Overseas expansion of the United States

Overseas expansion of the United States

United States overseas expansion follows the expansion of U.S. frontiers on the North American continent (see Mexican-American War, War of 1812, and Territorial acquisitions of the United States), in particular during the "Age of Imperialism", the later part of the nineteenth century and ending with WWI, when all the major powers rapidly expanded their overseas territories.

Geographical extent

The area that would become Alaska was purchased from the Russian Empire in 1867, after the U.S. Congress concluded its resources could be vitally important to the nation's future growth.

The overseas expansion of the United States into Puerto Rico and the Pacific occurred as a consequence of the Guano Islands Act, Spanish American War, the acquisition of American Samoa via the Treaty of Berlin, and the annexation of the Republic of Hawaii at the request of the then president of Hawaii, Sanford Dole.

The U.S. Virgin Islands were purchased from Denmark in 1917. Only the Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands (including the Northern Mariana Islands) was gained after WWII.

In the period between the mid-1800s until the beginning of the twentieth century the United States gained a number of overseas islands and territories. The following areas have at one time or another been under the control of the United States of America and have not been fully incorporated into the country as states
* Cuba (1899-1902, 1906-1909) — Came under U.S. protection via the 1898 Treaty of Paris with Spain following the Spanish-American War) Now independent with the exception of Guantanamo Bay Naval Base. The naval base occupies land which the United States leased from Cuba in 1903 "... for the time required for the purposes of coaling and naval stations." The two governments later agreed that, "So long as the United States of America shall not abandon the said naval station of Guantanamo or the two Governments shall not agree to a modification of its present limits, the station shall continue to have the territorial area that it now has, with the limits that it has on the date of the signature of the present Treaty." [cite web
title=Agreement Between the United States and Cuba for the Lease of Lands for Coaling and Naval stations
date=February 23, 1903
publisher=The Avalon project, Yale Law School
] [cite web
title=Treaty Between the United States of America and Cuba
date=May 29, 1934
publisher=The Avalon project, Yale Law School
* Republic of the Philippines (1898-1946) — Acquired in 1898 via the 1898 Treaty of Paris with Spain. Now independent through Treaty of Manila (1946), following on the Philippine Independence Act of 1935)
* Puerto Rico — Acquired in 1898 via the 1898 Treaty of Paris with Spain.) Now a U.S. Commonwealth.
* Guam — Acquired in 1898 via the 1898 Treaty of Paris with Spain. Now an organized, unincorporated territory of the United States.
* United States Minor Outlying Islands — Nine insular United States possessions acquired on various dates between 1856 and 1912. All are unincorporated territories of the United States except for Palmyra Atoll which, as of 2008, is the sole incorporated territory of the United States.
* American Samoa — Acquired as a colony and established in 1899 by the Treaty of Berlin. Now an officially unorganized, although self-governing U.S. Territory
*Northern Mariana Islands — Became a U.S. commonwealth on March 24, 1976, under Public Law 94-241 (90 Stat. 263), enacting the mutually negotiated "Covenant to Establish a Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI) in Political Union with the United States". [Citation
publisher=CNMI Law Revision Commission
* U.S. Virgin Islands — Purchased from Denmark in 1917. Now an organized, unincorporated United States territory.
* Panama Canal Zone — Leased from 1903-1979 and now part of Panama.

U.S. expansion during the Age of Imperialism


A variety of factors coincided during this period to bring about an accelerated pace of U.S. expansion:

*The United States had completed its occupation of available contiguous territory within the North American continent.
*Wars such as the Spanish-American War that led to acquisition of former colonies of foreign states.
*The industry and agriculture of the United States had grown beyond its need for consumption. Powerful business and political figures such as James G. Blaine believed that foreign markets were essential to further economic growth, promoting a more aggressive foreign policy.
*The prevalence of racism, notably Ernst Haeckel's "biogenic law," John Fiske's conception of Anglo-Saxon racial superiority, and Josiah Strong's call to "civilize and Christianize" - all manifestations of a growing Social Darwinism and racism in some schools of American political thought.Fact|date=February 2007
*The development of Frederick Jackson Turner's "Frontier Thesis," which stated that the American frontier was the wellspring of its creativity and virility as a civilization. As the Western United States was gradually becoming less of a frontier and more of a part of America, many believed that overseas expansion was vital to maintaining the American spirit.
*The publication of Alfred T. Mahan's "The Influence of Sea Power upon History" in 1890, which advocated three factors crucial to The United States' ascension to the position of "world power": the construction of a canal in South America (later influencing the decision for the construction of the Panama Canal), expansion of the U.S. naval power, and the establishment of a trade/military post in the Pacific, so as to stimulate trade with China. This publication had a strong influence on the idea that a strong navy stimulated trade, and influenced policy makers such as Theodore Roosevelt and other proponents of a large navy.


