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Title : Imperial Democracy: The Emergence of America as a Great Power
Author :
Rating :
ISBN : 9781879176041
Format Type : Paperback
Number of Pages : 318 Pages
Status : Available For Download
Last checked : 21 Minutes ago!

Imperial Democracy: The Emergence of America as a Great Power Reviews

  • Justin Dell
    2019-03-31 13:57

    When did the United States become a great power? And when did the Concert of Europe begin to take it seriously? How? These are the questions Ernest May sets out to answer in this study of late-nineteenth-century American foreign policy. It centres on five case studies in American foreign affairs: the question of Hawaiian annexation, trade with China, the massacre of Armenians in Turkey (1890s), the Venezuelan border incident, and the Spanish-American War. The former three are given rather spotty treatment and really serve just to set the context; the latter two are where May's analysis really lies. The underlying context of this period in American history, as May presents it, was one of national confidence for the United States, clamour by its citizens for a more active role for their country on the world stage, and an awareness of contemporary world events. Americans were ebullient with the knowledge that their country was the largest economy of the time, and growing in strength. In many ways, American politicians - even presidents - were forced to bend their wills to those of the American masses. Europeans began to take note of America at this time - its growing significance was increasingly difficult to ignore - but they proved very obtuse when it came to recognizing the fact that American power could very well affect their own interests for good or ill. Americans, for their part, were also somewhat at a loss for how to wield their newfound power, and to what end. This period saw lively debate between Americans over what course the country's foreign policy should take - disputes that took place from the corridors of power in Washington down to the ubiquitous periodicals newspapers that flooded the American press market - with individuals from a broad diversity of parties, partisan persuasions, religious backgrounds and ethnic groups proffering a wide range of opinions, varying from outright annexationist jingoism to pacifist isolationism. What seems to have been the common denominator in all of this was the fact that indifference was not an option. With great power came commensurate responsibility.In the case of Hawaii, American traders overthrew the monarchical regime of the island, replaced it with a "republican" government presided over by an American, and applied to Washington for admission as a state in the Union. Many an American on the mainland could be heard clamouring for Washington to grant the request of the Hawaiian 'revolutionaries'. This included church leaders anxious to Christianize the Hawaiian natives, shrewd American senators eager for the United States to establish a stepping stone in the Pacific on the route to the putatively inexhaustible East Asian market, and realpolitik observers who feared that Hawaii might be swallowed up by a rival European imperial power if the United States did not stake a claim to the island. However, the fact that the U.S. government initially refused to grant the Hawaiian revolutionaries' request speaks to the unease with which many Americans faced the issue of expansion beyond California. Hawaii was placed on the back-burner (more below). To the west, China loomed large under the setting sun in the eyes of America's industrialists and trade enthusiasts; the Gilded Age produced a glut in American production that needed a market, an outlet, and the teeming millions of East Asia were perceived as customers-in-waiting. Missionaries to East Asia returned to the United States with optimistic accounts of multitudes of souls ripe for spiritual harvest. Missionaries returned from Asia Minor - the Ottoman Empire - with very different tales, bitter invectives against the "Unspeakable Turk" and his barbarity towards the Armenians. This was a humanitarian cause that galvanized the American people, at least for a time. These events all combined to create a politically alert American public, one that could not be ignored by Washington. The Venezuelan incident of 1895 was a moment in which the United States was forced to assert itself in the face of perceived infringements on the Monroe Doctrine by Great Britain. London's dispute with Venezuela over its border with British Guiana should have passed as an non-event, had it not been for the American claim to hegemonic domination of the Western Hemisphere. American insistence on arbitrating the dispute between London and Caracas, and threatening armed intervention against Great Britain in the event of her non-compliance with American refereeing, was enough of a prod for the British to take America seriously as a global power - indeed, one that could materially harm British interests if pushed the wrong way. May's very skillful handling of British diplomatic correspondence related to this incident effectively shows that British were, for perhaps the first time, waking up to the fact that America was not just some quaint, distant curiosity on the opposite side of the Atlantic Ocean. It was truly a "power" in its own right.The British were a bit quicker than other Europeans to learn this bittersweet lesson. The outbreak of the Cuban revolution against the Spanish Empire, and the reactionary imperial regime's harsh reprisals against the rebels, outraged the American public, still imbued with the anti-imperialist (and one might say anti-European) revolutionary ideals of their Founding Fathers. When American diplomatic pressure could not force Spain to relent from its brutal suppression of the Cuban insurrection and grant the rebellious island self government, a most bizarre thing happened - Spain and America went to war. It was bizarre - perhaps only in hindsight - in that Spain and America could not have been more unevenly matched. America's proximity to the Cuban military theatre, and its boundless resources in men and material would seem to make the decrepit Spanish kingdom no contest. And yet, European leaders, including Spaniards, were still captive to the notion that Spain, as any (Great) European Power, was the rightful ruler of its domain by providential right and could not be ordered about by New World upstarts. Spain's humiliating defeat in naval engagements, especially the spectacular defeat of the Spanish flotilla in Manilla Bay in the Spanish Philippines, proved otherwise. So upsetting to the balance of power was American entry to significance on the world stage, that some European powers - led by the German Kaiser - at one point connived and toyed with the idea of forming a united European front against the United States on both an economic and military level. The scheme was never implemented. The American defeat of the Spanish put the United States in a quandary of sorts: what to do with the wealth of Spanish possessions into which the Americans now came into possession? Some Americans still balked at the idea of their country assuming the mantle of a European imperial power, settling colonies and building an expensive apparatus for controlling them, dispatching troops to quell colonial rebellions and so forth. Still, many Americans came to view possession of confiscated Spanish territory, such as the Philippines, as a matter of providence, of manifest destiny. Ernest May is very clear in his interpretation of President McKinley's final decision to annex the Philippines outright - that it hinged on popular opinion. Popular agitation for the Philippines' annexation pushed the president to move to motion the archipelago's absorption into the American orbit. In the end, May suggests that the United States' dramatic entry onto the stage of international affairs as a "great power" was not sought after, not the outcome of some previous deliberation on the part of American policy-makers. On the contrary, the United States was carried along on the inexorable winds of destiny, perhaps by virtue of its demographic and economic dynamism, perhaps by dumb luck. "Some nations achieve greatness," May writes, "the United States had greatness thrust upon it" (276).