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...

  1. What were the main reasons the United States decided to become a global power in the later 1800s?
  2. 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.
  3. What were the effects of these changes here in the United States? 
Expert Answers
pholland14 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

1. The United States decided to become a global power at the end of the nineteenth century for both moral and economic reasons. The United States wanted to export its system of values.  The Spanish-American War was fueled by yellow journalism that showed imperialistic Spain treating Cubans poorly.  America went into the war to liberate the Spanish colonies and to gain overseas colonies of her own.  America also wanted to fuel commercial interests overseas.  The Hawaiian islands were annexed after the American pineapple and sugar plantation owners there overthrew the Hawaiian queen.  Naval strategists read Alfred Thayer Mahan's treatise on sea power and suddenly desired coaling stations in the Pacific in order for American merchant ships to reach China.  By 1900, American industrialists were producing more than Americans could ever use.  In order to grow, the country needed to develop new markets abroad.  

2. One key event was the Spanish-American War.  This war demonstrated that the American military could be sent overseas to fight in a war that did not directly threaten the United States.  The U.S. also gained Puerto Rico, Guam, and the Philippines in this war.  Another thing that allowed the U.S. to become a global power was the end of the wars with the Native Americans.  Frederick Jackson Turner wrote that Americans might grow "soft" if they did not have new frontiers.  This led to more Americans thinking about spreading American interests globally.  America also built better naval ships toward the end of the 1800s.  Europe was building better ironclad ships, and Americans were worried about falling behind.  American defense strategists started to look at more oceangoing ships, rather than riverine and coastal defenses.  These ships needed coal, and, thus, coaling stations around the world.  Not only did the new naval ships need more coal, but American merchant ships needed coal as well.  

The decision to expand American rule overseas was controversial.  Some saw American colonial efforts as a contradiction of American values. The United States now intervened overseas more, mediating successfully in the Russo-Japanese War and intervening in the Boxer Rebellion.  The decision to make America a player on the world stage also led to increased American nationalism.  It created a sense that the United States knew best when it came to leading the world. 

pohnpei397 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

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.