The area that would become Alaska was purchased from the Russian Empire on March 30, 1867, for 7.2 million dollars (at 2 cents per acre) after the U.S. Congress concluded its resources could be vitally important to the nation's future growth. The land went through several administrative changes before becoming an organized territory on May 11, 1912 and the 49th state of the U.S. on January 3, 1959. The name "Alaska" was already introduced in the Russian colonial time, when it was only used for the peninsula and is derived from the Aleut "alaxsxaq", meaning "the mainland," or more literally, "the object towards which the action of the sea is directed." [Ransom, J. Ellis. 1940. "Derivation of the Word ‘Alaska’". American Anthropologist n.s., 42: pp. 550-551] It is also known as Alyeska, the "great land", an Aleut word derived from the same root.

Guano islands

The Guano Islands Act was federal legislation passed by the U.S. Congress on August 18, 1856 enabling citizens of the United States to take possession of islands containing guano deposits.More than 50 islands were eventually claimed. Of those remaining unquestionably under U.S. control due to this act alone are Baker Island, Jarvis Island, Howland Island, and Johnston Atoll. Other islands could be included, depending on opinion. Some claims have never been relinquished but are not recognized by the US or the party currently claiming control.Others are no longer considered United States territory. Possession of Navassa Island is currently disputed with Haiti. An even more complicated case probably unresolved until now seems to be the Serranilla Bank and the Bajo Nuevo Bank. In 1971, the U.S. and Honduras signed a treaty recognizing Honduran sovereignty over the Swan Islands.


The Kingdom of Hawaii was long an independent monarchy in the mid-Pacific Ocean. During the 19th century, the first American missionaries and then business interests began to play major roles in the islands. Most notable were the powerful fruit and sugarcane corporations such as the Big Five, which included Castle & Cooke, Alexander & Baldwin, C. Brewer & Co., Amfac and Theo H. Davies & Co..

In January 1893, a group of American and European businessmen organized and carried out a coup d'etat backed by the United States military [Hale, C. (2008) "When Hawaii Had a King", "Smithsonian Magazine", February 2008, p. 21.] Kinzer, Stephen (2006) America's Century of Regime Change from Hawaii to Iraq] which was successful in deposing Hawaiian Queen Lili'uokalani and overthrowing the monarchical system of government. The stated goal of the conspirators was annexation to the United States, both for geostrategic and economic reasons. Although U.S. President Grover Cleveland strongly disapproved the coup – which had been planned by operatives linked to Cleveland's predecessor President Benjamin Harrison – Euro-American business elites maintained political control as the Republic of Hawaii until 1898, when Hawaii President Sanford Dole was offered and agreed to annexation by the United States. The Hawaiian Islands officially became a territory of the U.S. in 1900. Following voter approval of the Admission of Hawaii Act, on August 21, 1959 the Territory of Hawaii became the state of Hawaii and the 50th state of the United States.

panish-American War

The Spanish-American War took place in 1898. The Treaty of Paris (1898), ended the Spanish-American war, giving the United States possession of the Philippines, Puerto Rico, and Guam. The treaty also made Cuba a U.S. protectorate. After the war, the United States greatly increased its international power.

This era also saw the first scattered protests against American imperialism. Noted Americans such as Mark Twain spoke out forcefully against these ventures. Opponents of the war, including Twain and Andrew Carnegie, organized themselves into the American Anti-Imperialist League.

