American Imperialism: Debate and Legacy Explored

Imperialism in the Twentieth Century... by Thornton, A.P.
Imperialism in the Twentieth Century

Introduction to American Imperialism

The idea of American Imperialism started in the late Nineteenth century. This idea however was not supported by all Americans. It was the opinion of the Anti-Imperialist league founded in 1899 that we should not be getting involved in the affairs of other nations. Most Americans however found that Imperialism was a necessity in order to build a country that would be a power house among nations. Imperialism was not only practiced by our nation but many other nations that sought power and prestige.
In order to understand why most Americans thought that Imperialism was a necessary evil we must first understand the ideology behind imperialism.

The Rise of Imperialism in America

Imperialism is the idea that one must seek to expand ones territory by taking control or influencing a weaker party to give up ones territory. Through the years America has sought to take over land and control it in almost every instance of going into another countries territory. Americans first taste of Imperialism was when Christopher Columbus came to America about five hundred years ago. The Americans fought the inhabitants of the land at the time and took control of their land by force. This idea became the corner stone in which our country has been built.

Historical Roots of American Expansion

Imperialism was adopted because America needed some way to expand its territory and gain power and prestige. Imperialism gave America a way to expand its territory in a more times then not in a threatening way. A great example of American imperialism was the over-throw of the kingdom of Hawaii on January 1893. Queen Liliu’okalani announced a plan to change the constitution of Hawaii that would restore more power to the monarchy and the American business men did not like that idea. So the Americans came up with an idea to conquer the Kingdom of Hawaii by any means necessary to take position of a very important piece of territory. This example of Imperialism gives one an idea of the hunger for power and property that the American people had.

Imperialism’s Role in American Growth

Imperialism was not supported by all Americans in power however. In 1899 the league for Anti-imperialist was formed. This took place after America occupied Cuba, Puerto Rico, and the Philippine Islands. These men found that imperialism was hostile towards liberty and violated ones right to be free. They believed that every person deserved the right to life, liberty, happiness and most importantly the right to be free. The idea of taking something that did not belong to us was an evil that we should not be involved in. It was not the right of Americans to interfere with foreign affairs.

Consequences of Imperialism: Territorial Conflicts and Control

Although the Anti-imperialist fought to have America restore the countries that were taken by force they did not succeeded. For example the Filipinos revolted against American rule which caused many lives lost for both parties. In the end however America maintained control of all territories taken from different countries. Some of the territories taken by American imperialism would include Cuba, Puerto Rico, the Philippine Islands, Micronesia, Marshall Islands, Palau and Guam.

Debating the Legacy of American Imperialism

There could be many debates weather imperialism was a necessary evil to become the power house that we are today. Many of the territories that were taken by Americans were important parts of becoming a great nation. For example Hawaii is one of the greatest ports in-between countries as well as awesome for agricultural gain. Also it may have been a necessary evil to compete with the other powers such as Great Britain. Americans in power at the time believed that they need to gain power and control the same way that other countries were doing at the time.

Some would agree however even today that there could have been better ways to gain power and control. That ones rights and liberties are more important then gaining power for any country.


Thornton, Archibald Paton (September, 1978). Imperialism in the Twentieth Century. Palgrave Macmillan

Bacevich, Andrew (2004). American Empire: The Realities and Consequences of U.S. Diplomacy. Harvard University Press

Davidson J. W., Delay, B., Heyrman, C. L., Lytle, M. H., Stoff, M. B., (2008). Nation of nations: A narrative history of the American republic (6th ed.). Boston: McGraw Hill