- What were the main reasons the United States decided to become a global power in the later 1800s?
- What were the key events that occurred in the late 1800s that allowed the United States to become a global power? Please describe at least three.
- What were the effects of these changes here in the United States?
There are a two main reasons why the US “decided to become a global power” at the end of the 1800s. One of the reasons has to do with the ideas of manifest destiny and the “white man’s burden.” Many Americans of the time believed that the United States was superior to other countries of the world and that it deserved to have a bigger place in the world. One aspect of this was the desire of people like Theodore Roosevelt to improve the “racial hygiene” of the American people. They thought that acts of aggression like the Spanish-American War would improve the general quality of the American people by forcing them to act in “manly” ways. The second reason was commercial. Americans wanted to take an empire so that they could have guaranteed sources of raw materials and so that they could have captive markets with whom to trade. In this way, imperialism was seen as a good economic move. (We often talk about military power as another motive for imperialism, but I will not discuss it here because it does not seem right to say that the desire for power was a reason to become powerful. This seems like circular reasoning.)
One key event of this time that allowed the US to become a global power was the Spanish-American War. This war gave the US a number of imperial possessions in the Caribbean and in Asia. A second event was the creation of the transcontinental railroad and the expansion of the United States to the West Coast. This allowed the US to become more economically powerful and it gave the country easy access to the Pacific and Asia. Finally, we can say that the British Empire was beginning to decline in the late 1800s. Things like the Boer War were weakening the Empire and opening room for the US to take its place among the larger powers of the world.
When America became a world power, the main effect here was to change the way Americans thought. Americans had never really seen themselves as a major world power (as opposed to a major regional power). As the country became stronger, Americans began to feel that it was possible and appropriate for them to intervene in events around the world. We can see this, for example, in the American push for an “open door” in China and the role that President Theodore Roosevelt played in mediating an end to the Russo-Japanese War in the early 1900s.