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British Association for American Studies


Issue 6, Autumn 2004 Article 2


Issue 6, Autumn 2004 Article 2

U.S. Studies Online: The BAAS Postgraduate Journal

Issue 6, Autumn 2004

Time of transition: Is it fair to discard Gilded Age expansionism as the ‘worst chapter in any book’?

Oliver Brown
© Oliver Brown. All Rights Reserved

William Henry Seward, the secretary of state who did so much to develop abstract conceptions of the United States’ ‘manifest destiny’ into a grand imperial design, challenged a Boston audience in June 1867 to “give me fifty, forty, thirty more years of life, and I will engage to give you the possession of the American continent and the control of the world” [1]. While, by the time of his death a mere five years later, the majority of the expansionist schemes he had formulated were left incomplete, his fundamental assumptions about how international balances of power were shifting – towards, most significantly, a decline of Spain’s Latin American empire and a struggle by the United States to assert control in Asia – display remarkable prescience when analysed in the longer term. Indeed, the received wisdom that the 1890s marked a phase of total transformation in foreign policy, implying a barren record of inaction in the period from 1865, does not give adequate weight to the continuation of a trend throughout the Gilded Age of increasingly ambitious thinking on expansion that closely informed how the men who would later prosecute the Spanish-American War acted [2].

The essential concept that needs testing in a study of this ‘prelude’ period is that of transition, in the sense of a defined philosophical progression from isolationism to internationalism, which would help refute the more standard accounts of policy being fashioned on an ad hoc basis and of the nation’s diplomatic successes and territorial acquisitions representing little more than a series of distinct incidents. Although James A. Field fails to acknowledge it in his ‘worst chapter’ critique, opting instead for derisive reference to American conquest of worthless ‘guano islands’, developments in foreign affairs at this time did carry cumulative significance. More recent work by Robert Beisner underlines the point by introducing the notion of paradigmatic change, whereby some measure of historical integrity is restored to the period through conceptualising the ways in which policy-makers’ style of diplomacy was advancing [3]. The Gilded Age as subject of satire can be a tradition easy to continue, but by rejecting at least the supposition of failure and passivity on the external front, it will be shown that, contrary to Field’s thesis, these were years in which ideas integral to the philosophy of expansion so popular by the end of the century had their incubation.

Where disparagement may be more deserved is at the level of historiography, in that since the 1960s a static view has taken hold, aimed at advancing an economic interpretation of foreign policy by the argument that during the Gilded Age (not immediately post-Civil War, but certainly from the late 1870s) the United States began pursuing its commercial imperatives above all else. The volume of literature produced on issues of economics, traceable from the enduringly controversial work of William A. Williams to more revisionist treatment by William Becker, means this has virtually become a separate field of enquiry that concerns itself as much with free trade as expansion, yet it does point to the drawback of forming too monolithic an appreciation of the period [4]. Marilyn Young, writing at the height of ‘New Left’ dissent in 1968, highlights such a concern when she accuses proponents of the economic perspective of neglecting to address the aggressive cultural nationalism she sees emerging in the 1880s. In part, the criticism is targeted at Walter LaFeber, who has been most influential in disavowing the previously standard view of the Gilded Age as a forgettable hiatus on the grounds that, as the United States moved with apparent seamlessness through the process of industrialisation, it continued seeking out new overseas markets to which it could export [5].

The potential problem in LaFeber’s assessment, although vitally important in stressing the consistency of long-term objectives, is that it can make the history too linear and can attribute uniform priorities to a set of presidents and secretaries of state who in some instances were profoundly different in outlook. Perceiving a wider policy, in which the enhancement of national prestige went alongside the search for markets, was among the achievements of Milton Plesur’s meticulous 1971 survey of the period, and yet Hugh deSantis observes that Plesur went about the task “desultorily,” as if incorporating alternative explanations purely to support a thesis that remained primarily economic in focus [6].

