·        What is imperialism?

·        Describe the two main waves of imperialism.

·        Where did most of the second wave of imperialism occur?


Imperialism is the practice by which powerful nations seek to rule over weaker areas or peoples, usually in less developed areas.  This process can mean either that areas are totally controlled and made colonies of the “mother country” or that the more powerful nation just uses its power to influence the actions of the weaker country without any formal annexation.

The world has experience two major phases of imperialism.  The first began with Columbus’s voyage to America in 1492, which touched off a race between the major European powers to colonize North America.  In addition to the colonization of North America, the sixteenth through eighteenth centuries also saw European powers (mainly Great Britain) occupy areas such as India, Australia, and small parts of southern Africa, northern Africa, and the Middle East.  Prevailing economic theories of the time encouraged the seeking of colonies and monopolies in overseas trade.  A combination of political and economic factors, however, slowed down the imperialistic drive after 1815.  Britain’s desire for empire (a country and its collection of colonies) had been diminished after the loss of the thirteen American colonies in 1783, and France had lost nearly all of its overseas possessions by the end of the Napoleonic Wars in 1815.  In addition, the laissez-faire school of economics argued against the possession of colonies, believing that their expense did not justify their advantages.

Spurred by the industrial revolution, the second great wave of imperialism began in the late nineteenth century.  Beginning in the 1870s, the Europeans indulged in a spree of overseas conquests that reduced most of Africa, Asia, and the Pacific Ocean region to colonial possessions by the time of the outbreak of the First World War in 1914.  During each year of that time period an area larger than France was conquered by the different Western powers.  By 1914, Europe and its colonial possessions occupied over 60% of the inhabitable lands of the earth.  Areas not annexed directly, such as China and Persia (now Iran), were forcibly “opened” to European trade and investment, and divided into informal “spheres of influence” of the various Western nations.

France reignited its drive for world empire as a way to restore national pride after their humiliating defeat in the Franco-Prussian War (1870-1871), and the scramble for colonies among the major European countries heated up after 1870.  In his six years as British prime minister, Benjamin Disraeli annexed Fiji and Cyprus, fought a war against the Zulus to conquer southeastern Africa, purchased controlling interest in the Suez Canal, and proclaimed Queen Victoria empress of India.  The other major powers (Belgium, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Japan and the United States) followed Britain and France’s lead and the race to carve up the globe began in earnest.

Motives for Imperialism

·        Explain the economic and non-economic factors that contributed to imperialism.

·        What was “The White Man’s Burden?”

·        What justifications does Lord Legard give for British imperialism?


As Western Europe and the United States began to industrialize, they needed more and more raw materials, many of which could not be found in their own countries.  Supplies of rubber, bauxite (for aluminum), copper, and tin were either non-existent or in short supply in most of the industrialized world.  To maintain their industrial growth, countries needed to guarantee an uninterrupted supply of these key materials at the most advantageous prices.  Colonies provided a ready source of raw materials free from the trade interruptions that could occur when dealing with independent countries.

In addition to needing more and more natural resources, the industrialized countries also needed to expand the markets for their products.  Many industries were producing more products that their own countries could consume.  Colonies would provide new markets for the products of the mother country.  The English explorer and newspaperman Henry Morton Stanley explained:

There are forty million people beyond the gateway of the Congo (in Africa), and the cotton spinners of Manchester are waiting to clothe them.  Birmingham foundries are glowing with the red metal that will presently be made into ironwork for them....[1]

Beyond providing a source of natural resources and expanded markets, colonies also provided an opportunity for investment.  Colonial investments were far riskier than investing in businesses in one’s own country.  As a result, the higher risks yielded potentially greater rewards.  British investors could get returns of 15% on Indian railway bonds, whereas bonds issued by British railways yielded only 7%.  The huge sums of money accumulated by the industrial tycoons of the industrial nations needed additional opportunities for investment, and colonies provided a destination for this capital with potentially high rewards.

Economic factors brought about by the industrial revolution were not the total explanation for the renewed interest in imperialism.  In 1914, only 25% of British and 10 % of French exports went to their colonies.  Similarly, only 20% of British overseas investment went to her colonies.  A greater amount of British capital was invested in the United States than in all of her colonies combined.  Therefore, non-economic factors also obviously played an important role in late nineteenth century imperialism.

One of the key differences between the two periods of imperialism was that, prior to 1870, Britain had only a weak France with which to compete in the outside world.  This meant that the British seldom needed to act out of the fear that another European power was about to seize potentially valuable colonies.  This also allowed the British to rely heavily on threats and small military raids rather than outright conquest to bring African kings or Asian emperors into line.  With its “white” settler colonies (Canada, Australia, and New Zealand) and India, plus smaller possessions in Africa and Southeast Asia, the British already had all the empire they could handle.  Most British politicians were cautious about or firmly opposed to adding more colonies.  Other European countries were far too weak economically and too politically divided to contest Britain’s naval mastery or its standing as the greatest colonial power.

Once Germany was united in 1871, and other countries began rival Britain as industrial powers, the situation was significantly altered. By the last decades of the century, Belgium, France, and especially Germany and the United States were challenging Britain’s industrial supremacy and actively building (or in the case of France, adding to) colonial empires of their own.  Many of the political leaders of these nations viewed the possession of colonies as an essential characteristic of countries that aspired to great-power status.  A French writer stated:

Colonization is for France a question of life and death: either France will become a great African power, or in a century or two it will be no more than a secondary European power; it will count for about as much in the world as Greece and Rumania in Europe.[2]

To the British, India and the rest of the empire were now seen as essential to Britain’s maintenance of its great-power standing.  The British obsession with protecting strategic overseas naval stations, such as those in Aden, Malaya, and South Africa, was linked to an underlying perception of growing threats to their Indian Empire.  British politicians worried that if Britain stood still while the rest of the powers built up overseas empires, it would soon be replaced as the number one naval and colonial power.  International rivalries served to increase interest in colonization.  Even if a colony seemed to be of little importance when it was conquered, it could prove to be a valuable asset later.  Each power felt compelled to conquer and annex vast territories—which often consisted of scantily populated, arid (dry) lands—because it feared that otherwise a rival would take them.  In letting a competitor grab what might prove to be a mineral-rich colony, Britain or Germany might be harming its future chances to remain a great power.  Germany and Italy, two countries that were not unified until the mid-nineteenth century, fell behind the more established European powers and believed that they had been stuck with mainly leftovers as Britain and France grabbed the prime colonies in Asia and Africa.

