Reasons For American Imperialism

What was the reason for American imperialism?

Asked on by geamye0023

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pohnpei397's profile pic

pohnpei397 | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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Three reasons are typically given for American imperialism in the late 1800s and early 1900s.

Economic factors.  The US wanted to take an empire to give it new markets in which to sell goods and from which to buy raw materials.

Military factors.  This was the time of Alfred Thayer Mahan’s ideas about the dominant role of naval power.  The US felt that taking an empire would give it more naval bases from which to project power.  This would allow the  US to become a more important power.

Cultural factors.  Many Americans believed in the idea of the “white man’s burden.”  They felt that they needed to go out and help to civilize the rest of the world.

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mkoren | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Senior Educator

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The United States wanted to become an imperial power in the late 1800s. There were several reasons for this. One of our goals was to become a world power. In order to do this, we needed to have colonies beyond our borders. Since most of the available land was already colonized, we were going to have gain colonies in a war. By winning a war and gaining colonies, we could become a world power.

We also knew that by having colonies, it would give our navy a place to stop and resupply and refuel their ships. We could also use the colonies as a base of our military operations if needed. Having colonies would make it easier for our military to take actions that could maintain our world power status once that status was achieved.

We also wanted resources and places to sell our products. If we had colonies, we could get needed resources cheaper from the colonies than by buying them from other countries. Also, we would be able to sell our products to the colonies. This would give our businesses a guaranteed market for their products.

Finally, we believed our way of life was superior to the way of life in other countries. We believed it was our duty to spread our superior way of life to these countries. We believed we needed to show them how to govern themselves and how to develop an economy. There were many reasons why we wanted to become an imperial power in the late 1800s.

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beardian | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Assistant Educator

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There are several reasons that the United States got involved with imperial colonies throughout the world.

  1. New markets for goods, new lands for natural resources.  As in the case of all imperial colonies (including us when we were a British colony!), having new land has broad economic opportunities.  Not only can the new land provide different resources and raw materials with which the mother country can make luxury manufactured goods, but a new colony is also a new market that can be made to trade only with the mother country. 
  2. Military and naval bases, extending the military's reach throughout the world.  The US received Guam as a ceded territory from the Spanish-American War.  Later, during WWII, this became a location that the US could gather troops and ships during its island hopping campaign in the Pacific Ocean.  Even today, the US has dozens of bases stationed throughout completely sovereign nations in the world as a way of maintaining a military force close by to any potention hot spots.
  3. The need to "civilize" other cultures.  The best example of this is European "humanitarian" interventions in Africa, as best described by Rudyard Kipling's poem "The White Man's Burden".  However, we can also look at US intervention in the Philippines.  While we initially supported the Philippine's independence movement against Spain, we held on to the land once we defeated the Spanish.  Several documents were released that the Filipinos were not civilized as the Americans were, so we were not willing to give the Filipinos their freedom.  I personally enjoy this quote from Andrew Carnegie, an anti-imperialist in the last 19th and early twentieth century:

"You seem to have about finished your work of civilizing the Filipinos.  About 8,000 of them have been civilized and sent to Heaven.  I hope you like it."

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