The American Imperialism and its Policy

The word “empire” has always been associated with a state that possesses and applies strong power and makes an influence on other states. The Roman Empire, the Persian Empire, the Ottoman Empire are eloquent examples of powerful and dominating states of antiquity. The term “empire” can be also applied to a state that appeared long after the collapse of the Roman Empire but also became one the most influential states on modern international scene, the United States of America. If it was necessary to study the phenomenon of American Imperialism, it is important to trace the causes of its appearance, its existence, and its outcome in the nineteenth century.

According to Johnson (2000), imperialism is defined as “the creation and maintenance of an unequal economic, cultural and territorial relationship, usually between states and often in the form of an empire, based on domination and subordination” (p. 375). This definition can be applied to the policy of the USA in the nineteenth century. This policy became prominent due to several main reasons. Thus, one of the premises of American Imperialism was transformation of the United States of America. Barnley (2006) states that “through the crucible of Civil War a union of states metamorphosed into an indivisible nation” (p.89). A brand-new state needed more space to become stronger; thus, the policy was aimed primarily at the improvement of economic situation in the USA. The acquisition of economic benefits was the primary consideration of America. Once a colony of Great Britain, the USA observed the possibility of acquiring profit from colonies clearly. The USA needed cheap labor to produce goods and new markets to sell them. The latter reason was very important as America was producing more goods than the citizens could consume. Besides, the USA considered the possibility of the usage of raw materials available in other countries.

One more reason for the policy of imperialism was the change of American minds. Territorial expansion was characteristic of the leading European states, Americans understood that they were not worse than the Europeans and could add the same policy to their armory. While America wanted to extend its territories, it also took care of the existing ones, thus, the policy was aimed backward too, at the protection of American territories. Even the activity of religious missionaries may be mentioned among the causes of American Imperialism in the nineteenth century.

As for the major events that are valuable for world history and are related to the foreign policy of the USA, it is possible to state that all of them were subjected to the main aim of imperialism, the expansion of the territory and the influence of the state. In this relation, the Ostend Manifesto should be mentioned as it was showing the importance of Cuba to America. It aimed to make Spain sell Cuba to the USA. Otherwise, the USA was ready to start a war (Klose & Jones, 1994, p. 221). However, there was a war between America and Spain that brought absolute defeat to the latter. As a result, Spain lost Cuba that came under the protection of the USA as the Treaty of Paris stated. The same treaty let the USA establish control over the Philippines, Puerto Rico, and Guam. Another treaty, the Treaty of Berlin, added Samoa to the list of American colonies. As a result of a coup d’état, the Hawaiian island was annexed to America. Besides, in 1867, America purchased Alaska from the Russian Empire and it turned out to be a pickup.

Due to the policy of imperialism, the USA established a colonial type of relationship with the above-mentioned countries. What is more, one of the strategic aims of the USA was China. The USA wanted to create open trade markets in China; this was the reason for the proclamation of the Open Door Policy in China. Eventually, they succeeded in their plans. However, the European states disapproved of the policy. It became evident that the USA was gaining power very fast, the European countries understood that a worthy adversary has appeared overseas.

It is necessary to mention that the majority of American citizens supported the policy of aggressive expansion. However, there were exceptions to the rule. Such were Andrew Carnegie and William James, who were the founders of the American Anti-Imperialist League that was campaigning against the annexation of the Philippines (Halsall, 1997, par. 1). The members of the League defined Imperialism as the evil “hostile to liberty” (Halsall, 1997, par. 1). The postulate of the League was the quotation of Abraham Lincoln that stated that no man was good enough to govern another man unless he/she has his/her consent (Halsall, 1997, par. 10). Still, the activity of the League turned out to be unsuccessful.

Concluding, it is possible to state that the American imperialism of the nineteenth century has turned out to be a controversial phenomenon. No doubt, it brought the USA to the top of the list of the most influential countries in the world. Still, the policy had its supporters and opponents. To conclude, it will be useful to state that imperialism of that time had valuable consequences in the twentieth century. The results of American Imperialism are both positive and negative. Among positive, American assistance to Panama in the overthrowing of Columbian rule can be mentioned. One more result of past imperialism is the spread of cultural imperialism in the USA all over the world. Still, cultural imperialism is a disputed phenomenon; some people think it is negative, others try to prove its positive effect.


Barney, W.L. (2006). A Companion to 19th-century America. Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell.

Halsall, P. (1997). Modern History Sourcebook: American Anti-Imperialist League, 1899. Web.

Johnson, R.J. (2000). The Dictionary of Human Geography. Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell.

Klose, N., & Jones R.F. (1994). United States History to 1877. NY: Barron’s Educational Series.

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