During this same period the American people continued to strongly chastise the European powers for their imperialism. The Second Boer War was especially unpopular in the United States and soured Anglo-American relations. The anti-imperialist press would often draw parallels between America in the Philippines and the British in the Second Boer War. [Harvnb|Miller|1984|p=163 "... Will Show No Mercy Real Warfare Ahead For Filipino Rebels Kitchener Plan Adopted The Administration Weary of Protracted Hostilities.' The reference to Kitchener made eminently clear MacArthur's intent, as the British general's tactics in South Africa had already earned ..." ]


Under the 1898 Treaty of Paris, Spain relinquished all claim of sovereignty over and title to Cuba, with the island to be occupied by the United States. The United States agreed to assume and discharge the obligations for the protection of life and property so long as such occupation should last. Cuba gained formal independence on 20 May 1902, with the independence leader Tomás Estrada Palma becoming the country's first president. Under the new Cuban constitution, however, the U.S. retained the right to intervene in Cuban affairs and to supervise its finances and foreign relations. Under the Platt Amendment, Cuba also agreed to lease to the U.S. the naval base at Guantánamo Bay.

Puerto Rico

On July 25, 1898, during the Spanish–American War, Puerto Rico was invaded by the United States with a landing at Guánica. As an outcome of the war, SpJones-Shafroth Act] granted all the inhabitants of Puerto Rico U.S. citizenship. In 1947, the U.S. granted Puerto Ricans the right to democratically elect their own governor. In 1950, the Truman Administration allowed for a democratic referendum in Puerto Rico to determine whether Puerto Ricans desired to draft their own local constitution. [Act of July 3, 1950, Ch. 446, 64 Stat. 319.] A local constitution was approved by a Constitutional Convention on February 6, 1952, ratified by the U.S. Congress, approved by President Truman on July 3 of that year, and proclaimed by Gov. Muñoz Marín on July 25, 1952, the anniversary of the 1898 arrival of U.S. troops. Puerto Rico adopted the name of "Estado Libre Asociado" (literally translated as "Free Associated State"), officially translated into English as Commonwealth, for its body politic. [ [http://www.lexjuris.com/lexprcont.htm Constitution of the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico - in Spanish (Spanish)] .] [ [http://topuertorico.org/constitu.shtml Constitution of the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico - in English (English translation)] .]


In Guam, settlement by foreign ethnic groups was small at first. After World War II showed the strategic value of the island, construction of a huge military base began along with a large influx of people from other parts of the world. Guam today has a very mixed population of 164,000. The indigenous Chamorros make up 37% of the population. The rest of the population consists mostly of Caucasians and Filipinos, with smaller groups of Chinese, Japanese, Koreans, Micronesians, Vietnamese and Indians. Guam today is almost totally Americanized. The situation is somewhat similar to that in Hawaii, but attempts to change Guam's status as an 'unincorporated' U.S. territory have yet to meet with success.


The Philippine Revolution against Spain began in April 1896, culminating two years later with a proclamation of independence and the establishment of the First Philippine Republic. However, the 1898 Treaty of Paris which ended the Spanish-American war transferred control of the Philippines from Spain to the United States. This agreement was not recognized by the nascent Philippine Government which, on June 2, 1899, proclaimed a Declaration of War against the United States. [Citation
title=Pedro Paterno's Proclamation of War
date=June 2, 1899
publisher=MSC Schools, Philippines
] The Philippine-American War ensued, officially ending in 1902, though hostilities continued until about 1913.

The Philippine Organic Act of 1902 provided for the establishment of a bicameral legislature composed of an upper house consisting of the Philippine Commission (an appointive body having both U.S. and Filipino members) and a popularly elected lower house, the Philippine Assembly. The Philippine Autonomy Act (Jones Law) of 1916 officially declared the United States commitment to grant independence to the Philippines, "...as soon as a stable government can be established therein." [Citation
title=Philippine Autonomy Act (Jones Law)
date=August 28, 1916
publisher=Corpus Juris
] Partial autonomy (commonwealth status) was granted in 1935, preparatory to a planned full independence from the United States in 1946. Preparation for a fully sovereign state was interrupted by the Japanese occupation of the islands during World War II. Full independence came with the recognition of Philippine sovereignty by the U.S. in 1946.

