The Birth of American Imperialism

The Birth of American Imperialism

In The Costs of War (edited by John Denson), historian Joseph Stromberg referred to the Spanish-American War of 1898 as a “trial run” for the American empire. The war had nothing to do with national defense and was purely an act of imperialism on the part of the U.S. government, which gained control over Cuba, Puerto Rico, Guam, and the Philippine Islands. It led the renowned late nineteenth-century libertarian scholar, William Graham Sumner of Yale, to compose a famous essay entitled “The Conquest of the United States by Spain.” The essay described how the war transformed America from a constitutional republic into an imperialist power, just like the old Spanish Empire it defeated in the war.

Sumner also forecast what was to come, and what America is today: the policeman of the world, with a military presence in over 100 countries, with endless meddling in the affairs of just about everyone on the planet. As he wrote in War and Other Essays, “We were told that we needed Hawaii in order to secure California. What shall we now take in order to secure the Philippines? . . . . We shall need to take China, Japan, and the East Indies . . . . in order to

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