Change in America’s Role in Foreign Policy

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Updated: Mar 28, 2022
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America’s role in foreign affairs underwent significant changes from 1865-1920. Prior to this period, Americans were generally indifferent to and minimally involved in foreign affairs. America was primarily focused on domestic issues such as the Civil War, industrialization, and settlement of the west. However, this changed after 1865, the end of the Civil War, for many reasons.

For one, industrial growth led to larger production quantities and a need for bigger markets and additional raw materials. In addition, the Spanish-American War established America’s dominance over islands in the Pacific and the Caribbean.

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Many new ideologies, such as social Darwinism and American exceptionalism, also emerged as a result of America’s growth and development. These changes led America to rethink its global policies and look outside its borders. Briefly after the war, the United States purchased Alaska and began to develop commercial interests in the Caribbean and the Pacific in places like Cuba, Hawaii, Midway, Samoa, the Virgin Islands and the Dominican Republic. America used the concept of imperialism to justify the annexation of these countries. “American imperialism” refers to the United States’ economic, military, and cultural influence around the world. It’s partially based off American exceptionalism, which is the belief that the U.S. has the responsibility of spreading freedom and democracy, which therefore sets it apart from other nations. This ideology was popularized by president James K. Polk and reached its peak in the late 1800’s. In addition, the rising influence of social Darwinism led many to believe that it was the United States’ duty to introduce the concepts of democracy, Christianity, and industry to less developed societies. This was previously illustrated in the Monroe Doctrine by President James Monroe in 1823.

One of the most notable examples of American Imperialism in this era was the annexation of Hawaii in 1898, which gave the United States possession and control of all ports, buildings, harbors, military equipment, and public property that formerly belonged to the Government of the Hawaiian Islands. Expansion wasn’t the only change in America’s role in foreign policy. The Spanish American War of 1898 was a turning point in the America’s entry into foreign affairs. In addition, it helped the U.S. establish its position as a global superpower. The war was the result of America’s intervention in Cuba’s war for independence. Before the war, America embraced the concept of isolationism. This concept holds that a country’s best interests are served by staying uninvolved in the affairs of other nations. Since the Spanish-American War, the United States has had a significant hand in various conflicts around the world, and has entered many treaties and agreements. The Panic of 1893 was over by this point, and the United States entered a long and prosperous period of economic and population growth and technological innovation that lasted through the 1920s.

The war redefined national identity, served as a solution of sorts to the social divisions plaguing the American mind, and provided a model for all future news reporting. Industrial growth was another factor that contributed to America’s global expansion. After the end of the Civil War in 1865, American industry faced dramatic changes. Machines replaced hand labor, production capacity increased significantly, and entrepreneurs were developing more products in vast quantities. Both the production and output exceeded the ability of Americans to consume them. Therefore, foreign markets were deemed necessary to maintain economic growth. Business leaders believed they could make large profits by exporting American products to Central and South America as well as by investing the natural resources of those countries. For example, annexing Hawaii was a primary goal due to its abundance of sugarcane and other raw materials.

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Change in America’s Role in Foreign Policy. (2021, Apr 15). Retrieved from