The British Empire

The Development of the US Empire

Americans have long argued that their country has been a force for the extension of liberty and has never been in any way imperialistic. This talk will put forward the argument that from the time that the US began to industrialise from the end of the Civil War in 1865, it was to do so by acquiring an empire and justified its actions by resorting to the claims, just like the British, that the US empire was a force for good.

In 1865 at the end of the Civil War American territory did not stretch much further than the Mississippi. As the population began to increase with migration from Europe additional land and resources were acquired by the movement west. The lands to the west of the Mississippi were not uninhabited – they were occupied by native Americans and in some areas by Mexicans.

This land was acquired by a series of wars and when by 1890 the US territory stretched from the Atlantic to the Pacific, John Frederick Jackson, claimed there was no more frontier and claimed the American character had been formed by the movement west, further expansion abroad was justified buy the naval historian Mahan who argued that imperial expansion was needed to aid further US economic expansion. This occurred at the same time as Britain and Europe were in a scramble for Africa – justified by Britain’s Mission to Civilise. The earlier western expansion of the USA had been justified by a belief in the idea of Manifest Destiny but this late c19th expansion had a neo-Darwinist element to it. Kipling exhorted the Americans to ‘Take up the White Man’s Burden’ which Mckinley did with alacrity.

This talk looks at the western expansion of the USA, conflict with Britain during that expansion and the subsequent acquisition of an overseas empire.