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History28

NoraNord
18/12/15
HolgerDroessler
FinalExam

WastheUnitedStatesanempireoflibertyoverthecourseofthe
nineteenthcentury?
ThomasJeffersoncoinedthetermempireoflibertyin1780whiletheAmerican
revolutionwasstillbeingfought.JeffersonwasawarethattheUnitedStateswasanempire,but
hesawacleardistinctionbetweenthelatterandEuropeanempires.Heromanticizedtheimage
ofempire,butsawtheempireoflibertyasastarkcontrasttotherepressiveBritishempire.
Jeffersonsideawasbasedonadecentralizedagrariansocietymannedbywhiteyeomen
landowners,insulatedfromtheindustrialrevolution.Heenvisionedanexpandingunionof
republicsthatwouldspreadacrosstheNorthAmericancontinent.Althoughhisvisionwaslocal
ittookonglobaldimensions.ThroughaglobaldivisionoflaborandfollowingtheUSexample,
Jeffersonarguablybelievedfreedomcouldbespreadacrosstheworld.Hisvisionwasnotonly
economicandspatial,butalsomoral.Thefearwasthatthenationaldebtandaneconomic
dependentonwagelabor,opposedtoyeomanfarmers,wouldleadtopoliticaldependency.
Jeffersonsvisiontriedtodisconnecteconomicandpoliticaldependencybyrelyingoneconomic
independenceonhomeintheyeomanhouseholds.
Atitsroot,theempireoflibertywasaparadox.ThelifebloodofEmpireisblood,and
whilethemissionofempireinNorthAmericawasfreedomanddemocracy,colonialismmade
thisprocessviolent.Howcouldanempireperpetuateliberty,whenitsgoalwastocontrol

foreignlandsandpeople?Jeffersonsgoalwasanempirededicatedtoliberty;anempirethat
wouldopposetherepressionofGreatBritainandlimithergrowthintheAmericas.Yetbythe
endofthenineteenthcentury,theUnitedStatesironicallyfoundherselfinthesameimperial
positionasGreatBritain;theverypositionshehadtriedtolimitthroughlibertyandfreedom.
TheUnitedStatesgrewofftherepressionofNativeAmericansandforcedslaveryofAfrican
Americans.Itwasclear,then,thattheempireoflibertywouldonlybeextendedtowhiteAnglo
Saxons.
WhathadbeenanideaofempirebecameadistinctrealityaftertheLouisianaPurchasein
1803.Thenationsterritorydoubled,andwhathadbeenthirteencoloniesalongtheeastcoast
becameanationthatexpandedintothecontinentandpushedagainstthedeterioratingSpanish
empireandComancheria.ItalsosawanextentionintoCanada,butdespitecommonbelief,the
northernterritoryprovedextremelydifficulttoconquer.InalettertoJamesMadisonin1809,
Jeffersonwrote,Iampursuadednoconstitutionwaseverbeforesowellcalculatedasoursfor
extensiveempireandselfgovernment.1TheMonroeDoctrine,createdunderPresidentJohn
QuincyAdamsin1823,warnedEuropeannationsthattheUnitedStateswouldnottolerate
furthercolonizationorpuppetmonarchs.ItpreventedEuropeanencroachmentontheAmericas,
justifiedAmericanintervention,andledtoagrowingsenseofgreatpowerstatus.2TheMexican
AmericanWar(184648)wasinitiatedbytheUnitedStates,andMexicosdefeatresultedinthe
1Looney,J.Jefferson,ed.ThePapersofThomasJefferson:RetirementSeries.Princeton:Princeton
UniversityPress,2004.3vols.

2ThecrisisinBrazilin1894sawalltheseaspectscomeforth.BritainhadtriedtointerveneinBrazil,but
theUnitedStatesthroughtheMonroeDoctrineforcedhertobackdown.Thisaugmentedthesenseofher
growingpower.

