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America's History in the Making

A Growing Global Power

Theme 1

Patriotism, missionary zeal, and the quest for new markets fueled the drive to establish an overseas empire.

Between 1900 and 1920, the United States was part of a pattern in which European and Asian countries imposed their imperialistic designs on the rest of the world in the scramble for colonial expansion. Profit, missionary zeal, strategic defense location, patriotism, and a muscular Christianity drove this expansion. Muscular Christianity centered around the idea of manliness. It was in this context that the United States clashed with European countries in Latin America, the Caribbean, and the Pacific. Many factors contributed to the growth of imperialism, however, including new technologies, improved communication and transportation, and industry's desire of cheap raw materials and labor.

Over the course of this period, American imperialism changed from being driven by guns to being driven by dollar diplomacy. American businesses sought profit by tapping into Latin American and Asian markets, and gaining access to cash crops and natural resources such as sugar, coffee, fruit, oil, and rubber. An economic depression in the last decade of the nineteenth century compounded the situation by forcing American business to find new markets to dump their surplus goods. Huge profits motivated businessmen to shape American foreign policy. Imperialism shifted from military action to the thinly veiled threat of it sustained with the power of the dollar.

Some American citizens viewed expansion as a patriotic expression of American greatness; missionary fervor guided others to save the souls of the uncivilized, and impose Western values and culture on non-Christian countries around the world. Some imperialists supported imperial citizenship, but racism plagued American policy and undermined the willingness of the government to confer citizenship to racial "others."

Primary Sources