Age of Empire: American Foreign Policy, 1890-1914

Posted: February 20th, 2023


Purpose: Understand the views and goals of the two best-known black leaders of the turn-of-the-twentieth century U.S.: Booker T. Washington and W.E.B. DuBois. You will do this by writing an editorial supporting one of the men from a specific historical perspective. This assignment will help you practice the skills of comparison, analyzing evidence, and argumentation, as well as become more familiar with black history and progressivism in the early twentieth century.

Documents for analysis:

Booker T. Washington, “Atlanta Compromise” (1895), .

W.E.B. DuBois, “Of Mr. Booker T. Washington and Others” (1903), (also, see the excerpts that are available in this submodule).


· First, read both documents carefully, along with pp. 617-619 in the textbook.

· Second, create a persona and perspective from which to write. Some suggestions are:

· a black southern sharecropper.

· a white Atlanta businessman.

· a black, female domestic worker in Atlanta.

· a black 17-year-old living in Harlem.

· Write an editorial (300 word minimum) in support of DuBois OR Washington from your persona to one of the following newspapers:

· Chicago Defender – the leading black newspaper of the day.

· Atlanta Journal – Atlanta daily newspaper; championed the “New South”; very conservative on race.

· Atlanta Independent – black weekly newspaper published in Atlanta.

In your editorial, include

· a brief introduction (2-3 sentences) of your character

· state at least two (2) reasons why you (as your character) support your chosen leader

· and at least one (1) reason you believe the other leader’s ideas are flawed.

· Bring in at least one direct quote from each primary source.

In other words, you are comparing the two men, but ultimately supporting one over the other as having the best vision for black Americans, ca. 1903.

File submissions: Please submit your file as a DOC.X or PDF file.

Criteria on which you will be graded:

You will be successful in this assignment if you:

· create a plausible persona who is writing the editorial;

· draw on the primary sources to successfully identify two reasons to support one man and one reason not to support the other;

· include a quote from each primary source; and

· convey to the reader a clear understanding of some of the men’s ideological differences.

This activity may use a different grading rubric than what was used in past activities. Be sure to check the grading rubric before starting.


Age of Empire: American Foreign Policy, 1890-1914

Figure 22.1 This poster advertises a minstrel show wherein an actor playing Theodore Roosevelt reenacts his leadership of the Rough Riders in the Spanish-American War and illustrates the American public’s zeal for tales of American expansionist glory.

Chapter Outline

22.1 Turner, Mahan, and the Roots of Empire

22.2 The Spanish-American War and Overseas Empire

22.3 Economic Imperialism in East Asia

22.4 Roosevelt’s “Big Stick” Foreign Policy

22.5 Taft’s “Dollar Diplomacy”


As he approached the rostrum to speak before historians gathered in Chicago in 1893, Frederick Jackson Turner appeared nervous. He was presenting a conclusion that would alarm all who believed that westward expansion had fostered the nation’s principles of democracy. His conclusion: The frontier—the encounter between European traditions and the native wilderness—had played a fundamental role in shaping American character, but the American frontier no longer existed. Turner’s statement raised questions. How would Americans maintain their unique political culture and innovative spirit in the absence of the frontier? How would the nation expand its economy if it could no longer expand its territory?

Later historians would see Turner’s Frontier Thesis as deeply flawed, a gross mischaracterization of the West. But the young historian’s work greatly influenced politicians and thinkers of the day. Like a muckraker, Turner exposed the problem; others found a solution by seeking out new frontiers in the creation of an American empire. The above advertisement for a theater reenactment of the Spanish- American War (Figure 22.1) shows the American appetite for expansion. Many Americans felt that it was time for their nation to offer its own brand of international leadership and dominance as an alternative to the land-grabbing empires of Europe.

Chapter 22 | Age of Empire: American Foreign Policy, 1890-1914 633

22.1 Turner, Mahan, and the Roots of Empire

By the end of this section, you will be able to: • Explain the evolution of American interest in foreign affairs from the end of the Civil

War through the early 1890s • Identify the contributions of Frederick Jackson Turner and Alfred Thayer Mahan to the

conscious creation of an American empire

During the time of Reconstruction, the U.S. government showed no significant initiative in foreign affairs. Western expansion and the goal of Manifest Destiny still held the country’s attention, and American missionaries proselytized as far abroad as China, India, the Korean Peninsula, and Africa, but reconstruction efforts took up most of the nation’s resources. As the century came to a close, however, a variety of factors, from the closing of the American frontier to the country’s increased industrial production, led the United States to look beyond its borders. Countries in Europe were building their empires through global power and trade, and the United States did not want to be left behind.


