Be sure you have a copy of the reading guide before beginning this activity. The reading guide (both sides) is Part 1 of the task for this activity.


New Interests and Expanding Boundaries

By the late 1800's, many Americans thought that the United States should have colonies. For this reason, the United States began to build an empire in the late 1800's.


Reasons for Imperialism. During the 1800's many of the powerful countries in Europe gained control of lands in other parts of the world. In this way many European countries built large empires. This buildup of empires was called imperialism.

Imperialism came about in the 1800's for several reasons. The rise of industry caused many countries to compete with one another for colonies. Industrialized countries, like England, France, Germany, and Italy, needed new sources of raw materials for their factories. These countries also needed new markets - places to sell finished goods.

Often, the natural resources that the industrialized countries needed, such as rubber and tin, were found in lands that were unable to defend themselves against the European powers. The stronger countries did not always trade with these lands. Instead, they sometimes completely took over these parts of the world by force. Many of these lands were made into colonies.

A feeling of nationalism - strong feeling of pride in one's country - was very strong in some countries in the late 1800's. This feeling, or pride, was also a cause of imperialism. Some people wanted their country to expand its power and glory by taking colonies. At this time, many military leaders believed that colonies in different places of the world were needed as naval bases. These bases were needed as coaling stations - places where ships could refuel.                                                       

Empires also grew out of the belief held by some people who thought that their country's type of government or laws were better than the governments or laws found in other parts of the world. Because of this, they wanted their country to spread their ways of living and governing to other countries. Also, some missionaries wanted to spread their religion to other parts of the world. Thus, some religious groups encouraged their government to set up colonies.


You now have the information to answer questions 1 - 5 of the reading guide!


A Growing Interest in Overseas Expansion. It was not until the late 1800's that many Americans became interested in taking colonies. This was because the United States was busy settling its own frontier until the 1890's. In the West, Americans found many valuable resources. Thus, they did not have to go overseas to get these materials. But with the closing of the frontier and with the continued growth of industry, many Americans thought it was time to expand to lands across the seas.

By 1890, the United States was rapidly becoming one of the world's leading industrial nations. American factories, like those in Europe, needed raw materials and markets. Because of this, Americans thought it was necessary to control other sources of these materials.

Many farmers also wanted the United States to expand its power overseas. During the late 1800's, the United States became the world's leading exporter of farm products. These exports included grain, livestock, and cotton. But by 1890, many other countries were selling these goods. The American farmers did not want to lose their markets. Therefore, they wanted the government to do something to protect their sales.

With the closing of the frontier, manifest destiny took on a new meaning. Some people began to think that just as the nation had expanded from the Atlantic to the Pacific, it also should expand onto other continents. In addition, many American missionaries wanted the government to help them to spread the Christian faith to other people.

Military leaders also wanted new lands. They said that in order for the United States to be strong, it must have a strong navy. And colonies would be helpful to use as naval bases and coaling stations.

Thus, by the 1890's, many Americans wanted the country to use its power to take colonies. But by this time, England, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, and Russia controlled much of the world. If the United States was to build an empire, it would have to take lands from one or more of these powers.


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The United States Acquires an Empire. By 1900, the United States had an empire. The first distant territory to come under American control was Alaska. The United States purchased Alaska from Russia in 1867. Americans who favored the purchase of Alaska said that the United States had to expand past its borders to be a world power.

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Some Americans also wanted the United States to take control of the Hawaiian Islands during the 1890's. A group led by American business owners in Hawaii revolted against the Hawaiian queen in 1893 and took control of the government. They then asked Congress to make Hawaii an American colony. These business owners pointed out that Hawaii was important to Americans who traveled to China for trading. They were supported by our military leaders who wanted Hawaii as a naval base. But there was disagreement in Congress where some members did not think it was right for the United States to govern foreign people. For several years the arguments over Hawaii continued, and Hawaii remained independent.

The Hawaiian question had been settled during the Spanish American War that began in 1898. Hawaii was officially annexed by the United States that year. The islands were needed as refueling stations for America's Pacific fleet. Other territory in the Pacific was added when Spain was defeated. The peace treaty ending the Spanish American War gave the United States control over Wake, Guam, and the Philippine Islands. Puerto Rico was given to the United States in the same treaty.


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You now have the information to answer questions 6 - 9 of the reading guide!

Americans did not agree on what the country should do with the lands taken from Spain. Some people, called anti-imperialists, did not want the United States to hold colonies. They felt that the United States should give Guam, Puerto Rico, and the Philippine Islands complete independence. The anti-imperialists thought it would be hard to govern and to protect overseas colonies. They said that the colonies would cause new problems for the country, which, in part, was true.

Some others thought that it would be wrong for the United States to rule over people who were not represented in the Congress. Some other Americans were against making these lands part of the United States for a different reason. They thought that the people in these lands would not adapt to the American way of life. This belief was part of the reason why some Americans did not like immigrants.

However, other Americans wanted the United States to keep control over these lands. There was also a popular belief that the people in Guam, Puerto Rico, and the Philippine Islands could not govern themselves. This belief caused many Americans to feel that it was their duty to accept these lands as colonies. As a result, the United States kept control of these overseas lands. Cuba also remained under American control while it prepared for independence.

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You now have the information to complete the reading guide! Do so, then scroll down for Part 2 of the task!



TASK - Part 2: Read the two passages below and then answer the questions that follow. Be sure to construct your answers using complete sentences and proper spelling, capitalization, and punctuation. You may write your answers on a separate sheet of lined paper, or type and print your answers.


Speaker A

"We hold that the policy known as imperialism is hostile to liberty and tends toward militarism, an evil from which it has been our glory to be free .... We maintain that governments derive their just powers from the consent of the governed. We insist that the subjugation of any people is "criminal aggression" and open disloyalty to the distinctive principles of our government .... The United States have always protested against the doctrine of international law which permits the subjugation of the weak by the strong. A self- governing state cannot accept sovereignty over an unwilling people."

Speaker B

"Fellow Citizens-It is a noble land that God has given us; a land that can feed and clothe the world It is a mighty people that He has planted on this soil. ... Therefore, in this campaign the question is larger than a party question. It is an American question. It is a world question. Shall the American people continue their resistless march toward the commercial supremacy of the world? Shall free institutions broaden their blessed reign as the children of liberty wax in strength until the empire of our principles is established over the hearts of all mankind? Have we no mission to perform? ... For William McKinley is continuing the policy that Jefferson began, Monroe continued, Seward advanced, Grant promoted, Harrison championed. Hawaii is ours; Porto Rico [sic] is to be ours; at the prayer of its people Cuba will finally be ours ... at the very least the flag of a liberal government is to float over the Philippines, and it will be the stars and stripes of glory."



1.    Which Speaker, A or B, is in favor of the U.S. pursuing a policy of imperialism?

2.    What evidence (words or phrases from the passage) helped you make your decision?

3.    Which Speaker, A or B, is opposed to the U.S. becoming an imperialist nation?

4.    What evidence (words or phrases from the passage) helped you make your decision.