The United States government of the late nineteenth century were certainly interested with increasing the international status of their country.
American administrations had the intention of equalling and eventually surpassing the great powers of the time, Great Britain, France, Germany, Russia, and Japan. The American quest for empire caused or at least highlighted the tension between internationalism and isolation in foreign policy decision – making.
The Emergence of a Great Power
During the nineteenth century the United States had substantially increased its own size by gaining territory from Mexico as well as purchasing Louisiana and Alaska from France and Russia respectively. So the United States until the latter years of the nineteenth century had not attempted to gain an empire.
American intentions to start a quest for an empire had been delayed by the American Civil War and the Plains War. Some American administrations had taken a greater interest in gaining an overseas empire than others gain gain. President Monroe for example had developed the Monroe Doctrine to excuse and justify the United States intervention in Central and Latin America.
Public Isolation, Private Imperialism
The American government at that stage was more interested in increasing its informal influence rather than gaining formal colonies. The Monroe Doctrine however brought the United States into direct conflict with Spain. In the late 1890s Spain still counted Cuba and the Philippines amongst its remaining colonies. The Spanish lost these colonies to the United States during the cause of the short war between the two countries.
The American quests for an empire was brought about by the realisation amongst its administrations that it was economically and militarily strong enough to gain and maintain control of overseas colonies. The rapid industrialization of the United States meant that its government knew that it could up the military and naval forces needed to control colonies.
The American government embarked upon an ambitious naval building program from the late 1890s, as it wanted to build a navy large enough to rival the size of the British Royal Navy. Although the British were determined to maintain their naval superiority in the early 1900s the German naval building programmes concerned them more than the gradual build up of the American navy.
As a consequence of the quest for an empire the American government decided to have the Panama Canal constructed to make both the export of American goods worldwide as well as hastening the dispatch of American naval forces anywhere across the globe easier. The inspiration for the Panama Canal came from the Suez Canal, which had greatly improved trading links and military movement within the British and French Empires respectively. Although delayed by almost two decades the Panama Canal allowed the United States to become a truly great power due to its economic, military, and naval power.
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