How was Imperialism inconsistent with basic American Principles?

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Ashley Kannan | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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If we examine a sample of fundamental American principles, we can see that the practice of Imperialism is one fraught with inconsistencies.  For example, the principle of popular sovereignty, the right of the people to voice their opinion about the nature of government, is something discarded in Imperialism, whose forceful and direct control of nations paid no heed to such an idea.  Imperialism carries with it the notion that "certain people were destined to be ruled by others, an idea that, at its essence, negates the American principle of popular sovereignty.  Another American principle vitiated with Imperialist practices is individual rights, the belief that there are some inalienable and fundamental notions of the good that individuals can use as a protectorate shield from government encroachment.  These rights such as the right to free expression and the right to fairness in the forms of legal due process are violated with imperialist practices, which usurp individual notions of expression and due process with their own senses of authority, power, and conceptions of right/ wrong.  For example, when Imperialist practices compelled America to overtake Latin American nations, there was not a discourse to ask indigenous people what kind of government or legal system they desired, but rather an imposition of what was deemed to be right without discussion from others.  Such an imposition causes a natural rebellion or dissent with current practices, revealing another principle of American thought that is denied with Imperialism.  The idea of dissenting from power based practices is a time honored tradition in American intellectual history. From the Framers' conception of the idea that citizens have an obligation or duty to speak out against governmental abuses of power to the Declaration of Independence and Constitutional Government, dissent and seeking to refine government so that it is reflective "of the people, for the people, and by the people," is representative of an essential for Republicanism in America.  Yet, Imperialist take over and usurpation of nations does not allow this notion to develop, as American control of nations did not allow for dialogue or dissent, which was usually met with force and crushed out of the discussion.

mizzwillie's profile pic

mizzwillie | Middle School Teacher | (Level 1) Senior Educator

Posted on

Imperialism means to take control of other lands or countries and make them subservient to our rule.  We become the law and power in the countries we take over.  What is so inconsistent in this is that America fought the Revolutionary War with England just so that we did not have to continue being their colony.  In other words, we threw off their imperialistic control of us as a country and thus we were free to form our own country.  The United States was formed on the principles of freedom and individuality and not answering to a foreign power such as England.  So when we did the same thing we had fought against, taking over colonies, we were being very inconsistent with our values.


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