American Political And Territorial Expansion was dramatic, and perhaps more importantly, it was no accident. The country expanded its borders and its political influence over the course of nearly one hundred years in the late nineteenth century and the early part of the twentieth century. The expansion was the result of a number of different factors, including, but not limited to, war, economic growth, and racism. American justified its use of these factors with concepts like Manifest Destiny. There was a sense that America – a great, white, shining city on a hill – had the ability to make and take, especially when the people being taken from were people of color.
American political and territorial influence was grown through the strategic use of war. The War of 1898 – known to many as the Spanish-American War – was fought over Spanish intervention in its colonies, including Cuba and later the Philippines. As a result of this war, which was a decidedly American victory, the country claimed new territories of Guam and Puerto Rico. This war justified in part by the Monroe Doctrine, a foreign policy strategy put into motion by James Monroe that stated that the country would no longer tolerate European colonization in the Americas. There was a great feeling among the newly prosperous Americans that the now-independent country should have the power and right to take over the Americas without the interference of European powers. It established a view of the United States that posited the country as a place where special treatment was demanded and often granted by European powers that did not want to engage in a full-scale war.
America did not seek to expand its borders in The Great War, but it did seek to expand its political influence. In World War I, the US teamed with a host of other nations to topple the German Empire, Austria-Hungary, and the Ottoman Empire in a conflict that involved basically all of Europe. This war signaled a change in American foreign policy, as during the lead-up to the war, the country had decided to stay out of the conflict. When American boats were continually sunk and attacked by German ships, America had no choice but to fight. In the process, it helped to advance the great cause of capitalist democracy, joining with other Western European powers to both win the war and establish a pro-Western reality in the treaties that closed down the war.
The country also expanded its influence through the intrepid use of racism. Wanting to own all American territory without the interference of American Indians, America, under the directives of Andrew Jackson and others, instituted the reservation system, kicking American Indians off of their lands and providing them with undesirable lands in places like Oklahoma and the Dakotas. As the country expanded to the West, it justified its efforts with the theory of Manifest Destiny. It was divined by God, some argued, that America should get more territory and continue to exert its political influence in the nation. This was an inherently racist policy, as it argued that American white people were favored by God over all other races. There was no right of an American Indian to stand in the way of a good, God-fearing American white man, and thus, the Indians were moved to places where no other person wanted to be.
Likewise, the period of reconstruction was heavily racist. The American way during that time was one that rewarded rich, white landowners. There was little room for political power for black people who had been freed after the Civil War. During the course of reconstruction, the country was pieced back together, but some of the states in the South instituted policies that kept black people from having full participation in the country. Some black people were not allowed to vote, and they were certainly segregated in a way that caused poverty and difficult living conditions. This might not have perpetuated the country’s political power as a whole, but it helped to protect the political influence of the wealthy white people who ran the nation.
In addition, the country expanded through its economic growth. The rise of American industry took place just as the Industrial Revolution provided great investors with the physical tools that they needed to turn their small stacks of money into large stacks of money. The railroads were built, and men like Carnegie and Vanderbilt established factories. America’s ability to produce was monumental in helping it grow opportunity and gain economic influence throughout the world. Rather than being dependent upon other countries or depending solely on a farming economy, the country was able to make great advances. All of a sudden, transportation became an option and America rose in influence when compared to its contemporaries. American growth in this regard was justified with a number of theories. For one, there was a feeling among the people that America was superior to other nations. Its people were harder working, or so the story went. Likewise, the old-fashioned American ideal of ingenuity came into play, as people believed that America, because it could produce more than some of its European friends, had the right to dominate the global political landscape. Much of this was still linked back to the old theories developed under Manifest Destiny, which asserted the rights of America as a nation to impose her will on various cultures and political forces around her. These things are all inextricably linked, as racism, war, and economic progress allowed the expansion of America’s borders and her territorial influence.