Imperialism vs. Isolationism

Isolationism and Imperialism
Why did Americans pursue isolationism before
1880? What changed?
What were the reasons for imperialism? What
did we hope to get from this policy?
Isolationism—official foreign
policy of the U.S. until the late
19th century; belief that the
nation should keep out of other
nations’ affairs in order to
develop and focus on domestic
This belief began with
Washington’s Farewell Address
and outlined in the Monroe
Rationale for Isolationism
-The rationale for isolationism was that it kept
America safe and out of conflict.
-It stemmed from fear of outsiders (xenophobia)
and the harm that they could do to America.
-Isolationism ensured America’s safety and kept
it from being dragged into wars and
entanglements that did not directly affect the
Imperialism—policy in
which stronger nations
expand their economic,
political, or military control
over weaker territories.
Started with U.S. desire to
trade with other countries to
create economic growth
Expansionism—policy of
“taking over” or gaining
control of other countries
America Claims an Empire
Americans began to
warm to the idea of
expansion overseas due
to three reasons:
Desire for military
Thirst for new markets
Belief in cultural
Desire for Military Strength
Alfred Thayer Mahan, an
officer in the U.S. Navy,
urged government officials
to build up American naval
power in his famous work,
The Influence of Sea
Power Upon History
concept of “sea power” was
based on the idea that
countries with greater naval
power will have greater
worldwide impact
European naval arms race
began in the 1890s, which
included the United States
Attempt to gain more
influence in foreign
countries as protectorates
and trading partners
United States built nine
steel-hulled cruisers
between 1883 and 1890
became the world’s third
largest naval power by 1900
New Markets & Cultural Superiority
Advances in technology
allowed farms and factories
to produce more than
Americans could consume.
United States needed raw
materials for its factories
and new markets for its
agricultural and
manufactured goods.
Foreign trade is the solution
Some Americans believed
in a racial superiority of the
Anglo-Saxons (“whites”).
Ideas of Social Darwinism
Some believed the United
States had a responsibility
to spread Christianity and
“civilization” to the
world’s “inferior peoples.”
especially in Africa (i.e.,
Joseph Conrad’s Heart of
Alaska (“Seward’s Folly”), 1867
William Seward, Secretary
of State, arranged U.S.
purchase of Alaska from
Russia for $7.2 bil. (Russia
wanted to avoid further war
with Britain)
Seward had trouble persuading
the House of Representatives to
fund the purchase—many
believed it would cause conflict
Idea changed with discovery of
rich resources (timber, gold,
minerals, oil)
“King Andy and his man Billy lay
in a great stock of Russian ice in
order to cool down the
Congressional majority.”
Annexation of Hawai’i (1893-1898)
England had been a naval power for over
200 years at this point; when the U.S.
looked to conquer new lands, much of the
world had already been claimed.
Only a few distant territories in Africa and
Asia and remote islands in the Pacific
remained free from imperial grasp; Hawaii
was one such plum.
Americans gained influence in Hawai’i as
a result of the sugar trade
1867: U.S. took over the Midway Islands
1887: U.S. built naval base at Hawai’i’s
best port, Pearl Harbor
1890: turning point in U.S.-Hawaiian
relations when Congress approved the
McKinley Tariff, which raised import
rates on foreign sugar
The tariff created a depression on the
island. Sugar growers, mostly white
Americans planned to have the U.S.
annex Hawai’i in order to end the tariff
on their goods.
At the same time, the Hawai’ian throne
was passed to Queen Liliuokalani,
who was determined to end American
influence on the island
1893: American business groups
organized a revolution with the
Marines and overthrew the queen
They set up a new government headed
by Sanford B. Dole, a prominent
sugar plantation owner (later, founder
of the Dole Fruit Company)
President Cleveland did not support
the revolution and ordered that the
queen be returned to the throne.
Dole refused to surrender so
Cleveland recognized the Republic of
Hawai’i but refused to annex the
nation unless a majority of Hawaiians
favored it.
In 1897, pro-expansion President
William McKinley succeeded
Cleveland as president
Following the Spanish-American
War, McKinley and Congress
proclaimed Hawaii an American
territory on August 12, 1898
Spanish-American War (1898)
The Spanish American war had
a number of CAUSES:
1.) Trouble in Cuba – Spain’s
treatment of Cuban citizens
angered those in favor of
national sovereignty
2.) Yellow Journalism – some
reporters wanted to sell
more newspapers so they
made little problems seem
far worse than they were!
3.) The explosion of the U.S.S.
Maine off the coast of
Havana, Cuba
“Remember the Maine, to
hell with Spain!”
At the end of the SpanishAmerican War (“The Glorious
Little War”), the U.S. gained
territory, expanding its empire.
After much fighting, the
United States and Spain signed
the Treaty of Paris (1898):
Spain gives Puerto Rico and Guam
to the U.S.
Placed Cuba and Philippine
Islands under U.S. rule
-Although Cuba became free after the Spanish-American
war, American troops continued to occupy the
-In 1901, the U.S. insisted that Cuba adopt the Platt
Amendment which stated that the U.S. reserved the
right to intervene in Cuba, Cuba was not to go into
debt, the United States could buy or lease land for
naval stations, and Cuba could not make treaties that
might limit its independence.
