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Chile-US Relations  

Patrick William Kelly

The relationship between Chile and the United States pivoted on the intertwined questions of how much political and economic influence Americans would exert over Chile and the degree to which Chileans could chart their own path. Given Chile’s tradition of constitutional government and relative economic development, it established itself as a regional power player in Latin America. Unencumbered by direct US military interventions that marked the history of the Caribbean, Central America, and Mexico, Chile was a leader in movements to promote Pan-Americanism, inter-American solidarity, and anti-imperialism. But the advent of the Cold War in the 1940s, and especially after the 1959 Cuban Revolution, brought an increase in bilateral tensions. The United States turned Chile into a “model democracy” for the Alliance for Progress, but frustration over its failures to enact meaningful social and economic reform polarized Chilean society, resulting in the election of Marxist Salvador Allende in 1970. The most contentious period in US-Chilean relations was during the Nixon administration when it worked, alongside anti-Allende Chileans, to destabilize Allende’s government, which the Chilean military overthrew on September 11, 1973. The Pinochet dictatorship (1973–1990), while anti-Communist, clashed with the United States over Pinochet’s radicalization of the Cold War and the issue of Chilean human rights abuses. The Reagan administration—which came to power on a platform that reversed the Carter administration’s critique of Chile—reversed course and began to support the return of democracy to Chile, which took place in 1990. Since then, Pinochet’s legacy of neoliberal restructuring of the Chilean economy looms large, overshadowed perhaps only by his unexpected role in fomenting a global culture of human rights that has ended the era of impunity for Latin American dictators.

Article

The Role of Congress in the History of US Foreign Relations  

Clay Silver Katsky

While presidents have historically been the driving force behind foreign policy decision-making, Congress has used its constitutional authority to influence the process. The nation’s founders designed a system of checks and balances aimed at establishing a degree of equilibrium in foreign affairs powers. Though the president is the commander-in-chief of the armed forces and the country’s chief diplomat, Congress holds responsibility for declaring war and can also exert influence over foreign relations through its powers over taxation and appropriation, while the Senate possesses authority to approve or reject international agreements. This separation of powers compels the executive branch to work with Congress to achieve foreign policy goals, but it also sets up conflict over what policies best serve national interests and the appropriate balance between executive and legislative authority. Since the founding of the Republic, presidential power over foreign relations has accreted in fits and starts at the legislature’s expense. When core American interests have come under threat, legislators have undermined or surrendered their power by accepting presidents’ claims that defense of national interests required strong executive action. This trend peaked during the Cold War, when invocations of national security enabled the executive to amass unprecedented control over America’s foreign affairs.

Article

US-Russian Relations before 1917  

Paul Behringer

From the American Revolution until the late 19th century, the United States and Russia enjoyed a “distant friendship,” meaning that the first interactions and perceptions between Russians and Americans were mostly positive, but the affinity for one another did not run particularly deep. The two peoples looked at each other across a wide geographic and cultural chasm. As the United States spread across the North American continent and into the Pacific, and Russia established colonies in Alaska and at Fort Ross, Russians and Americans began to encounter one another more frequently. Occasionally this trend led to tension and competition, but overall relations remained cordial, reaching a high point in the 1850s and 1860s when the United States tacitly supported Russia during the Crimean War and Russia backed the Union during the American Civil War. The goodwill culminated in the Russian decision to sell Alaska to the United States. Soon, however, differences in ideology and interests drove the two countries into a more tense and competitive relationship. Americans came to view Russians as squandering their land’s great potential under the yoke of an autocratic government and cultural “backwardness,” while Russians scoffed at America’s claims of moral superiority even as the United States expanded into an overseas empire and discriminated against Black and Asian people at home. These views of each other, combined with growing rivalry over influence in Northeast Asia, drove US-Russian relations to a low point on the eve of World War I. Many of the stereotypes about each other and the conflicts of interest, papered over briefly as allies against the Central Powers in 1917, would resurface during the Soviet period.

Article

William McKinley Jr.  

Aroop Mukharji

Born in 1843 as the seventh of nine children to a Methodist family in Niles, Ohio, William McKinley was not destined for political greatness. Much like his politics, his rise was steady and incremental, his ambition as patient as it was large. After four years serving the Union in the Civil War, McKinley returned to Ohio to start a local law practice. Following a short stint as a county prosecutor, he married, started a family, and then met with his life’s greatest tragedy: the deaths of both of his young daughters within two years of each other. Amid this immense personal turmoil, McKinley ran for Congress. He served seven terms until a Democratic challenger unseated him, enabled by gerrymandered district lines. Within a matter of months, McKinley turned around to win Ohio’s governorship twice, before becoming the nation’s twenty-fifth president in 1897. However faded he has become in historical memory, at the time of his assassination in 1901, just six months into his second presidential term, McKinley was a towering figure in US politics. He led the United States in three wars spanning two continents and was only the third US president in almost seven decades to win two consecutive terms. In foreign policy, where he left his greatest mark, McKinley changed the trajectory of US history by consolidating US control over the Caribbean, defeating a European power in war, and irreversibly expanding the US military to sustain an empire that stretched 7,000 miles into the Pacific Ocean. The costs were significant: hundreds of thousands of Filipinos dead, millions colonized under American rule, and new strategic commitments too distant to reasonably protect. It is therefore one of the greatest ironies of US presidential history that so much about McKinley’s life remains shrouded in mystery or, worse, forgotten.