In addition to the economic and world power rivalries behind nineteenth century imperialism, there was a religious aspect to the European conquest of Africa and Asia.  Europeans justified imperialism on the basis that it benefited both colonizer and those colonized.  They believed that it was their duty to bring Christianity and the benefits of western civilization to the “unenlightened” areas of the world.  Religious missionaries were often the first colonizers in newly conquered lands.  The missionaries taught Christianity, and set up hospitals and schools.  The British poet Rudyard Kipling expressed the belief that imperialism spread the benefits of civilization in his 1899 poem “The White Man’s Burden”:

Take up the White Man’s Burden,

Send forth the best ye breed--

Go, bind your sons to exile

To serve your captives’ need;

To wait in heavy harness,

On fluttered folk and wild--

Your new-caught, sullen peoples,

Half-devil and half-child.



In 1893, a British official, Lord Lugard, provided a succinct summary of the way in which the Europeans justified imperialism in Africa:

The “Scramble for Africa” by the nations of Europe, an incident without parallel in the history of the world, was due to the growing commercial rivalry, which brought home to civilized nations the vital necessity of securing the only remaining fields for industrial enterprise and expansion.  It is well, then, to realize that it is for our advantage—and not alone at the dictates of duty—that we have undertaken responsibilities in East Africa.  It is in order to foster the growth of the trade of this country, and to find an outlet for our manufactures and our surplus energy, that our far-seeing statesmen and our commercial men advocate colonial expansion....

There are some who say we have no right in Africa at all, that “it belongs to the natives.”  I hold that our right is the necessity that is upon us to provide for our ever-growing population—either by opening new fields for emigration, or by providing work and employment which the development of over-sea extension entails (requires)—and to stimulate trade by finding new markets, since we know what misery trade depression brings at home.

While thus serving our own interests as a nation, we may, by selecting men of the right stamp for the control of new territories, bring at the same time many advantages to Africa.  Nor do we deprive the natives of their birthright of freedom, to place them under a foreign yoke (harness).  It has ever been the keynote of British colonial method to rule through and by the natives, and it is this method, in contrast to the arbitrary and uncompromising rule of Germany, France, Portugal, and Spain, which has been the secret of our success as a colonizing nation, and has made us welcomed by tribes and peoples in Africa, who ever rose in revolt against the other nations named.  In Africa, moreover, there is among the people a natural inclination to submit to a higher authority.  That intense detestation (hatred) of control, which animates our race, does not exist among the tribes of Africa, and if there is any authority that we replace, it is the authority of the Slavers and Arabs, or the intolerable tyranny of the “dominant tribe.”[3]

Unequal Combat: Colonial Wars

·        What factors made it relatively easy for Europeans to conquer Africa and Asia during the late nineteenth century?

·        Describe the extent of European imperialism by 1914.


Industrial change not only inspired the Europeans’ grab for colonial possessions, it made them much easier to acquire.  By the last decades of the nineteenth century, scientific discoveries and technological innovations had catapulted the Europeans far ahead of all other peoples in the capacity to wage war.  The Europeans could tap mineral resources that most peoples did not even know existed, and European chemists mixed ever more deadly explosives.  Advances in metallurgy (metal working) made possible the mass production of light and mobile artillery pieces that rendered suicidal the massed cavalry or infantry charges that were the mainstay of Asian and African armies.  Advances in artillery were matched by great improvements in hand arms.  Much more accurate and faster firing, breech-loading rifles replaced the clumsy muzzle-loading muskets of the first phase of empire building.  By the 1880s, after decades of experimentation, the machine gun had become an effective battlefield weapon.  Railroads gave the Europeans the mobility of the swiftest African or Asian horsemen as well as the ability to supply large armies in the field for extended periods of time.  Telegraphs made it possible to rapidly transmit orders from the capitals of Europe to men-on-the-spot in the tropics.  On the sea, Europe’s already formidable advantages were awesomely increased by industrial transformations. After the opening of the Suez Canal in 1869, steam power supplanted the sail, iron hulls replaced wood, and massive guns, capable of hitting enemy vessels miles away, were introduced into the fleets of the great powers.

The dazzling array of new weaponry with which the Europeans set out on their expeditions to the Indian frontiers or the African “bush” made the wars of colonial conquest very lopsided affairs.  This was particularly true when the Europeans encountered resistance from peoples, such as those in the interior of Africa or the Pacific islands, who had been cut off from most pre-industrial advances in technology and thus fought the European machine guns with spears, arrows, and leather shields.  One African leader, whose people struggled with little hope to halt the German advance into East Africa, resorted to natural imagery to account for the power of the invaders’ weapons:

On Monday we heard a shuddering like Leviathan (Biblical huge whale), the voice of many cannon; we heard the roar like waves of the rocks and rumble like thunder in the rains.  We heard a crashing like elephants or monsters and our hearts melted at the number of shells.  We knew that we were hearing the battle of Pangani; the guns were like a hurricane in our ears.

Not even peoples with advanced pre-industrial technology and sophisticated military organization, such as the Chinese and Vietnamese, could stand against, or really even comprehend, the fearful killing devices of the Europeans.  In advising the Vietnamese emperor to give in to European demands, one of his officials, who had led the fight against the French invaders, warned:  “Nobody can resist them. They go where they choose….  Under heaven, everything is feasible to them, save only the matter of life and death.”

Despite the odds against them, African and Asian peoples often fiercely resisted the imposition of colonial rule.  West African leaders held back the European advance for decades, and when rulers, such as the Vietnamese emperors, refused to fight, local officials organized guerrilla resistance in defense of the traditional regime.  Combative peoples, such as the Zulus in South Africa, had the courage and discipline to face and defeat sizable British forces in conventional battles, such as that at Isandhlwana in 1879.  Resistance, however, almost always eventually ended in defeat: The guerrilla bands in Vietnam were eventually run to the ground.  Even at Isandhlwana, 3,000 Zulus lost their lives in the massacre of 800 British and 500 African troops.  In addition, within days of the Zulu victory, a tiny force of 120 British troops held off an army of three or four thousand Zulus.  There was only one major example of a European country failing to subdue an area.  In 1896, the Ethiopians destroyed an Italian-led army in the Battle of Adawa.  In a matter of hours, the forces of Emperor Menelik defeated an opposing army of 25,000, including 6,000 Italians and 19,000 of their native allies.  As an example of the brutality frequently present in these conflicts, the unfortunate Italians who were taken captive were promptly castrated and their native allies had their right hands and left feet amputated. 

Adawa was, however, a lone exception to the general pattern of European conquest.  By the turn of the century in 1901, only Ethiopia and Liberia (which had been established by former American slaves in the 1820s and remained under the influence of the United States) maintained any form of African independence.  Standards of colonial rule varied greatly among the European powers with the British and French being the most benevolent (kindhearted) and the Germans and Belgians being the most brutal.

It has been estimated that in 1800 Europeans did not know fully half of the world.  By 1900 more land had been explored and acquired by them than in the previous four centuries.  The nations of the small, northwest peninsula of the Europe now claimed control of 60% of the earth’s surface.  In the fifty years before World War I, international trade rose from $7 billion to $42 billion.

