The Blessings of Civilization: The Roots of American Imperialism

Tuesday, October 11, 2011
10:00–11:30 a.m. (EST) Enter Classroom Enter Forum


Paul A. Kramer
Associate Professor of History
Vanderbilt University

About the Seminar

For most of the nineteenth century the United States followed the foreign policy enunciated by George Washington: avoid entangling alliances. By the 1890s, however, two forces thrust the nation more squarely into world affairs: the European competition for colonial territory and the search for overseas markets. The need for expanded markets was clear, but many Americans wondered if the quest for markets meant that the United States had to intervene in the domestic affairs of other nations. Would the country have to acquire colonies?

Adding to the impulse to look beyond our borders was the sense that the United States had reached its maturity. Even if most Americans were unfamiliar with historian Frederick Jackson Turner’s closing-of-the-frontier thesis, they sensed that an era had passed. The frontier and the limitless possibilities it represented were no longer available. However, when the United States inherited the remnants of the Spanish empire after the Spanish-American War, a new frontier beckoned: Cuba, Puerto Rico, Guam, and the Philippines.

This seminar will explore what America did with its new possessions, the justifications Americans offered for their actions, and the debates those justifications provoked.

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Assigned Readings

  1. Joseph A. Fry, “Imperialism, American Style, 1890–1916,” in Gordon Martel, ed., American Foreign Relations Reconsidered, 1890–1993
  2. Aguinaldo’s Case Against the United States
  3. March of the Flag,” an address to an Indiana Republican Meeting by Albert J. Beveridge (excerpts)
  4. Will it Pay?” an editorial in New York Journal, by William Jennings Bryan (excerpts)
  5. The White Man’s Burden,” a poem by Rudyard Kipling
  6. The Black Man’s Burden,” a poem by H. T. Johnson
  7. The White Man’s Burden,” an editorial in New York Age, by T. Thomas Fortune (excerpts)
  8. Are We To Spread the Christian Religion with the Bayonet Point as Mahomet Spread Islamism with A Scimiter?” an address to the U.S. Senate, by Benjamin R. Tillman (excerpts)
  9. Editorial in The American Missionary
  10. Abe Ignacio, Enrique de la Cruz, Jorge Emmanuel, Helen Toribio, The Forbidden Book: The Philippine-American War in Political Cartoons (San Francisco: T’Boli Publishing and Distribution, 2004)

Seminar Recording