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Essay on A Brief History of American Imperialism

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The United States saw its territory more than double in the first three decades of the 19th century. Bursting with nationalist fervor, an insatiable desire for more land, and a rapidly increasing population, the western frontiers of the United States would not remain east of the Mississippi. The eventual spread of the American nation beyond the Mississippi into Native and French land, referred to as “Manifest Destiny” by John O’Sullivan, was rationalized as a realization of their God given duty. The Louisiana Purchase set the precedent for unrestricted westward expansion in America, and allowed for others to follow in his footsteps. Characterized by racist overtones, a lack of the “consent of the governed, and ethnic cleansing, there is no valid distinction between this American continental expansion and the international expansion sought by Europe in the late 19th and 20th centuries, and is clearly imperialist in nature.
The acquisition of the Louisiana territory by Thomas Jefferson from the French in 1803, was too good a deal to pass up. Primarily interested in the strategic port city of New Orleans, and unrestricted use of the Mississippi River for trade, when offered the entirety of the territory by Napoleon, Jefferson saw an opportunity for the expansion of his “empire of liberty”. However, this treaty, made official on July 4th, 1803, which would give to the United States 828,000 square miles of new land, and cost 15 million dollars (almost doubling the federal spending of that year), would push the boundaries of the constitution. Given only six months to ratify the treaty, Jefferson knew that it would be impossible to pass an amendment to the Constitution in time, that would allow the purchase. He himself remarked, “The ge...


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Jefferson, Thomas. Library of Congress, "Thomas Jefferson to James Madison." Last modified April 09, 1809. Accessed April 11, 2014. http://www.loc.gov/exhibits/jefferson/149.html.
Joy, Mark S. American Expansionism 1783-1860. London: Pearson Longman, 2003.
Kiernan, Ben. Blood and Soil: A World History of Genocide and Extermination from Sparta to Darfur. Harrisonburg, VA: Yale University Press, 2007.
Lewis, James E. The Louisiana Purchase: Jefferson's Noble Bargain?. Chapel Hill, NC: The University of North Carolina Press, 2003.
Thornton, Russell. American Indian Holocaust and Survival: A Population History Since 1492. The University of Oklahoma Press, 1990.
Watson, David K. Jefferson and Imperialism: Democratic Expansion. From Jefferson's purchase of Louisiana the Democratic administrations have favored expansion. Milwaukee, WI: Allied Printing, 1900.


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