In 1914, Great Britain, with its far-flung empire, was the world’s richest nation.  Even though it imported more goods than it exported, it earned nearly a billion dollars a year from overseas investments, shipping fees, and banking and insurance services.  Germany had also become an economic giant. Its population had risen from 41 million to 65 million between 1871 and 1910.  France lagged behind Germany in both population and industrial output, but it was still a major economic power.

Excepting Ethiopia and Liberia, all of Africa had been divided between the European powers by 1900.  Maps of the continent became a patchwork of colors—red for Great Britain, green for France, blue for Germany, and so on.  In Southeast Asia, only Siam remained independent, in part because Britain and France could not decide which of them should have it.  The Americans had replaced the Spanish as the colonial overlords of the Philippines, and the Dutch were completing the conquest of the “outer islands” of the Indonesian archipelago (chain of islands).  Even the island clusters of the Pacific had been divided among the hungry industrial powers.  China, Persia, and the Middle East had not yet been occupied, but many believed that the “informal” political and economic influences the European powers exerted in these areas were the prelude to formal annexation.  Two other European powers, Russia and the Ottoman Empire, had not participated in the grab for Africa and Asia, but had previously conquered non-Russian and Turkish areas contiguous (connected) to their own countries.

Europeans had conquered most of the earth in a matter of decades with a remarkably low level of expense and loss of European lives.  They had divided the world with little thought for the reactions of the peoples who came under their rule.  European leaders quarreled and bargained at green, felt-topped tables in Paris or Berlin over lands about which they scarcely knew anything.  It was like a colossal game of Diplomacy or Risk, with armies and fleets moved, and colonies won, lost, and traded at the gaming tables of the European diplomats.  To expand on an image offered by the arch-imperialist King Leopold of the Belgians, industrial technology had turned the world into a giant gateau (cake), to be sliced up and divided between the European powers.

American Imperialism

·        What factors led to the United States’ interest in imperialism?

·        What influence did Alfred Thayer Mahan have on American leaders?


While the Europeans were pursuing their interests in Africa and Asia, a new imperial power was emerging in the Pacific and Caribbean—the United States.  The United States had traditionally followed a policy of isolationism, choosing to avoid conflicts with other countries.  A guiding principle of U.S. foreign policy was the Monroe Doctrine, which had been issued in 1823 by President James Monroe.  This proclamation warned European countries not to attempt any more colonization in the Western Hemisphere or interfere in the affairs of any existing country in our part of the world.  In return, the U.S. pledged not to interfere with existing European colonies or interfere in European matters.  During the last two decades of the century; however, the United States was increasing drawn further and further into international events.  Foreign trade had become increasingly important to the industrialized American economy in the late nineteenth century.  The nation had exported about $392 million worth of goods in 1870; by 1890, the figure was $857 million; and by 1900, it had leapt to $1.4 billion.  Once convinced of the great advantages of overseas markets, many Americans began to consider the possibility of acquiring colonies to expand such markets further.  “Today,” Senator Albert J. Beveridge of Indiana cried in 1899, “we are raising more than we can consume.  Today, we are making more than we can use.  Therefore, we must find new markets for our produce, new occupation for our capital, new work for our labor.”

Americans could not, moreover, totally ignore the imperialist fever that was raging through Europe.  Some Americans feared that their nation would soon be left out and that no territory would remain to be acquired.  Senator Henry Cabot Lodge of Massachusetts, a leading imperialist, warned that the United States “must not fall out of the line of march.”  In addition, the western frontier, which had served as the focus of American expansionism, was coming to an end.  The 1890 census declared that there was no longer any land frontier, within the United States.

The ablest and probably the most effective American advocate of imperialism was Alfred Thayer Mahan, a captain and later admiral in the navy.  Mahan presented his philosophy in three major works: The Influence of Sea Power upon History, 1660-1783 (1890), The Influence of Sea Power upon the French Revolution and Empire, 1793-1812 (1892), and The Interest of America in Sea Power (1897).  His thesis (main point) was reasonably simple: The sea-power nations were the great nations of history, and the United States, a huge island, had to base its greatness on sea power.  The essential links in sea power were a productive domestic economy, foreign commerce, a strong merchant marine, a navy to defend trade routes and colonies, which would provide raw materials and markets, and could also serve as bases for the navy.  Specifically, Mahan advocated that the United States construct a canal across the isthmus of Central America to join the oceans, acquire defensive bases on both sides of the canal in the Caribbean and the Pacific, and take possession of Hawaii and other Pacific islands.  “Whether they will or not,” he proclaimed, “Americans must now begin to look outward.”  Mahan’s works influenced a large number of influential Americans including the political leaders of both parties who took steps to build up the U.S.’s small navy.[4]  Congress authorized the construction of four battleships during the 1890s.  By 1898, the United States had advanced to fifth among the world’s naval powers; and by 1900, to third.

America’s First Colonies

·        What were the United States’ first four colonial possessions?

·        Describe how the United States acquired control of Hawaii.


In 1867, the U.S. occupied the Midway Islands and purchased Alaska from the Russians.  The next step was in the Hawaiian Islands.  The islands of Hawaii, in the mid-Pacific, had been an important stopover station for American ships in the China trade since the early nineteenth century and were the home of a growing number of American settlers.  New England missionaries had arrived in Hawaii as early in 1820; and like their fellow missionaries elsewhere, they advertised the economic possibilities of the islands in the religious press.  Soon, other Americans arrived to become sugar planters.  Eventually, officers of the growing U.S. Navy looked longingly on the magnificent natural base of Pearl Harbor on the island of Oahu.

The American residents of Hawaii gradually came to dominate the economic and political life of the islands, despite the presence of native rulers.  Commercial relations were also pushing Hawaii into the American orbit.  A treaty signed in 1875 permitted Hawaiian sugar to enter the United States duty-free (without tariffs) and obliged the Hawaiian kingdom to make no territorial or economic concessions to other powers.  The trade arrangement tied the islands to the American economy, and the political clauses meant that, in effect, the United States was guaranteeing Hawaii’s independence and hence was making the islands a protectorate (area under its protection).  In 1887, a new treaty renewed the existing arrangements and granted the United States exclusive use of Pearl Harbor as a naval station.  In addition, the settlers forced the native king, Kalakaua, to sign a constitution that made the monarch a figurehead subordinate to the settler-dominated legislature and used property qualifications to deprive most Hawaiians the right to vote.  Hawaiians greatly resented this “bayonet constitution,” but the weak king was powerless to prevent domination.

