Exam preparation materials

Chapter 15. The Rise of American Imperialism (1890-1913)

During the 20 years between 1890 and 1910, the United States proved itself to be as powerful as the major European states in every respect. By the turn of the century the United States had already surpassed Germany as the major industrial producer of the world. During this same period the United States was proving that its imperialist aims were as aggressive of those of France, England, and Germany, and that it would vigorously fight to maintain territories that it acquired. There were many constituencies in the United States that opposed American imperialism and many that supported it. American actions in this era, especially in the Philippines, showed that the United States was capable of doing every evil deed abroad that it had criticized various European powers for doing in the previous century.


In the years immediately after the Civil War, the United States aggressively sought out new territories to acquire or to economically control. In 1867 the United States purchased Alaska from the Russians. During the same year, the Midway Islands were also annexed, as the United States was also searching for potential bases in the Pacific Ocean.

Beginning in 1871 the Europeans powers began an era of great imperialistic expansion, culminating in the “Scramble for Africa.” which left virtually the entire continent colonized by England, France, Germany, or Belgium, The United States did not take part in imperialistic adventures until the 1890s. Several reasons can be cited for this. America was still expanding, but this expansion was still westward; the America frontier did not totally close until the last decade of the century. In addition, rapid industrial growth, urban growth, and a large influx of immigrants kept America occupied for much of the later nineteenth century. Another factor was that most of the men in power had been veterans of the Civil War or had intimate knowledge of it. These men had little stomach for further warfare, which imperialism was likely to bring.

The results of these factors were obvious. During the 1870s and early 1880s, the American State Department had less than 100 employees. The United States Army and Navy both would have been no match for the military forces of four or five European countries. Virtually no politician spoke of increased imperialistic adventures when campaigning in this era.

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