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How did the United States justify imperialism?

The industrial age spurred created many great changes in America. As production increased American business began to look out at the world as a means to support that growing industry.

In the early 1800 President George Washington had urged America to "steer clear of foreign affairs." This was about to change as Americans looked to expand overseas.

American imperialism was caused by:

  • Emerging international business. As Americans increased business overseas it became necessary to protect those investments. In order to protect those investments America built the "great white fleet" that had been requested by Captain Alfred Thayer Mahan. (Last lesson) American policy was now going to based upon intervention and acquisition, not isolation and neutrality.
      Senator Alfred Beveridge expressed this view as a justification for imperialism:

      Today we are raising more than we can consume. Today we are making more than we can use... Therefore we must find new markets for our produce, new occupation for our capital, new work for our labor... Ah! As our commerce spreads, the flag of liberty will circle the globe and the highway of the ocean - carrying trade to all mankind - will be guarded by the guns of the republic. And as their thunders salute the flag, benighted (ignorant) peoples will know that the voice of liberty is speaking, at last, for them... that civilization is dawning at last, for them.

      --Senator Alfred Beveridge, 1898


Americans justified imperialistic behavior by:

  • Claiming that it was their responsibility. Americans and Europeans both claimed that it was their responsibility as superior races to uplift, civilize and Christianize native peoples. This was known as the White Mans Burden and was based upon the ideas of social Darwinism. Rudyard Kipling wrote a famous poem by the same name:
    Take up the white man's burden-
    Send forth the best ye breed-
    Go bind your sons to exile
    To serve your captives need
    To wait, in heavy harness,
    On fluttered folk and wild-
    You new-caught sullen peoples,
    Half devil and half child.
    Take up the white man's burden,
    And reap his old reward-
    The blame of those ye better
    The hate of those ye guard-
    The cry of those ye humor
    Ah, slowly toward the light:
    "Why brought ye us from bondage,
    Our loved Egyptian (heathen) night?
      --Rudyard Kipling, "The White Man's Burden"
  • This cartoon entitled "What The United States Has Fought For" aptly describes the goals of missionaries and imperialists.
  • Many Americans felt it was not only our responsibility and duty but it was also a mandate by God. One of the leading proponents of imperialism was the Minister Josiah Strong. Minister Strong argued that America was in a race with other nations to dominate the world and acquire the limited resources the world had to offer. Strong claimed that America as the leading nation in the world (arguable at the time!) it was our destiny to acquire new lands. This idea sounds alot like Manifest Destiny because it is the same idea! In the following passage Strong makes his ideas quite clear.
      It seems to me that God, with infinite wisdom and skill, is training the Anglo-Saxon race for an hour sure to come in the worlds future. The lands of the earth are limited, and soon will be taken. Then will the world enter upon a new stage in its history- the final competition of the races. Then this race of unequaled energy, with the majesty of numbers and the might of wealth behind it- the representative of the largest liberty, the purest Christianity, the highest civilization... will spread itself over the earth.

      --Minister Josiah Strong, 1885

American policy makers were clear in the course of action. We were to follow an aggressive imperialistic foreign policy.

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