Sugar production in Hawaii boomed, and prosperity flourished for the American planters.  Then the McKinley Tariff of 1890 dealt the planters a harsh blow by removing taxes on all foreign raw sugar and giving a bonus for sugar produced within the United States.  This deprived Hawaii of its privileged position in the American sugar market.  In response, American sugar planters in Hawaii, led by Sanford Dole and Lorrin Thurston, began to demand annexation to the United States.

In the midst of growing sentiment among white Hawaiians for union with the United States, King Kalakaua died in 1891.  He was succeeded by his sister, Queen Liliuokalani, who was determined to eliminate American influence in the government.  Two years later, Liliuokalani attempted to repeal the hated “bayonet constitution,” and the American residents staged a revolution aimed at deposing her.  At a critical moment in the bloodless insurrection, on January 16, 1893, the American minister, John L. Stevens ordered 160 marines from a warship in Honolulu harbor to go ashore to aid the rebels.  The queen was forced to yield her authority, Dole was made the head of a provisional government, and a delegation representing the triumphant rebels set out for Washington to negotiate a treaty of annexation.  President Harrison happily signed an annexation agreement in February 1893, only weeks before leaving office but the Senate refused to ratify the treaty.  Grover Cleveland, the new president, refused to support annexation.  He withdrew the treaty and sent a special representative to the islands to investigate.  When his agent reported that Americans had engineered the revolution, Cleveland tried to restore the queen to her throne.  The Americans planters, now firmly in control of the kingdom, refused to budge.  Reluctantly, the president had to recognize their government as the new Republic of Hawaii.  Debate over the annexation of Hawaii continued until 1898, when, with the Republicans again in power and expansionist sentiment fueled by the Spanish-American War, Congress annexed Hawaii.

In 1899, the United States divided the islands of Samoa with Germany, ending a thirty-year struggle between the U.S., Britain, and Germany.  More than a thousand miles to the south of Hawaii, the Samoan islands dominated the sea-lanes of the South Pacific and had long served as a way station for American ships in the Pacific trade.

Imperial ambitions had thus begun to stir within the United States well before the late 1890s, but it was the war with Spain in 1898 that turned those stirrings into an overt (open) expansionism.  The war transformed America’s relationship to the rest of the world, and it left the nation with a far-flung overseas empire.

Causes of the Spanish-American War

·        What effect did Cuba’s fight for independence have on the United States?

·        What factor did “Yellow Journalism” play in the Spanish-American War?

·        What events led the United States to declare war on Spain?


The immediate background of the Spanish-American War lay in the Caribbean island of Cuba, which along with nearby Puerto Rico represented nearly all that was left of Spain’s once extensive Latin American Empire.  The Cubans had long resented Spanish rule, and they had engaged in an unsuccessful attempt to overthrow it between 1868 and 1878 in which 250,000 were killed.  During that revolt, many Americans were strongly sympathetic to the Cuban cause, but such feelings did not lead to any official support for the Cuban rebels.

In 1895, under the leadership of José Marté, the Cubans rose up again.  From the beginning, the struggle took on aspects of ferocity that horrified Americans.  The Cubans deliberately devastated the island to force the Spaniards to leave.  To put down the insurrection, the Spanish resorted to methods equally extreme.  General Valeriano Weyler, or “Butcher Weyler” as he soon came to be known in the American press, confined all civilians in certain areas to hastily prepared concentration camps, where 200,000 died, victims of disease and malnutrition.

At this time, newspaper publishers Joseph Pulitzer with his New York World and William Randolph Hearst with his New York Journal were revolutionizing American journalism.  The new “Yellow Journalism” specialized in vivid and sensational news to sell papers in the fiercely competitive arena.  When such news did not exist, editors were not above creating it.  To Hearst and Pulitzer, engaged in a ruthless battle for subscribers to their papers, the struggle in Cuba was a journalist’s dream.  The revolt of 1895 was reported sensationally by the American press in a manner that left the impression that all the cruelties were being committed by the Spaniards.  Major newspapers sent batteries of reporters and illustrators to Cuba with orders to provide accounts of Spanish atrocities.  “You furnish the pictures,” Hearst supposedly told artist Frederic Remington, “and I’ll furnish the war.”  The mounting storm of indignation against Spain left President Cleveland unmoved.  Convinced that both sides in Cuba were guilty of atrocities and that the United States had no interests justifying involvement in the struggle, he issued a proclamation of neutrality.  When Congress passed a resolution favoring recognition of Cuban independence, he ignored it.  His only concession to the demands for intervention was to offer to mediate the conflict, a proposal that Spain declined.

When William McKinley became president in 1897, he renewed the American mediation offer, which the Spanish again refused.  Taking a stronger line than his predecessor, he protested to Spain against its “uncivilized and inhuman” conduct.  At virtually the same time, a liberal regime took power in Spain and intended to modify its colonial policies, offering partial independence to both Cuba and Puerto Rico.  The new Spanish government recalled Weyler and modified the concentration camp policy.  At the end of 1897, with the insurrection losing ground, it seemed that war might be avoided.

Whatever chance might have existed for a peaceful settlement vanished as a result of two dramatic incidents in February 1898.  The first occurred when a Cuban agent in Havana stole a private letter written by Enrique Dupuy de Lôme, the Spanish minister in Washington, and turned it over to the American press.  Published first in Hearst’s New York Journal, and later in newspapers across the land, the de Lôme letter described McKinley as a weak man and “a bidder for the admiration of the crowd.”  This was no more than many Americans, including some Republicans, were saying about their president (Assistant Secretary of the Navy Theodore Roosevelt described McKinley as having “no more backbone than a chocolate eclair”), but because a foreigner had made the remark it was considered a national insult.  Popular anger was intense, and de Lôme resigned before McKinley could demand his recall.

While the excitement was still at fever pitch, even more sensational news hit the front pages: the American battleship Maine had blown up in Havana harbor with a loss of more than 260 lives.  The ship had been ordered to Cuban waters in January to protect American lives and property against possible attacks by Spanish loyalists.  Many Americans, including Theodore Roosevelt and Hearst, jumped to the conclusion that the Spanish had sunk the ship and screamed for war.  This opinion seemed to be confirmed when a naval court of inquiry reported that an external explosion by a submarine mine had caused the disaster.  In fact, the real cause of the Maine disaster was never determined.  Later evidence suggested that it was the result of an accidental explosion inside one of the engine rooms.  Nevertheless, war hysteria swept the country, and Congress unanimously appropriated $50 million for military preparations.  “Remember the Maine!” became a national chant for revenge.

After the Maine incident, there was little chance that the government could suppress the popular demand for war.  McKinley still preferred to avoid a conflict, but many others in his administration were clamoring for America to join the hostilities.  In March 1898, the president asked Spain to agree to an armistice (end to the fighting), with negotiations for a permanent peace to follow, and an immediate ending of the concentration camps.  After a slight delay, Spain accepted some of the American demands but refused to agree to negotiate with the rebels.  Two days later, McKinley asked Congress for authority to use military force to end the hostilities in Cuba, in short for a declaration of war, “in the name of humanity, in the name of civilization, in behalf of endangered American interests.”  On April 25, 1898, Congress passed a formal declaration of war.  At the time, the U.S. professed only a desire to free the Cuban people and the Teller Amendment, passed by Congress, disavowed any intention to annex Cuba.

