Sample Research Paper on Theoretical Framework of Imperialism in America

Imperialism in America was in an alliance with colonialism and capitalism, but an incomplete one. Capitalism sought to order the world so that its resources, human and physical, could be turned to account: associated with it were concepts of property, of public and private, of investment and return, bound to be in tension or even at odds with a sense of the communal as distinct from the individual, of custom rather than statute, of mutual obligation rather than contract. Such ideas did not enter imperial policy, however, because it was made by capitalists. Instead, they were shared by those who made “policy,” both at the metropolitan and at the local level [1](Hobson 211).

Those who advocated or rejected an imperial policy tended to use them as assumptions, avoiding any detailed application of the concepts in terms of returns or cost-benefit analysis. Once administrations were set up others sought to put the principles into practice, often finding that it was necessary to ‘intervene,’ to prime the pump, to use traditional methods in new ways, so that capitalism might be persuaded to get to work. Entirely characteristic was the tendency to develop single crops and single regions, and to focus on infrastructure. The regimes, too, had much in common though they originated in rivalry.

Under the conditions that predominated in the periods prior to 1950, with regard to both capital and the international order, national-imperialist state acted on the dominated countries chiefly in response to the need to secure and to broaden the domination of the national-imperialist bourgeoisie’s interests. It meant that the principal conflict was among national imperialist interests. And given the prevalent business organizations and the basic mode of capital accumulation, national imperialist states supported the interest of each imperialist firm in each situation.

After 1945, and especially after the merging of the socialist revolution in China, the conflict pivoted around the global defense of the system in the very presence of the world socialist revolutions and westward movements. At this time, the world capitalist system reorganized, integrating itself under the absolute hegemony of the North American state and the North America bourgeoisie. “It was within this framework that the new trend in the business organizations and in modes of accumulation developed” [2](Hobson 244).

While these trends were maturing, the principal national imperialist state’s policy was aimed not only at containing and blockading the socialist countries, but also, as a function of the latter, at repressing all attempts by the dependent countries to achieve relative autonomy. This occurred even when the maintenance of capitalism and basic imperialist domination in these countries was not threatened. Later, however, the results of this same policy led to the emergence of new centers of imperialist power, with growing and relatively independent fields of action, as well as to an increase in economic and political-social difficulties within the United States.

The anti-imperialist movement opposed various American foreign policies for almost twenty years after 1900. The Movement’s activists persisted in making American imperialism an issue long after McKinley reelection.

Yet the image of the anti-imperialists as a grand failure in 1900 persists in most historical accounts of the era. Scholarship has focused almost exclusively on the movement’s activities in 1898, 1899, and 1900 despite the west movements’ popularity, longevity, and enduring activism. Consequently, historians have drawn similar conclusions about the movement: it was never a serious challenge to America foreign policy. Such conclusion is, at least partly, a product of the narrow scope in which the movements have been evaluated in the past.

Following the victories over the Spanish in Manila harbor and in the hills and jungle of Cuba, the United States extended its jurisdiction to the Philippines, Puerto Rico, and Guam. History has judged the anti-imperialist movements in these terms. Because the movements were not capable of stopping the acquisition of territory from 1898 to 1900, it was a failure.  In that sense, anti-imperialism was defeated, but viewing the west movements through these objectives detracts from the long duration and diversity of the activism[3] (White 283).

Imperialists Ideologies of Universal Suffrage

The argument for universal manhood suffrage appeared to be a radical departure from the Jeffersonian ideal of a policy made of land owing yeomen farmers. Yet despite this, in contrast to the slow progress in England (where agitation for extension of the franchise began around the same time but did not succeed until the mid-twentieth century), universal suffrage for white men was quickly achieved in the United States. Of the eight new states created between 1796 and 1821, five were permitted with full adult while male suffrage and three taxpaying credentials. Existing states with real property requirements moved first to taxpaying or other more easily met qualifications and then to universal suffrage. By the middle of the nineteenth century, all the existing states had repealed property qualifications for white men, and all new sates entered the union with guaranteed votes for white men regardless of property ownership.