lossofhalfofhernationalterritoryinthenorth.Furthermore,theempireexpandedin1867when
theUSpurchasedAlaskafromtheRussianEmpire.(ADDSENTENCEHERE)
InhisInauguralAddressin1801Jeffersonexpandeduponhisideaofanempireandlaidouthis
goalsforthecountry.Inmanyways,theJeffersonianvisionoftheUnitedStatesremained
engrainedthroughoutthenineteenthcentry,andundeniableaffectedseveralkeyfiguresduring
theera.AbrahamLincolnperpetuatedtheideainhisGettysburgaddress,andTheodore
RooseveltexpandeditwiththebuildingoftheIsthmiancanal.Mostclearlythough,weseethe
ideasofempireoflibertyplayamajorroleinthe1898SpanishAmericanWar.Duringthe
presidentialcampaignin1896WilliamMcKinleyexpressedhisexpanionistaims,and
throughouthispresidencytheseaimswouldbecomeareality.McKinleywasconsideredby
manytobeaspinelessanddirectionlessleader,butthisanalysisrevealedthecunningof
McKinleywhowasinfactthemasterofleadingbyindirection,andmakinghiscabinetcome
tohisconclusions.USimperialismandthespreadofempireoflibertyoverseaswasnota
mistakeorduetoaltruism,butratheradirectaimofMcKinleyspresidency.Thesevere
depressionofthelate1790scausedlargescaleunemploymentandariseincivilmilitancy.The
notionofmanlinesswaschallengedbythedepression,andAmericanmenfoundtheirdignity
asmenincreasinglyundercut.ThespanishrepressioninCubaandthecallforCubaLibre
becamepresidentMcKinleysperfectjustificationforexpansion.
ThewarwithSpainwasoverinamatteroffourmonths,butitsrepercussionsshapedthe
countrysfuture.TheTellerAmendmentplacedontheUSmilitarytheconditionthatitcouldnot
annexCubaandhadtoleavecontroloftheislandtoitspeople,butMcKinleywasanastute
politicianwhohadrackedthecongresswithhissupportersandwasabletocircumventthe

troublesomeamendement.Afterall,asJosMartknew,theAmericanswereapeoplewhodo
notworkfornothing.3McKinleybelievedthattheriseoftheUSeconomyshouldbefollowed
bytheriseofUSglobalpower,andthereforemadeitveryclearthatwhenthewarwasoverwe
mustkeepwhatwewant.4.ThewarhadbeenstartedasdefenceofCubaagainstSpain;thepoor
mistressagainsttheeviloppressor,asseenthroughthelensofchivalry.Yetfromwhenthey
landed,AmericanssetoutotestablishcompletecontrolofCubadespitethelimitationssetbythe
TellerAmmendment.AmericansbroughtwiththemtoCubadeeplyentrenchedracismthatcame
tolookmorefavorablyupontheSpanishsoldiersthantheCubanraggedandhalfstarved..
mongrellot.5Ironically,andnotforthefirsttime,theUSreplacedtherepressorswith
repressionoftheirown.
MilitarydefeatoftheSpanishinthePhilippineswaseasy,butgainingcontrolovertheislands
tookmuchlongertimeandefforts.Amiddleclassuprising,ledbyEmilioAguinaldo,
underminedtheUSarmyandtransformedintoaguerillawaragainsttheoccupyingforce.
McKinleydidnotconsiderFilipinoindependenceandmadenopromiseofselfgovernment.The
keytothewealthoftheOrientremainedunderfirmUScontrol,anditwasonlythroughtime
andbribingpublicopinionbybuildingextensiveinfrastructure,thatrevoltended.Theempireof
libertyhadinitsconceptionthegoalofspreadingfreedomacrosstheworld.Thisgoalwas

3Herring,GeorgeC.FromColonytoSuperpower:U.S.ForeignRelationssince1776(NewYork:
OxfordUniversityPress,2008),315.

4Herring,315.

5Herring,320.

tightlylinkedtoRousseausnotionoftheGeneralWill;theideathatanindividualwouldhaveto
giveupaspectsoftheirpersonalfreedomtopermittheGeneralWill,asuperiorinstitution,to
correctthenaturalandanarchical(barbaric)stateofsociety.TheUnitedStates,byvirtueofits
superiorinstitutionsandcivilizationwasthusobligedtosavethelesserpeoplesfromignorance
andprovidetheframeworkofthisGeneralWill,andbringthemtotheblessingsofAnglo
Saxoncivilization.6ItwasarguablythroughtheimpostitionofAmericancultureand
institutions,thatbackwardcountriedwouldachievetruefreedom.ThiswasnotJeffersons
originalintentionwiththeempireofliberty,butoverthecourseofthenineteenthcenturythatis
whatitbecame.Thewhitemansburden,coinedbyRudyardKiplingin1899,appealedtothe
chauvinistmindsetandsuperficialaltruismpractisedbytheUnitedStates,andbecauseithelped
justifyUSexpansionismbecameanextensionofAmericanEmpire.
ThewarreinforcedtheideaofAmericangreatnessandsealedthepostcivilwarpoliticalorder.
1898markedtheonsetofanewpoliticalera.TheTreatyofPariscededtheSpanishcolonies
Cuba,thePhilippines,andPuertoRicototheUnitedStatesin1898,andfurtherPacific
expansionledtocontroloverHawaiiandGuam,andthefollowingyear,SamoaandWake
Island.WoodrowWilson7confirmedthatNowarevertransformedusquiteasthewarwith
Spaintransformedus.8Furthermore,theUSbranchedtheirforeignexpansiontoEastAsia.The
OpenDoorNotesandChinaReliefExpeditionwereexplicitattemptsbytheU.S.tobecomean
6Herring,322.