“A Splendid Little War”

·        Why was the war described as “a splendid little war?”

·        Describe the role that Theodore Roosevelt played in the war.

·        Where did most of the fighting take place during the war?

·        Why was the Battle of San Juan Hill important?


The Spanish-American conflict was, in the words of Roosevelt’s friend John Hay, “a splendid little war.”  Indeed, to virtually all Americans it seemed almost an ideal conflict.  It was the last small, short, individualistic war before the huge, lengthy, impersonal struggles of the twentieth century.  Declared in April, it was over in August, mainly because the Cuban rebels had already greatly weakened the Spanish resistance.  The American intervention, therefore, was in many respects a “mopping up” exercise.  Newspaper readers easily and eagerly followed the campaigns and the exploits of American soldiers and sailors.  Only 460 Americans were killed in battle or died of wounds, but some 5,200 perished of disease: malaria, dysentery, and typhoid, among others.

The United States was ill prepared for war.  American soldiers fighting in tropical regions were clothed in the traditional heavy blue uniforms and often fed spoiled canned rations that they called “embalmed beef.”  Medical supplies and services were inadequate, which contributed to the heavy impact of tropical diseases on the troops.  The regular army, numbering only 28,000 troops and officers scattered around the country at various posts, was mainly skilled at quelling Indian outbreaks, but had no experience in large-scale warfare.  National Guard units, organized by local communities and commanded for the most part by local leaders, did the bulk of the fighting in the war.  Each unit considered itself a representative of its own town, and friends and relatives at home took a special pride in the performance of the “boys” and their unit.  More than a million young men volunteered for service, nearly ten times the number the president had requested.

No agency in the American military had clear authority over strategic planning.  Only the navy had worked out an objective, and its objective had little to do with freeing Cuba.  Theodore Roosevelt was unrestrained by the fact that he was in a relatively minor official position as Assistant Secretary of the Navy.  With his boss out of office, Roosevelt ordered the commander of the U.S. Pacific Fleet, Commodore George Dewey, to attack the Philippines in the event of war.  Immediately after war was declared, Dewey left the China coast and headed for Manila, where an aging Spanish fleet was stationed.  On May 1 he steamed into Manila Bay, and, as his ships prepared to pass down the line of anchored enemy vessels, he uttered the first slogan of the war: “You may fire when ready, Gridley.”  When the firing ended, the Spanish fleet had been completely destroyed, one American sailor lay dead (of a heat stroke), and Dewey had become the first hero of the war.  The Spaniards, however, still held Manila, the capital of the Philippines, and Dewey had no troops with which to attack them.  While he waited nervously, the American government assembled an expeditionary force to relieve him and take the city.  On August 13, the Americans received the surrender of Manila.  In the rejoicing over Dewey’s victory, few Americans paused to note that the character of the war was changing.  What had begun as a war to free Cuba was becoming a war to strip Spain of its colonies.

While the navy was monopolizing the first phases of the war, the War Department was trying to mobilize and train an army.  The army’s commanding general, Nelson A. Miles, a veteran of the Civil War, had planned to train the troops until autumn, then occupy Puerto Rico and, in conjunction with the Cuban rebels, attack Havana.  When a strong Spanish naval force occupied Santiago, Cuba, Miles’ plans hastily changed.  In June, a force of 17,000 left Florida to take Santiago.  Once landed, the army moved toward Santiago, and eventually surrounded and captured it.  On the way, American troops fought and defeated the Spaniards at the crossroads at Las Guasimas and, a week later, in two simultaneous battles, El Caney and San Juan Hill.  While the Santiago campaign was in its last stages, an American army landed in Puerto Rico and occupied it against little opposition.

It was the Battle of San Juan Hill that made Theodore Roosevelt the greatest American military hero since the Civil War.  After the declaration of war, Roosevelt resigned his position in the Naval Department and formed his own volunteer cavalry unit.  This unit was made up of a diverse mix of cowboys, Indians, western sheriffs, Ivy League polo players, and eastern gentlemen.  In all the Cuban engagements the Rough Riders were in the middle of the fighting and on the front pages of the newspapers.  Roosevelt’s men made a bold charge up Kettle Hill (a minor part of the larger battle for the adjacent San Juan Hill) directly into the face of Spanish guns.  Roosevelt himself emerged unscathed, but nearly a hundred of his soldiers were killed or wounded.  To the end of his life, he remembered the battle as “the great day of my life.”  After the fall of Santiago and the defeat of the Spanish navy off the Cuban coast, Spain was aware that their cause was defeated.  Through the French ambassador in Washington, the Spanish government asked for peace; and on August 12, an armistice ended the war.

The Debate Over Imperialism

·        What territory did the United States gain in the Spanish-American War?

·        Why did President McKinley say he decided to annex the Philippines?

·        What arguments were made against the United States becoming an imperial power?

·        What arguments were raised in favor of American imperialism?

The terms of the armistice confirmed what the military situation had already established.  Spain recognized the independence of Cuba and ceded (gave) Puerto Rico to the United States.  It also surrendered the Pacific island of Guam, between Hawaii and the Philippines.

There was little controversy about the annexation of Puerto Rico and Guam.  Puerto Rico was close enough to the mainland to seem a tempting acquisition to almost everyone.  Guam seemed too small and insignificant to be worthy of dispute.  The Philippines, however, constituted a large and important territory; and American annexation of it would mean a major change in the nation’s position in the world.

McKinley weighed a number of options for dealing with the Philippines:

I have been criticized a good deal about the Philippines, but I don’t deserve it.  The truth is, I didn’t want the Philippines, and when they came to us, as a gift from the gods, I did not know what to do with them.  When the Spanish war broke out, Dewey was at Hong Kong, and I ordered him to go to Manila, and he had to; because, if defeated, he had no place to refit on that side of the globe, and if the Dons (Spanish) were victorious they would likely cross the Pacific and ravage our Oregon and California coasts.  And so he had to destroy the Spanish fleet, and did it.  But that was as far as I thought then.  When next I realized that the Philippines had dropped into our lap, I confess that I did not know what to do with them.  I sought counsel from all sides—Democrats as well as Republicans—but got little help.  I thought first we would take only Manila; then Luzon; then other islands, perhaps all.  I walked the floor of the White House night after night until midnight; and I am not ashamed to tell you, gentlemen, that I went down on my knees and prayed Almighty God for light and guidance more than one night.