The Philippine-American War (1899 to 1902, with some hostilities continuing until 1913) is often cited as another instance of United States imperialism. While many Filipinos were initially delighted to be rid of the Spanish rule of the Philippines, the guerrilla fighters soon found that the Americans were not prepared to grant them much more autonomy than Spain had allowed. Thus, for the next 15 years, American forces engaged in a war in the jungles of the Philippines against the Filipino resistance. An estimated 200,000 Filipinos died from war, war-induced famine, and conditions in American concentration camps. Some American soldiers participated in war crimes, including torture and killing POWs. [See Lodge Committee, Jacob H. Smith, J. Franklin Bell, for more detailed accounts, see the imperialist newspaper accounts wikisource: , wikiquote: [http://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Philippine-American_War Philippine-American War Quotes] Failed verification|date=October 2007))]

The Philippines became a U.S. colony in the fashion of Europe's New Imperialism, with benevolent colonial practices. English joined Spanish as an official language, and English language education was made compulsory. Tagalog (as Pilipino) supplanted Spanish as an official language in 1937. [Citation
title=The Language Planning Situation in the Philippines
author=Andrew Gonzalez, FSC
journal=Journal of Multilingual and Multicultural development
accessdate = 2007-11-06
(requoted by www.multilingual-matters.net)
] As of 2008, Filipino (a form of Tagalog) and English are the official languages. The Philippines remained under U.S. or Japanese rule until after World War II. The Filipinos welcomed the American reconquest from Japan in 1944, and the U.S. recognized their political independence in 1946.

American Samoa

Germany, the United States, and Britain colonized the Samoan Islands. The nations came into conflict in the Second Samoan Civil War and the nations resolved their issues, establishing American Samoa as per the Treaty of Berlin, 1899. The US took control of its allotted region on June 7, 1900 with the Deed of Cession. American Samoa was under the control of the U.S. Navy from 1900 to 1951. From 1951 until 1977, Territorial Governors were appointed by the Secretary of the Interior. Immigration of Americans was never as strong as it was, for instance, in Hawaii; indigenous Samoans make up 89% of the population. The islands have been reluctant to separate from the US in any manner.

U.S. Virgin Islands

In 1917, the United States purchased the former Danish Colony of St. Croix, St. John and St. Thomas, which is now the U.S. Virgin Islands. The United States purchased these islands because they feared that the islands might be seized as a submarine base during World War I. After a few months of negotiations, a sales price of $25 million was agreed. A referendum held in late 1916 confirmed the decision to sell by a wide margin. The deal was thus ratified and finalized on January 17, 1917, when the United States and Denmark exchanged their respective treaty ratifications. The U.S. took possession of the islands on March 31, 1917, when the territory was renamed the U.S. Virgin Islands. U.S. citizenship was granted to the inhabitants of the islands in 1927.

Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands

The Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands (TTPI) was a United Nations trust territory in Micronesia (western Pacific) administered by the United States from July 18, 1947, comprising the former League of Nations Mandate administered by Japan and taken by the U.S. in 1944. On October 21, 1986, the U.S. ended its administration of the Marshall Islands district. These islands are now republics that, in 1986, signed a Compact of Free Association with the U.S.

ee also

* List of United States military bases
* Overseas interventions of the United States
* History of United States continental expansion
* Territorial acquisitions of the United States
* Historic regions of the United States
* List of U.S. foreign interventions since 1945
* American Empire
* Manifest Destiny
* Spread-eagleism
* American Exceptionalism
* Project for the New American Century
* New Imperialism and the emerging empires."
* Monroe doctrine
* Good Neighbor policy
* Roosevelt Corollary



first=Stuart Creighton
publisher=Yale University Press
title=Benevolent Assimilation: The American Conquest of the Philippines, 1899-1903

* Mellander, Gustavo A.; Nelly Maldonado Mellander (1999). Charles Edward Magoon: The Panama Years. Río Piedras, Puerto Rico: Editorial Plaza Mayor. ISBN 1563281554. OCLC 42970390.
* Mellander, Gustavo A. (1971). The United States in Panamanian Politics: The Intriguing Formative Years. Danville, Ill.: Interstate Publishers. OCLC 138568.

External links

*cite journal
first =John B.
last =Judis
authorlink =
coauthors =
year =
month =
title =Imperial Amnesia
journal =Foreign Policy
volume =
issue =
pages =
id =
url =http://www.foreignpolicy.com/story/cms.php?story_id=2582&page=0
"( [http://www.hartford-hwp.com/archives/54a/051.html Alternate link] )"
*cite web
title =On the Coming Decline and Fall of the US Empire
work =transnational.org
url =http://www.transnational.org/forum/meet/2004/Galtung_USempireFall.html

* cite web
title =USA and Latin America
work =casahistoria.net
url =http://www.casahistoria.net/uslatam.htm
History links to the early US involvement in Latin America from casahistoria.

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