Three Monkeys Online

A Curious, Alternative Magazine

America: From Colony to Superpower. Part II: 1876- 1929

The powerful popular response to his campaign aroused great hopes for victory. It also aroused a hysterical wave of fear among conservatives, who poured money into McKinley's campaign. Bryan polled 6,492,559 votes, more than any victorious candidate had ever polled before, nearly a million more than Cleveland polled in 1892, but it was still not enough. McKinley won with 7,102,246 votes, a plurality of 609,687, and an electoral vote of 271 to 176. Bryan did not carry a single state north of the Potomac or east of the Mississippi above its juncture with the Ohio. He carried no industrialised, urbanised state. In spite of widespread unrest among labour, Bryan did not win labour's support, which might have given him victory. He was the first Democratic candidate to lose New York City since 1848. His support came from the South and the West. McKinley's victory at the polls meant more conservatism.

The election was followed by a brief revival of the economy and three years later by the end of the long depression. The upturn had little if anything to do with the saving of the gold standard or the victory of McKinley, and more to do with worldwide economic conditions.

The Change in American Foreign Policy: From Isolationism to Imperialism-

The war of the United States with Spain was very brief. Its results were many, startling, and of world-wide meaning-

Henry Cabot Lodge2

It should, it seems to me, be our pleasure and duty to make those people free, and let them deal with their own domestic questions in their own way. And so I am anti-imperialist. I am opposed to having the eagle put its talons on any other land

Mark Twain, criticising increased American imperialism in the Pacific3

Finally, at the end of the Gilded Age, the US started to move towards becoming an international power. In the nineteenth century, the US had been primarily isolationist. The United States purchased Alaska in 1867, after which it ceased its territorial expansion for a generation. The 1870s and 1880s saw Americans focus inward on their states.

Yet isolationism was drawing to a close. A new generation had grown, far removed from the horrors of the Civil War. Protestant missions abroad only encouraged them to seek an empire for America. The great European powers were carving up Africa and Asia between them. Public interest began to support a bolder foreign policy. President Harris' Secretary of State, James G. Blaine, revived the old Republican party tradition of expansion. The Naval Act of 1890 signalled the modernisation of the navy. Before the end of the century, the United States had the third biggest navy in the world.

The changeover in American foreign policy really began in 1898 with the Spanish-American War. Increased American jingoism found an outlet in Cuba, where the Spanish had savagely put down an uprising. Some Americans wanted justice for the Cubans, others wanted to grab territory for the United States. Tensions mounted when an American battleship, the Maine, was blown up in Havana harbour in 1898, killing 260 Americans. Although it was unlikely that the Spanish had been responsible, pressure grew for intervention in Cuba. President McKinley attempted to negotiate a peaceful settlement with Spain, but the parties broke on the issue of Cuban independence. So came about the Spanish-American War, which lasted only ten weeks and saw America victorious. In the ensuing settlement, Spain gave up control of Cuba and surrendered Guam, Puerto Rico and the Philippines to the U.S. As a Filippino revolt was put down by the Americans, it was clear that territorial expansion and indeed imperialism were very much back on the agenda.

Although there was much initial opposition to such overseas adventures, over time they came to be accepted by the majority. The Democratic candidate Bryan made the mistake of running his campaign of 1900 based on opposition to imperialism, but this didn't ignite the public imagination. The country was slowing returning to prosperity after the depression, and President McKinley was re-elected.

The Era of Theodore Roosevelt-

Speak softly and carry a big stick

President Roosevelt on the United States foreign policy4

We demand that big business give the people a square deal; in return we must insist that when anyone engaged in big business honestly endeavours to do right he shall himself be given a square deal-

Roosevelt on his reasons for regulating business5

In September 1901 McKinley became the third president in less than forty years to be assassinated. He was succeeded by Vice President Theodore Roosevelt, who at forty two was the youngest president in America's history. He had been one of the heroes of the Spanish-American War, having served in the army as a lieutenant colonel. Roosevelt was an ambitious man who believed in the wide scope of the presidency, and a shrewd politician who packed positions with those loyal to him to assure control of the Republican party.

Roosevelt saw himself as bound to act for the people. He turned his attention to the area of business. Roosevelt was not against capitalism or industry, but felt that it needed to be properly regulated by the federal government. He got Congress to pass an antitrust bill in 1903. He set up a new Department of Commerce and Labour with a Bureau of Corporations empowered to collect and distribute information about industry. Roosevelt believed in giving everyone &ldquoa square deal”. He supported trade unions but was against illegal interference by such bodies. Even this was more radical a position than the conservatives of the day in his party. Roosevelt earned a reputation for fairness, for striving to help the small businessman, the small farmer, and so on. But he made sure never to go too far to be labelled any kind of radical or socialist.

Roosevelt's popular image was the basis for his re-election in 1904. By portraying himself as the champion of reform, he stole Bryan's base from under him. Democrats instead chose a candiate who was conservative and had ties to New York wealth, Judge Alton B. Parker. Roosevelt roared home, receiving 57.4 percent of the popular votes (7.6m) to Parker's 37.6 percent (5m). The electorate began to fall from its high voting percentage of the previous few elections, especially in the Democratic South, as the post- Civil War issues faded.

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