And one night late it came to me this way—I don’t know how it was, but it came:

That we could not give them back to Spain—that would be cowardly and dishonorable; that we could not turn them over to France or Germany—that would be bad business and discreditable; that we could not leave them to themselves—they were unfit for self-government—and they would soon have anarchy and misrule over there worse than Spain’s was; and that there was nothing left for us to do but to take them all, and to educate the Filipinos, and uplift and civilize and Christianize them, and, by God’s grace, do the very best we could by them, as our fellowmen for whom Christ also died.

And then I went to bed, and went to sleep, and slept soundly, and next morning I sent for  the chief engineer of the War Department (our map-maker), and told him to put the Philippines on the map of he United States (pointing to a large map on the wall of his office); and there they are, and there they will stay while I am president!

In October 1898, commissioners from the United States and Spain met in Paris to negotiate a treaty formally ending the war.  Spain readily agreed to recognize Cuba’s independence and to cede Puerto Rico and Guam to the United States.  Then the American commissioners, acting under instruction from McKinley, startled the conference by demanding the cession of all the Philippines.  Stubbornly the Spanish resisted the American demand, although they realized they could retain the islands only by resuming the war.  They finally yielded when the United States offered to pay $20 million for the islands.  The Treaty of Paris was signed on December 10, 1898, and sent to the United States for ratification by the Senate.

When the treaty was submitted to the Senate it encountered immediate and fierce criticism.  The chief point at issue was the acquisition of the Philippines, denounced by many, including prominent Republicans, as a repudiation (rejection) of America’s high moral position in the war and a shameful occupation of a land that wanted to be free.  The anti-imperialists were a varied and powerful group and included some of the nation’s wealthiest and most powerful figures: Andrew Carnegie, William Jennings Bryan, Mark Twain, Samuel Gompers, and others.  Their opposition to annexation stemmed from various motives.  Some feared the “pollution” of the American population by introducing “inferior” Asian races into the national community.  Industrial workers feared a flood of cheap laborers from the new colonies who would undercut their wages and take their jobs.  Conservatives feared annexation would produce a large standing army and entangling foreign alliances, which would threaten American liberties.  Certain economic interests (most notably sugar growers) feared the new territories would provide unwelcome competition.  Many Democrats opposed annexation because they considered it a Republican tactic to enhance the party’s prestige.  Others saw in annexation a repudiation of basic American principles of independence and self-determination: the United States could not impose colonial rule on other peoples without debasing its own democratic heritage:

Favoring ratification was an equally varied group.  There were the exuberant imperialists such as Theodore Roosevelt, who saw the acquisition of empire as a way to reinvigorate the nation.  Supporters of annexation included businessmen who saw economic potential in the Philippines and believed annexation would position the United States to dominate the Oriental trade, and shipbuilders and others who stood to benefit from the creation of a larger navy, which the new empire would certainly require.  The Protestant clergy also strongly supported imperialism as they saw an opportunity for missionary activities.  Perhaps the strongest argument in favor of annexation, however, was the apparent ease with which it could be accomplished.  The United States, after all, already possessed the islands as a result of its military triumph.  The imperialists argued, too, that annexation was fully in accord with American traditions.  The nation’s long-standing policies toward Indians treating them as dependents rather than as citizens had created a precedent for annexing land without absorbing people.  Senator Henry Cabot Lodge of Massachusetts, one of the leading imperialists in Congress, made the point explicitly:

The other day a great Democratic thinker announced that a Republic can have no subjects.  He seems to have forgotten that this Republic not only has held subjects from the beginning, but [that we have] acquired them by purchase...  [We] denied to the Indian tribes even the right to choose their allegiance, or to become citizens.

Other exponents of annexation argued that the “uncivilized” Filipinos “would occupy the same status precisely as our Indians.”  After weeks of bitter wrangling, the Senate ratified the treaty by a single vote on February 6, 1899.  The treaty did, however, prove to be very popular with the American people.  William Jennings Bryan attacked the policy of imperialism in his rematch with McKinley for the presidency in 1900 and was soundly defeated.

America As An Imperial Power

·        How did the United States rule its new colonies?

·        What problems did the United States experience in regard to Cuba and the Philippines?


The new American colonial empire was a small one by the standards of the great imperial powers of Europe, but it spanned a vast area of the globe.  It stretched from the Caribbean to the far reaches of the Pacific, embracing Puerto Rico, Alaska, Hawaii, a part of Samoa, Guam, the Philippines, and a chain of minor Pacific islands.

With the empire came new problems.  The new possessions were considered unincorporated territories, subject to the total authority of the U.S. Congress under the Territorial Clause of the U.S. Constitution, which states: “The Congress shall have the power to dispose of and make all needed rules and regulations respecting the territory or other property belonging to the United States” (Article IV, Section 3).  In most of the territories, a governor appointed by Congress ruled the residents, but they were eventually permitted to elect a local legislature to handle many decisions.  Three of the territories—Hawaii, Alaska, and Puerto Rico—received the right to elect legislatures relatively quickly.  A 1900 act granted American citizenship to all citizens of Hawaii.  The discovery of gold in Alaska in 1896 caused the first substantial influx of Americans.  In 1912, Alaska elected its first legislature, and its inhabitants were given the rights of citizenship.  In Puerto Rico military occupation of the island ended quickly, and Congress granted citizenship to all Puerto Ricans and the right to vote for a local legislature in 1917.  Smaller possessions in the empire received more arbitrary treatment.  Guam came under the control of naval officials; and some of the small Pacific islands, containing only a handful of inhabitants, experienced no form of American government at all.  Eventually, the larger territories achieved the status of being a commonwealth, electing both their own governor and legislature.

American military forces remained in Cuba until 1902 under orders to prepare the island for the independence promised in the peace treaty of 1898.  The occupiers built roads, schools, and hospitals, reorganized the legal, financial, and administrative systems, and introduced far-reaching sanitary reforms.  It also became apparent that the United States was determined to exert its influence over the island even after Cuba’s independence.  In 1901 the U.S. Congress placed several conditions on Cuban independence.  Cuba could not treaties with any foreign powers, the United States maintained the right to intervene in Cuba to preserve Cuba’s independence, and Cuba was forced grant the United States a naval base at Guantánamo Bay.  American businesses dominated the island’s sugar industry as well as the railways, electricity, and telephone system.  Despite official independence in 1902, Cuba essentially remained an American colony as U.S. troops were dispatched to the island three times between 1906-1920 to protect American interests and quell domestic disturbances.

