While the Civil War was provoked by the issue of slavery it was certainly not fought to free the slaves by most of those doing the killing. The primary objective of Lincoln's administration was to preserve the Union and, hence, the future dominance of the U.S. in the Western hemisphere, which was still contested with Britain despite the Monroe Doctrine. The British had almost immediately violated the doctrine when they established a new colony in the Falkland Islands, and very nearly intervened in the Civil War, precisely to split their rivals and stifle American hegemony in the hemisphere. Of course the Civil War was won by the North and with national unity settled the government in Washington began a new era of partnership with financial and industrial capital aimed at undermining British preponderance in these crucial areas. By the turn of the 20th Century the U.S. was outproducing all its European rivals combined, and New York was poised to usurp London's role as the financial center of the planet.
As Jefferson had predicted, America's growing preponderance in world markets required greater armed forces and more active intervention against threats to American interests. Even before the Civil War the forward-looking William Seward, later to add Alaska's vast resources to the U.S. bounty, foresaw the coming rivalries.
Multiply your ships and send them forth to the east. The nation that draws most materials and provisions from the earth, and fabricates the most, and sells the most of productions and fabrics to foreign nations, must be, and will be, the great power of the earth.
Later, when the question of national unity and the dominance of capital was settled, he added:
The world contains no seat of empire so magnificent as this...the nation thus situated...must command the empire of the seas, which alone is real empire.
The extraordinarily rapid rise of America to financial and industrial power in the later 19th Century occasioned profound social, political and economic dislocations among nativist farmers and mechanics, immigrants arriving from eastern and southern Europe, as well as among recently freed former slaves, and the native tribes of the far West. The limits of westward territorial expansion were being reached; business cycles were creating dizzying recessions and depressions leading to massive unemployment, while helter-skelter development in the cities created immense unsanitary slums, filled with desperate and unhealthy wage-earners, who existed within sight of newly affluent middle and upper class conspicuous consumers. As the impoverished populace grew severe pressures developed for radical redistribution of the nation's obvious immense wealth, taking the forms of demands for higher wages, unionization, shorter work hours, abolition of child labor, and health and safety guarantees. In these circumstances the more perspicacious of the ruling elites, both the older aristocrats and the nouveau rich, the highly educated theorists they supported at the nation's principal universities, and religious leaders, were forced to develop ideas and proposals to deal with the growing crisis. Rather than undertaking such a radical redistribution, the nation's most powerful elites settled upon key reforms aimed at mollifying the working classes but also enlarging the United States' share of global markets. In that way the reforms could be financed while the elites continued to own privately or control the disposition of the nation's capital. Thus was the triumph of conservatism assured.
This desire to enlarge America's exports followed from an emerging central doctrine in policy circles. Export markets were crucial to continued industrial production, hence to widespread employment, and domestic stability. The American economic engine had expanded in scope so rapidly that it was creating surplus products, including foodstuffs, far in excess of the domestic market's capacity to absorb them. The solution: open new markets. If products could be sold abroad the problem of the surplus would be solved. Rather than undergo a radical and more equitable redistribution of wealth, and a restructuring of the economy away from unbridled laissez-faire capitalism, the nation would increase the size of its economic pie, more workers could be employed, some of the surplus could address the more dire of the social dislocations. But for this to be accomplished the nation's armed forces would also have to be profoundly increased, and deployed as never before.
Into this breach stepped Theodore Roosevelt, with the exception of Andrew Jackson, and perhaps George W. Bush, the most bellicose president the nation has ever had. It is forgotten today that TR was a Harvard-trained historian, whose published works are panegyrics to war, Anglo-Saxon racial superiority, expansionism and, indeed, genocide as the following passage from his highly popular four-volume history of the conquest of the western United States attests.
Whether the whites won the land by treaty, by armed conquest, or both...mattered little so long as the land was won...all men of sane and wholesome thought must dismiss with contempt the plea that these continents should be reserved for the use of a few scattered savages whose life was a few degrees less meaningless, squalid, and ferocious than that of the wild beasts.
In league with his former professor, Senator Henry Cabot Lodge, his colleague, Brooks Adams, scion of John and John Quincy, and numerous other theorists and ideologues, Roosevelt became the imperialists "man on horseback," who could marshall the necessary political support for the strategic, economic, and military justifications for America's leap onto the stage of empire.
