The Age of Imperialism

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The Monroe Doctrine outlined the nation's commitment to defending the Western Hemisphere. President Monroe's successors affirmed and expanded the doctrine as new threats to America’s international powers appeared on the horizon. In this 1902 photograph, President Theodore Roosevelt reassures a New England crowd: "We stand firmly on the Monroe Doctrine!" Courtesy of The New York Public Library.

During his farewell address in 1796 President George Washington warned the young republic to "steer clear of permanent alliances with...the foreign world." Fast forward to 1823President James Monroe stood before Congress and issued the Monroe Doctrine which advocated extending the nation's reach through the Americas to safeguard national security. "We should consider any [foreign] attempt... to extend their system to any portion of this hemisphere," Monroe declared, "as dangerous to our peace and safety."

The Monroe Doctrine inspired a new period in US foreign policy. From the annexation of Texas in 1845 to the Mexican American War of 1846 to 1848, the US aggressively pursued new lands in the name of national interests. America's reign as an imperial force, however, did not begin until 1898 with the Spanish-American War. What began as a mission to liberate Cuba from Spanish ruleand in the process, rid the US of the threat of European invasiongrew into an international war that left the victorious US bigger and richer than when it had started.

This section examines how the age of imperialism began in America as political and economic agendas underpinned campaigns to defend the US. These are the stories of what, as one newspaper reported, "put the taste of Empire in the mouth of the people."