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History of U.S. Imperialism at the Turn of the Century

A provocative examination of the history of United States imperialism at the turn of the century and a comparison of this period to previous phases of U.S. expansionism.

During the late nineteenth and early twentieth century the United States expanded into new distant places and for different reasons than in previous times. These changes in the characteristics of U.S. expansion signaled that this new phase of expansion was a departure from old previous U.S. expansion. The change that is most obvious is most obvious in turn-of-the-century expansion was the addition of territory that was not in the continent of North America.

Such a change painted the U.S. as something it had not been before: an Empire. The next noticeable change was in the purpose for this new expansion. Formerly U.S. was expansion was primarily to provide new lands for settlement by American citizens. In this new phase of expansion, however, land was added primarily for international trade and defense. The last main departure was in the fact that turn-of-the-century territorial acquisitions usually never became states or lands where the U.S.’ constitution applied. Instead the new territories were part of the newly created American empire, an entity that had not existed as a result of previous expansion.

Before the phase of American expansion that occurred around the turn of the century, the United States had only expanded into lands in the North American continent. Turn of the century acquisitions, which included the Philippines, Guam, Cuba, Puerto Rico, Hawaii and several other island groups in the Pacific, were not connected to the North American continent. This signaled that the U.S. had become just as other European nations had long been: an empire.

These new land acquisitions were overseas and distant, removed from interaction from what was really America and American culture. The U.S. now had what were effectively colonies, lands acquired not to become part of the Nation but to be exploited and abused for the benefit of some people in the home country. There was a reason that the American Anti-Imperialist League had formed. To fight against something the United States had been before, something un-American: an empire.

The purpose behind this new expansion was also different. Instead of expansion for the purpose of settlement by U.S. citizens, the lands were acquired for international trade and defense. The lands added before the turn-of-the-century phase were areas that could be easily reached by U.S. settlers during a time in which the nation was growing and needed to expand. The government served the needs of the people and acquired these lands that were so near to them and which only seemed sensible to acquire. Around the turn of the century, however, the purpose for these new acquisitions was quite different.

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