How far was the United States an Imperialist power by 1914?

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Joel Pearce

How far was the United States an Imperialist power by 1914?

By 1914, the United States was considerably an Imperialist power. Despite attempts by those such as Cleveland and Wilson to prevent a focus on colonialism, interventionism continued through every president, from McKinley’s annexing of Hawaii to Roosevelt’s actions surrounding the Panama Canal. Throughout the period, all foreign policy seemed to follow the interventionist approach of the Monroe doctrine in the Western Hemisphere. No matter how political ideas seemed to change, there was the consistent outcome of intervening to get the best deal for America and extending their power.

One point which illustrates this imperialism was their readiness to resort to war. For example, during the Spanish American war of 1898, 17,000 troops were sent to Cuba; this was supported by major newspapers including the New York Journal and the World who influenced public opinion in favour of intervention. This demonstrates that the US had no fear of intervening in other country’s affairs and saw militarism as the best approach to gaining more power. Whilst the sinking of the USS Maine killed US sailors, little had been done to directly threaten the country. Again, this shows that the Spanish American war was not about defense, but about influencing the politics of other countries. Whilst the Teller Amendment initially indicated that the US were interested in protecting the sovereignty of Cuba, the Platt Amendment following the end of the war resorted back to imperialism. The strict rules placed on Cuba were focussed on ensuring American power and trade with the country. Not only this, but the increase in American investments in Cuba following the war further prove that they were looking for economic gain, as well as influence; in the 20 years following, investment in the country rose to $500m. This could be seen as the US building their colonies and using war as an excuse for increased involvement abroad.

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On the other hand, actions prior to the Spanish American war showed that not all US presidents saw a right to intervene. In 1895, Cleveland refused to annex Hawaii even though he was being pressed by American planters. His condemnation of events on the island showed that he sided with the Anti-Imperialists; it demonstrated the view that, given America’s colonial past, they should not take over other countries by force. At this point, Cleveland went against what others may do by choosing a moral position rather than just bowing to economic pressure; due to the trade with Hawaii, it ...

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