In an interpretative sense, this is, manifestly, a subject in urgent need of revitalising, not only in terms of improving the extent of thematic coverage but in also trying to understand how foreign policy-making responsibility was channelled and co-ordinated. The era of Andrew Johnson, dominated as it was by the agonies of Reconstruction, effectively established in the Gilded Age a political normality in which a weak presidency would be juxtaposed with an ever more confident Congress. What practical implications this had for the course of American expansionism were swiftly evidenced through successful congressional opposition to President Grant’s plan to annex the Dominican Republic in 1871, as well as through the ability of congressmen often heavily influenced by private interests to determine the level of appropriations for the navy [7].

In the absence of any genuinely purposeful executive leadership, and against a backdrop where serious domestic tensions created doubts as to how power ought best to be deployed, foreign diplomacy was, in the initial post-1865 stage, distinctly reactive in nature. It has been speculated that Seward embarked on his campaign to purchase Alaska from Russia out of his conviction of the United States’ undifferentiated need for greater power, and while this is plausible given his known belief that other non-contiguous territories such as Iceland and Greenland could likewise simply be bought, it should not detract from his subsequent efforts to use his triumph over Alaska as a basis for systematising policy [8]. A renewal of negotiations to take charge of the Danish Virgin Islands was, for example, an immediate concern arising from Seward’s insistence that the nation could not afford to be disinterested regarding the transfer of colonial property in the Caribbean, and one that only failed to be brought to fruition as a result of congressional intransigence (the people of the islands themselves having already agreed to annexation). The impression of an expansionist ‘masterplan’ being followed through is reinforced by Seward’s explicit desire to bring Hawaii into the American orbit, a target he had set back in the 1850s and that he strove to accomplish by the use of treaty and not by landed conquest.

Equating successful treaties with the conferral of “great advantages upon one party without serious cost or inconvenience to the other”, he scrupulously avoided a strategy of forcible annexation even though he undoubtedly was conscious of its benefits in the case of Hawaii [9]. This suggests a slight oversight in the work of Beisner, which, while otherwise sound in examining Sewardite policy and its legacy, fails to mention that where there may not have been a completely unambiguous prescription of overall strategy there was still evidence of Seward attempting to control his own modus operandi. A direct line of continuity emerges between this type of approach and the reluctance of Hamilton Fish, Seward’s successor, to step into the civil war in Cuba in 1873. Equally, Seward’s ideas could be seen dictating policy in a more positive and directly interventionist fashion, as when Fish completed, in 1875, a reciprocal trade agreement with Hawaii that would help secure a Pacific foothold [10].

Effective diplomatic technique did not guarantee, however, that even the periodic American ‘victories’ of this early postwar phase in foreign affairs would go on to have any more far-reaching consequences. The Treaty of Washington, finalised in May 1871, saw Britain pay to the United States an indemnity of more than 15 million dollars for the depredations of Confederate raiders from British ports during the Civil War, an act that could legitimately be interpreted as a satisfactory settlement for which diplomats on both sides took full credit. A dispatch from a New York Times correspondent reporting on the proceedings in Washington bears this out, observing: “Everyone here looks upon the notable event as the last feature in the greatest victory of peace” [11]. While it is probably true to say that the spirit of Anglo-American reconciliation had been somewhat obscured by the lengthy and tortuous arbitration over indirect claims, the treaty did have a substantial effect upon flows of capital, restoring the confidence of cautious banks and prompting plans by the Grant administration to market 800 million dollars worth of low-interest bonds in Europe [12].

Grandiose talk of political union with Canada, stimulated by a long-running campaign to reintroduce reciprocity in trade relations, was also circulating in this period but petered out inconclusively. Charles Sumner, chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, recalled at a Republican state convention in 1869 the “aspirations of our fathers for the union of all Englishmen in America, and their invitation to Canada to join our new nation at its birth” [13]. In accordance with the diplomatic code established by Seward, Sumner did not invoke the notion of outright annexation, which, in any case, was highly unlikely in light of how few Canadians appeared inclined to support this. The fact that the United States could not make much headway in persuading its neighbour to embrace its republican ideals – or, indeed, take maximum advantage of the resolution of its dispute with Britain – is not as serious as might be imagined, though. Firstly, these possible outcomes were sought in a reactive sense, since they did not fall within the general framework of policy that Seward had inaugurated, and secondly, what sustains the argument of continuity is that the character of policy (calculated and non-aggressive) survived intact.

