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A Brief History Of American Imperialism

1738 words - 7 pages

The United States saw its territory more than double in the first three decades of the 19th century. Bursting with nationalist fervor, an insatiable desire for more land, and a rapidly increasing population, the western frontiers of the United States would not remain east of the Mississippi. The eventual spread of the American nation beyond the Mississippi into Native and French land, referred to as “Manifest Destiny” by John O’Sullivan, was rationalized as a realization of their God given duty. The Louisiana Purchase set the precedent for unrestricted westward expansion in America, and allowed for others to follow in his footsteps. Characterized by racist overtones, a lack of the “consent of the governed, and ethnic cleansing, there is no valid distinction between this American continental expansion and the international expansion sought by Europe in the late 19th and 20th centuries, and is clearly imperialist in nature.
The acquisition of the Louisiana territory by Thomas Jefferson from the French in 1803, was too good a deal to pass up. Primarily interested in the strategic port city of New Orleans, and unrestricted use of the Mississippi River for trade, when offered the entirety of the territory by Napoleon, Jefferson saw an opportunity for the expansion of his “empire of liberty”. However, this treaty, made official on July 4th, 1803, which would give to the United States 828,000 square miles of new land, and cost 15 million dollars (almost doubling the federal spending of that year), would push the boundaries of the constitution. Given only six months to ratify the treaty, Jefferson knew that it would be impossible to pass an amendment to the Constitution in time, that would allow the purchase. He himself remarked, “The general government has no powers but such as the constitution has given it, and it has not given it a power of holding foreign territory, & still less of incorporating it into the Union.” It is important that Jefferson recognized the lack of authority he had in the purchase of the Louisiana Territory, and that its inclusion into the United States would be less than legal. Federalists opposed the treaty on these grounds, warning that it would open the floodgates for future territorial aggrandizement. In this, they were correct. Despite the opposition, Jefferson ratified the Treaty, securing the territory for the United States. The next problem however, was what to do about its current inhabitants, and how they would be governed. It was a “Gallo-Hispano-Indian omnium gatherum of savages and adventurers”, who had not given consent to be governed by the United States, nor was it felt by American politicians that they were fit to govern themselves, which demonstrates the belief in white superiority at the time, which they used to justify their governance. Jefferson, in the Declaration of Independence, written only 27 years prior, had penned the phrase that would define American democracy, “Governments are instituted among Men,...

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