U.S. Foreign Relations: Late 1800’s–Early 1900’s Following the civil war, an era of US history known as the “Gilded Age” began. Characterized by significant technological advances in communication, mobility, and increased US involvement with foreign states, rapid “internationalization” occurred while the world, in turn, experienced rapid “Americanization.” (Simons et al., 2008, p.340) America’s hot and cold foreign relations with European powers was replicated in Asia and the Americas during this period, especially after the war of 1898, when the US assumed the role of benevolent supervisor of foreign territories formerly under Spanish rule. (Simons et al., 2008, p. 372) Additionally, the US economy continued to grow and flourish, due to the result of increased transoceanic travel, which effectively eliminated existing geographic boundaries that separated states. The amount of time for products to get to market was decreased with the invention of the steam ship and US “open door” policy broke trade barriers that the European powers had erected. Wealth accompanied economic growth, and as did the ability for US citizens to travel abroad. Missionary efforts greatly increased in the late 1800s by way of humanitarian works, evangelism or even efforts to restore Jewish people to Israel. But access to foreign lands also provided access to North American for immigrants, resulting in millions of foreigners with diverse cultures settling in the US. A cultural shift followed, with the US suddenly responsible for accommodating foreign cultures who brought with them diverse values and cultural connectedness to their native countries. Intercultural exchanges were frequent, even fomenting geopolitical crises, as in the case of the tensions created between the US and Britain over US weapons sales to Irish revolutionaries and dissidents. Chinese immigrant workers, brought to the US for railroad and canal projects, were blamed for creating intense cultural backlash when increasing numbers of Chinese refused to assimilate to US culture. Exclusionist policies against immigration resulted, causing even greater strain in foreign relations with the native countries of immigrants. This situation revealed the importance of immigration policy, as the cost/benefit ratio for “cheap labor” could become imbalanced. Politically, as the US expanded its engagement with the world, a shift from non-intervention and semi-isolation transitioned toward greater intervention and increased foreign entanglements, which George Washington (1813) had warned about in his farewell address. A greater international footprint following the War of 1898 presented US policymakers with associated challenges in newly acquired territories. War costs and projects in foreign lands, like the Panama Canal project, created political divisions between parties, not to mention conflicting interests between the US and other foreign powers. “Dollar Diplomacy” at the turn of the 20th century was a non-traditional method of engaging foreign states, yet President Taft experimented with the concept, occasionally leading to foreign relations debacles, especially in Latin America. (Herring, 2008, p.373) Controversial foreign interactions had political implications, as in the case of Columbia’s lost sovereignty resulting from bullyish policy measures during the Panama Canal negotiations. All in all, the US grew to be a formidable power in the international system during the Gilded Age, but significant foreign relations challenges accompanied growth. One aspect of American history that shaped Gilded Age policy was the tense trade relationship that existed between US administrations and European powers in the early years of the US republic. The mercantile system, which advantaged European empires, created an exclusive economic culture that penalized weaker states. In the late 1800s under Secretary of State Hay, foreign trade policy began to change, as reflected in the ‘Open Door Notes” circulars which essentially leveled the playing field for American trade in China. The Open Door Policy essentially urged great powers to allow free commerce in Asia, a break from traditional European trade policy. (Herring, 2009, p.331) A second aspect of American history that shaped policy was a labor related strain on society in the late 1800s. Industrialization’s darker side began to take its toll on the US, when the activities of robber barons like Carnegie and Vanderbilt prompted authors like Henry James to shed light on this class of aristocrats in works of fiction like The Golden Bowl. (Wilmarth, 2016) The cultural and societal backlash manifest itself with no less than 1400 strikes in 1894, alone, and other movements by laborers, ending with the deaths of numerous strikers who sought improvements in work environments. (Herring, 2008) This societal enigma exposed the significant cost that the environment of rapid industrialization could foist on US workers in the 1890s. Of course, the drive to manufacture more was driven by foreign demand for US products, partly driven by policies like Open Door policy of the Gilded Age. Thirdly, Britain’s naval power had been an important factor in both trade and military dominance throughout the advent and development of the US as a nation. Theodore Roosevelt’s foreign policy to build and display a mighty naval force throughout the world was learned through England’s example. Certainly, numerous events did prepare the US for global engagement in WWI. The US industrial complex and open trade allowed the US to profit from war. Events in Europe, leading to the war, also provided understand of how rapidly European powers can rise and fall. Fortunately, the barrier of an ocean most certainly enabled the US to avoid foreign entanglements through neutrality policy if administrations had the will implement it. References: Herring, George C. (2008). From Colony to Superpower: U.S. Foreign Relations since 1776 (Oxford History of the United States Book 12). Oxford University Press. Kindle Edition. Washington, G. (1813). Washington’s farewell address to the people of the United States. Hartford, Conn. Hudson and Goodwin. Wilmarth, C. (2016). Henry James, the Robber Barons, and The Golden Bowl. The Henry James Review 37(1), 20-32. doi:10.1353/hjr.2016.0005
The late 19th and early 20th centuries marked a transformative period in U.S. foreign relations. This era, often referred to as the “Gilded Age,” witnessed significant technological advancements, economic growth, and increased engagement with foreign nations. This essay explores the dynamics of U.S. foreign relations during this period, examining the factors that shaped them, the challenges faced, and the policy shifts that occurred. Key aspects of this historical context include the U.S. trade relationship with European powers, labor-related tensions, and the influence of Britain’s naval power.