The Path of the Empire
I. Imperialist Stirrings
- From the end of the Civil War to the 1880s, the United States was very isolationist, but in the 1890s, due to rising exports, manufacturing capability, power, and wealth, it began to expand onto the world stage, using overseas markets to sell its goods.
- The “yellow press” or “yellow journalism” of Joseph Pulitzer and William Randolph Hearst also influenced overseas expansion, as did missionaries inspired by Reverend Josiah Strong’s Our Country: It’s Possible Future and Its Present Crisis. Strong spoke for civilizing and Christianizing savages.
- People were interpreting Darwin’s theory of survival-of-the-fittest to mean that the United States was the fittest and needed to take over other nations to improve them.
- Such events already were happening, as Europeans had carved up Africa and China by this time.
- Captain Alfred Thayer Mahan’s 1890 book, The Influence of Sea Power Upon History, 1660-1783, argued that every successful nation had a great navy, and started a naval race among the great powers and moving the U.S. to naval supremacy.
- James G. Blaine pushed his “Big Sister” policy, which sought better relations with Latin America, and in 1889, he presided over the first Pan-American Conference, held in Washington D.C.
- However, in other diplomatic affairs, America and Germany almost went to war over the Samoan Islands (over whom could build a naval base there), while Italy and America almost fought due to the lynching of 11 Italians in New Orleans, and the U.S. and Chile almost went to war after the deaths of two American sailors at Valparaiso in 1892.
- The new aggressive mood was also shown by the U.S.—Canadian argument over seal hunting near the Pribilof Islands off the coast of Alaska.
II. Monroe’s Doctrine and the Venezuelan Squall
- British Guiana and Venezuela had been disputing their border for many years, but when gold was discovered, the situation worsened.
- Thus, the U.S., under President Grover Cleveland, sent a note written by Secretary of State Richard Olney to Britain informing them that the British actions were trespassing the Monroe Doctrine and that the U.S. controlled things in the Americas.
- The British replied four months later saying that the Monroe Doctrine didn’t exist.
- Uproar resulted, and the two nations almost went to war, but after second thoughts by both sides, the issue was settled with the British getting most of the land that they had wanted in the beginning.
- Britain didn’t want to fight because of the damage to its merchant trade that could result, as well as the vulnerability of Canada; plus, after the Dutch Boers of South Africa captured 600 British, Germany’s Kaiser Wilhem cabled his congratulations, sending British anger to Germany, not to America.
- The result was that the Monroe Doctrine was strengthened, the Latin American nations appreciated the U.S.’ effort to protect them, and Britain sought better relations with the U.S. afterwards, since it had many enemies in Europe.
III. Spurning the Hawaiian Pear
- From the 1820s, when the first U.S. missionaries came, the United States had always liked the Hawaiian Islands.
- Treaties signed in 1875 and 1887 guaranteed commercial trade and U.S. rights to priceless Pearl Harbor, while Hawaiian sugar was very profitable But in 1890, the McKinley Tariff raised the prices on this sugar, raising its price.
- Americans felt that the best way to offset this was to annex Hawaii—a move opposed by its Queen Liliuokalani—but in 1893, desperate Americans in Hawaii revolted.
- They succeeded, and Hawaii seemed ready for annexation, but Grover Cleveland became president again, investigated the coup, found it to be wrong, and delayed the annexation of Hawaii until he basically left office.
- Cleveland was bombarded for stopping “Manifest Destiny,” but his actions proved to be honorable for him and America.
IV. Cubans Rise in Revolt
- In 1895, Cuba revolted against Spain, citing years of misrule, and the Cubans torched their sugar cane fields in hopes that such destruction would either make Spain leave or America interfere (the American tariff of 1894 had raised prices on it anyway).
- Sure enough, America supported Cuba, and the situation worsened when Spanish General Valeriano “Butcher” Weyler came to Cuba to crush the revolt and ended up putting many civilians into concentration camps that were terrible and killed many.
- The American public clamored for action, especially when spurred on by the yellow press, but Cleveland would do nothing.
V. The Mystery of the Maine Explosion
- The yellow presses competed against each other to come up with more sensational stories, and Hearst even sent artist Frederick Remington to draw pictures of often-fictional atrocities.
- For example, he drew Spanish officials brutally stripping and searching an American woman, when in reality, Spanish women, not men, did such acts.
- Then, suddenly, on February 9, 1898, a letter written by Spanish minister to Washington Dupuy de Lôme that ridiculed President McKinley was published by Hearst.
- On February 15th of that year, the U.S. battleship U.S.S. Maine mysteriously exploded in Havana Harbor, killing 260 officers and men.
- Despite an unknown cause, America was war-mad and therefore Spain received the blame.
- Hearst called down to Cuba, “You supply the pictures, I’ll supply the story.”
- Actually, what really happened was that an accidental explosion had basically blown up the ship—a similar conclusion to what Spanish investigators suggested—but America ignored them.
VI. McKinley Unleashes the Dogs of War
- The American public wanted war, but McKinley privately didn’t like war or the violence, since he had been a Civil War major. In addition, Mark Hanna and Wall Street didn’t want war because it would upset business.
- However, on April 11, 1898, the president sent his war message to Congress anyway, since: (1) war with Spain seemed inevitable, (2) America had to defend democracy, and (3) opposing a war could split the Republican party and America.