Even with the end of the property requirement, independence remained a key ideological concept anchoring citizenship. However, the meaning of independence was transformed to be consistent with propertyless white man. Two varieties of rhetorical revisions occurred. The first was to depict all wage-earning white men as potential, if not actual property owners. American political leaders from the time of the Franklin to that of Lincoln subscribed to the notion that wage work was a temporary, not permanent condition. In Lincoln’s vision, expressed to agricultural groups and then to a national audience, the ideal was a “prudent, penniless beginner in the world,” who worked for wages “awhile,” then, thanks to education and self-discipline, became his own boss. What was radical about America, according to the historian George Fredrickson, was not its willingness to enfranchise the working classes but rather its expansive belief that virtually all white men could rise into the propertied and entrepreneurial classes. The general development of the economy as well as the provision of availing “vacant land” in the west led to easy movement of the people possible. Seen in this light, mass enfranchisement in the Jacksonian era did not signal a triumph of radical democratic principle; rather it was largely a product of specific America conditions [4](Hobson 325).

Although the dream of eventual ownership as a route to independence persisted, a second ideological development transformed the meaning of property and independence to make them more consistent with wage work. As wage work became more common, new notions arose of property as residing in ownership of one’s labor and therefore of independence as based on productivity and mastery of skills. By the third decade of the nineteenth century, the growth of industrial capital and the spread of urbanization were eroding the position of small farmers, self-employed artisans, and craftsmen and increasing the proportion of men reliant on wage labor. “In a society in which the small producer was viewed as the backbone of a democratic polity and masculinity was equated with independence, the transition to wage labor created a crisis for white male identity”[5] (Singh 178).

Big business had indeed displayed little interest in the new venture. Some leaders, of whom Andrew Carnegie was only the most famous, thought colonialism and war harmful to the economy: “A mere cold-blooded business proposition we were engaged in a very bad speculation” the New York Herald believed. The acquisition of the Philippines led to widespread investment. Domestic beef and sugar interests supported a law that limited the land leases and purchases that a corporation might secure. “By preventing large-scale American Investment in Philippine agriculture and extractive industries, Congress effectively frustrated American exploitation of the islands”[6] (Singh 329). It did not deter the Filipino elite, which consolidated its wealth and power.

The elite benefited from new land legislation. Public Land Act 926 provided for acquisition by four methods: homestead, purchase, leasehold and patent. The last was intended to legalize individual claims to ancestral land, but the intricate procedure confined its use to the elite, also best able to purchase and lease. The mode of Torrens system that was put in use further benefited the privileged.. By paving way for the elite to expand their properties, American imperialism envisioned that the elite and business corporations later on would mortgage their properties and Torrens titles to domestic banks and other money-lending agencies. This way, capital could be obtained by the landowners, thereby increasing agricultural productions through mercantilist “development” of the agricultural sector.

United States Imperialism on Philippines

The collision between Filipino demands and U.S. retrenchments raised fundamental questions about the character of the Philippine nation. Working under the premises of calibrated colonialism, the regime’s agents understood the goal of the colonial state to be the long-term building of the Philippine nation from the previously fragmented population of which the Philippine Republic, as the tyranny of a “single tribe,” had been symptomatic. U.S. authorities insisted that only they had the power to build and recognize a true Philippine nation; as Filipinos were tutored in self-government, Americans would attempt to control its representatives and forms of self-expression. This fully realized nation, to be completed in the indefinite future, consolidated the United States’ innumerable other colonial gifts to Filipinos into a single one; it would also set the United States apart as an exception, morally superior to colonial empires that did not promise their subjects their own, eventual nationality. “But this nation-building process was fraught with tension”[7] (White 325).

