Between the Spanish-American war of 1898 and World War I, a progressive movement, in which Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson were rival leaders, greatly extended the authority of the federal government in the nation’s domestic life, and also to some extent equipped it better to conduct foreign relations. Conscious that its economic growth had made the United States a great power, policymakers sought to expand the scope of its influence, but their ability to do so was limited by the difficulty of obtaining domestic support for actions involving significant costs. In practice, the extent to which the United States was able to affect the course of events beyond its borders varied in different regions. It established its hegemony over the Caribbean and Central America, and strengthened its political as well as economic links with the other countries in the western hemisphere. In East Asia, where it fought a brutal three-year war in the Philippines to suppress native resistance to its rule, the principal policy objective was to establish equal access for all foreign interests in China. But Washington found it difficult to uphold this Open Door principle in the face of challenges from Russia and Japan. With regard to Europe, the traditional posture of non-involvement in its great power politics was maintained, although Theodore Roosevelt and other leaders did come to see the relations of the European powers as affecting US interests, which they defined in a way that brought their perspective close to Britain’s. The establishment of peaceful methods of resolving international disputes was a goal of successive administrations, but the arbitration treaties that were negotiated won Senate approval only with reservations that severely limited their scope and authority.
John A. Thompson
Don H. Doyle
America’s Civil War became part of a much larger international crisis as European powers, happy to see the experiment in self-government fail in America’s “Great Republic,” took advantage of the situation to reclaim former colonies in the Caribbean and establish a European monarchy in Mexico. Overseas, in addition to their formal diplomatic appeals to European governments, both sides also experimented with public diplomacy campaigns to influence public opinion. Confederate foreign policy sought to win recognition and aid from Europe by offering free trade in cotton and aligning their cause with that of the aristocratic anti-democratic governing classes of Europe. The Union, instead, appealed to liberal, republican sentiment abroad by depicting the war as a trial of democratic government and embracing emancipation of the slaves. The Union victory led to the withdrawal of European empires from the New World: Spain from Santo Domingo, France from Mexico, Russia from Alaska, and Britain from Canada, and the destruction of slavery in the United States hastened its end in Puerto Rico, Cuba, and Brazil.
The United States has shared an intricate and turbulent history with Caribbean islands and nations since its inception. In its relations with the Caribbean, the United States has displayed the dueling tendencies of imperialism and anticolonialism that characterized its foreign policy with South America and the rest of the world. For nearly two and a half centuries, the Caribbean has stood at the epicenter of some of the US government’s most controversial and divisive foreign policies. After the American Revolution severed political ties between the United States and the British West Indies, US officials and traders hoped to expand their political and economic influence in the Caribbean. US trade in the Caribbean played an influential role in the events that led to the War of 1812. The Monroe Doctrine provided a blueprint for reconciling imperial ambitions in the Caribbean with anti-imperial sentiment. During the mid-19th century, Americans debated the propriety of annexing Caribbean islands, especially Cuba. After the Spanish-American War of 1898, the US government took an increasingly imperialist approach to its relations with the Caribbean, acquiring some islands as federal territories and augmenting its political, military, and economic influence in others. Contingents of the US population and government disapproved of such imperialistic measures, and beginning in the 1930s the US government softened, but did not relinquish, its influence in the Caribbean. Between the 1950s and the end of the Cold War, US officials wrestled with how to exert influence in the Caribbean in a postcolonial world. Since the end of the Cold War, the United States has intervened in Caribbean domestic politics to enhance democracy, continuing its oscillation between democratic and imperial impulses.