Like other imperial powers, the United States soon discovered as it had often discovered at home in its relations with the Indians that subjugating (conquering) another people required more than ideals; it also required strength, and often brutality.  In the Philippines, American forces soon became engaged in a long and bloody war with native forces, led by Emilio Aguinaldo, fighting for independence.  This fight lasted from 1898 to 1902 and resulted in 4,300 American deaths, nearly ten times the number who died in combat in the Spanish-American War.  An anti-imperialist, Ernest Howard Crosby, wrote an ironic parody of Kipling’s “White Man’s Burden,” entitled “The Real ‘White Man’s Burden:’”

Take up the White Man’s burden.

Send forth your sturdy kin,

And load them down with Bibles

And cannon-balls and gin.

Throw in a few diseases

To spread the trop climes,

For there the healthy niggers

Are quite behind the times.

They need our labor question, too,

And politics and fraud—

We’ve made a pretty mess at home,

Let’s make a mess abroad.

In a similar vein, industrialist Andrew Carnegie, who had opposed the treaty, wrote a sarcastic letter to McKinley, congratulating him on “civilizing the Filipinos….  About 8,000 of them have been completely civilized and sent to Heaven.  I hope you like it.” 

President McKinley finally sent a special commission to the islands in 1900, under the direction of William Howard Taft, to establish a civilian government to prepare the islands for independence.[5]  Taft oversaw the creation of a civilian government that gave the Filipinos broad local self-rule.  The Americans also built roads, schools, bridges, and sewers; instituted major administrative and financial reforms; and established a public health system.  Filipino autonomy gradually increased after their failed fight for independence.  In 1902 Congress granted the islands the right to elect a legislature, and in 1935 the Philippines were declared a “commonwealth” with the right to elect its own president.  In 1946, after World War II, the islands finally gained their independence.

The Big Stick

·        Describe Theodore Roosevelt’s style in dealing with foreign policy issues.

·        Why was Roosevelt awarded the Nobel Peace Prize?

·        What did the Roosevelt Corollary to the Monroe Doctrine mean?


Upon becoming president in 1901, Theodore Roosevelt was as determined to expand America’s influence in the world as he had earlier been to acquire an empire during the war with Spain.  His motto of “Speak Softly and Carry a Big Stick” not only indicated his aggressiveness, but also his desire to expand U.S. military power.  Roosevelt’s presidency, following on the heals of the Spanish-American War, completed the transition of the United States from an isolationist country to one fully involved in world affairs.  Symbolic of this new role, in 1907 he sent the U.S. Navy on a worldwide tour.  This journey of “The Great White Fleet” served to show off the country’s naval strength and announce America’s new status as a world power.

One of Roosevelt’s most important goals was maintaining American trade in the Pacific and preventing any single nation from establishing dominance there.  He looked with alarm at the military rivalries involving Japan, Russia, Germany, and France in the region.  He was particularly concerned by Russian efforts to expand southward into Manchuria, a province of China. When, in 1904, the Japanese attacked the Russian fleet at Port Arthur in southern Manchuria, Roosevelt, like most Americans, was inclined to side with Japan.  Yet the president was no more eager for Japan to control Manchuria than for Russia to do so.  In 1905, therefore, he eagerly agreed to a Japanese request to mediate an end to what had become known as the Russo-Japanese War.  Russia, faring badly in the war and, as a result, already experiencing a domestic turmoil that twelve years later would culminate in revolution had no choice but to agree.  At a peace conference in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, Roosevelt extracted from the embattled Russians recognition of Japan’s territorial gains including control of Korea.  Japan, in return, agreed to cease the fighting and expand no further.  As the first non-European country to defeat a modern European power, Japan now emerged as the strongest naval force in the Pacific.  Roosevelt’s mediation of the war earned him the Nobel Peace Prize in 1906.

Roosevelt took a special interest in events in what he (and most other Americans) considered the nation’s special sphere of interest: Latin America.  Ever since the 1820s, with the proclamation of the Monroe Doctrine, the United States had maintained its right to resist any European interference in Latin America.  Roosevelt added a new “corollary” to the Monroe Doctrine.  In a 1904 message to Congress, he claimed that the United States had the right not only to oppose European intervention in the Western Hemisphere, but to intervene (step in) itself in the domestic affairs of its neighbors if those neighbors proved unable to maintain order on their own.  The Roosevelt Corollary was later used to justify U.S. intervention in many Latin American countries, not just to maintain order, but to protect U.S. interests in the region.


·        Describe how Roosevelt acquired the right to build the Panama Canal.


The most celebrated accomplishment of Roosevelt’s presidency, and the one that illustrated most clearly his own expansive view of the powers of his office and the role of the United States abroad, was the construction of the Panama Canal.  Creating a channel through Central America linking the Atlantic and the Pacific had been a dream of many nations since the mid-nineteenth century, but the canal had never been built due to disease and the enormous engineering obstacles.  Roosevelt, however, was determined to accomplish the task.

At first, the Roosevelt administration favored a route across Nicaragua, which would permit a sea-level canal requiring no locks.  A possible alternative was the Isthmus of Panama in Colombia, the site of an earlier, abortive effort by a French company in the 1880s to construct a canal.  The Panama route was shorter (although not at sea level), and construction was already about 40% complete.  When the French company lowered its price to sell its holdings from $109 million to $40 million, the president and Congress changed their minds.

Roosevelt quickly attempted to negotiate an agreement with Colombian diplomats in Washington that would allow construction to begin without delay.  Under heavy American pressure, the Colombian charge d’affaires signed an agreement considered highly unfavorable to his own nation.  The United States would gain perpetual (permanent) rights to a six-mile-wide “Canal Zone” across Colombia; in return, it would pay Colombia $10 million and an annual rental of $250,000.  The treaty produced outrage in the Colombian Senate, whose members refused to ratify the agreement and sent a new representative to the United States with instructions to demand at least $20 million from the Americans plus a share of the payment to the French.  Roosevelt was furious.  The Colombians, he charged, were “inefficient bandits” and “blackmailers.”  He began to contemplate ways to circumvent (go around) the Colombian government.  In November 1903, he helped organize and finance a revolution in Panama against Colombian rule.  There had been many previous revolts, all of them failures.  This one, however, had an important additional asset: the support of the United States.  Roosevelt landed troops from the U.S.S. Nashville in Panama to “maintain order.”  Their presence prevented Colombian forces from suppressing the rebellion, and three days later the United States recognized Panama as an independent nation. 

The new Panamanian government quickly agreed to a treaty with the United States.  It granted America a canal zone ten miles wide; the United States would pay Panama the $10 million fee and the $250,000 annual rental that the Colombian Senate had rejected.  Work on the 51-mile canal proceeded rapidly, despite the enormous cuts and elaborate locks that the construction required.[6]  The construction took 10 years, and cost the lives of 5,600 laborers, mostly due to disease.[7]  Enough earth was moved during the construction process to fill a series of railway cars that would circle the globe at the equator four times!  The canal opened in 1914, three years after Roosevelt had proudly boasted to a university audience, “I took the Canal Zone and let Congress debate!”  In all, the canal cost $336 million.

