What motivated America's "new imperialism"?

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jameadows eNotes educator| Certified Educator

America's New Imperialism in the late 19th and early 20th centuries was motivated by several factors. First, Americans had long thought of themselves as having a unique place in the world, in part because of their history. This idea of "American exceptionalism" was a motivating factor in the U.S. campaign against Spain, for example, in the Spanish-American War of 1898. Related to the idea of American exceptionalism was the idea that the U.S. should civilize and Christianize what Americans often regarded as backward or uncivilized people in the rest of the world.

In addition, the U.S. wanted raw materials from other countries, such as sugar from Cuba, that made the acquisition of new territories desirable. The country also wanted trading partners for their manufactured goods. Finally, motivated by Alfred Thayer Mahan's influential 1890 book The Influence of Sea Power upon History (which studied the importance of naval power in establishing the British Empire), American leaders were interested in founding U.S. naval bases in islands such as Cuba and the Philippines to anchor their control of the seas and to control access to raw materials.  

pohnpei397 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

America's "New Imperialism" in the late 1800s and early 1900s is typically attributed to three main causes.  They include:

  • Desire for economic gain.  There was a need during this time for new sources of raw materials and new markets in which to sell finished goods.  America hoped to gain some of these things via imperialism.
  • Strategic needs.  This was the era of Alfred Thayer Mahan and his idea that naval power was the most important factor in making countries strong.  This led to a desire for new territories on which to site naval bases.  These bases could be used for refueling ships and as places from which to project American power.
  • Cultural/religious reasons.  This was also the era of the "white man's burden."  The idea was that Americans were superior to the people they were imperializing.  It was the Americans' duty to bring superior civilization and religion to these people.

All of these factors had a part in motivating America's "New Imperialism."

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