American Imperialism

American Imperialism

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Sparks of a daunting imperialistic period were galvanized in 1897 when Theodore Roosevelt wrote in a letter, " In strict confidence… I should welcome almost any way, for I think this country needs one." In 1890, the year of massacre at Wounded Knee, the Bureau of Census declared the internal frontier closed. The profit system already started looking overseas for expansion. The severe depression beginning in 1893 stimulated the idea of overseas markets for the surplus of American goods.
Expansion overseas was not a completely innovative idea seeing as the Monroe Doctrine (Issued in 1823 when Latin countries were revolting for independence) considered Latin America in the United States' sphere of influence. A State Department list, the "Instances of the Use of United States Armed Forces Abroad 1798-1945," recorded a quantity of 103 interventions of affairs of other countries between the years of 1798 and 1895. This showed that the use had ample experience in overseas investigation and interventions.
Alfred T. Mahan, the Captain of the U.S. Navy, regarded as a popular propagandist for expansion, greatly influenced Theodore Roosevelt and other American leaders. Mahan thought that the country with the most powerful navy would inherit the earth. He believed we should build a canal, and to protect the canal by controlling Hawaii and Cuba, which he thought was a necessity.
During this time, thoughts of Anglo-Saxon superiority were a common "excuse" for imperialism. The political scientist and professor of Columbia University, John Burgess said the Teutonic and Anglo-Saxon races were "particularly endowed with the capacity for establishing national states… they are entrusted… with the mission of conducting the political civilization of the modern world." Even before McKinley's presidency, he exhibited interest in foreign markets for the surplus of American products. This later on became an important when McKinley became president.
On eve of expansionism during Roosevelt's presidency, people thought it was a matter of manliness and heroism, but he was conscious of "trade relations with China." In 1898, 90% of American products were sold at home; the 10% sold abroad amounted to a billion dollars. By the year of 1893, American trade exceeded that of every country in the world except England. The Farming, Steel, and Oil industries relied heavily on investments from international markets, which gave reason for American expansion. There were demands for expansion by large commercial farmers and Populist leaders, which led to the appeal of expansion through acts of generosity.

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This came true with Cuba where the natives were rebelling to overthrow the foreign rule—in this case, Spain. This created a mood for expansionism to shadow the idea of "Open Door" as generous and hospitable. The Cleveland administration was fearful of a Cuban victory, which might lead to "the establishment of a white and black republic," seeing as Cuba was a mixture of the two races. During the McKinley era, his administration, "had plans for dealing with the Cuban situation, but these did not include independence for the island." In February of 1898, a mysterious explosion in Havana harbor destroyed the U.S. Battleship Maine. This is when Congress passed the Teller Amendment, pledging the United States to not annex Cuba. This was initiated and was supported those who were interested in Cuban independence and opposed to American imperialism. This was soon ignored when the McKinley presented an ultimatum to Spain demanding an armistice (peace), while also not saying anything about independence for Cuba. Soon after McKinley declared war on Spain and sent forces to Cuba, labor unions across America sympathized for Cuban rebels. These groups included the Knights of Labor and the American Federation of Labor. The U.S. did not end up annexing Cuba, but passed the Platt Amendment, which gave the United States "the right to intervene for the preservation of Cuban independence, the maintenance of a government adequate for the protection of life, property, and individual liberty…" The United States then took advantage of another country under Spanish rule. This time despite the work of the Anti-Imperialist League, some trade unions supported action in the Philippines. This was one of the most bloody gruesome expansionist movements the U.S. made and was connected to the lynching of African Americans in America.