On the eve of the Civil War, the country lacked the means to establish a strong position in international diplomacy. As of 1865, the U.S. State Department had barely sixty employees and no ambassadors representing American interests abroad. Instead, only two dozen American foreign ministers were located in key countries, and those often gained their positions not through diplomatic skills or expertise in foreign affairs but through bribes. Further limiting American potential for foreign impact was the fact that a strong international presence required a strong military—specifically a navy—which the United States, after the Civil War, was in no position to maintain. Additionally, as late as 1890, with the U.S. Navy significantly reduced in size, a majority of vessels were classified as “Old Navy,” meaning a mixture of iron hulled and wholly wooden ships. While the navy had introduced the first all-steel, triple-hulled steam engine vessels seven years earlier, they had only thirteen of them in operation by 1890.

Figure 22.2

634 Chapter 22 | Age of Empire: American Foreign Policy, 1890-1914

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Despite such widespread isolationist impulses and the sheer inability to maintain a strong international position, the United States moved ahead sporadically with a modest foreign policy agenda in the three decades following the Civil War. Secretary of State William Seward, who held that position from 1861 through 1869, sought to extend American political and commercial influence in both Asia and Latin America. He pursued these goals through a variety of actions. A treaty with Nicaragua set the early course for the future construction of a canal across Central America. He also pushed through the annexation of the Midway Islands in the Pacific Ocean, which subsequently opened a more stable route to Asian markets. In frequent conversations with President Lincoln, among others, Seward openly spoke of his desire to obtain British Columbia, the Hawaiian Islands, portions of the Dominican Republic, Cuba, and other territories. He explained his motives to a Boston audience in 1867, when he professed his intention to give the United States “control of the world.”

Most notably, in 1867, Seward obtained the Alaskan Territory from Russia for a purchase price of $7.2 million. Fearing future loss of the territory through military conflict, as well as desiring to create challenges for Great Britain (which they had fought in the Crimean War), Russia had happily accepted the American purchase offer. In the United States, several newspaper editors openly questioned the purchase and labeled it “Seward’s Folly” (Figure 22.3). They highlighted the lack of Americans to populate the vast region and lamented the challenges in attempting to govern the native peoples in that territory. Only if gold were to be found, the editors decried, would the secretive purchase be justified. That is exactly what happened. Seward’s purchase added an enormous territory to the country—nearly 600,000 square miles—and also gave the United States access to the rich mineral resources of the region, including the gold that trigged the Klondike Gold Rush at the close of the century. As was the case elsewhere in the American borderlands, Alaska’s industrial development wreaked havoc on the region’s indigenous and Russian cultures.

Figure 22.3 Although mocked in the press at the time as “Seward’s Folly,” Secretary of State William Seward’s acquisition of Alaska from Russia was a strategic boon to the United States.

Seward’s successor as Secretary of State, Hamilton Fish, held the position from 1869 through 1877. Fish spent much of his time settling international disputes involving American interests, including claims that British assistance to the Confederates prolonged the Civil War for about two years. In these so-called Alabama claims, a U.S. senator charged that the Confederacy won a number of crucial battles with the help of one British cruiser and demanded $2 billion in British reparations. Alternatively, the United States would settle for the rights to Canada. A joint commission representing both countries eventually settled on a British payment of $15 million to the United States. In the negotiations, Fish also suggested adding the Dominican Republic as a territorial possession with a path towards statehood, as well as discussing the construction of a transoceanic canal with Columbia. Although neither negotiation ended in the desired result, they both expressed Fish’s intent to cautiously build an American empire without creating any unnecessary military entanglements in the wake of the Civil War.

Chapter 22 | Age of Empire: American Foreign Policy, 1890-1914 635


While the United States slowly pushed outward and sought to absorb the borderlands (and the indigenous cultures that lived there), the country was also changing how it functioned. As a new industrial United States began to emerge in the 1870s, economic interests began to lead the country toward a more expansionist foreign policy. By forging new and stronger ties overseas, the United States would gain access to international markets for export, as well as better deals on the raw materials needed domestically. The concerns raised by the economic depression of the early 1890s further convinced business owners that they needed to tap into new markets, even at the risk of foreign entanglements.

As a result of these growing economic pressures, American exports to other nations skyrocketed in the years following the Civil War, from $234 million in 1865 to $605 million in 1875. By 1898, on the eve of the Spanish-A



Fish also negotiated a treaty with Canada in 1871 that resolved disputes over the border between the United States and Canada, which had been a contentious issue since the War of 1812. The treaty set the boundary between the two countries at the 49th parallel from the Rocky Mountains to the Strait of Georgia, and created a commission to resolve remaining disputes over boundary waters. This treaty helped to establish a peaceful and stable relationship between the United States and Canada, which continues to this day.

In addition to his work on international disputes, Fish also pursued a policy of economic expansion through diplomatic means. He negotiated treaties with several countries in Latin America and Asia to promote trade and protect American investments. He also encouraged American businesses to invest in these countries, believing that economic growth and cooperation would promote peace and stability.

Overall, the foreign policy of the United States in the three decades following the Civil War was characterized by sporadic efforts to extend American influence and protect American interests abroad. Although there were periods of isolationist sentiment and an inability to maintain a strong international position, there were also instances of assertive diplomacy and territorial expansion, as well as efforts to promote economic growth and cooperation through diplomatic means.

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