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From Isolation to World Power: The U.S. Transformation in the Late 20th Century

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    "Every nation should be judged by the best it has been able to produce, not by the worst."

    - James Weldon Johnson


    In the late 1800s, one of the most important trends in American history was imperialism. Over time, America moved from isolationism (not wanting to interfere in the business of other countries or have them interfere in ours) to taking the stage as a world power. Part of this change came from new beliefs about race inspired by Charles Darwin's and Herbert Spencer's theories of " survival of the fittest."

    Another force of change was the increasingly global economy and the desire of the United States not to be left behind in the race for power and control. Other nations, such as England and Spain, had colonial territories and the increasingly strong and prosperous United States had the resources to participate in gaining control of other lands. Many Americans believed that conquering and controlling other areas would benefit these lands and help them improve their "backward" cultures. As is often the case in American history, the idealistic concept of America as "saving" other people played a role in the increasing acceptance of American imperialism.

    Not everyone agreed with these ideas, however. Certain groups protested America's increasing involvement in world politics and were angered by the imposition of American ideals on other countries.

    America found itself exercising its newfound power in the acquisition of the Philippine Islands from Spain, a war with Cuba, and the proposed building of a canal through Nicaragua (as you may know, the canal was later built through Panama). Some of the following primary sources concern specific U.S. expansion; others are more general statements of beliefs relating to the role of the United States and its interaction with other countries.

    As you will read in the following primary sources, there was a wide range of beliefs about the role the United States should play in the world. After reading these sources, you will answer some questions and write a letter in which you explore American beliefs expressed at this period in our history.

    • Document 1: Excerpt from Rev. Josiah Strong's book,Our Country: Its Possible Future and Present Crisis, 1885
    • Document 2: Henry Cabot Lodge, "Our Blundering Foreign Policy," (March 1895)
    • Document 3: Excerpt from a speech by William McKinley, delivered to a Methodist Church group, November 1899
    • Document 4: Speech by Benjamin R. Tillman, early vice-president of the American Anti-Imperialist League
    • Documnet 5: Excerpt of a speech by Samuel Gompers, President of the American Federation of Labor, Delivered at the Chicago Peach Jubilee, October 18, 1998


    Use the attached file below and answer the questions in the document based on your careful reading of the five documents above. Be sure to use complete sentences and put your answers in your own words, giving specific examples from the documents.

    Go to the next page to submit your document.