If expansion were to be hastened, the nation would, from the outset, have to turn to building its navy into a force capable of delivering the schemes that Seward and his heirs concocted. The obstruction to this was the overwhelmingly defensive doctrine of the period, born out of the reality that the United States, unlike Britain, had no ‘balance of power’ issues to confront in its continental sphere, and that Congress typically saw no logic at all in engaging in competition with the European navies [14]. Maintaining such a doctrine in spite of possessing, as James G. Blaine noted in recollections of his time as a congressman, a “more extended frontage on the two great oceans of the world than any other nation”, risked grave injury to pride. British mockery of the American fleet, well advanced towards obsolescence by the late 1870s after years of declining investment, was especially unsparing, with Rudyard Kipling announcing in his American Notes that “the big, fat republic that is afraid of nothing…is as unprotected as a jellyfish.”

An inescapable conclusion is that by allowing themselves to be preoccupied with such perennial concerns as the brokering of reciprocity treaties and the construction of an isthmian canal in Central America, successive administrations in the Gilded Age were caught in a classic scenario of “putting the cart before the horse,” with no means of maximising their new-found gains [15]. Some hesitation is necessary, though, before adopting the standard analysis that the navy’s parlous state until the 1880s casts a reflection upon the chronic negativity and disorganisation of policy-makers. Since the years of postwar demobilisation, when naval appropriations had dwindled to around a meagre 20 million dollars a year, signs of transition were tangible through the programme of rebuilding associated with President Arthur’s Secretary of the Navy, William E. Chandler, anticipating a phase of increased foreign adventurism. Additionally, it is helpful to view this change in terms of how contemporary understanding of the United States’ strategic necessities advanced, because the stubbornly isolationist or ‘continentalist’ mindset that had held sway over policy in the aftermath of war had to recede before the possibilities of naval reform facilitating the beginnings of an outward thrust were realised.

This current of continentalism in attitudes to foreign affairs, engendered as it was by a broad postwar consensus that the national interest would be best served through dedication to the domestic agenda, was frequently reaffirmed at official level until the mid-1870s and did not wholly disappear for the duration of the period [16]. Some illustration of this is offered by the limitations of the American diplomatic service, which routinely kept just 25 ministers resident in foreign capitals and contained not a single ambassador. Even in the 1880s, the scant pay and resources on which most ministers had to rely implies that matters of foreign policy continued to receive only grudging attention, and prompted the threat from Secretary of State Evarts that he would soon have to carve above his door the words “Come ye disconsulate.” James Bryce, in 1888, seemingly captured a certain constancy in the national mood of the Gilded Age when he declared: “The one principle to which people have learnt to cling in foreign policy is that the less they have of it the better” [17]. Crucial to this was the widespread perception that the Western frontier remained open, which meant it was not inconceivable to reason that territorial expansion could still be restricted within continental limits.

Alternatively, however, the period may be characterised as one in which grander expansionist tendencies were not completely inert, but merely quiescent. President Cleveland, having pronounced in 1885 his determination not to be drawn into entangling commitments abroad, was nonetheless made to contemplate an extension of American influence in the Pacific and Caribbean theatres by the tentative steps already taken towards this end. The transition that had occurred was largely unwitting but no less momentous for that, as in less than twenty years, for example, national editorial writers had moved from having barely an opinion on foreign affairs to directly recommending a more activist style of diplomacy [18]. A strengthening of the United States’ economic base in the interim evidently had a major bearing upon their thinking, but prior to measuring that there are powerful emotional and ideological shifts that warrant investigation.

