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date: 16 May 2021

Progressivism and US Powerlocked

  • John A. ThompsonJohn A. ThompsonDepartment of History, University of Cambridge

Summary

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.

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