The foreign relations of the Jacksonian age reflected Andrew Jackson’s own sense of the American “nation” as long victimized by non-white enemies and weak politicians. His goal as president from 1829 to 1837 was to restore white Americans’ “sovereignty,” to empower them against other nations both within and beyond US territory. Three priorities emerged from this conviction. First, Jackson was determined to deport the roughly 50,000 Creeks, Cherokees, Choctaws, Chickasaws, and Seminoles living in southern states and territories. He saw them as hostile nations who threatened American safety and checked American prosperity. Far from a domestic issue, Indian Removal was an imperial project that set the stage for later expansion over continental and oceanic frontiers. Second and somewhat paradoxically, Jackson sought better relations with Great Britain. These were necessary because the British Empire was both the main threat to US expansion and the biggest market for slave-grown exports from former Indian lands. Anglo-American détente changed investment patterns and economic development throughout the Western Hemisphere, encouraging American leaders to appease London even when patriotic passions argued otherwise. Third, Jackson wanted to open markets and secure property rights around the globe, by treaty if possible but by force when necessary. He called for a larger navy, pressed countries from France to Mexico for outstanding debts, and embraced retaliatory strikes on “savages” and “pirates” as far away as Sumatra. Indeed, the Jacksonian age brought a new American presence in the Pacific. By the mid-1840s the United States was the dominant power in the Hawaiian Islands and a growing force in China. The Mexican War that followed made the Union a two-ocean colossus—and pushed its regional tensions to the breaking point.
Theodore Roosevelt played a seminal role in the rise of the United States to Great Power status at the turn of the 20th century and in debates about World War I and the League of Nations. Prior to entering the White House, TR was a leading proponent of a more ambitious foreign policy. As the 26th president he promoted US predominance in the Western Hemisphere, engaged in Great Power diplomacy, and oversaw expansion of the navy. He also laid the foundations for modern presidential statecraft with forceful advocacy of specific policy goals, a close relationship with the press, and an intense engagement with public opinion. After leaving Washington, he was among the most ardent critics of president Woodrow Wilson’s policies and helped to build support for the Allies and for preparing to enter what would become the “Great War,” or World War I. At the time of his death, he was a leading contender for the Republican presidential nomination. Scholarly and public surveys frequently rank Roosevelt among the most successful presidents, especially in the realm of foreign policy. His influence can be observed in successors as diverse as Wilson, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Ronald Reagan, and Barack Obama. Yet historians have also scrutinized his views on race, gender, imperialism, and violence, many of which appear outdated or problematic from an early-21st-century perspective. Also troubling was Roosevelt’s demonization of antiwar activists during World War I and his sometimes heavy-handed attempts to promote loyalty among citizens of German or Irish descent.
John Quincy Adams was one of the most significant statesmen-intellectuals of the Early American Republic. Highly intelligent, well-traveled, and massively educated, Adams was a Christian nationalist who believed that the American Republic was destined to be a shining example of democracy and liberty to the rest of the world. He was profoundly influenced by his parents, John and Abigail, and embraced his father’s political philosophy which was rooted in a written constitution and a strong three branch government constrained by checks and balances. Adams served as US minister to several European nations before becoming secretary of state in 1817 and then the sixth president of the United States in 1824. He began life as a Federalist but strongly supported the foreign policies of the Jefferson and Madison administrations. The three pillars of his foreign policy were neutrality toward Europe, continental expansion, and hemispheric hegemony. Adams chaired the US delegation that negotiated the Treaty of Ghent in 1814 and was the driving force behind the Convention of 1818 and the Transcontinental Treaty of 1819. Adams partnered with President James Monroe in formulating the Monroe Doctrine in 1823, which canonized the principles of the two hemispheres including European non-colonization in the Western hemisphere and US non-interference in European affairs. Domestically, Adams was a relentless exponent of the American System in which the federal government would fund a system of internal improvements—turnpikes, canals, ports—that would create a national market and bind the various regions together by means of a national economy. In this, he was disappointed in part because he had the misfortune to be president when Jacksonian democracy was taking hold in America and distrust of the federal power was growing. Defeated for re-election by Andrew Jackson in 1828, Adams briefly retired from public life but then accepted election to the House of Representatives in 1830 where he served until his death in 1846. In the House, he proved to be an avid opponent of the further extension of slavery into the territories, and ironically, of further continental expansion. He became convinced that a civil war was inevitable but held abolitionists at arm’s length because of their rejection of the Constitution as a means to achieve racial justice in America. Adams died with a deep sense of failure, believing that his earlier career as an expansionist had produced not an empire of liberty but an empire of slavery.