Accepting the point that the ‘twilight’ years of the Gilded Age signified a period of incipient imperialism, it can further be seen that the imperialist mentality upheld by the politicians involved had several subtle gradations. Although a pragmatic philosophy centring on the belief that market forces had to be satisfied was particularly prevalent, this does not encompass the more extreme thinking of those “wild jingos” for whom expansion was positively evangelical in nature, and limitless in possibilities. Theories of ‘manifest destiny’ and American exceptionalism had been growing more elaborate at least since the 1840s – when westward expansion as far as the deep-water Pacific ports had given rise to ambitions of greater overseas expansion – yet it was during the 1880s that a demonstrably new “American spirit” became unmistakeable [19].

The impetus for this was taken from the attractiveness in academic circles of Darwin’s natural selection idea as applied to the development of American history. Thus, the concept of ‘Anglo-Saxonism’ – where the supposed superiority of the world’s Anglo-Saxon peoples would empower the United States to undertake a policy of “benevolent assimilation” in territories it wanted to acquire – was popularised. As a rationale for expansion, it was filled with universal abstractions, but displayed its power to persuade in the diverse readership of works including John Fiske’s Outlines of Cosmic Philosophy (1874) and the Reverend Josiah Strong’s Our Country (1885), both of which had racialist overtones throughout. The thesis presented by Fiske, who had served as president of the Immigration Restriction League, could ultimately be pared down to a vision of a world partitioned between the Anglo-Saxons of England and the Anglo-Saxons of America, while Strong, reaching a sizeable audience through the pages of Harper’s Weekly, proposed instead a federation of English-speaking peoples [20]. Written originally for the American Home Missionary Society, Our Country exhorted a more intense campaign of evangelism overseas and could detect no “reasonable doubt that this race…is destined to dispossess many weaker races” [21]. To a degree, this Social Darwinist rhetoric existed in a kind of theoretical vacuum, for it was never specifically cited in connection with the expansionist campaigns then being waged over Hawaii and Samoa. Its reception at the most influential levels of government was highly favourable, though, as President Hayes indicated by inviting Fiske to lecture in Washington. What constituted a striking change from, for instance, the controversy that had descended on Grant’s abortive ‘grab’ of the Dominican Republic was the readiness of politicians now to countenance a foreign policy in which the United States acted like a colonising power.

How much voice the American public had in moving the debate forward is difficult to gauge, considering that the articulation of even marginal popular interest in the achievements of foreign diplomacy was itself a recent trend. Only spasmodically, and occasioned by historically resonant events such as the signing of the Treaty of Washington, was there any sign of an inclination to address what Seward called “questions of an extraneous character” [22]. The most reliable barometers of a general broadening of public outlook, when it did begin to happen, were the newspaper editorial pages, on which discussion of tariff laws and canal rights was normally crowded out by such rather more pressing news such as the prospect of President Johnson’s impeachment. It required the transfer of power in Alaska in March 1867, enabling the largest accession of territory to the United States since the Louisiana Purchase, to inspire more animated commentaries in the press, and almost immediately opinion was polarised. Vehemently rejecting the ‘official’ representation of Alaska as a land of “grandeur and sublimity”, The New York Tribune portrayed it as “worthless, inhospitable, wretched, God-forsaken” at the same moment as The New York Times was speaking of it providing “paramount influence in the Pacific” [23]. Alaska is, in fact, a curious case in point because of the intimations of political wrongdoing that surrounded its acquisition. Consequently, the effect upon the popular mind was twofold, in that besides the invigoration of expansionist feeling that the Alaskan success contributed to (and that a Russian minister, indeed, openly recognised), the allegations of clandestine dealings investigated by Congress for two years afterwards aroused public suspicion of ulterior motives behind expansion [24].

It is believed to have been precisely this legacy of distrust that compromised government manoeuvres over the Dominican Republic, and lasted well beyond if the resistance to Blaine’s policy, after his appointment as President Garfield’s secretary of state, of exploiting links with Latin American nations is attributed to the same factor. There is scope for claiming that more dynamic administrations than those of the early 1880s, pursuing a more carefully prioritised foreign policy, might have been better equipped to fire the public imagination. A change to the national psyche is only ever a subtle, underlying element of transition, however, and enough evidence remains of editorials from the 1880s advocating American “spread-eagleism” to hint that a wider cross-section of the public were at last persuaded of the legitimacy of expansion [25].

