DBQ Essay Two

Douglass Whitehead

DBQ Essay Two

The years between 1865 and 1914 were a time of major American expansion, both militarily and economically. The United States began taking steps into the greater world, trying its hand at the game of Imperialism. Some would say that this was because of racism, nationalism, commercialism, and humanitarianism. I disagree. The first and fourth ones are brazenly untrue. In reality, the leading causes of this expansion were MILITARISM, nationalism, and commercialism, with a hint of still-supported Manifest Destiny.

In 1865, the US was at its strongest ever. Industries were booming as a result of the recently ended Civil War. Agriculturally, we were a power, exporting cotton and grain,with food prices in the US at an all time low. Militarily, we had the largest, most powerful, and best trained military branches we'd ever had, a state of readiness that would not be surpassed until World War II and the following Cold War. The people of America felt strong; after all, we'd just won the most important war in US history. And a man named William H Seward was Secretary of State. He would convince Congress to permit the annexation of Midway Island, verbally scare the French out of Mexico, and purchase Alaska. That last would become known as "Seward's Icebox" or "Seward's Folly" until vast gold fields were discovered in its frozen tundras. Without knowing it, Seward started one of the most powerful trends of the nineteenth century.

In the 1880s, the first true seeds of American Imperialism were sown. In 1885, a book entitled "Our Country", written by Josiah Strong, was published in the US. It quite literally preached <Strong was a Protestant reverend> that expansion around the globe was essential for maintaining and increasing the US's money-making power. "A power of increasing importance in the widening commerce of the world's future", as Stone described it. (A) His words were read and listened to with rapt attention.

In 1895, a man named Henry Cabot Lodge, a Senator and the man who would spawn the Lodge Corollary to the Monrow Doctrine, wrote an article about his views on expansionism. Unsurprisingly to his peers, who had observed his openly Imperialistic manner in the first two years of his term, it was a well-written, well-supported, logical paper. It made all the right references. He mentioned Washington's withdrawal from European affairs and his redirection of American eyes West, setting the scene for the start of American expansionism. (B) He established a historical precedent of success in American expansionism by citing the purchase of the Louisiana Territory and the taking of the far West from Mexico. (B) Then he begins the true persuasion, his language shifting into a patriotic style, with an image of "one flag and one country" from "the Rio Grande to the Arctic Ocean".(B) And according to him, America's "national welfare demands it."(B) He insists that Samoa, Cuba, Hawaii, and a Nicaraguan Canal are essential to America's survival in the new game of Imperialism being played by the world's powers.(B) And finally he comes to the close of his article, where he makes the most important statement of the entire paper: "we should build up a Navy strong enough to give protection to Americans in every quarter of the globe and sufficiently powerful to put our coasts beyond the possibility of successful attack." (B) That's Militarism 101 right there. All through the paper, until that point, he did not once mention US military action. But looking back on what he'd said, it is clear that it was certainly implied. How were we to acquire all those islands and lands he wanted? With kind words and large wads of cash? No, that's not how the Imperialism game is played. If a country wants land, they'd better be prepeared to fight for it.

In the late 1800s, US newspapers were beginning to see the light; they began issuing stories about atrocities in the Caribbean and Pacific islands. They promoted US involvement, which prior to 1898, we refused to supply. They told of the horrible conditions under which Cuba and the Philippines were kept under by Spain. They boasted of the might of America's Navy, not to mention our fine Army and Marine Corps. Rapidly, as more and more newspapers planted their banners on the side of expansionism and Imperialism, the American public warmed to the idea. Before long, the majority of the US was experiencing a rebirth in Manifest Destiny. The Navy's ranks swelled as new ships were built for all the new crews that rose from among America's youth. And in larger numbers, US businessmen invested in overseas operations, mainly agricultural in nature, the most well known being the Dole plantations in the Philippines and Cuba. The time was ripe for expansion.

In the 1890s, open rebellion broke out in Cuba, a small island in the Caribbean the US Navy had long desired as a naval refueling and rearmament station. The rebels were clever; they knew they could not defeat the Spanish by themselves, and so they made sure that American-owned plantations were damaged or ruined by Spanish retaliatory strikes, or when that failed, they would sabotage the plantations themselves. Naturally, the American owners of said plantations were alarmed. If their property was ruined and their income cut off, they could go bankrupt, leaving many workers unemployed and their own personal coffers empty. But the US government was loathe to actively engage in another world power's affairs, as Cuba was then the property of Spain.But in 1898, the USS Maine, one of the Navy's battleships, it's pride and joy, erupted into a massive explosions while at anchor in Havana. When rescuers finished sorting the dead from the living, at least 260 American sailors were reported killed. Newspapers, in desperate need of new material to better sell with and strongly in favor of American expansion, jumped on the opportunity, openly accusing Spain of sabotaging the magazines. Shortly afterward, an ultimatum, followed closely by a declaration of war, were sent to Spain. The war ended rapidly, the mighty US Navy having wrecked the local Spanish fleet and landed divisions of troops in both the Philippines and Cuba. When the smoke cleared, the Philippines, Cuba, and Guam were all firmly under US control. Navy bases were built in Cuba, Guam, and the Philippines, the former two remaining under Navy command to this day.

In 1899, with elections coming up fast, President McKinley began travelling, trying to stack up votes against his opponent. His campaign included a stop at a Methodist church in late November, where he was asked for and he gave an explanation of the US maintenance of control in the Philippines. He gave three VERY Imperialist reasons, and one reason that can be described only as baloney. The Imperialist reasons were as follows: <1> Returning the islands to Spain would be seen as cowardly. <2> Giving them to France or Germany would be helping our economic rivals. <3> Simply leaving them to self-government would undoubtedly result in civil war, political unrest, and another American-involved war.(D) The fourth reason was that the Filipinos were uncivilized, unChristian, uneducated savages, and it was our job to give them the blessing of Christianity.(D) Now, remember; it's an election year, and McKinley is speaking to a CHURCH group. So, we can probably throw all that stuff about God and education right out the window. Which leaves the legitimate reasons. The first is a simple militaristic reason, as it makes it quite clear that we, the most powerful young gun in the saloon of world politics, cannot be seen backing down from a fight, regardless of how costly or irritating. The second is simple economics, with no need to explain it beyond saying that we profit from these places, therefore we can't give them up. The third appeals to the nationalists of the crowd; maintaining a military presence keeps America safe. The three reasons listed in the beginning of this essay set down by the President himself.

Now, as you can see, most of our reasons for expansion were economic and military, fueled by radical nationalism/expansionism on the home front. In Cuba and the Philippines, we acted in a large part to protect American financial interests, with the smaller part being to assist our Navy. In Samoa and Midway, Navy stations were built and maintained. In Panama, which I did not mention, though it is one of the most important events of the era and the most impressive engineering feat of its time, we built a great canal to let our merchant ships travel more rapidly, though the Navy was quite pleased that the canal happened to be deep enough for its battleships and, later, aircraft carriers. In Mexico, Nicaragua, Puerto Rico, and even China, US Marines succeeded in turning events in our favor by means of swift military action. In fact, Puerto Rico ended up becoming a territory of the United States, and is home to <surprise!> a Naval base and several forts. In our Chinese intervention, we acted to defend American investments in the Chinese trade, which we had finally opened equally to all major powers. In Nicaragua, American financial interests were threatened by a civil war, which was rapidly ended with aid from the USMC.

In short, financial/economic interests promoted militarism, and with militarism, nationalism and a rebirth in Manifest Destiny.

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