HIS 204: American Age of Imperialism

Question Description

What arguments did Americans use to justify their colonization of the Philippines? What arguments were used against colonization?

Why did the U.S. want to build a canal across Central America? How did the U.S. eventually accomplish this?

Final Answer

2. Reasons for Colonizing

The reasons varied, but the two most important were the American business intrests in the Philippines and the want to expand America and bring democracy to the Philippines.

Economic Reasons

     In an effort to become a global imperial and economic powerhouse, the United States political leaders colonized the Philippines due to its strategic location in the Pacific Ocean. In an era where imperialism was strictly a European affair, European economics flourished. This was mainly due to its nations imperial success, which allowed for easy access to foreign lands for trade. As the United States itself simply existed as a result of imperial efforts, its leaders recognized that also becoming a global imperial presence would be essential to its economic success. After beginning its quest with the formation of the Monroe Doctrine and the purchases of Hawaii and Alaska, the United States looked to colonize outside of North America. An easy victory came for the United States in the Spanish- Cuban- American War, and soon US leaders were faced with the decision of what to do with the island of the Philippines. It was then for economic reasons that the United States paid Spain, “twenty million dollars for rights to the colony, which was important to American businesspeople and military leaders because of its strategic position in the South China Sea” (B and Z 747). The United States jumped at the opportunity to claim the Philippines. Political leaders felt that the island would serve as a prime port for trade to China as well as other Asian nations. They then justified their reason for colonization as economic, in that imports and exports from China had the potential to bring much wealth to the States. As President McKinley put it, “Thus...duty and interest alike, duty of the highest kind and interest of the highest and best kind, impose upon us the retention of the Philippines, the development of the islands, and the expansion of our Eastern commerce.” (Digital History, “Using New Technologies to Enhance Research,” President McKinley also justifies the US claim to the Philippines as an eagerness to expand and enhance its Eastern commerce. Therefore, a major reason for United States imperializing the Philippines was its strategic position that could push America forward in its journey of becoming a global economic and imperial power. In fact, America successfully utilized the Philippines. Not only was it useful as a port and coal replenishment station, but it also, as planned, benefitted the US economically through trade with China. Soon, the United States reached its goal and, “emerged as a major imperial and colonial power” (B and Z 747), and continued to seize the economic benefits presented by the Philippines. Furthermore, recognizing its economic and imperial success through the Philippines, the United States, “proceeded to claim almost all of the Pacific islands” (B and Z 746). Finally, American leaders clearly showed interest in using the Philippines for its strategic location in the South Pacific; this interest was a major contributor to the reason for its acquisition of the island, and economic benefit.

 Matt Foos

Social Reasons

     Obtaining the Philippines was a great achievement for the US because it gave the US access to many high value natural resources. Although, taking of the Philippines was not based on the need for resources, the maintaining of the country was partly due to the abundance of resources. Tom Coffman a researcher wrote about how the Americas won the battle near the Philippine islands. In his writing he included words from sailors at the battle. It said, “previously ordered by Roosevelt, Dewey sailed from Hong Kong into Manila Harbor. The Spanish fleet at anchor, the Yankee sailors shouted, “Remember the Maine!” By noon, they had sunk the entire decrepit fleet suffering only one noncombatant casualty. Not knowing what to do next, they anchored and went ashore, where they were greeted by Filipino insurgents who believed they had come as liberators.”Tom Coffman, “THE U.S., PHILIPPINES, AND HAWAII: LEAP INTO IMPERIALISM”,Center For Philippine Studies, January 15, 2012). The Philippines were made up of many different forms of water resources such as bays, rivers, lakes falls, gulfs, straits, and swamps. This allowed for colonials to travel inland and live along the banks of the water resources. It says in, “About the Philippines”, Philippine History, January 15, 2012), “Because it is made up of islands, the country's coastline, if laid end-to-end, would measure around 17.5 thousand kilometers. The Philippines is blessed with excellent natural harbors for ports like Manila Bay.” The Philippines were once owned by Spain until America bought the Philippines in an attempt to imperialize. The islands of the Philippines brought wealth to the newly owned fathered nation of America. The Philippines contained fertile land, varying minerals, fresh wood, abundant fishing. The natives of the islands had learned to grow crops, which could be exported for capital. “About the Philippines”, Philippine History, January 15, 2012), wrote that, “The country ‘s six major crops are rice, corn, sugarcane, coconut, abaca and tobacco. Except for rice and corn, all these products are exported, along with bananas and pineapples.” The Philippines consists of huge amounts of forested land. Mahogany was a popular tree on the islands and was very useful. Minerals were also huge in the Philippines. “The country’s mineral deposits can be classified into metals and non-metals. Our metal deposits are estimated at 21.5 billion metric tons, while non-metal deposits are projected at 19.3 billion metric tons.” “About the Philippines”, Philippine History, January 15, 2012) Imperialism led to the purchase of the islands which led to use of these valued resources.