During this time of expansion and imperialism, everyone had their opinion. Trade unions, various influential figures, presidents, and generals of war all produced influence through their actions. Many of these actions were then relayed, not always truthfully through propaganda, and the yellow press.
One of the most influential figures of this time of expansion and imperialism was Alfred T. Mahan. Mahan was an admiral of the U.S. Navy and proposed the idea that the countries with the biggest navy would inherit the earth. Mahan uses hyperbole to emphasize the importance of navy in world conquest, and later on, his hypothesis held true with the expansion to Hawaii, Cuba, and the Philippines.
Another influential figure of the time was William McKinley who was one of the people who emphasized the importance of expansion for economic reasons, primarily usage of the foreign market for the American surplus products.
"American factories are making more than the American people can use; American soil is producing more than they can consume. Fate has written our policy for us; the trade of the world must and shall be ours."
The markets of Oil, Steel, and Agriculture were also in favor of American expansion. This is because the necessity of world marketing for export products skyrocketed each of these industries from the later 19th century to the early 20th century. Most demands for expansion were seen by large commercial farmers, which also included some populist leaders. Remember, later on during the Spanish-American War and Filipino-American War the populists were heavily against imperialism when business got serious. William Appleman Williams, in The Tragedy of American Diplomacy, said one of my favorite quotes from the chapter,
"This national argument is usually interpreted as a battle between imperialists led by Roosevelt and Lodge and anti-imperialists led by William Jennings Bryan and Carl Schurz. It is far more accurate and illuminating however, to view it as a three-cornered fight. The third group was a coalition of businessmen, intellectuals, and politicians who opposed traditional colonialism and advocated instead a policy of an open door through which America's preponderant economic strength would enter and dominate all underdeveloped areas of the world."
This quote clearly sums up the groups who were imperialists and those who opposed it. Although this quote is quite vast, it touches on the fact that whenever a certain group is oppressed or not benefited by an imperialistic action, they complain, strike, or even rebel.
Throughout the chapter, there are multiple instances when Zinn notes the Rich benefit from imperialistic action and how the poor don't prosper, but are oppressed. For example, during the Spanish-American War, socialists opposed the war. This was shown through the United Mine Workers who pointed to higher coal prices as a result of the war. Whereas the war brought more employment and higher wages, higher prices were also looming over middle-class families.
"Not only was there a startling increase in the cost of living, but, in the absence of an income tax, the poor found themselves paying almost entirely for the staggering costs of the war through increased levies on sugar, molasses, tobacco, and other taxes…"
Clearly showing the oppression set upon middle-class families during the time. Samuel Gompers, publicly for the way, privately pointed out that the war had led to a 20 percent reduction of the purchasing power of workers' wages. This is just another example not only of the oppression but the hypocrisy that took place.
The Chicago Labor World said: "this has been a poor man's war—paid for by the poor man. The rich have profited by it, as they always do…"
"Big industry companies such as the Armour and Company, the big meatpacking company of Chicago, took advantage of the government during the war time by selling the army 500,000 pounds of beef which had been sent to Liverpool a year earlier and had been returned. Two months later, an army inspector tested the Armour meat, which had been stamped and approved by an inspector of the Bureau of Animal Industry, and found 751 cases containing rotten meat. In the first sixty cases he opened, he found fourteen tins already burst, "the effervescent putrid contents of which were distributed all over the cases."
Once again here, we see a big company taking advantage of the government during war times. One of the many reasons why people objected war was because their family members or friends were subject to this kind of treatment.
Throughout this point in time, the United States always tried to keep a good image then doing the exact opposite. A prime example of this is during the Spanish-American War when the United States proposed the Teller Amendment insuring Cuban Independence regardless of the actions in which the U.S. has on their territory. Surprise, Surprise, a few months after the short three month war, the Platt Amendment is essentially forced upon the Cuban government and states that the United States has, "the right to intervene for the preservation of Cuban independence, the maintenance of a government adequate for the protection of life, property, and individual liberty…" It also provided for the United States to get coaling or naval stations at certain specified points. The Teller Amendment and the talk of Cuban freedom before and during the war had led many Americans—and Cubans—to expect genuine independence. The Platt Amendment was now seen, not only by the radical and labor press, but by newspapers and groups all over the United States, as a betrayal.
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