RGS Academic Journal 2022 - 2023

062 063 Was the United States of America a Colonial Empire in the late 19th and early 20th Centuries? Alex Egan The United States of America is consistently depicted as a republic, a staunch anti-imperialistic country. Ever since its birth, the country has fought empires starting with the British Empire in 1776, to the Nazi Empire, and the ‘Evil Empire’ of the USSR. The Monroe Doctrine of 1823 is clear documentation of the USA’s opposition to imperialism. The anti- colonial essence of the USA in its history may place this façade over the reality of the USA’s imperialism. An empire is an aggregate of many separate states or territories under supreme rule, which contrasts with a federation, an extensive country voluntarily composed of states. This article will not argue that the USA currently is a hegemonic empire (where a country can dominate another country through influence), but it will argue that during the late 1800s and early 1900s the USA was a territorial, colonial empire akin to the European empires at the time. Firstly, it should be considered whether the United States had colonial intentions during this period. The desire for imperialism in the USA lay deep within its roots at the inception of the country and especially with ‘Manifest Destiny’. Manifest Destiny was the idea that the Anglo-Saxon, American people were destined to control the whole of the North American continent. This led to the USA’s growth during the early 1800s to fill the mainland, meaning the desire for expansionistic colonialism was certainly present. The American foreign policy during the early 1900s reflects Manifest Destiny especially given that the USA wanted to spread their Anglo-Saxon civilization to ‘backward’ peoples in the Caribbean and East Asia. During this period, the leading European powers were carving up Africa after the Berlin Conference in 1885 and America wanted a part in this world of growing imperialistic rivalries. Throughout the 1800s, the United States increasingly distanced itself from the Washingtonian foreign policy of isolationism and non-interventionism; it became heavily involved in the countries surrounding it. A key principle for understanding imperialism in the United States is the amended interpretation of the Monroe Doctrine. The Monroe Doctrine of 1823 was a foreign policy stance created by President James Monroe. The original idea of the Doctrine was to prevent any further colonising actions by a European power in the Americas. It held that any act of colonisation was an attack against the USA and that the USA would react militarily. Despite the original context of the doctrine, after the USA had fully expanded in the North American continent, their desire for foreign territories had bloated significantly. As discussed above, the USA had expansionist tendencies and the USA started conflicts with the real intention to expand and gain territories, justified behind the smokescreen of the Monroe Doctrine with the pretence of preventing further colonialism. Furthermore, The Roosevelt Corollary, under President Theodore Roosevelt, augmented the Monroe Doctrine by stating that the USA could intervene in the internal affairs of Latin American countries if they committed flagrant and chronic wrongdoings. This was further used to increase the scope of American justification to join colonial wars. This use of the Monroe Doctrine to camouflage American expansionism is paramount for evaluating whether America used it to create an empire. The Spanish American War marks the beginning of ‘American Imperialism’, and here the USA uses the Monroe Doctrine to wage war with the real intention to seize land. The USA was aware of the Spanish Empire’s decline throughout the 19th Century, as the Spanish had lost South America and held a tenuous link with its Caribbean islands. Thus, while Cuban insurgencies rose and the Spanish attempted to quell the rebels, the USA used this to declare war against Spain following the USS Maine being ostensibly destroyed by a Spanish mine. The USA completely dominated the Spanish during this war; their superior navy obliterated the Spanish Armada at Manila Bay to secure the Philippines, they took the island of Guam without any opposition and they defeated the Spanish within 10 weeks in Cuba. While it may be argued that the USA fought for Cuban independence, the result of the war conveys the Americans’ true aims. The Treaty of Paris had given the USA the territories of the Philippines, Puerto Rico, and Guam and evidently the USA had capitalised on a waning Spanish Empire to gain territories in the Caribbean and the East. These territories were won through military conquest akin to the Empire of Britain in South Africa and they held these territories with a tight grip. The nature of American rule in these areas seems distinctly imperialistic. In the Philippines, the local Filipinos fought a war of independence shortly after the implementation of American control. The Philippine-American War strongly exemplified American imperialism as the USA used militarism to retain supreme control over the Philippines. During this war, 70,000 American troops and $170 million were utilised to brutally suppress the revolt from 1899 to 1902, and as many as 200,000 Filipino civilians died from violence, famine, and disease. The counterinsurgency measures during this war were bloodier than that of the Spanish in Cuba or even the British in the Boer War. Also crucial is how the imperialists, who were steadfast on colonising, did not want territories to become states, in the way that Kansas or Oregon, for example, had passed from territory to state. Furthermore, while expansion into the Louisiana, Kansas, and Oregon territories resulted in these