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Most Americans displayed a languid interest in foreign affairs during the nineteenth century. The overriding priorities at the time included western settlement, industrial development, and domestic politics (Tindall and Shi 859). America fell into an isolationist mood after the Civil War as the country felt secure in its weak neighbors and geographic advantage. However, the idea of America having the destiny to expand its influence and territory beyond its borders remained alive. Several prominent politicians were vocal about the issue with some in support of the acquisition of foreign lands while anti-imperialists opposed the move. This paper will examine the two sides and their arguments for and against imperialism.
The victory over the Spanish Pacific Fleet by American forces brought a new dimension to the political landscape. America was faced with the dilemma of whether to annex the Philippines or let it remain independent. Senator Albert Beveridge was one of the most vocal supporters of annexation as he gave numerous reasons.
Beveridge used religion by invoking God in his speech. He said that God had given America enough land to feed and clothe the world. He intimated that God chose America and bestowed the mandate to venture out and conquer unexplored lands while setting an example of honor and right. According to the senator, the Almighty father had endowed America with gifts beyond the deserts and marked its people with his peculiar favor (Beveridge). He insisted that this power from God could not be allowed to rot in selfishness but rather should be shared with the rest of the world. Invoking God's name was a way of appealing to the religious core to make it appear like it was a God-given duty.
Senator Beveridge also used economics to point out the need for expanding to foreign territories. In his speech, he said that America was creating more than it could consume and there was a need to identify new markets for farmer's produce as well as the goods produced in American factories. Beveridge said that the industrial society was congested with more workers than there was work and more capital than investment opportunities. He saw annexation as a way to create new markets for produce and investment opportunities for capital owners. He said that annexing these territories was needed in 1898 more than ever before since the country was undergoing rapid economic growth (Beveridge).
America's history and culture were also used as tools to emphasize the importance of annexation. Beveridge extolled the rich history of American conquests and alluded to the Liberty Bell as a symbol of independence and strength (Beveridge). He talked of the statesmen who had ventured into unexplored lands and a people who overran a continent in half a century. This part of the speech aimed at connecting to the cultural and historical roots laid down by previous generations. Beveridge was calling on people to emulate the American culture of conquering and exploration.
The social issue of leadership came about when Beveridge talked about consent in leadership. He said that self-governance was only for people who could prove their capability in that area. He compared it with how it was appropriate to govern children without their consent. In his mind, the people in the Philippines would prefer a humane and civilized American rule to savage leadership (Beveridge).
American anti-imperialists vehemently opposed the view of annexing foreign territories led by people like Mark Twain and Andrew Carnegie. The politicians, philosophers, and business leaders in this movement had come together to galvanize public opinion about the evils of imperialism and the Philippines war ("Platform of the American Anti-Imperialist League" 77). They maintained that imperialism was hostile to liberty and tended towards militarism, which the US had conquered. They insisted that America was a country that believed in the liberty of everyone regardless of their color or race ("Platform of the American Anti-Imperialist League" 77). Independent governments gained their power from the consent of the people who were governed and hence America's annexing was subjugation of these rights. It would be a contradiction to the American beliefs on freedom.
I find the anti-imperialist view more compelling than the one touted by Beveridge. America had come from the Civil War, and hence people understood the value of freedom. Imperialism seeks to impose the will of the ruling class on the annexed territories. Imperialism was just wrong because it was inconsistent with the self-determination espoused in the Gettysburg Address and Declaration of Independence (Hurd 114). Leadership should be gained via the consent of the subjects, and hence Beveridge's approach was inappropriate. Secondly, it is incorrect to assume that America was ordained by God to rule over other nations since it is not possible to prove. It was wrong for Beveridge to make assumptions that made it appear right to annex the Philippines. Expansion and growth are good, but they should not occur at the expense of other people's rights.
I think that America's new imperialism was a response to events that were happening around the world. The US began to acquire new territories when European nations expanded their reach over much of the rest of the world (Tindall and Shi 861). Developments in world markets, communication, and transport increased the pace of diplomacy and commerce. The need to acquire new territories was as a result of the changing landscape and the emergence of lucrative global markets for raw materials and finished goods.
Albert Beveridge. 'The March of the Flag," in Congressional Record, 56.th Cong., 1st sess.,9 January 1900, pp. 4-12
Hurd, Brian. "Delayed Success: The Redefined Anti-Imperialist Movement of 1898-1900". Santa Clara University Undergraduate Journal of History, vol 10, 2005, pp. 113-115., https://scholarcommons.scu.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1118&context=historical-perspectives. Accessed 1 Oct 2018.
"Platform of the American Anti-Imperialist League," in Speeches, Correspondence, and Political Papers of Carl Schurz, vol. 6, ed. Frederick Bancroft (New York: G. P. Putnam's Sons, 1913), p. 77, n. 1.
Tindall, George Brown, and David E Shi. America: A Narrative History. 7th ed., W.W. Norton & Co., 2007, pp. 859-861.
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