The Building of the Panama Canal

Panama Canal Construction

Why was the Panama Canal needed?

Early European explorers of the Americas identified the narrow band of land between northern and southern America as an ideal place to construct a canal to link the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. Various European colonists from the Central America area tabled a plethora of ideas for the construction of such a canal.

Any such canal would shorten the journey for both European and US merchant ships travelling east from the Californian coast. Without a canal, any ships setting sail had to endure the complicated and often dangerous trip around the southern peninsula of South America, taking in the notoriously difficult Cape Horn.

When, in the late 19th century, the construction of the canal was taken over by the United States from the French — a secondary benefit of easier, faster naval mobility between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans was added to the existing attractions a completed canal would offer.

When was the decision taken to build it?

With the technical advances of the late 19th century and increased pressure from the industrial powerhouses of Europe and the United States, the decision to begin construction was taken.

The initial construction project was based on a complicated sea-level canal – essentially a tidal canal. However, the construction process for this idea hit difficulties and the project was scrapped.

Who built it?

It was the French who began and later shelved the excavation of their sea-level canal scheme. But it was the industrialist new president of the United States, Theodore Roosevelt, who in 1901 declared that a Central American canal was of the utmost importance – militarily and commercially. This was following the recent loss of USS Maine during the U.S. defence of American assets during Cuba’s revolt of the Spanish, and the ensuing Spanish-American War.

The U.S acquired the ‘Panama Canal’ project from the French for $40 million. Colombia signed a treaty with the U.S. granting permission to construct the canal through their sovereign territory. However, the Colombian Senate would not ratify the treaty. In a controversial move the U.S offered Panamanian rebels, who wanted independence from Colombia, $10 million if they proclaimed their independence. The U.S then offered military assistance by stationing a war ship in their territorial waters to dissuade Colombia from military action. On November 3, 1903, Panama declared its independence without any interference from Colombia. Three months later the Panamanians granted control of the ‘Panama Canal Zone’ to the United States, having signed the Hay-Bunau-Varilla Treaty. The United States set to work on the canal without further delay.

Panama Canal Railroad

How was it built?

The Panama Canal Zone was split into three sections (Atlantic, Central and Pacific) and each section was appointed a project manager. Approximately ¾ million m³ per month was being excavated by 1907. The rate of excavation continued to increase dramatically as the pressure for completion was intensified, and the huge workforce swelled followingimprovements to working conditions.

How long did it take and what issues arose?

The construction project, from start to completion, took around 10 years – an incredible feat which, at the peak of excavation, saw the equivalent of a Channel Tunnel being dug out every fourteen weeks.

In addition to initial issues surrounding recruitment of labourers, due to the canal’s questionable early safety record, one of the major difficulties in completing the project was tackling the continental divide – a natural barrier of hard rock, rising to more than 100 metres high. Massive mechanical steam shovels eventually cut through the continental divide, dubbed the ‘Culebra Cut‘.

[img class="size-full wp-image-1648" title="Culebra Cut, Panama Canal" src="" alt="Culebra Cut, Panama Canal" width="495" height="329">

What were the immediate results on completion?

As construction of the canal wore on, employment in the Panama Canal Zone had swelled into huge numbers, bringing with them townships and businesses. Upon completion, thousands of workers were laid off and townships demolished, forcing businesses to close.

The project had never set out to be a sustainable employer and when the canal opened, it was unanimously hailed an incredible achievement – a marvel of the modern world. Shipping patterns quickly changed and merchandise flowed freely between the U.S and other naval countries.

The canal cut approximately 7,800 miles off the sea journey from San Francisco to New York, making shipping cheaper, faster and safer.

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