? What pieces of “advice” ought to be remembered? rejected? Which of the three would be most comfortable in today’s America?


Come-to-life color can be found in the lives of great men and women. Use the flow charts included in this unit to aid your students in a study of ethnic heroes, world adventurers and explorers, military persons, Presidents, scientists and inventors, and world leaders.

Book Reports

Another means for introducing students to a variety of approaches to the past is the book review. This approach also assists students to develop their critical abilities. The less able student could be assigned to report on one book, discussing what it is saying, how effectively it is presented, and finally what its importance is. The more able student should be required to do this for two or more books covering the same topic or area. Careful planning of this kind of assignment could mean that individual students will have something “special” or “extra” to contribute to class discussions as the unit or term progresses.

Research Topics

1. Have some students do a research project on the role of the press before and during the various wars in which the United States has been involved. Their research may be limited to a particular time period, or may range all the way from the American Revolution up to the present. Have them consider the following as they do their research.
A. Does the role of the press right before or during a war seem to have changed over the years, or has it remained constant?
B. In which war or wars did the press seem to be most active? Least active?
C.What criticisms have been leveled at the press for its activities before or during a war? Do you think these criticisms were/are justified?
D. What problems does the role of the press before and during a war raise with respect to the First Amendment guarantees?
2. Analyze one of the causes of imperialism.
3. Why did naval expansionists want colonies?
4. What arguments support the idea that business interests caused war with Spain?
5. What arguments deny that business interests caused war Spain?
6. How did religious leaders contribute to imperialism?
7. Can you reconcile the Teller Amendment with the Platt Amendment?
8. Using historical examples clarify the distinctions between A) colony, B) protectorate, C) sphere of influence, D) mandate, and E) trusteeship.
9. Research the Northwest Ordinance to see how America provided for governing land and people beyond the original thirteen states. Why was the precedent set up in 1787 not applied overseas?
10. The medical research on yellow fever makes a dramatic story. Read DeKruif, Men Against Death. And report to your class your findings.

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(figure available in print form)
1. A promoter of sea power.
2. The first President of Hawaii.
3. A Republican President who wanted to expand the U.S. but couldn’t.
4. A Democratic President who didn’t want to expand the U.S. and didn’t.
5. The President who got into a war with Spain.
6.Secretary of State during the Venezuela crisis with Britain.
7.Secretary of State who bought Alaska.
8.Owner of a New York paper that helped to get us into war.
9.Spanish commander at Santiago.
10.United States commander at Manila.
11.United States commander at Santiago.
12.Philippine guerrilla leader.
13.Builder of the Panama Canal.
14.The President who used a big stick.
15.The President who practiced dollar diplomacy.
16.Mexican dictator.
17.The Mexican dictator’s successor.
18.President Wilson did not approve of him.
19.Mexican guerrilla leader.
20.United States general who failed to catch the guerrilla leader.
21.A President whose Mexican policy failed.
22.The man who called the struggle with Spain “a splendid little war.”
The names above are hidden in the diagram. Find the name in the diagram and draw a circle around it. Then write the names in the space beside the identification and tell how each one helped or held back imperialism. Some names are spelled down, some up; some are from left to right, and some are backward; a few are spelled diagonally.

(figure available in print form)
(figure available in print form)
(figure available in print form)

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