Topic: 3.01 Insolation
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s found only in distant places. Growing economic strength at home encouraged U.S. leaders to increase the nation’s economic and military influence abroad. A new and imperialist United States was born. You will learn about events and individuals who helped to shape the foreign policy of the United States at the turn of the 20th century.
Upon completion of this lesson, you will understand the causes of imperialism. You will demonstrate your new knowledge by describing three events that occurred during this period. You will also explain what type of action was taken by the United States during these events and the motives that drove those actions.
Sneak a peek at the assignment.
Objective 03.01 Isolationism, Intervention, and Imperialism
After completing this lesson, you will be able to:
explain how industrialization led to imperialism
identify the territories acquired by the United States and the methods by which the lands were acquired
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03.01 Isolationism, Intervention, and Imperialism: Isolationism
What Were Isolationism, Intervention, and Imperialism?
Map of the U.S. showing territorial growth. Areas highlighted include U.S. territory in the East that was part of the 13 original colonies and westward movement to the Mississippi River, territory gained through the Louisiana Purchase, Florida, the Oregon Territory, western lands gained through the annexation of Texas, the Mexican Cession, and the Gadsden Purchase.
U.S. Territorial Map
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By the late 1800s, the United States had grown well beyond its colonial roots. As the nation expanded, it worked to establish itself as the leading power in the Americas. In 1823, President James Monroe had issued the Monroe Doctrine. This statement declared that the Western Hemisphere was off-limits from further European intervention. Instead, Monroe stated, the United States considered the Americas as its own sphere of influence. This meant that the United States could intervene in the affairs of other American nations, but European nations could not do so without facing U.S. military action.
A pie chart shows the growth of the United States from 1500 to 1898. 11% – 13 Original Colonies; 17% – Treaty of Paris 1783; 26% – Louisiana Purchase 1803; 2% – Florida 1819; 16% – Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo 1848; 8% – Oregon Territory 1846; 1% – Gadsden Purchase 1853; 18% – Alaska 1867; less than 1% – Hawaii 1898; 1% – Other.
U.S. Growth to 1898
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For the next several decades, the United States tended to follow a policy of isolationism. Americans concentrated on expanding their nation westward across the continent. This expansion was based on the concept of Manifest Destiny—the belief that God wanted the United States to reach from the Atlantic to the Pacific. This focus on expansionism took up much of the country’s efforts. The United States was also caught up in domestic tensions and the Civil War. As a result, the United States took little part in foreign affairs for much of the 1800s. Committed to the policy of isolationism, the U.S. declined to intervene in an independence movement in Poland when asked to do so by foreign leaders. The U.S. also chose to limit its involvement in the Hungarian fight for independence in 1849. Although the U.S. worked to have Hungarian leaders freed from prison, it did not offer any other form of support or formally recognize an independent Hungary. The U.S. had chosen not to involve itself in the political affairs of distant countries.
In Europe, however, imperialism was common during this era. European nations set up colonies in Asia and Africa to acquire raw materials and sell their goods in new markets. Native peoples in the colonies suffered extreme brutality at the hands of European countries such as Belgium and France. In the late 1800s and early 1900s, Americans also started to focus on colonial expansion. New economic and political pressures encouraged this move toward imperialism.
03.01 Isolationism, Intervention, and Imperialism: Imperialism
What Ideas Contributed to Imperialism?
The political cartoon shows an English leader depicted as an octopus with many tentacles. Each tentacle of the man is touching a different region or country including Egypt, India, Canada, Jamaica, Ireland, Malta, and Australia. Caption: Imperialism is the quest to acquire colonial empires. In many ways, imperialism led countries, such as the United States to behave like the octopus in this cartoon. The United States hoped to gain as many colonial territories as possible to extend the country’s influence around the world. England, which is depicted in this cartoon, is said to have had an empire on which the sun never set. This meant that its holdings covered so much of the globe that it would always be a day in one part of the empire.
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Speaking at the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair, historian Frederick Jackson Turner introduced a new idea. His speech shaped U.S. interaction with the world for years to come. “The existence of an area of free land, its continuous recession, and the advance of American settlement westward explain American development,” he told a group of historians. But, he noted, the American West was no longer an area of free land. Instead, the frontier was closed.
Did You Know?
Ideas about the importance of the control of the seas have changed over time. These two quotes show different views on the role of sea power.
“The influence of the government will be felt in its most legitimate manner in maintaining an armed navy, of a size commensurate with the growth of its shipping and the importance of the interests connected with it.”
—Alfred T. Mahan
“Future control of the seas depends on the control of the air. This is so to an even greater extent than is the case on land because on the sea, the shipping—using the surface of the water—cannot conceal itself to the same extent that man or his equipment can be concealed on land.”
—Colonel William “Billy” Mitchell, aviator during World War II
Turner believed that the difficulties of life on the frontier kept individual Americans inventive and energetic. Turner argued that Americans must seek a new frontier, one found in foreign lands. This meant that the United States could intervene in the affairs of other nations in the Americas, but European nations could not do so without facing U.S. military action.
This idea, called Turner’s Thesis, influenced U.S. leaders and thinkers of Turner’s time by encouraging the belief that the nation’s identity itself relied on expansion.
