The United Territories of America #1

People. Places. Power. Three things that determine the course of civilization across the globe. These three words are separate yet intertwined. Who is in power? Where are they exercising their power? By themselves, however, they mean different things. People refers to the beings that ultimately sail the ship of events to its destination. Those who see themselves as part of a larger group, who come together to try and attain shared aspirations. Places refers to virtually any piece of land that can be controlled for economic purposes, places that can hold people back and define the people in that place on the basis of culture and resources. Power refers to the ownership of the two other terms. It can be manifested through a place’s military, an individual, or the society as a whole. This assignment is to research a specific topic and learn how that topic relates to this theme. American imperialism, while admittedly not my first choice, still greatly interests me because it remains very relevent to this day, and uncovering the origins of modern foreign policy helps in understanding it. 


American Imperialism : Key Terms and Definitions

Imperialism – when stronger nations attempt to create empires or simply gain more territory by taking over weaker nations – economically, politically, culturally, or militarily.

Nationalism – devotion to one’s nation; the belief that the country one lives in has superior ideals and goals to other nations.

Manifest Destiny – the 19th century idea that the expansion of the US throughout the American continents was both justified and inevitable.

Monroe Doctrine – foreign policy document written by then-president James Monroe – the doctrine noted that the US would neither interfere with existing European colonies nor meddle in the internal concerns of European countries. 

Midway Islands – unincorporated territory of the United states (since 1903 when Theodore Roosevelt placed them under the control of the Navy) in the central Pacific Ocean, 1,300 miles northwest of Honolulu

Naval Act of 1890 – an act by Congress giving more power to the Navy by calling for the construction of more battleships, gunboats, torpedo boats, and cruisers.

Social Darwinism – the idea that powerful should increase their power and wealth, meaning, as a result, that the not powerful would have their power and wealth decrease. Social darwinists thought that expanding the US territory was beneficial because it introduced Christianity and modern civilization

Theodore Roosevelt – 26th president of the United States, foreign policy was “speak softly and carry a big stick”, thought that civilized nations have a duty to develop uncivilized ones.

William McKinley – 25th president of the United States, led America to victory in Spanish American war, established open door policy with China, thus starting the age of American Imperialism.

Standard Oil Company – oil company owned by the Rockefeller family, made up 90% of exports of kerosene and 70% of the world market in the 1890s


People with economic power tend to use their influence on people with political power in order to get what they want. “American labor unions had sympathy for the Cuban rebels as soon as the insurrection against Spain began in 1895. But they opposed American expansionalism. Both the Knights of Labor and the American Federation of Labor spoke against the idea of annexing Hawaii, which McKinley proposed in 1897” (The Empire and The People, 306). Another enduring understanding is that the goal of war is often times not to end the conflict but to establish control of strategic locations and to gain economic and political power. “Americans began taking over railroad, mine, and sugar properties when the war ended. In a few years, $30 million of American capital was invested. United Fruit moved into the Cuban sugar industry…. By the end of the occupation, in 1901, Foner estimates that at least 80 percent of the export of Cuba’s minerals were in American hands, mostly Bethlehem Steel” (The Empire and The People, 310).


American imperialism is a prime example of the theme: people, places and power. People in power, namely Theodore Roosevelt and William McKinley, used their power to bring about the expansionist foreign policy through moves like the Naval Act of 1890, as well as McKinley’s open door policy with foreign trade. Cuba was an ideal place for America to become involved because of the resources it offered, and after these people in power were able to win the war, businesses and investors came in and made a profit off of the conflict. These things all blend together to make the theme.


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