The White Man's Burden

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Many Americans saw the US as a more culturally refined and technologically advanced nation with the responsibility to civilize others. This photo essay works to educate others on Puerto Rico, highlighting its "bad road" and "primitive peasant huts." Courtesy of The New York Public Library.

For some, America's empire was less a matter of money and more a matter of charity. Hawaiian missionaries constituted one of the earliest waves of American settlement in the Pacific. Reflecting on his arrival in Hawaii, Rev. Hiram Bingham wrote: "The appearance of destitution, degradation, and barbarism...was appalling. Can these be human beings?" Bingham, his congregation, and many after him stayed because they believed their duty as Christian citizens was to civilize the Hawaiian people.

Others heralded the American empire as a "new day of freedom"a time of order, morals, and growth for all annexed territories. President McKinley himself described his policies as a means for "benevolent assimilation." New borders would promote stability and prosperity for the colonizer and colonized. Perhaps most memorably, author Rudyard Kipling coined the term "white man's burden." Writing on the Philippine-American War, Kipling outlined the responsibility the US, Europe, and greater West had to the rest of the world. As international leaders in politics, technology, values, and culture, they had to better the lives of less developed, non-white peoples. But time and again, the weight of this burden proved that charity was a means for control.