Having waited since mid-century to continue trans-Pacific expansion, by 1895 the U.S. had taken control of most of Samoa. In response Lodge exulted:
We have a record of conquest, colonization and expansion unequalled by any people in the 19th century...we are not to be curbed now. For the sake of our commercial prosperity we ought to seize the Hawaiian islands now.
Lodge's challenge was quickly taken up. Hawaii was annexed in 1898, precisely at the moment the nation's political and ideological elites were drafting plans for the expansion of the American navy, an undertaking that would subsidize numerous industries, raise employment, and facilitate the opening of new markets. The presence of the Spanish in Cuba, Puerto Rico, and even on the far western side of the Pacific in the Philippines, had long rankled Americans. Now a minor power, Spain was ripe to be banished from the global stage altogether. Claiming that Spain's continued presence constituted an affront to the Monroe Doctrine, a threat to the hemisphere, and a brutal dictatorship to the peoples of its possessions, Washington's and Wall Street's new ideological decision-makers determined to find a cause for war. The infamous sinking of the U.S.S. Maine, caused by internal failure, not by Spain, was seized upon as the pretext for war. But Roosevelt, then undersecretary of the navy, confided at least one of the real reasons.
I should say that I would welcome a foreign war. It is very difficult for me not to wish war with Spain for that would result at once in getting a proper navy...In strict confidence I should welcome almost any war.
Expulsion of Spain from the Caribbean would enable the U.S. to establish naval bases in Puerto Rico and Cuba, bases that remain to this day. In short order a trans-isthmian canal would be constructed through Central America and the U.S. would have a two-ocean navy able rapidly to respond to any threat to proclaimed American interests. Thus would the Caribbean become, as the Romans used to say, "mare nostrum," our sea," and mastery of the Philippines would give the U.S. its "doorstep to the East."
TR's political opponents also consented to this war. Mark Hanna, who called Roosevelt "that damned cowboy," affirmed.
We can and we will take a large slice of the commerce of Asia. That is what we want. We are bound to share in the commerce of the Far East, and it is better to strike for it while the iron is hot.
Yet, perhaps the clearest and rawest expression of this group's objectives was made by Senator Albert Beveridge speaking on the floor of the Senate in 1901. A brutal counter-insurgency jungle war was then underway-America's first- in the Philippines, where natives who had been promised independence after Spain's defeat had been betrayed. Now Washington proclaimed itself the protector of the Pacific and declared that bases were needed from which to operate. Numerous atrocities against civilians committed by U.S. forces had been decried by the press and by the likes of Mark Twain, while pillars of the establishment like Andrew Carnegie funded the anti-imperialist movement. Beveridge responded:
God has not been preparing the English-speaking and Teutonic peoples for a thousand years for nothing but vain and idle self-admiration. No, he has made us the master organizers of the world...that we may administer government among savages and senile peoples...the Philippines are ours forever...and just beyond the Philippines lie China's illimitable markets...We will not renounce our part inthe mission of our race, trustee under God, of the civilization of the world...China is our natural customer. The Philippines give us a base at the door of the East...it has been charged that our conduct of the war has been cruel. Senators, it has been the reverse. Senators, remember that we are not dealing with Americans or Europeans. We are dealing with Orientals.
This remarkable statement encapsulates the prevailing doctrines then being forcibly injected into American civic ideology via the press, the pulpit and the lectern. First, there is Manifest Destiny renascent, in which God is presumed to have ordained a special mission for the United States as the inheritor of Anglo-Saxon civilization to set the future agenda for the world among the lesser and senescent peoples. Then there is the emphasis upon America's right to commercial interests in greater east Asia, for which military bases will be required. Finally, Social-Darwinism and its embedded racism endorses the slaughter of Filipino civilians.
The critical welter of problems facing the nation in the late 19th and early 20th centuries had produced a flowering of theoretical solutions, resulting in the amalgam quoted above. Frederick Jackson Turner's "frontier thesis" argued that the western frontier had long served as a safety valve to reduce popular social and political discontent by enabling migration to new lands, and he stressed that the final closing of that frontier (1890) required new outlets for American energies, a "commercial frontier" across the Pacific.
Brooks Adams at Harvard claimed that the decay of American civilization was at hand unless the course of empire continued its westward trajectory. Believing he had found the key to history in the westward progress of "world civilization" from ancient Greece, to Rome, to Britain, and to the United States, Adams asserted that the U.S. must continue this movement into the Pacific. Only the "valor" of the American soldier, he claimed, could protect against the "law of civilization and decay."
