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[Part II] The USA, The Most Powerful Country in The World: Fighting an Empire to Becoming an Empire

This is part 2 in our series of articles titled, “The USA, The Most Powerful Country in The World”. If you haven’t already read part 1, then check it out.

Recap: The US gets independence from British Empire in 1779. Then in 1812, there is again a minor war between them. The USA then fights a war with Mexico, in which Mexico loses 55% of its area to the US. Then there is a civil war, which proves that the US can retain its territorial integrity. There is the US’s first and second industrial revolution, making the US a leader in industrial capacity and technology.

The US’s relations with European countries although not very well, was not bad either. The US had adopted the Monroe Doctrine in 1823, under which it opposed any further colonization of the Americas. However, at the start, it was just a loose declaration, which the US was unable to enforce. After the civil war, rapid industrialization took place. The economy was booming, which meant that the US could now afford a technologically advanced armed forces.

Period of Monroe Doctrine

After the Napoleonic wars, the European powers’ representatives convened in Vienna for the Congress of Vienna under the chairmanship of Klemens von Metternich. The main motive of this congress was achieving peace in continental Europe. This peace would give the European powers the time they needed to crush the freedom movements which were emerging in their colonies. They were mostly successful in their endeavor, and The Final Act was signed. This was frightening to the US, as it would again have to deal with the European powers who would try to reestablish colonies which got independence, or at least bring them in their sphere of influence. The problem was that the US wanted to create its own sphere of influence. So, the US under president James Monroe adopted Monroe Doctrine.

Doctrine or A Loose Declaration

The US adoption of the Monroe Doctrine was a rather a loose declaration than an enforced doctrine. Even after the adoption, the European powers continued to exercise their influence through force without any check from the US. This was mostly due to the fact that the US did not have a credible Navy to counter the Europeans at the time of the declaration. Ironically, the British Empire was the one enforcing the doctrine to protect its business interests with the newly formed countries in Latin America.

Starting to take a stand

There were many incidents (like French blockade of Argentina in 1838-40) in which the European powers intervened in Latin American, the US did nothing. However, the situation somewhat changed after. The US’s pressure to stop the British interference in the Hawai Islands may be the first case when the Monroe Doctrine was applied. When France under Napoleon III invaded Mexico and installed a puppet monarch Maximilian I, the US stationed a large combat-ready army near the Mexican border. French forces retreated, the monarchy ended.

The Failed Bid

The US in 1869, under President Ulysses S. Grant, tried to annex the Dominican Ruplic. This was done under the pretext of saving the Dominican Republic from a possible Haitian invasion or European invasion, which would be a violation of Monroe Doctrine. However, the annexation bid failed to gain enough support in the US Senate and failed.

Technological Transformation of the US Military and the Annexation of The Kingdom of Hawaii

The US was going through a phase of rapid growth in the field of science and technology with the second revolution. Under President Benjamin Harrison, the US translated advances in science and technology to advancement in military technology. When Harrison took office in 1889, the US had only two commissioned warships, by the year 1898, the US had no less than ten modern warships, which had steel hulls and greater displacements and armaments. This transformed the United States into a legitimate naval power and established the US as the dominant power in the Pacific ocean. Earlier, the US had prevented the British Empire from interfering in the Kingdom of Hawaii. Then in 1898, ironically the same US annexed the Hawaii Islands, after the overthrow of the Kingdom of Hawaii.

War with the Spanish Empire

Cuba fought three wars with Spain for its independence, the Ten Years’ War (1868–78) the Little War (1879–80) and the Cuban War of Independence (1895-98). While the Cuban War of Independence was going on, a US’ warship USS Maine sank in the Havana Harbour, where she was on a mission to protect US interests. The warship sank quickly, without warnings, killing 260 servicemen. This created an uproar in the US, especially because of inflammatory articles that were written in major newspapers which blamed the incident on the Spanish side without any evidence.

Subsequently, President William Mckinley under public pressure and the prospect of gaining land on which to build naval ports (for protection of a future canal between the Atlantic ocean and the Pacific ocean), demanded that Spain give Cuba independence. Spain however, refused, as it regarded Cuba as its province, and not as a colony. The US then declared war on the Spanish Empire. The mighty USA easily defeated the aging empire.

Pacific Theatre

US Navy’s Asiatic Squadron, under the command of Commodore George Dewey, defeated the Spanish squadron in a matter of hours and captured the harbor of Manila in the Battle of Manila. However, taking the Philippines was not easy. So, they brought back the revolutionary leaders (of the Philippine Revolution) who were in exile. With their help, the Americans took almost all of the Philippines.

A US fleet under Captain Henry Glass was ordered to capture Guam. Spain had well protected the island, and it was taken easily in a bloodless capture. Few Spanish infantry stationed there were taken as prisoners of war and transported to the Philippines. The only US citizen on the island, Frank Portusach was made temporary governor of the island.

Caribbean Theatre

In Cuba, General William R. Shafter of Fifth Army Corps led the land campaign. At the start, the US suffered heavy losses on the hands, but soon learned the tactics used by the Spanish forces. Naval operations began with the invasion of Guantanamo Bay. Battle of Santiago de Cuba followed. Spaniards had lost, but the US also could not remain in Cuba forever, especially because of yellow fever which was widespread among the occupying force.

Making Peace with Spain

When Spanish fleet in both the Philippines and Cuba got defeated, Spain sued for peace and negotiations started. The US gained all of Spain’s colonies outside of Africa, which included the Philippines, Guam and Puerto Rico, with the sole exception of Cuba, which became a protectorate, under the Treaty of Paris.

Philippine-American War

The USA was now, just like other European powers, an empire with vast territories. But, people don’t want subjugation, especially if they can resist. This is what happened in the Philippines. The people there opposed the terms of the treaty, under which the Philippines instead of becoming an independent nation, just passed from Spanish hands to American hands. This resulted in a revolt against American rule and a subsequent brutal crackdown by the US. However, the US started giving some autonomy after this. This started a slow process of giving further autonomy, before finally giving independence in 1946, through the Treaty of Manila.

Aftermath in Cuba

Treaty of Paris granted the US protectorate status over Cuba. The US stipulated seven conditions for the withdrawal of the US forces remaining after the Spanish-American War, and one extra condition that Cuba sign a treaty accepting these seven conditions. The US retained the right to intervene in Cuba’s internal and external affairs. The US also leased the Guantanamo Bay Naval Station, which the US continues to hold to this day.

Conclusion of Part II

The above-mentioned events transformed the US from a regional player to a global power, with a say in the world’s affairs. The US which was once a colony of the British Empire had now an empire for itself. Soon, major wars would erupt in Europe, seeing the stage for a new superpower, the USA.

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