Imperialism: What It Is and Why the U.S. Did It
• Imperialism is a policy in which a country tries to take over other, distant lands, creating an empire.
• The United States was not imperialistic during the first 100 years of its history. Instead, it was isolationist—it avoided relationships with other countries.
• But the U.S. became imperialistic in the late 1800s and early 1900s. They wanted to use the natural resources (minerals, crops) in other countries, and they wanted to prove that they were a world power.
• President Theodore Roosevelt strongly supported imperialism. His “Big Stick” Policy showed that he was not afraid to use American force in Latin America.
• In the late 1890s, the U.S. fought Spain for control of Spain’s colonies (especially Cuba, Puerto Rico, and the Philippines).
• Yellow journalism helped persuade Americans to support the war. Yellow journalism is the publication of exaggerated, sometimes untrue news, in order to sell newspapers.
• When the U.S.S. Maine battleship exploded in Cuba before the war, the newspapers immediately blamed Spain, and the American people called for war.
• The United States won the war and took control of Spain’s colonies.
Other Examples of Imperialism
• Hawaii: The U.S. took over the island nation to control its sugar plantations.
• Panama: The U.S. convinced Panama to declare independence from Colombia. Then they used Panama to build a canal that connected the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. The Panama Canal shortened the sea routes between the U.S. and Asia and Europe.
• China: European countries had created spheres of influence in China. Only one European country could trade in each area. The U.S. declared an Open Door Policy, saying that all countries, including the U.S., should be able to trade with all parts of China.
World War I
• Militarism (development of weapons), alliances (defense agreements between countries), imperialism and nationalism (national pride) made Europe extremely tense.
• After the war, President Woodrow Wilson proposed Fourteen Points for peace, including the formation of a League of Nations to allow for talks between countries.
World War I Timeline
1914: Austrian Archduke Franz Ferdinand was murdered by a Serb, so Austria declared war on Serbia. Alliances pulled most European nations into the war. “The Great War” had begun. The U.S.A. stayed out of the war.
1915: Germany began using “U-boats” (sub-marines) to sink ships. They attacked a passenger ship, the Lusitania, killing over 1,000, including 128 Americans. The U.S.A. remained out of the war.
1916: Americans were sympathetic to the Allies, but the U.S.A. did not join the war. President Woodrow Wilson was re-elected by boasting that he had kept the U.S.A. out of war.
1917: Germany sent the “Zimmermann note” to Mexico, asking Mexico to attack the U.S.A. if the U.S.A. joined the war. The U.S.A. declared war and sent its troops to fight in the trenches in Europe.
1918: The U.S.A.’s presence helped the Allies to win the war. Germany collapsed and peace was declared on November 11. President Wilson proposed Fourteen Points for peace, including a League of Nations.