7Atthistimein1902hewaspresidentofPrincetonUniversity.

8Herring,335.

activeparticipantinthepoliticsofEastAsia.Atthetime,politiciansclaimedthepolicieswere
implementedtohelpprotectChinafromtheintrusionofEuropeanpowers.This,ofcourse,was
notthetrueaim.TruetoMartswords,theAmericanswerenotapeoplewhodidworkfor
nothinginreturn.Thenationhadsteppedforthintotheopenarenaoftheworld,andreversed
itsintrospectiveforeignpolicythatWashingtonhaddeclarednecessary.9TheSpanishAmerican
WarsawtheUnitedStatesbecomeamajorplayerinthePacificandanemergingplayerinEast
Asia.10ThesplendidlittlewarthusadvancedtheUnitedStatesstatusasaworldpowerand
createdanoverseasempirewhichpushedforgreatereconomicreciprocityandworld
involvement.LikeWashingtonhaddonebeforehim,McKinleysettheprojectionforAmerican
foreignpolitics.Isolationheconfirmed,wasnolongerpossibleordesireable.11
ThomasJeffersonsideaofanempireoflibertywouldnothavematchedwhattheUnitedStates
wasattheendofthenineteenthcentury:anationattheforeofindustrialization,withoneofthe
strongesteconomiesintheworldandanincreasinglyglobaloutlook.However,itcouldbe
arguedthatatitscoretheAmericanEmpireremainedthesame.Itwasanempirethatclaimedto
spreadfreedomandcivilization.TotheAfricanAmericansemployedinthesouth,theCubans,
9WashingtonsFarewellAddressin1796expressedforeignpolicythemesthatwouldtakeonincreasing
importancethroughoutthenineteenthcentury.Washingtonwasagainsttheinveterateantipathiesagainst
particularnations,andpassionateattachmentsforothers. Hestressedtheimportanceofsteeringclearof
permanentallianceswithanyportionoftheforeignworld. Americacouldbestachieveitsgoals,destiny,
bypreservingitsfreedomofaction.Thefledglingnationremainedisolatedfromglobalpoliticsand
entanglementsexceptfortheBarbaryWarsof18011805and1815,causedbytheattackonUS
merchantsintheMediterraneanbyBarbarypirates.

10Herring,335.

11Herring,336.

andPuertoRicans,andtheFilipino,thesuperiodUSinstitutionsrescuedlesserpeoples.12The
antiimperialistleaguearguedthattheaquistionofoverseasterritorywithnoprospectfor
statehoodviolatedtheconstitution,andthentherewerethoseantiimerialistssoimbuedwith
racismthattheydidntwanttoaddbrownpeopletotheirnation.Moreappealingforthevast
numberofAmericansthough,wastotakeupthewhitemansburden.
Jeffersonhadenvisionedanempirethatspreadfreedomabroad,butin1790theconceptof
abroadwasarguablyvastlydifferentfromtheconceptonehundredyearslater.AstheU.S.rose
economicallyandbecameoneofthemostprosperouscountries,sotoodidthenotionthatthey
shouldplayamorecentralfigureinworldaffairs.TheMonroeDoctrine,whichin1823aimedto
limitforeignencroachmentintheWesternHemisphere,waslaterusedasajusfiticationfor
Americanexpansionintothepacificandcaribbean,andthiswasaccomplishedbyPresident
McKinleyinthe1898waragainstSpain.TheAmericanRevolutionwastheroottoJeffersons
ideaofanempireofliberty.TherevolutionhadbeenfoughtbecauseAmericansfeltbetrayed
thattheBritishdidnotgivethemtherihtsandresourcestheyfeltentitledto.Theideawasthe
independencewouldallowthemtosolidifypeaceandredeemthegloryoftheEmpire.Jefferson
thusbelievedthattheEmpireofLibertywouldgrantperpetualpeaceandglory.Itwouldbea
newEmpirethatexceededallotherscreatedbeforetheirs.

12Herring,322.