By Geoffrey Barraclough (ed.)
The following text is an excerpt from The Times Atlas of World History (London: Times Books, 1978) pp246-247.
Geoffrey Barraclough is one of the UK's most distinguished historians. He held
the Chichele Professorship of Modern History at the University of Oxford.
The new imperialism vented itself in the war against Spain in 1898, a watershed year when the United States plunged into world politics; meanwhile, it had been strengthening its navy and occupying strategic outposts before claiming supremacy in the Caribbean and the Pacific. The first step in the resumption of this new forward movement was the acquisition of Alaska in 1867 as a result of a deal with Russia. To Americans Alaska was both the back door to Canada and a â€˜finger pointed at Asia'. Many Americans believed that British North America, encircled in this way, would be forced into the Union, thus fulfilling the dream of a continent-wide empire. But the Canadians frustrated these hopes, first by federation (1867), then by the purchase of Rupert's Land from the Hudson's Bay Company (1870). Finally, they attracted Manitoba (1870) and British Columbia (1871) into the new Dominion, thus blunting the northward thrusts of the United States. Tensions with Britain stemming from the American Civil War were eased by the Treaty of Washington (1871).
With the Aleutian island chain stretching out towards Japan, Alaska was the natural bridge to north-east Asia. Since the mid-19th century, however, Hawaii had been the main entrepí´t to the Orient. A three-power rivalry involving Britain and France had kept American relations with this native kingdom in an unsettled state, but by annexing Midway Island (1867) the United States moved ahead of the other two powers. A commercial treaty in 1875 made Hawaii a virtual American protectorate, and in 1887 the United States obtained Pearl Harbor as a coaling station and future naval base. Annexation entered its final stage in 1893, when a group of sugar planters and Honolulu businessmen, aided by American officials, overthrew the native monarchy and established a republic. The outbreak of war with Spain in 1898 furnished the impetus for formal annexation. Wake Island followed in 1899. Earlier, in 1878, a foothold had been established in Tutuila in the Samoan group where the British and Germans were also involved. Friction resulted in a treaty (1899) partitioning the group, but the Germans lost their share to New Zealand in 1914.
The chief fruits of the Spanish-American war in the Pacific were the Philippines and the island of Guam, formally ceded by Spain in the peace treaty of 1898. The United States now had its â€˜stepping stones' to China, already the focus of international rivalry as a field for capital investment. Backed by the government, American bankers and entrepreneurs expected to get their full share. They would secure the â€˜Open Door', a phrase already in current use to describe the unlimited opportunities China was supposed to offer. A secret move in 1900 to obtain a lease over Samsah Bay in Fukien province, opposite Formosa, proved unsuccessful. Nevertheless, the United States was determined to outpace the European powers in the scramble. Its attention was concentrated particularly on Manchuria. Promoters like Willard Straight, who was consul-general in Mukden, conceived of Manchuria as America's â€˜new West', to be gridironed by railways owned and managed from the United States. These designs were thwarted by Russia and Japan, who effectively divided Manchuria between themselves by treaty in 1907 and 1910 respectively.
The other principal area of American expansion took in Mexico and the Caribbean. From Mexico the United States had wrested the provinces of Texas, New Mexico and California between 1846 and 1848. Land, mining and oil companies, competing with European interests, penetrated the country after 1880 but where checked by the revolution of 1911, which adumbrated a far-reaching programme of nationalization. President Wilson reacted with two armed interventions: an occupation force to Vera Cruz in 1914 and a punitive expedition across the Rio Grande in 1916. But these actions stimulated the Mexicans to resist, and helped the initiation of a German intrigue which came to a head in 1917. Meanwhile, the war on Spain in 1898 had lead to the conquest of Puerto Rico and the conversion of Cuba into a protectorate (1903). Britain, the other power chiefly interested in the Caribbean, recognized the changed situation and, in the Hay-Pauncefote treaty of 1901, gave the United States a free hand. From this agreement followed the building of the Panama Canal (opened in 1914) under the sole ownership and control of the United States.
The ideological basis for this hegemony was the Monroe Doctrine which, even when first set forth in 1823, implied an intention to treat Latin America as a United States sphere of influence. However, with the outbreak of the Civil War (1861), expansionist ambitions were temporarily dropped, although the Monroe Doctrine was by no means forgotten. The French attempt to erect a puppet empire in Mexico ((1862-67) offered it a fresh challenge, and in actually beginning work on a canal across Panama the French engineer Ferdinand de Lesseps, builder of the Suez Canal, caused further objections. As President Hays put it, any such canal must be regarded as â€˜virtually a part of the coastline of the United States' (1879).
Interfering in a British dispute with Venezuela over a boundary question, the United States thorough Secretary of State Olney, in 1895 declared itself â€˜practically sovereign on this continent' and the British dropped the argument. Obstinacy on the part of Colombia in failing to bow to American demands for canal rights across Panama led to an insurrection accompanied by the forcible detachment of that country from Colombia. The United States then guaranteed the â€˜independence' of Panama but under terms that made it a protectorate. This period of dominance in the Caribbean survived under difficulties until about 1945. Mexican resistance stiffened into open defiance (1934-38), tactics had to be altered to appease the larger South American Countries, intense diplomacy was undertaken to offset the activities of Nazi Germany. Interventions that occurred from time to time in the affairs of the Caribbean republics were covert or indirect, on the surface the Monroe Doctrine was transformed into the â€˜Good Neighbor' policy, and a battle of wits ensued to convince Latin America of US good intentions. . .
American expansion in the Pacific Attracted to the Pacific by the explorations of Capitan James Cook, American seafarers began operations in 1784 via Cape Horn. American interests controlled Hawii by 1842 and the Us shared in the concessions extorted from China by Britain. The Navy â€˜opened' Japan in 1854 and Korea in 1882 and obtained Pago Pago Bay, Samoa (1878) and Pearl Harbor, Hawaii (1887). Then, in 1898, followed the great annexation which enabled the US to complete its â€˜life-line' to China.
FAIR USE NOTICE: This page contains copyrighted material the use of which has not been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. Global Policy Forum distributes this material without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes. We believe this constitutes a fair use of any such copyrighted material as provided for in 17 U.S.C Â§ 107. If you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond fair use, you must obtain permission from the copyright owner.