The United States and the World 1890-1920


American imperialism

  • Before 1890 America's foreign policy stance was defensive and seeked to keep the New World free of wars and diplomatic entanglements. Most American's were hostile to the idea of imperialism.
  • Several of the factors behind this shift were opnely expansionist. The growth of the American economy seemed to prove that the US needed new markets overseas. There was also a belief that the end of the frontier meant that there needed to be new horizons. Many American's were also swayed by the notions of racial and cultural superiority and a 'civilising mission'. Ideas liked this added to the influence of men such as Theodore Roosevelt and Alfred Thayer Mahan. 
  • But there were also many isolationists who upholded the Monroe Doctrine. Prominent figures were William Jennings Bryan who was the Democratic candidate in the 1896, 1900 and 1908 presidential elections. The American Anti-Imperialism League was formed in 1898 which included figures such as Grover Cleveland and Andrew Carnegie. 

Spain, Cuba and the Phillippines

  • The Spanish-American War of 1898 was a revolt against Spanish rule by Cuban nationalists led by Jose Marti. The rebels received support from American sympathisers which grew stronger after the Spanish army used brutal methods. Cuba's economy was dependent on exporting tobacco and sugar to US markets and Cuba, only 90 miles away from the United States. 
  • Another reason for war was to gain access to islands under Spanish colonial rule. These would open the way for American bases in the Pacific, Hawaii, Puerto Rico, Guam and in the Phillippines. The fast modernisation of Japan was seen as threat to American interests, fuelled by concerns of the 'Yellow Peril' and fears of Chinese and Japanese immigration. 
  • In February 1898, an American warship the USS Maine blew up in the harbour in Havana. The event was portrayed as a Spanish provocation and was an excuse for war. The 'Yellow Press' pushed the case for war with hysterical newspaper campaigns.
  • American forces quickly occupied Cuba which helped make a national hero of Roosevelt. Cuba remained under US military rule until 1902 when it became an American protectorate. 
  • Puerto Rico, Guam and the Phillippine Islands became virtual American colonies. The conquest of the Phillippines caused controversy in America. The Anti-Imperialist league attacked the government for betraying the traditions of the Founding Fathers.
  • In 1899 a Filipino revolt broke out after it became clear that independence would not be granted. The revolt was only suppressed in 1902 after extensive American military action.
  • In 1901 Congress passed the Platt Amendment authorising intervention in Cuba which was incorporated into the Cuban-American Treaty of 1903. The Platt Amendement would later be used to justify intervention in other parts of Latin America. 

The Panama Canal: Theodore Roosevelt and US foreign policy

  • The Panama canal would link the Atlantic and The Pacific through Central America. However this was difficult and expensive as a French scheme previously had failed to achieve it.
  • Roosevelt decided to complete this task by sponsoring a national uprising of Panamanian separatists which forced Colombia to accept an independent republic of Panama.
  • The canal was finally completed in 1914.
  • In 1904 Roosevelt set out the Roosevelt Corollary to the Monroe Doctrine, stating the principle that the US had the right to to excercise 'international police power' in Latin America if there were 'cases of wrongdoing'.
  • An important factor in building the Panama Cnal was to improve access to the Pacific, both for trade and for American sea power to shift between the Atlantic and the Pacific.
  • The Great White Fleet was a voyage from December 1907 to February 1909 to demonstrate the power and prestige of the US Navy.
  • In China the decline of imperial rule led to foreign intervention and instability. In 1900 after the Boxer Rebellion it seemed that China would be split between the European powers which threatened American interests. This led to the Open Door policy to emphasise the principles of free trade.
  • Concerns regarding Japan were heightened by the Russo-Japanese war of 1904-05 which showed the efficiency of Japan's new modern navy. Roosevelt offered mediation to end the war which led to a peace treaty being agreed in New Hampshire in October 1905.
  • The Alaska Boundary Dispute was not finally agreed after 1867, however after the Klondike Gold rush began in 1897 with a huge influx of American prospectors, the boundary dispute re-awakened. Although this was short-lived as the gold rush didn't last long, and the US and Britain were keen to keep good relations.

Dollar Diplomacy

  • President Taft became famous for the policy of Dollar Diplomacy which used American economic and financial power to secure influence in Latin America and China.
  • In 1909 Taft bought up the debts of Honduras to establish American financial control there, which he also did in Haiti and Nicaragua.
  • However in 1914 American troops had to be sent into Nicaragua to deal with a local revolt.
  • Taft also used Dollar Diplomacy in China to finance railroad projects there. American financies led by JP Morgan used the their finances.




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