- Congress also adopted the Teller Amendment, which proclaimed that when the U.S. had overthrown Spanish misrule, it would give the Cubans their freedom and not conquer it.
VII. Dewey’s May Day Victory at Manila
- On paper, at least, the Spanish had the advantage over the U.S., since it had more troops and a supposedly better army, as well as younger (and seemingly more daring) generals.
- Navy Secretary John D. Long and his assistant secretary, Theodore Roosevelt had modernized the U.S. navy, making it sleek and sharp.
- On February 25, 1898, Roosevelt cabled Commodore George Dewey, commanding the American Asiatic Squadron at Hong Kong, and told him to take over the Philippines.
- Dewey did so brilliantly, completely taking over the islands from the Spanish.
VIII. Unexpected Imperialistic Plums
- Dewey had naval control, but he could not storm the islands and its fortresses, so he had to wait for reinforcements, but meanwhile, other nations were moving their ships into Manila Harbor to protect their men.
- The German navy defied American blockade regulations, and Dewey threatened the navy commander with war, but luckily, this episode blew over, due in part to the British assistance of America.
- Finally, on August 13, 1898, American troops arrived and captured Manila, collaborating with Filipino insurgents, led by Emilio Aguinaldo, to overthrow the Spanish rulers.
- On July 7, 1898, the U.S. annexed Hawaii (so that it could use the islands to support Dewey, supposedly), and Hawaii received full territorial status in 1900.
IX. The Confused Invasion of Cuba
- The Spanish sent warships to Cuba, panicking Americans on the Eastern seaboard, and the fleet, commanded by Admiral Cervera, found refuge in Santiago harbor, Cuba.
- Then, it was promptly blockaded by a better American force.
- American ground troops, led by fat General William R. Shafter, were ill-prepared for combat in the tropical environment (i.e. they had woolen long underwear).
- The “Rough Riders,” a regiment of volunteers led by Theodore Roosevelt and Colonel Leonard Wood, rushed to Cuba and battled at El Caney stormed up San Juan Hill.
X. Curtains for Spain in America
- Admiral Cervera was finally ordered to fight the American fleet, and his fleet was destroyed.
- On land, the American army, commanded by General Nelson A. Miles, met little resistance as they took over Puerto Rico.
- Soon afterwards, on August 12, 1898, Spain signed an armistice.
- Notably, if the Spaniards had held out for a few more months, they might have won, for the American army was plagued with dysentery, typhoid, and yellow fever.
- Finally, TR wrote a “round-robin” letter demanded that the U.S. government take the troops out before they all died.
XI. McKinley Heeds Duty, Destiny, and Dollars
- In negotiations in Paris, America got Guam and Puerto Rico and freed Cuba, but the Philippines were a tough problem, since America couldn’t honorably give it back to Spain after decades of misrule, but the U.S. couldn’t just take it like an imperialistic nation.
- Finally, McKinley decided to keep the Philippines, even though they had been taken one day after the end of the war, but he did so because of popular public opinion and because it meshed well with business interests.
- The U.S. paid $20 million for the islands.
XII. America’s Course (Curse?) of Empire
- Upon the U.S. taking of the Philippines, uproar broke out, since until now, the United States had mostly acquired territory from the American continent, and even with Alaska, Hawaii, and the other scattered islands, there weren’t many people living there.
- The Anti-Imperialist League sprang into being, firmly opposed to this new imperialism of America, and its members included Mark Twain, William James, Samuel Gompers, and Andrew Carnegie.
- Even the Filipinos wanted freedom, and denying that to them was un-American.
- However, expansionists cried that the Philippines could become another Hong Kong.
- British writer Rudyard Kipling wrote about “The White Man’s Burden,” urging America to keep the Philippines and “civilize them.”
- In the Senate, the treaty was almost not passed, but finally, William Jennings Bryan argued for its passage, saying that the sooner the treaty was passed, the sooner the U.S. could get rid of the Philippines. The treaty passed by only one vote.
XIII. Perplexities in Puerto Rico and Cuba
- The Foraker Act of 1900 gave Puerto Ricans a limited degree of popular government, and in 1917, Congress granted Puerto Ricans full American citizenship.
- U.S. help also transformed Puerto Rico and worked wonders in sanitation, transportation, beauty, and education.
- In the Insular Cases, the Supreme Court barely ruled that the Constitution did not have full authority on how to deal with the islands (Cuba and Puerto Rico), essentially letting Congress do whatever it wanted with them. Basically, the cases said the island residents do not necessarily share the same rights as Americans.
- America could not improve Cuba that much however, other than getting rid of yellow fever with the help of General Leonard Wood and Dr. Walter Reed.
- In 1902, the U.S. did indeed walk away from Cuba, but it also encouraged Cuba to write and pass the Platt Amendment, which became their constitution.
- This amendment said that (1) the U.S. could intervene and restore order in case of anarchy, (2) that the U.S. could trade freely with Cuba, and (3) that the U.S. could get two bays for naval bases, notably Guantanamo Bay.
XIV. New Horizons in Two Hemispheres
- The Spanish-American War lasted only 113 days and affirmed America’s presence as a world power.
- However, America’s actions after the war made its German rival jealous and its Latin American neighbors suspicious.
- Finally, one of the happiest results of the war was the narrowing of the bloody chasm between the U.S. North and South, which had been formed in the Civil War.
- General Joseph Wheeler was given a command in Cuba.
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