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The Effect Imperialism Had on the Policies and Governance of America

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Was US imperialism at the turn of the century a violation of past US policy, principle or precedent?

U.S. imperialism at the turn of the century, namely the annexation of Puerto Rico, the Philippines, and Hawaii, and the Platt Amendment, was not a violation of past U.S. policy or precedent; however, it was a violation of past U.S. principle. There had been many precedents of imperialism before the turn of the century. However, some U.S. underlying principles, including equality, were definitely ignored and violated by imperialism.

The Monroe Doctrine, issued December 6th, 1823, was a piece of U.S. foreign policy that U.S. imperialism did not violate: “But with the Governments [in the Western Hemisphere] who have declared their independence and maintained it, and whose independence we have, on great consideration and on just principles, acknowledged, we could not view any interposition for the purpose of oppressing them, or controlling in any other manner their destiny, by any European power in any other light than as the manifestation of an unfriendly disposition toward the United States” (James Monroe). The doctrine says that Europe should not interfere with countries in the Western Hemisphere that had claimed their independence. However, first of all, at the time neither the Philippines nor Hawaii were considered to be in the Western Hemisphere. Second of all, the United States was not part of Europe – and therefore, according to past policy, had no obligation to leave any of the regions in question alone – and should have been free to annex them. In fact, the Monroe Doctrine paved the road for U.S. imperialism by making sure that Europe would stay out of Latin American business, enabling the U.S. to potentially expand and take over these territories. Although the doctrine did not give the U.S. permission for imperialism, imperialism was consistent with the doctrine.

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Similarly, U.S. precedent was very imperialistic by the early 1900s. A prime example of this was the Native Americans being pushed off of their territory, when the U.S. was a new country, still expanding, and did not yet extend from coast to coast. In 1830, Congress passed the Indian Removal Act, which called for the government to negotiate treaties to get the Native Americans off of American land onto Indian Territory, in Oklahoma. Many Cherokees, led by John Ross, opposed the treaty. In 1838 General Winfield Scott and his federal troops moved in and rounded up over 16,000 Cherokees. Over the fall and winter of that year and the next, the Cherokees were forced to set out on a journey west, where one fourth died due to climate and lack of adequate supplies. This march became known as the trail of tears. Without the consent of the Native Americans, the United States federal government forcibly took over the land, and afterwards tried to force U.S. culture upon the Indians using the Dawes Act (which completely failed) – America tried to Americanize them. This, indeed, is the very definition of imperialism, and so it cannot be said that the imperialism at the end of the nineteenth century violated precedent – it was, in fact, in accordance with precedent.

Finally, on the other end of the spectrum, is principle. Principle is one thing that imperialism definitely did violate – and most of all, it violated the most important underlying U.S. principles of all – those of the Declaration of Independence. The first sentence of this important document is “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government” (the Declaration of Independence). If the Philippines were taken over, nobody honestly thought that the islands would eventually become a state – and therefore, the Filipinos would never be equal with American citizens. This in itself violates the principle that governments derive their powers from the consent of the governed – the Filipinos in no way wanted to be governed and therefore, according to the Declaration, the United States had no right to govern them. Imperialism clearly violated this document, which outlines many U.S. principles.

Even though imperialism violated past principle such as the Declaration of Independence, however, there were no laws being broken; both policy, such as the Monroe Doctrine, and precedent, such as the removal of the Native Americans, were being followed at the turn of the century – and thus, imperialism continued.

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