What was the reason for American imperialism?

There were several reasons for American imperialism, including the desire for new markets and new raw materials, the desire to expand military power abroad, and the idea that the US had a responsibility to "civilize" people of other nations.

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The late-nineteenth century United States became an imperial power for a multitude of reasons.

The nineteenth-century doctrine of Manifest Destiny was a contributing factor to American imperialism. Manifest Destiny was the idea that American expansionism was both right and inevitable. By the late nineteenth century, the United States had reached...

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The late-nineteenth century United States became an imperial power for a multitude of reasons.

The nineteenth-century doctrine of Manifest Destiny was a contributing factor to American imperialism. Manifest Destiny was the idea that American expansionism was both right and inevitable. By the late nineteenth century, the United States had reached its territorial limits in North America. Therefore, further expansion overseas was a natural continuation of Manifest Destiny.

In 1890, Alfred Thayer Mahan (1840–1914) published The Influence of Sea Power upon History, 1660–1783. Mahan, an American naval officer and instructor, advocated both a strong navy and colonial expansionism. Great nations had strong navies, so an aspiring US needed one too. Mahan's ideas were influential both abroad and in the US America's Secretary of the Navy, Theodore Roosevelt, was influenced by Mahan.

In the late-nineteenth century, Asia and Africa were carved up by European powers. They sent missionaries to convert heathen peoples, but these nations were more interested in political and economic aggrandizement. Influential members of the government of the United States—such as Senators Albert Beveridge and Henry Cabot Lodge—decided to emulate the Europeans.

Social Darwinism played a role in American imperialism. Proponents of Social Darwinism believed the Anglo-Saxon race was superior to others. Therefore, it had a duty to civilize inferior peoples.

Late-nineteenth century American imperialism focused on the Pacific. Samoa and Hawaii were taken over. In 1898, America defeated Spain and received the Philippines, Guam, and Puerto Rico.

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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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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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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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