Throughout its history the United States has had strong inclinations towards expansion. Through purchase, treaty, or war the U.S grew tremendously from the time of its inception to the beginning of the twentieth century. While the methods and ideologies of expansion remained static, the motives behind the expansion were very vastly different in the early years than they were in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
The 19th and 20th century continued the American tradition of purchase for the sake of national security. As they needed the Mississippi river to ensure trade freedom in the early years so did they need the canal of Panama to cement the countries control of the Atlantic and the Pacific oceans. The years following the Spanish-American war had increased the scope of the U.S to include holdings across two oceans, therefore, without the canal the country could not have readily had access to its colonies in the Pacific. The motives behind the acquisition of Panama, however, are also rooted in the newly developing concept of Darwinism.
The countries of Europe and Asia during this period were busily acquiring as many colonies as they could. They sought to control the world through an almost zealous imperialism. They believed that there would come a time when there would no longer be any land for them to gain and that the only race that would survive was the one with the most power, the greatest culture and the highest “civilization.” They truly contended that God was training the Anglo-Saxon race for the “final competition of races” whose winner would hold dominion over the Earth. Therefore, the very survival of America was dependent upon gaining new land. This somewhat zealous belief was further rationalized in the U.S by the Munroe Doctrine.
For years America had considered itself the acting “police force” of the Western Hemisphere. As the only truly “civilized” country in the region America believed that it should do its best to look out for and protect its less advanced neighbors. This theory along with Manifest Destiny was the reasoning behind most of the U.S intervention with foreign policy as well as the purchase of Florida and Texas. In the late 19th century the U.S took the right to “exercise international police power” as a perfect motivation to open new economic channels by acquiring Cuba. The U.S at this point had been searching for new areas in which to trade goods. Most of their time had been spent within the islands of the Caribbean. They discovered that this would not only be a perfect new addition to the “American Empire,” but it would also serve to hurt Spain who currently held the territory. America, therefore, engaged in its splendid little war, also known as the Spanish American War. At its conclusion American had been able to acquire not only Cuba but also the island of the Philippines which was soon annexed. These additions opened America’s economy by allowing them free access to China’s markets.
Third only to the economic policy and national security was the basic tenant that it was the duty of all good Protestants to spread Christianity throughout the world spread by preachers such as Josiah Strong. Since the time of the Puritans and the first immigrants to America this idea of religious superiority had been a primary reason for expansion. This idea meshed perfectly with the more base motives of businessmen and entrepreneurs who understood that new colonies would mean new locations to build financial empires. These ideas became so interwoven among the robber barons that the concept of Wealth and Religion almost became one. Millionaires such as Carnegie believed in the Gospel of Wealth which said that it was the duty of all men to become rich and to use those riches to “aid” society in whatever way that they could.
A final departure from the reasons for expansion of old was the idea of world peace. The United States took on the noble charge of bringing peace and prosperity to the world. In order to do so, however, they would need to extend their reach. This meant acquiring new colonies such as Samoa and Hawaii to serve as refueling stations for their ships, and new colonies such as the Philippines so that trade and peace could be extended into the turmoil of the Pacific islands. This new motivation helped to further justify the stark imperialism that America was undergoing.
National Security, the Munroe Doctrine, Spreading Christianity and “Civilization.” These were all basic tenants of expansion throughout the history of America. However, in the 19th and 20th century this goals were supplemented and often supplanted by the ideas of Darwinism, opening new economic channels, the need for global refueling stations, and a belief in the absolute superiority of the American people which led to an insatiable imperialism.