Other justifications for imperialism appeared in Alfred T. Mahan’s The Influence of Sea Power Upon History. Published in 1890, this book argued that a strong navy was vital to the long-term success of great powers. Mahan pointed out that government could encourage the development of sea-based industries by building its sea power.
Mahan also argued that a strong navy could ensure the safe shipping of goods. The best way for the U.S. government to do this, he declared, was to control ports on distant shores. This prevented external sea threats from coming even remotely close to the nation.
A 1907 photograph shows a U.S. Navy battleship with large guns extending from the hull. Smoke is billowing from three large smokestacks in the center of the ship.
A U.S. Navy battleship of the “Great White Fleet” in 1907. The U.S. Navy expanded between 1890 and 1900 largely as a result of Mahan’s influence.
Library of Congress [LC-DIG-det-4a15940]
03.01 Isolationism, Intervention, and Imperialism: Politics
How Did New Political Ideas Contribute to Imperialism?
A political cartoon shows Theodore Roosevelt in a dress suit waving a top hat. He stands on a pier next to figures of Uncle Sam and George Washington. The three are waving toward battleships approaching the pier. The title of the cartoon is ‘Welcome Home.’
To display U.S. military power, President Roosevelt sent a fleet of U.S. Navy warships on a 14-month cruise around the world. This cartoon, ‘Welcome Home,’ shows Roosevelt welcoming the fleet back to the United States with Uncle Sam and George Washington at his side, implying support for his foreign policy.
Library of Congress [LC-DIG-cai-2a14441]
By the 1890s, political support for isolationism was fading. President Grover Cleveland was elected to a second term in 1892. His foreign policy was caught between isolationism and intervention. For example, he refused to allow the United States to become involved in the Cuban Revolution. On the other hand, Cleveland invoked the Monroe Doctrine in a dispute between Venezuela and Great Britain.
By 1902, President Theodore Roosevelt was leading an imperialist nation. Roosevelt had fought in the Spanish-American War, which was the nation’s first major imperialist conflict. Later, as president, he used U.S. power to help the country’s interests abroad, particularly in Latin America. In doing so, the United States took its role in the Western Hemisphere to a new level.
President Theodore Roosevelt believed in what has become known as the “Big Stick Policy.” He once stated that he loved the West African proverb: “Speak softly and carry a big stick; you will go far.” Roosevelt’s big stick diplomacy, as it was known, became central to foreign relations. Part of this policy was the Roosevelt Corollary to the Monroe Doctrine.
The Roosevelt Corollary stated that the United States would intervene in Latin America on behalf of European nations. This would occur only if Latin American countries failed to repay financial debts. Roosevelt applied this in the Dominican Republic. In 1905, he installed a U.S. financial director there to solve that nation’s debt problems.
Roosevelt was also an enthusiastic supporter of the ideas of both Turner and Mahan. During his presidency, Roosevelt sent the “Great White Fleet” of U.S. Navy battleships around the world. This show of American power demonstrated the “big stick” to the world under peaceful conditions.
William Howard Taft succeeded Roosevelt as president. Taft developed dollar diplomacy. This policy used economic measures to try to achieve U.S. goals abroad. However, dollar diplomacy was less successful than big stick diplomacy. For example, Taft was unsuccessful in resolving conflicts in Nicaragua and China.
Haiti was a more successful example of dollar diplomacy. Taft believed that American investments could stabilize and improve the economy in Haiti. The nation was impoverished and the influx of money from American investments did lead to some positive changes. However, when Wilson became president he began to reduce U.S. involvement. Soon after, a violent revolution took place in Haiti. This led to a treaty in which U.S. military and economic support were given to Haiti for more than a decade.
03.01 Isolationism, Intervention, and Imperialism: New Markets
How Did Economic Pressures Contribute to Imperialism?
A black and white photograph shows men carrying bundles of sugar cane stalks up an inclined ramp to a bin.
Workers harvest sugar cane in Hawaii. Americans expanded their business interests across the Pacific at the turn of the 20th century.
Industrialization changed the U.S. economy rapidly over three decades. Manufacturing allowed products to be made faster. It also allowed workers to make those products in greater quantities. These changes created a need for more raw materials.
Although the United States was rich in natural resources, it did not have everything its factories needed. European nations had already colonized parts of Asia and Africa for raw materials. The United States began to follow their lead. But the nation also looked closer to home, seeking out resources such as sugar in the Caribbean and in Hawaii.
Industrialization brought about increased trade as well. Americans could not buy all of the goods being produced in the United States. Thus, manufacturers sought new markets for their manufactured goods.
Less-developed nations did not have factories to make their own products, so they wanted to purchase items made in the United States. This need to develop new markets became another motivation for Americans to look abroad.
Finally, long-distance trade usually took place over water. Merchants needed places to dock their ships to refuel and perform maintenance. Controlling ports in the Pacific allowed American merchants to do this cheaply and efficiently.
03.01 Isolationism, Intervention, and Imperialism: Around the Globe
What Drove U.S. Imperialism Around the Globe?
Investigate the map below to learn more about the reasons for U.S. imperialism and intervention in different regions of the world. As you explore the map, think about how U.S. involvement reflected the political or economic ideas of the time.
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