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Imperialist Policy Essay

To What Extent can it be argued that America Had an Imperialist Policy, Which Contradicted the Ideals Set down, By the Declaration of Independence?

“Annexation of the Philippines, the anti-imperialists protested over and over again, violated the very principles of independence and self determination on which the country (America) was founded.”

The above quotation summarises the key themes of this essay and the issues that will be explored.

To examine the extent to which America had an imperialist policy, which contradicted the ideals, set down by the declaration of independence we must first analyse the terms used within the question and look at the ideals specified in the declaration of independence. Examples of when America showed this imperialist policy must then be examined to find to what extent they had one. Finally it must be investigated into reasons why America may have taken a turn towards imperialism which they were so strongly against when they broke from Britain’s rule in 1776. After thoroughly investigating and analysing the mentioned areas I will draw my conclusions as to the extent that America had an imperialist policy which contradicted the ideals set down by the declaration of independence.

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To begin with I shall explore the meaning of imperialism so that the question can be fully interpreted and answered fully. There are two meanings for the word imperialism below is the dictionary definition, which I will explain shortly.

1.The policy or principle of having and extending control over the territory of other nations, of creating or maintaining an empire, or extending ones country’s influence through trade and diplomacy.

2.An attempt by a developed country to interfere in the affairs of an underdeveloped country or countries.

The first meaning is that imperialism is the expanding of one country into another country’s territory making them colonies and thus creating an empire, such as that of Britain in the 19th century controlling its colonies overseas. The second meaning of the word imperialism is that of a developed country influencing other countries by trade and diplomacy. It is this meaning that is often associated with Lenin’s view of imperialism as he felt that it was not necessarily about colonies but imposing control over another country through influence and tariffs. Using these interpretations it will be easier to analyse the actions taken by America and to find to what extent America had an imperialist policy.

Now I have explored the meaning of imperialism I will go on to examine the ideals that were set down in the declaration of independence on 4th July 1776. For the purpose of this essay not all the issues raised in the declaration of independence are required so I will highlight the points that I feel are needed to answer the question best. Firstly the declaration refers to ‘He’ meaning the King of Great Britain describing the injustices he has subjected the American colonies to. The first part I feel will highlight the issues within this essay talks about some of the injustices:

‘He has combined with others to subject us to a jurisdiction foreign to our constitution, and unacknowledged by our laws, giving his assent to their pretended legislation:………………

For cutting off our trade with all parts of the world;

For imposing taxes on us without our consent;

For depriving us, in many cases of the benefits of trial by jury;’

The above speaks of some of the things that the American people felt were wrong criticising British imperialism. The second piece continues to describe what they feel is wrong condemning British actions:

‘For abolishing the free system of English laws in a neighbouring province, establishing therein an arbitrary government, and enlarging its boundaries, so as to render it at once an example and fit instrument for introduction the same absolute rule into these colonies;

For taking away our charters abolishing our most valuable laws, and altering governments;

For suspending our own legislatures, and declaring themselves invested with power to legislate for us all in cases whatsoever.

He has abdicated government here by, declaring us out of protection and waging war against us.

He has plundered our seas, ravaged our coasts, burned our towns, and destroyed the lives of our people.’

By declaring what they feel strongly against the American people are revealing their ideals of government and rule within a country. The final part of the declaration describes how America will continue once broken from British rule:

‘We therefore the representatives of the United States of America, in general congress assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the name and by the authority of the good people of these colonies, solemnly publish and declare, that these united colonies are, and of right ought to be, FREE AND INDEPENDENT STATES; that they are absolved from all allegiance to the British crown, and that all political connection between them and the state of Great Britain is, and ought to be, totally dissolved; and that as free and independent states, they have full power to levy war, conclude peace, contract alliances, establish commerce, and do all other acts and things which independent states may of right do.’

This section of the declaration of independence concludes the intentions of the American people and how they will continue as a state. Looking at the excerpts I have taken I will refer back to these during the essay to point out contradictions in the American policy to prove the argument that America had an imperialist policy.

Having looked at the question and analysing the terms used within it I shall now explore reasons as to why American policy took a turn towards imperialism. America had been expanding since after the first landings in Jamestown and Plymouth with settlers moving west and further south rapidly consuming the great expanse of the American continent. This early expansion within the continent was purely for the settlement of the American people however; the movements of the 1890’s took a different path. Overseas expansion into already populated areas not so much for settlement but for the purpose of tactical naval bases, trading outposts or commercial centers on major trade routes. One view of this new policy was from Walter LaFeber:

‘The United States did not set out on an expansionist path in the late 1890’s in a sudden, spur-of-the-moment fashion. The overseas empire that Americans controlled in 1900 was not a break in their history, but a natural culmination.’

The above view expresses that imperialism and expanding is simply natural progression for any country and it was America’s time to expand. In America at the time few people liked the idea of imperialism, expanding had shown them benefits such as those of California and Oregon but imperialism meant control over other peoples by military conquest or economic domination which they did not want to be a part of. These attitudes however began to change as the end of the frontier was reached, as John A Kasson, a diplomat said in the North American Review:

‘We are rapidly utilising the whole of our continental territory. We must turn our eyes abroad, or they will soon look inward upon discontent.’

Again this view explored that expanding was something that came naturally once all a nations land was occupied. Now that the question has been explained and reasons for imperialism explored I shall continue to discuss examples to show to what extent America had an imperialist policy.

