American Imperialism: 1880 – 1914 and Winston Churchill

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American Imperialism: 1880 – 1914 and Winston Churchill

  1. Introduction

    This lesson plan is for American History students in grades 11 – 12. Depending on the ability of the students and the teacher’s desire for in-depth coverage of the material, the plan would be used for 2 class periods during a unit on American Imperialism: 1880 – 1914.

    Students will be discussing and analyzing documents individually, in small groups and with teacher direction.

  2. Guiding Question

    As students have studied American History concepts such as individual rights vs. group safety, liberty vs. order, liberalism, progressive history and American exceptionalism will have been discussed. Building on these concepts, the unit on imperialism (and Progressivism) leads to an overarching question, “Are empire and democracy compatible?” or “Is a democracy elevated or degraded by having an empire?”

  3. Learning Objectives

    Upon completion of this lesson, students should be able to:

    A. explain the reasons for American imperialism

    B. explain the reasons against American imperialism

    C. explain Winston Churchill’s beliefs on British imperialism

    D. explain how Churchill’s views on imperialism may be used to support either pro-
    or anti-imperialism in American history from 1880 – 1918

    E. explain the common principles of Anglo-American society that were later stressed

    by Churchill from 1920 – 1955.

    F. Define “empire building” and explain the tension that exists when a democracy or republic engages in “empire building”

  • Background Information

    A. American History

    Teachers should be aware that the Spanish-American War caused a great debate in the US about imperialism. The pro-imperialists believed that America’s industrial revolution and “city upon the hill” heritage allowed her to be a world player along with Britain, France, Russia, Germany, Belgium, Japan, the Netherlands and others. Economic expansion, national/military security, national prestige, the spread of American values of individual liberty, rule of law, free market economy and Christianity all were cited as reasons to compete in a world influenced by Social Darwinism and the belief of superior races and ways of life. The betterment of mankind by a WASP society was based n a Progressive view of history that stressed a new world order based on science, rule of law, optimism, etc.

    The anti-imperialists also believed in progressivism and Social Darwinism but came to different conclusions. They claimed imperialism was a step backward and a violation of the Declaration of Independence. Some believed that by helping “lesser races” we perpetuate weakness or allow these races to “water down” American stock. Others believed the American time, talent, treasure, and effort could be better used to continue reform domestically.

    B. The selections from the British point of view, mainly from Winston Churchill, are from both primary and secondary sources. The passage from the historian Thomas B. Macaulay was typical of British imperialism and would have influenced the Victorian Age, a time when the British empire was at its height as the “civilizing agent of the world.” Some of these thoughts can also be seen in Churchill’s comments on the debate to allow India to attain dominion status. Two selections are also taken from his speeches in 1938 as WWII approaches and he teaches the Western world why they must defend themselves against Nazism. A few excerpts are taken from Churchill’s The Great Republic describing his belief in the “spirit of union” among the English-speaking people. Finally, a couple of thoughts come from a scholarly work Winston Churchill on Empire by Kirk Emmert to demonstrate a more theoretical foundation of his thoughts on empire and democracy.

  1. Procedures and Activities

    A. Depending on class size and student abilities the teacher may:

      1. conduct a seminar with the entire class where all of the students have read all of the documents in order to discuss the pros and cons of American imperialism in the first class and then examine Churchill’s thoughts on empire and civilization in the second class for similarities and differences

      2. divide the class into three groups of American pro-imperialists, American anti-imperialists, and Churchillian imperialists so that a debate among the three groups may be led by the teacher; since each group only reads the documents for its point of view, time must be saved in the second class for the teacher to summarize the points of the debate

      3. divide the class into groups of three (or multiples of three) in order to have several mini-debates based on the three groupings listed above in #2; the teacher walks around to spot check the various discussions and leaves time at the end to summarize the main points of the learning experience

        1. The following hard copy documents should be brought to class by the students for class discussions. The students should have highlighted or taken notes on key points in each document.

          1. American pro-imperialist

          • “America’s Destiny” (1900) by Senator Albert Beveridge

- “The Anglo-Saxon People” from Our Country, 1885 by Josiah Strong

- “Commerce Follows the Flag” (March, 1895) by Senator Henry C. Lodge
- “A President’s Decision” speech by President McKinley, November, 1899
- “Alfred T. Mahan Defines Security in Terms of Sea Power,” 1897
- “Frederick J. Turner Articulates the Frontier Thesis,” 1893

2. American anti-imperialist

- “Platform of the American Anti-Imperialist League,” October 17, 1899
- “William Graham Sumner” excerpt from Main Problems in American

