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19th Century American Imperialism

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Economics
Wordcount: 1300 words Published: 13th Oct 2021

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"Proceeding along a path to which no limit can be perceived." Alexis de​ Tocqueville (lumen)

This quote refers to U.S wanting to be unique and it coincides with the idea of exceptionalism. During the 19th century the U.S considered them exceptionalist, they felt that they were doing very well economically, Unfortunately they accumulated a lot of surplus material which came the desire for a new trade market and the idea of expansion known as Imperialism. Alfred T Mahan's who was an advocate for expansion had a book called ​"The Influence of Sea Power upon History" and included in this book was the idea that acquiring more land would bring more jobs for the working class and more stability for the economy.

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The U.S wanted to sustain their successful economy by bringing the idea of expansion to light, they brought on imperialism. Imperialism was a policy that incorporated the expansion of power and military force. Their biggest competitor was Britain whose military force was far greater than that of the U.S. Throughout the 19th century, Imperialism also led to the creation of unions such as the AFL and they Knights of Labor. Integrated into Imperialism was Manifest Destiny, which was a belief that it was our God given right to settle in a new land. Manifest Destiny existed globally and was involved in the Spanish-American war when Spain surrendered their islands. The ultimate idea of Manifest Destiny was to rule as much of the nation and advise the ones that were less fortunate.

The side that influenced support for Imperialism, were motivated by economics. They wanted to be able to maintain a successful economy and also gain natural resources such as land. The fact that the U.S was doing very well economically, it did not stop them for wanting to seek a much bigger profit, that would come with expansion, also known as Imperialism. It was thought that Imperialism was economically beneficial because it had cheap labor cost and would allow for more control in the trade market, which would also lead to more control over their profit.

The U.S struggled with the fact that Europe was gaining more natural resources from individual colonies, they were given more resources then U.S which gave them the ability to produce more,which led to competing for the best of the best. Alfred T Mahan believed that they were "Like land birds, unable to fly far from their own shores." Alfred T Mahan ​"The Influence of Sea Power upon History" (Document 1).

He believed that the U.S was lacking foreign relationships and also lacking the military power. They need roots in places where they wanted to expand which did not come easily to the U.S.Even though the U.S was very successful in manufacturing raw material, they had a problem that existed in supply and demand, they were making more than they were selling. The expansion would fulfil their need for a new trade market and would allow them to sell their surplus.

The argument that influenced opposition was for humanitarian reasons. One of the reasons for being against was the possibility of slavery. Because of the more land came the need for more workers. This opposition brought on the Anti-Imperialist League. It was a league that was formed to maintain ownership of the Philippines. They believed that no man should ever be able to govern another man without having permission to do so. Some members of this league fell under the racist category, while others felt that it was unnecessary to send their military to an area deemed unsafe. The time following the Spanish-American only some people such as congress to vote against the acquiring of new land. Meanwhile a large amount of democrats were against being able to annex colonies to be able to gain control. When determining whether it is civilized or uncivilized to take the right to control themselves away from the people and force them to be controlled by someone else. It appears to be uncivilized because it brings up unnecessary conflict. Some also felt that the U.S had enough means in the U.S that would stop them from searching in foreign areas. This brought about the Anti-Imperialist League which members included Grover Cleveland and Samuel Gompers In (document 9) "​Platform of the American Anti-imperialist League" they believed that Imperialism focused on the military side of things, but all this league wanted was to be free of control.

This League believed that nothing good could come from growing their militia and the fact that the Europeans enjoyed going to war and with the desire to acquire more land in Europe, could lead to an unnecessary war. Along with their beliefs came the idea that the Spanish-American War only used imperialism as a cover-up for liberation. In reality this expansion of land would only take away the right of "consent to govern." -Lumen

Is Imperialism a proper and legitimate policy?

This policy started of as a good idea. It was a way for the U.S to be able to sell their surplus. It allowed for more job opportunities for the working class. When digging deeper into it this policy had its ups and downs. Imperialism was economically beneficial, but was not something that everyone agreed was a good idea. When I think of the benefits that came with Imperialism; Yes the acquiring of more land brought on more jobs, but it also took away control for the people. Yes Imperialism allowed the U.S more area to trade, but taking land from others to do so led to more unnecessary wars. This policy appeared to stem from the need for more. The U.S wanting more land and natural resources to produce more and sell more within a new trade market. They wanted to beat out their biggest competitor by having more economic and military power. The idea of expansion was a good idea economically, but socially it caused turmoil. These places were not willing to just give up their land, they were willing to sacrifice everything for their land in hopes of remaining in control of their own territory. The relationships changed between Cuba and the U.S as well as the relationship between Puerto Rico and Cuba. U.S eventually cut all things involving Cuba which entailed Puerto Rico to do the same. The outcome of this policy was a negative one because it led to political turmoil and lead to a stronger opposition of imperialism itself.

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In conclusion, imperialism was a good support for the economy. The way that the United States wanted to be able to expand their trade market was a reasonable aspiration. It was something that would prevent the panic of 1893 of recessing. While Imperialism was beneficial to the economy it seems to cause more harm than good. It required them to acquire land from foreign areas. It also took away the rights of the people being able to govern themselves. It brought on strict labor unions and the ideas that this expansion would bring on unnecessary wars. Even today a lot of our materials come from overseas. Capitalism plays a key role in imperialism today in such places as banks and oil factories. The use imperialism to expand their business worldwide so that they can turn more of a profit.


1. Background Lecture: ​Lecture: 19th Century American Imperialism

2. Document 9 "​Platform of the American Anti-imperialist League"

3. Reference.com "​Does Imperialism exist today"

4. Lumen.com "Boundless US History" ​American Imperialism

5. Document 1- Alfred T Mahan ​"The Influence of Sea Power upon History" 6. Encyclopedia Britannica - ​Imperialism


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