-Cuba then became a U.S. protectorate, a country whose
affairs are partially controlled by a stronger power.
Annexation of the Philippines
and/or addition of another
territory or country to a
larger, more powerful
Much controversy arose
because of the U.S. annexing
the Philippines.
Many people did not believe the
U.S. had the right to interfere
with or prevent Philippines’
McKinley justified the
annexation of the Philippines by
saying that it was “a gift from
the gods” and that since “they
were unfit for self-government,
... there was nothing left for us to
do but to take them all, and to
educate the Filipinos, and uplift
and civilize and Christianize
them” (already Christian for
Philippine-American War
Filipinos initially saw their
relationship with U.S. as two nations
joined in a common struggle against
However, U.S. wouldn’t commit to
paper a statement of support for
Philippine independence
Filipinos were outraged by the Treaty of
Paris and U.S. annexation
War broke out in 1899, after two
American soldiers killed three Filipino
lasted for nearly 3 years at a cost of
$400 million dollars and countless
Philippines would not become
independent until 1946
1898 political cartoon showing McKinley
with a native child. Here, returning the
Philippines to Spain is compared to throwing
the child off a cliff.
Puerto Rico & American Samoa
After U.S. acquisition of the
Caribbean island of Puerto Rico in
the Treaty of Paris, many Puerto
Ricans hoped for independence
However, it was ruled by the U.S.
military until 1900, when Congress
passed the Foraker Act which
ended military rule and set up a civil
1917: Puerto Ricans gain right to
become U.S. citizens
Samoa is a group of Pacific Islands
known for their trading ports in the
As European and American
expansionists hoped to gain territory,
Samoa became a point of contention.
The U.S. and Germany entered a naval
battle in 1899 for control of the
Samoan Islands, but were stopped
when a storm sank most of the ships.
U.S. and Germany divide the Islands
into territories; U.S. owned territories
become “American Samoa”,
incorporated as a protectorate, and
later a territory after the role American
Samoa played in the American/Allied
victory in World War II.
China & Open Door Policy
U.S. imperialists saw the Philippines as
a gateway to the rest of Asia, especially
China was potentially a vast market for
American products
However, six European nations had
taken over small parts of China and
forcibly controlling the people and trade
in those areas (spheres of influence)
As a result, China had become known as
the “sick man of Asia.”
U.S. Secretary of State, John Hay, wanted
to protect American interests so he issued a
series of policy statements called the Open
Door Notes.
These were letters to leaders of
imperialist nations proposing that the
nations share their trading rights with the
U.S. (these were ignored by other
Thus, no single nation would have a
monopoly on trade with any one
part of China.
Open Door Policy reflected American
beliefs about U.S. industrialist capitalist
growth of the economy depended
on exports
U.S. had a right to intervene abroad
to keep foreign markets open
The closing of an area to American
products or people threatened U.S.
Boxer Rebellion (1898-1901)
Many Chinese were unhappy
with the other countries being in
China and started an uprising:
the Boxer Rebellion.
“Boxer” was a nickname given to
the secret Chinese religious
society, The Society of Righteous
and Harmonious Fists
The Boxers aimed to end the rule
of foreign powers in China by
training in martial arts, weaponry,
and prayer
This was quickly “crushed” by
the countries involved in trade
and occupation of China,
including the U.S., Russia,
Japan, Britain…
After the Rebellion, the U.S.
reaffirmed that trade between
the U.S. and China would be
open to all without
compromising China’s
However, most of the other
European powers continued to
exploit China, and fought wars
over control of trade (RussoJapanese War)
Internal divisions in Chinese
rulership also emerged, leading to
a civil war in China
A rebel group formed under a man
named Francisco “Pancho” Villa.
On his raids, Villa also killed
Americans, prompting Wilson to
send 15,000 troops into Mexico to
capture Villa.
In 1911, Mexican workers and
peasants overthrew their military
After 2 years, a new government
was established, but President
Wilson refused to recognize it,
sending in Marines to occupy
The countries were on the brink of
war but both eventually backed
down. This U.S. intervention
provides a clear example of
American imperialist attitudes of the
time: no one was to intervene in
U.S. affairs.
The Huerta Regime collapsed and
a new government was formed
under Venustiano Carranza.
While this government was
accepted by the U.S., many
Mexican citizens felt betrayed
Video is here
Rationale for Imperialism
By 1900, the U.S. had gained a substantial empire and
President McKinley, who was a confirmed imperialist,
was reelected.
Most believed that imperialism helped America to
grow in size and thus become a stronger world power.
However, some people such as Grover Cleveland and
Andrew Carnegie did not support imperialism. They
believed it was wrong for the United States to rule
other people without their consent.
World War I: “The Great War”
By the beginning of World War I, the U.S.
declared neutrality and took a strict noninvolvement stance on the war (return to
isolationist policy).
Work Cited/Additional Resources
Danzer, Gerald A., Jorge J. Klor De Alva, Larry S. Krieger, Louis E. Wilson,
and Nancy Woloch. The Americans. California ed. Evanston: McDougal
Littell, 2003. Print. Reconstruction to the 21st Century.
American Imperialism: Crash Course in U.S. History (YouTube)
Imperialism for Dummies part I and part II (HipHughes History—YouTube)

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