One effect of the acquisition of the canal was to increase U.S. involvement in Central America and the Caribbean.  Eager to protect its investment in the canal, the U.S. frequently invoked the Roosevelt Corollary to justify U.S. intervention in the region.  During the presidencies of Theodore Roosevelt and his successor William Taft, the U.S. sent troops to Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Guatemala, Nicaragua, and Honduras.

Woodrow Wilson and Latin America

·        What countries did the United States intervene in during Wilson’s presidency?

·        Briefly describe the factors that led Wilson to send U.S. troops to Mexico in 1915.


“It would be the irony of fate,” Woodrow Wilson remarked shortly before assuming the presidency, “if my administration had to deal chiefly with foreign affairs.”  Ironic or not, Wilson faced international challenges of a scope and gravity unmatched by any president before him.  Wilson not only presided over a foreign policy that greatly increased American intervention in the Caribbean and in Latin America, but also led the United States into the First World War.

The list of American interventions in Latin America was already lengthy by 1913 when Wilson became president.  Having already seized control of the finances of the Dominican Republic in 1905, the United States established a military government there in 1916 when the Dominicans refused to accept a treaty that would have made the country a virtual American territory.  The military occupation lasted eight years.  In Haiti, Wilson landed the marines in 1915 to subdue a revolution in the course of which a mob had murdered an unpopular president.  American military forces remained in the country until 1934.  When Wilson began to fear that the Danish West Indies might be about to fall into the hands of Germany, he bought the colony from Denmark and renamed it the Virgin Islands.  Concerned about the possibility of European influence in Nicaragua, he signed a treaty with that country’s government ensuring that no other nation would build a canal there and winning for the United States the right to intervene in Nicaragua’s internal affairs to protect American interests.

It was in Mexico that Wilson’s view of America’s role in the Western Hemisphere received its greatest test and suffered its greatest frustrations.  For many years under dictator Porfirio Diaz, American businessmen had established an enormous economic presence in Mexico, with investments totaling more than $1 billion.  In 1911, however, the popular leader Francisco Madero overthrew the corrupt and tyrannical Diaz.  Madero excited many of his countrymen by promising democratic reforms but alarmed many American businessmen by threatening their investments in his country.  With the approval of American business interests, including the American ambassador in Mexico, Madero was unseated and later murdered in 1913 by a conservative general, Victoriano Huerta.  Wilson displayed no hesitation in responding to the atrocity.  He would never, he insisted, recognize Huerta’s “government of butchers.”

At first, Wilson hoped that simply by refusing to recognize Huerta he could help topple the regime and bring to power the opposition to Huerta, led by Venustiano Carranza.  When Huerta established a full military dictatorship in October 1913, the president chose a more forceful approach to indicate his displeasure.  In April 1914, an officer in Huerta’s army briefly arrested several American sailors from the U.S.S. Dolphin who had gone ashore in Tampico.  Although a superior officer immediately released them and apologized to the ship’s commander, the American admiral demanded that the Huerta forces fire a twenty-one-gun salute to the American flag as a public display of penance (atonement).  The Mexicans refused.  Wilson seized on the insignificant incident as an excuse for sending all available American naval forces into Mexican waters.  A few days later, eager to prevent a German ship from delivering munitions to the Huerta forces, he ordered the navy to seize the Mexican port of Veracruz.  In a clash with Mexican troops, the Americans killed 126 of the defenders and suffered 19 casualties of their own.  With the two nations at the brink of war, Wilson now drew back and began to look for alternative measures to deal with the crisis.  His show of force, however, had helped strengthen the position of the Carranza-led opposition, which captured Mexico City in July and forced Huerta to flee the country.  At last, it seemed the crisis might be over.

It was not to be.  Wilson reacted angrily when Carranza refused to accept American guidelines for the creation of a new government, and he briefly considered throwing his support to still another aspirant to leadership—Carranza’s former lieutenant Pancho Villa, who was now leading a rebel army of his own.  Wilson’s Secretary of State, William Jennings Bryan argued forcefully in favor of Villa, impressed that he abstained from smoking or drinking alcohol.  When Villa’s military position deteriorated, however, Wilson abandoned the scheme and in October 1915 granted recognition to the Carranza government.  Angry at what he considered an American betrayal, Villa retaliated in January 1916 by taking sixteen Americans off a train in northern Mexico and shooting them.  Two months later, he led his soldiers (or bandits, as the United States preferred to call them) across the border into New Mexico, where they burned the town of Columbus and killed nineteen more Americans.  Villa’s goal, apparently, was to destabilize relations between Wilson and Carranza and provoke a war between them, which might provide him with an opportunity to improve his own declining fortunes.

Villa almost succeeded.  With the permission of the Carranza government, Wilson ordered General John J. Pershing to lead an American expeditionary force across the Mexican border in pursuit of Villa.  The American troops, during their 300-mile penetration of Mexico, were never able to manage a clash with Villa.  They did, however, engage in two ugly skirmishes with Carranza’s army, in which 40 Mexicans and 12 Americans died.  Again, the United States and Mexico stood at the brink of war.  At the last minute, Wilson agreed to the face-saving gesture of referring the dispute to an international commission, which debated for six months without agreeing on a solution.  In the meantime, Wilson was quietly withdrawing American troops from Mexico; and in February 1917, having spent four years of effort and gained nothing but a lasting Mexican hostility toward the United States, the last U.S. troops were removed from Mexico.[8]




Jeffrey T. Stroebel, The Sycamore School, 1995.  Revised 2000.

[1] Gerson Antell and Walter Harris, Western Civilization, Chapter 19: Imperialism (New York: Amsco, 1983).

[2] Antell and Harris, Western Civilization.

[3] Captain F. D. Lugard, The Rise of Our East African Empire, vol. I (London: William Blackwood and Sons, 1893).

[4] One of Mahan’s strongest admirers was Theodore Roosevelt.  Mahan’s admirers were not limited to his fellow countrymen.  He received honorary degrees from both Oxford and Cambridge in Britain and Germany’s Kaiser Wilhelm II ordered that his book, The Influence of Sea Power on History, be carried on every German warship.

[5] Secretary of War Elihu Root expressed concern for Taft’s health as the tropical Philippine climate was feared to have a negative effect on the over 300 lb. judge.  Taft responded that he was feeling fine and had even been out horseback riding.  “How is the horse feeling?”  Root cabled back.

[6] Ships needed to be lifted 85 feet in their passage through the canal.

[7] The vast majority of these laborers were African-Americans.  Eventually, important advances were made against yellow fever and malaria under the direction of Army physician Walter Reed.

[8] Portions of this chapter have been adapted from Compton’s Encyclopedia of American History, Compton’s NewMedia, Inc., 1994.