How popular was Imperialism among American citizens?

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larrygates eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Imperialism by the U.S. was a mixed bag. There were many who supported it for a variety of reasons. Admiral Alfred Thayer Mahan, who wrote The Influence of Sea Power on History. Had advocated that the U.S. obtain a coaling station in the Pacific and an Isthmian Canal to allow quick travel between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans.  Others emphasized the percieved "superiority" of Anglo-Saxon civilization, and saw a need to carry it to other nations. Among them was Rev. Josiah Strong, a Congregationalist minister and author of: Our Country, its Possible Future and Present Crisis:

Like the star in the East which guided the Three Kings with their treasures westward until it stood still over the cradle of the young Christ, so the star of Empire, rising in the East, has ever beckoned the wealth and power of the nations westward, until today it stands still over the cradle of the young empire of the West, to which the nations are bringing their offerings.

The West is today an infant, but shall one day be a giant in each of whose limbs shall unite the strength of many nations.

This perceived superiority and the belief in a responsibility to spread the gospel of Christianity as evidenced by the hymn below pushed many Americans towards imperialism as an ideal:

  From all the dark places, of earth’s heathen races,
Oh see, how the thick shadows fly.
The voice of salvation unto every nation.
Come over and help us they cry.
The Kingdom is coming, oh tell ye the story
God’s banner exalted shall be.
The Earth shall be full of his honor and glory,
Like waters that cover the sea.

Still others opposed Imperialism, particularly the members of the American Anti-Imperialist League, whose members included Mark Twain, Andrew Carnegie, Jane Addams, Samuel Gompers and William James. The league argued that American imperialist policy undermined both Democracy and the principles of the Monroe Doctrine. It's most prominent spokesman, Mark Twain, wrote a biting satirical essay,  "To the Person Sitting in Darkness which reads in part:

They look doubtful, but in reality they are not. There have been lies; yes, but they were told in a good cause. We have been treacherous; but that was only in order that real good might come out of apparent evil. True, we have crushed a deceived and confiding people; we have turned against the weak and the friendless who trusted us; we have stamped out a just and intelligent and well-ordered republic; we have stabbed an ally in the back and slapped the face of a guest; we have bought a Shadow from an enemy that hadn't it to sell; we have robbed a trusting friend of his land and his liberty; we have invited our clean young men to shoulder a discredited musket and do bandit's work under a flag which bandits have been accustomed to fear, not to follow; we have debauched America's honor and blackened her face before the world; but each detail was for the best. We know this. The Head of every State and Sovereignty in Christendom and ninety per cent. of every legislative body in Christendom, including our Congress and our fifty State Legislatures, are members not only of the church, but also of the Blessings-of-Civilization Trust. This world-girdling accumulation of trained morals, high principles, and justice, cannot do an unright thing, an unfair thing, an ungenerous thing, an unclean thing. It knows what it is about. Give yourself no uneasiness; it is all right


kapokkid eNotes educator| Certified Educator

One of the important factors of American Imperialism is the idea that has been an underlying factor in many political movements in the United States and identified as Manifest Destiny or the idea that Americans (and in this sense the idea is held mainly by European settlers of America and their descendants rather than Native Americans) were somehow destined to move West and take over more land or expand into what was French or Mexican or Indian territory.

When further instances of American Imperialism are examined, the evidence of the popularity of the imperialist movements is evident in the popularity of jingoistic press and yellow journalism and the way that American people were quick to jump in favor of actions in foreign territory, especially those where victory was quick and cost very few American lives.

In one specific comparison, the willingness of the citizenry in the United States to condemn Europe for their quick descent into madness that led to World War I juxtaposed with the unwillingness of the populace to acknowledge their own similar actions presents a powerful picture of the primacy of the idea of imperialism being acceptable amongst the population.