Such ideas found currency in the nation's military strategic circles as well. At Annapolis, Captain (later Admiral) Alfred Thayer Mahan expounded his classic The Influence of Sea Power Upon History, 1660-1873, asserting that since expansion of industry had caused the U.S. to grow out of its domestic market, new outlets for the consumption of American production, and new sources of raw materials would have to be found. Colonial possessions could provide bases for battleships, and these would serve as stepping stones to the markets of Latin America and Asia. Such colonies existed ready-made for the taking from the less powerful. A canal through the Central American isthmus would provide the strategic link for American naval domination of the Atlantic and Pacific.
Social Darwinism provided the perfect fertilizer for these ideas to take root. We are accustomed to believe that Nazi ideology provided the provenance of notions of one nation's "racial superiority" over others, but it is too often forgotten that these ideas flowered at centers of learning like Yale and Oxford Universities in the late 19th century, where Darwin's ideas about the biological sphere were adapted by William Graham Sumner and...... to pseudo-scientific social theory to provide justification for the then ongoing plunder of what would later be termed the Third World, and the subordination of its peoples to the interests of western capital. The nation’s political and military elites took Social Darwinist doctrine as matters of faith. Said TR: “Democracy has justified itself by keeping for the white race the best portion’s of the earth’s surface.” The first governor-general of the Philippines, General Arthur MacArthur, father of Douglas, mirrored these ideas when he claimed that "America's wonderful thrust into Asia was the destiny of the magnificent Aryan people."
To the nation's political potentates like Roosevelt, Cabot Lodge, Beveridge and John Hay, these theories seemed as siren songs luring the United States into the club of great powers.
Hay is remembered chiefly for articulating the Open Door policy that envisioned free access to the markets of East Asia. However, it has become abundantly clear over the last century that the unimpeded export of American capital, and free access to resource and labor markets the world over is the primary focus of American foreign policy. Today it is called globalization but it is simply another way of fostering the Open Door. On the surface, when first enunciated, the policy claimed to be fair and equitable for all western powers interested in penetrating Asia, but by 1900 the U.S. was steadily undermining British financial supremacy, and had overtaken all European industrial rivals. The U.S. could thus out price and out sell any competitor, so this advantage meant in reality a closed door for the competition. That is why most opposed the policy, especially Japan, the rising power of Asia, which, like Germany and the U.S., had emerged seemingly from nowhere to impede the designs of the European imperialists. Washington's open door in Asia faced no greater challenge. As a result of Japan's stunning victories over China in 1895, and Russia in 1905, the U.S. Navy began to draw up plans for war with Nippon, plans in which both sides knew that the new American naval base at Pearl Harbor would be key. Lest the Japanese misunderstand American intentions Roosevelt dispatched the cream of the navy's new battleships, the "Great White Fleet' to sail for the major ports of the world, including Tokyo's.
China itself, where the imperial court was crumbling, resisted the open door. In 1900, in the so-called Boxer Rebellion, students enraged over western colonies on Chinese soil, and increasing western penetration, lay siege to European and American enclaves inhabited by missionaries and businessmen. Most European powers, and the U.S. and Japan sent troops to quell the anti-foreign riots. Today few Americans know of this episode but national memories of western imperialism are deeply embedded in China, and, indeed, throughout Asia.
In the lead up to World War I the United States exerted its hegemony over the western hemisphere. Roosevelt issued his famous corollary to the Monroe Doctrine, informing the world that henceforth the U.S. would "police" the western hemisphere. In 1904, after dispatching covert agents to Panama to encourage dissidents to declare independence, TR deployed the fleet and marines to sever the province from Colombia, which was resisting his plans to build a canal through that narrowest part of the isthmus. When domestic political opposition to his executive fiat arose Teddy declared, "I took the Panama Canal. Let Congress debate." From 1898 to 1917, when the U.S. entered the "Great War," American forces were deployed by three presidents throughout the Caribbean, including Panama, Nicaragua, Honduras, the Dominican Republic and Haiti. When revolution threatened American oil interests in Mexico, where American corporations controlled fully 80 percent of all mineral resources, President Woodrow Wilson declared: "I will teach them to elect good men," then ordered the bombardment of Vera Cruz.