While U.S. authorities insisted that they were building a Philippine nation for the first time, Filipinos insisted that, as the Philippine Revolution and Philippine Republic had already demonstrated, the Philippine nation was only theirs to make. Where U.S. imperialists held that they could not only rule the Philippines but “represent” Filipinos, Filipino nationalists asserted that only they should be empowered to represent the Philippines in political and symbolic terms.

The tension between U.S and Filipino visions of nation-building produced a multivalent discourse on ‘capacity” that maintained the politics of recognition and helped redraw lines of race and sovereignty inside the colonial state. U.S. colonialists insisted that Filipino capacities, for technical knowledge, for self-discipline, and especially for labor, were growing under U.S. tutelage but still failed to reach the bar of nationality. Only Americans could recognize Filipino capacities for self-government as they matured. Filipinos often responded by asserting Filipino capacity in the present and the past in order to claim the existence of a Philippine nation in the present and the future. Filipino participation in the U.S. colonial state was, in this view, not simply evidence of U.S. benevolence and passive, one-way Filipino “assimilation” but the mark of an active, Filipino capacity for self-government.

With the same dimension, Washington’s policies of nation-building in South Vietnam drew support from the logic of political-obligation-as-parenthood that middlebrow culture constructed during the 1950s. Through nation-building, Washington sought to construct in Vietnam a viable, non-Communist nation that would stand, in Senator John F. Kennedy’s words, as the “cornerstone of the Free World in Southeast Asia”[8] (Singh 245). The role of the United States, as a mature democracy, would be to nurture the newly born Vietnam and help it walk the fine line between colonialism and communism. Middlebrow culture helped pave the way for nation-bulding by making available and idealistic logic of obligation that President Diem’s supporter could draw on to explain and legitimize their policies.

Mounting Ideologies on Imperialism

As the national political parties and Congress were fragmenting in response to the mounting pressure engendered by the interaction of slavery with population growth, westward expansion, and the United States’ acquisition of a vast amount of additional territory in the first half of the nineteenth century, the legal and constitutional status of slavery in America was evolving as well, and slavery cases were making their way up to the Supreme Court of the United State [9](White 357).

The role of ideology in the slavery controversy escalated the stakes of support or opposition to slavery, making the westward movements both more militant and more comprehensive in their programmatic goals. As proslavery and antislavery ideologies increasingly connected the analysis of slavery to constitutional arguments, sectional tension increased as the nation expanded westward, and, members of Congress and state legislatures, and the major political parties, sought to defuse and contain that tension. While they were embarking on that ultimately unsuccessful course, the ideologies of antislavery and proslavery came to inform the discourse of constitutional law, and the Supreme Court was forced to deal with slavery as well.






Work Cited

Hobson, J A. Imperialism: A Study. New York: Cosimo, 2005. Print.

Singh, Robert. Governing America: The Politics of a Divided Democracy. Oxford [u.a.: Oxford Univ. Press, 2003. Print.

White, G E. Law in American History: Volume 1. Oxford: Oxford University Press, USA, 2012. Internet resource.

[1] Hobson, J A. Imperialism: A Study. New York: Cosimo, 2005. Print.


[2] Hobson, J A. Imperialism: A Study. New York: Cosimo, 2005. Print.


[3] White, G E. Law in American History: Volume 1. Oxford: Oxford University Press, USA, 2012. Internet resource.


[4] Hobson, J A. Imperialism: A Study. New York: Cosimo, 2005. Print.


[5] Singh, Robert. Governing America: The Politics of a Divided Democracy. Oxford [u.a.: Oxford Univ. Press, 2003. Print.


[6] Singh, Robert. Governing America: The Politics of a Divided Democracy. Oxford [u.a.: Oxford Univ. Press, 2003. Print.


[7] White, G E. Law in American History: Volume 1. Oxford: Oxford University Press, USA, 2012. Internet resource.


[8] Singh, Robert. Governing America: The Politics of a Divided Democracy. Oxford [u.a.: Oxford Univ. Press, 2003. Print.


[9] White, G E. Law in American History: Volume 1. Oxford: Oxford University Press, USA, 2012. Internet resource.