History, Howard Quint, Editor 1988
- “Herbert Croley” excerpt from Main Problems in American History,
Howard Quint, Editor 1988
- “Bryan’s Solution to the Philippine Problem, 1900” speech in Indianapolis,
August 8, 1900

3. Churchill’s imperialism

- “Thomas B. Macauley on Empire and Education” from Modern History
- Winston Churchill speech to Indian Empire Society, December 11, 1930
from Indian Round Table Conferences, 1931-33
- Winston Churchill, “Arm, and Stand by the Covenant” speech in
Manchester, May 9, 1938

- Winston Churchill, “Civilisation” speech at University of Bristol, July 2,

1938 SEE PAGE 5 below
- Winston Churchill “The Atlantic Charter,” August 24, 1941. The Great
Republic, p. 329, 335 or in in Never Give In! The Best of Winston Churchill’s Speeches, selected by His Grandson , pg. 297

- Winston Churchill “America’s English Heritage” from The Great Republic

pp. 412-413, 414, 421, 423-4
- excerpts from Winston Churchill on Empire by Kirk Emmert, pps. Xii –xv, 1, 17, 25, 30, 31, 40, 66-7

  1. Assessment and Extension

    A. The teacher may determine the level of students’ mastery of the material and concepts by

1. observing the level of debate

2. a question and answer session following the seminar/debate

3. a written quiz on the key points of the economic, social and political factors of each of the three viewpoints

4. a take-home or in-class essay asking the students to evaluate or make a judgment of American imperialism 1880-1914 based on the discussion of the last two class periods

B. Suggestions for further study would include

1. reexamining Manifest Destiny before the Civil War

2. prediction on American foreign policy after WWII/in the Cold War

3. the War in Iraq/Afghanistan/on Terror


July 2, 1938

Winston S. Churchill

Chancellor's Address, University of Bristol

Copyright Mr. Winston S. Churchill
There are few words which are used more loosely than the word "Civilisation." What does it mean? It means a society based upon the opinion of civilians. It means that violence, the rule of warriors and despotic chiefs, the conditions of camps and warfare, of riot and tyranny, give place to parliaments where laws are made, and independent courts of justice in which over long periods those laws are maintained.
That is Civilisation--and in its soil grow continually freedom, comfort and culture. When Civilisation reigns, in any country, a wider and less harassed life is afforded to the masses of the people. The traditions of the past are cherished, and the inheritance bequeathed to us by former wise or valiant men becomes a rich estate to be enjoyed and used by all.
The central principle of Civilisation is the subordination of the ruling authority to the settled customs of the people and to their will as expressed through the Constitution. In this Island we have today achieved in a high degree the blessings of Civilisation. There is freedom: there is law; there is love of country; there is a great measure of good will between classes: there is a widening prosperity. There are unmeasured opportunities of correcting abuses and making further progress.
In this very week we have seen a Prime Minister at the head of a large and loyal majority bow with good grace to the customs of Parliament, and we have heard Socialist Members speaking with pride of the precedents of the early seventeenth century, and the principles of the Petition of Right. (Editor's Note: A reference to the Report of the Committee of Privileges which inquired into the dispute between Mr. Hore-Belisha and Mr. Duncan Sandys.J
In this respect for law and sense of continuity lies one of the glories of England. And more than that, there also lies in it an important part of her strength and safety. Such episodes are astonishing, but also educative, to countries where dictatorships prevail, and where no one dares to raise his hand against arbitrary power. They stir and cheer the minds of men in many lands.

Copyright Mr. Winston S. Churchill
We have, however, to face the problem of the turbulent, formidable world

outside our shores. Why should not the same principles which have shaped the free, ordered, tolerant Civilisation of the British Isles and British Empire be found serviceable in the organization of this anxious world? Why should not nations link themselves together in a larger system and establish a rule of law for the benefit of all? That surely is the supreme hope by which we should be inspired and the goal towards which we should march with resolute step.

But it is vain to imagine that the mere perception or declaration of right

principles, whether in one country or in many countries, will be of any value unless they are supported by those qualities of civic virtue and manly courage - aye - and by those instruments and agencies of force and science which in the last resort must be the defense of right and reason.

Civilisation will not last, freedom will not survive, peace will not be kept, unless a very large majority of mankind unite together to defend them and show themselves possessed of a constabulary power before which barbaric and atavistic forces will stand in awe.
Here, then, we see the task which should command the exertions of the rising generation which tills this spacious hall, and which may bring to the life of Britain the surge of a new impulse towards the organization of world peace, and across the gulf of these eventful years prepare and bring nearer the Brotherhood of Man.

NEH Summer 2006 Institute “Churchill and America”

The Churchill Centre

Ashbrook Center for Public Affairs and

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