The first example of America advancing towards an imperialist policy can be seen as the introduction of the Monroe Doctrine, which was expressed during President James Monroe’s seventh annual message to congress in December 1823. Within this doctrine it was expressed that America felt that European powers no longer had the right to interfere in matters involving the Western Hemisphere and the American continent.

‘as a principle in which the right and interests of the United States are involved, that the American continents, by the free and independent condition which they have assumed and maintain, are henceforth not to be considered as subjects for future colonisation by any European powers…’

This speech showed that America had interests in lands outside their own territory and were declaring that they saw the Western Hemisphere as their sphere of influence.

It had long been hoped that America would one-day annex Canada or Mexico for extensive trade and greater unity against the European powers, the Monroe Doctrine supported this idea. In 1867 Secretary of State William Henry Seward finished negotiations with Russia for the purchase of Alaska with the aim of sandwiching in Canada ready for its annexation.

The discussion of the Monroe Doctrine and the purchase of Alaska have shown that America did have an imperialist policy and contradicts the ideals that they set down:

For imposing taxes on us without our consent;……

For taking away our charters abolishing our most valuable laws, and altering governments;

For suspending our own legislatures, and declaring themselves invested with power to legislate for us all in cases whatsoever.

They themselves condemned the actions of the British for doing the above and now although they had purchased Alaska were subjecting its people to very similar events.

The next example of America’s imperialist policy I shall explore will be Hawaii and America’s long hopes of annexing the islands. Hawaii was seen to be a key way-station in the middle of the Pacific Ocean and control of these islands would provide great military and commercial trade advantages. In 1875 a reciprocity treaty with Hawaii bound the Hawaiians to make no territorial or economic concessions to other nations as well as allowing sugar to enter the United States free of duty. This treaty increased Hawaii’s economic dependence on America, this supports the Lenin view of imperialism discussed earlier as it shows America having domination over Hawaii via economic constraints.

In 1891 King Kalakaua died and nationalist Queen Liliuokalani came to power. The new Queen disliked being ruled by a white minority and made way for a new constitution to give native Hawaiians more power. This caused trouble in Hawaii with the White Hawaiians revolting and America becoming involved militarily. The revolt was over in three days and the Queen surrendered. On 14th February 1893, the secretary of state John W Foster and officials from the new Hawaiian government signed a treaty annexing Hawaii to the United States. However only two weeks were left in president Harrison’s term and the senate refused to approve the treaty.

President Cleveland who came to power shortly later started an investigation into America’s involvement and found it to have been wrong. Cleveland decided to restore the queen to her throne but the provisional government established in Hawaii instead created the Republic of Hawaii. This backing down on America or Cleveland’s behalf shows that the pursuit of an empire was perhaps not so great or that Cleveland simply felt more strongly about the ideals of the declaration of independence.

However in 1898 the issue of annexing Hawaii arose again this time with concerns over Japan’s interests in the islands. President McKinley sought an annexation treaty but this required a two-thirds majority vote in the senate. It was decided that a joint resolution be obtained rather than a treaty requiring a majority in both houses. With the new approach the annexation plans passed quickly through congress and McKinley signed it on 7th July 1898 annexing Hawaii which had been an American goal since the 1860’s. Now despite the actions of President Cleveland the annexation of Hawaii was eventually achieved again showing America’s imperialist policy and how they contradicted their own ideals of not imposing power over another country or subjecting other peoples to laws or government foreign to their own.

I will now go on to discuss part of America’s involvement in the Philippines during the war with Spain. On 1st May 1898 after the war had only been going on one week Commodore George Dewey crushed the Spanish fleet at Manila Bay. With this significant victory the Philippines were now within Americas grasp and by the 13th August after raising an expeditionary force they took Manila Bay and gained control of the Philippines. This expansion of America territory by military conquest shows Americas imperialist policy and as one of those against it at the time said:

‘Dewey took Manila with the loss of one man and all our institutions.’

So it was obvious at the time to some people that Americas policy contradicted the ideals set down by the declaration of independence on which their country was founded.

The Final example I shall explore focuses on the early 1900’s and the events surrounding the Panama Canal. Great Britain had controlled the region in Central America, but while otherwise concerned had withdrawn troops from the area to allow for American plans of building an isthmian canal linking the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. President Roosevelt began selecting a route which would run through the Panama region of Colombia being 6 miles wide, he offered Colombia $10million and $250,000 annual rental for the land and permission. Colombia rejected his offer and he considered seizing the area but instead hinted to the inhabitants of the Panama region to revolt. Within a short time they did so and the new Republic of Panama was created with American support. A new deal was struck and the canal commissioned with Panama relying on America and America now controlling an extremely important trade route.

This example again shows America putting themselves in positions to be in an advantage over other nations highlighting another aspect of their imperialist policy.

I have now looked at the reasons why America may follow an imperialist policy, how the term imperialism can be interpreted and, have shown a number of examples when America showed this imperialist policy. I shall now conclude my finding to answer to what extent America had an imperialist policy, which contradicted the ideals set down by the declaration of independence.

I have not shown all the examples of when America showed signs of imperialism that I discovered my research but I have highlighted those that I felt were most important. All of the examples used have proved that America did have an imperialist policy to some extent or another they have also shown that at times some Americans felt that this policy did go against the ideals on which their nation was founded. So I conclude that America did have to a large extent an imperialist policy which contradicted the ideals set down by the declaration of independence whether they themselves recognised this policy or not as going against their own beliefs.

‘Dewey took Manila with the loss of one man and all our institutions.’

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Imperialist Policy. (2017, Sep 08). Retrieved from https://studymoose.com/imperialist-policy-essay

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