Introduction

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With President Theodore Roosevelt, the US led with "big stick diplomacy"—the swift and sometimes contentious intervention of American forces in international affairs. One political cartoonist depicted the policy with this illustration. Uncle Sam offers a "national big stick" to a baseball player, while a small bear (standing in for Roosevelt) assures them: "It's a victory getter, all right!" Courtesy of the National Archives and Records Administration.

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."