The distances over which the United States was attempting to expand did, admittedly, mitigate any hopes that its campaigns would end in unqualified success. Latin America had from Seward’s earliest plans been isolated as the vortex of American power, by virtue of long-standing economic interest in the region coupled with ease of communication, yet the restless energies of Gilded Age expansionists were also focused with varying intensity on almost every other continent. Such extensive ambition was, in addition, not by implication disjointed, because the consistent purpose of developing remote Hawaiian and Samoan outposts from the 1870s onwards was the establishment of a commercial ‘highway’ to relatively untapped Asian markets. Even the 1874 Selfridge Report on the advantages of proceeding with plans for an interoceanic canal made reference to American commercial ties with the Far East, asserting: “The Pacific is naturally our domain” [26]. Without question, it was a sphere of influence more zealously attended to than Africa, where the American presence steadily shrank in the late nineteenth century despite Commodore Robert Shufeldt’s mission, at the order of the Departments of State and Navy in 1878, to explore how trade links might best be forged there.

The principal issue of contention related to this pursuit of many separate ventures is whether, in looking to strengthen the United States’ place in the world, policy-makers of the Gilded Age were following an essentially westward or eastward orientation. Ostensibly this is hardly a conundrum, when American diplomatic contact with the European powers was comparatively minimal and when the profound political upheavals then transforming Europe tended to be regarded across the Atlantic with studied detachment. President Hayes actually congratulated himself for managing to avoid entanglements in Europe, and yet to eliminate this theatre of activity completely from an assessment of foreign policy, as more market-centred interpretations of the 1960s seem satisfied to do, signifies an excessively parochial approach [27]. So finely balanced were the European alliance systems and power structures formed in the 1870s that the policy, long since enshrined in the Monroe Doctrine, of continued American isolation was fast becoming outdated. Moreover, it was acknowledged by contemporary writers such as Alfred Mahan that the United States had chances to benefit from the preservation of European peace, and while Field overstates the case by arguing that, as a result, the ‘thrust’ of foreign policy was more trans-Atlantic than trans-Pacific, the necessities of economic co-operation with Britain and discouragement of German intrigue in Samoa ensured that illusions of isolation in this sphere were, by 1890, beginning to diminish [28].

A more global way of thinking characterised, too, the blueprint for “pan-Americanism” unveiled by Blaine in 1881 as a far-sighted means by which arbitration with representatives from Latin American governments could help assuage international tensions and prevent future conflict. The ultimate objective was to organise an inter-American conference where there would be debate over the settlement of “hemispheric disputes,” and the opportunity for the United States to guarantee itself a secure commercial and, in turn, strategic position in the Latin American region. At no stage, though, was the question of executing this plan sent any further than congressional committees, and the very essence of it soon came to be repudiated by Blaine’s more cautious successor, Frederick Frelinghuysen [29]. That most of Blaine and Frelinghuysen’s private papers have been lost complicates the work of retracing exact details of planning during these years, but one indisputable conclusion is that the content of the policy Blaine had innovatively framed was compromised by Republican Party infighting and diplomatic incompetence. The style of handling the War of the Pacific, which saw Chile fighting over grievances against Peru and Bolivia and in which the Americans decided to mediate for fear of European interference, is broadly viewed as having been particularly inept [30]. Here, blame rested squarely with ministers on the ground in South America, although the secretaries of state themselves cannot escape censure for other miscalculations – whether in Blaine’s forcing of Mexico to accept a resolution of its boundary dispute with Guatemala, or in Frelinghuysen’s justification, opportunistic at best, of an 1884 treaty granting the United States control over the isthmian canal project on grounds that the existing power-sharing agreement had lapsed by neglect.

Charges of inconsistency and confusion are often, and with ample support, levelled at the policy-makers of the Gilded Age generation, but by the end of the period enough progress had been made to counter the assumption that their ideas were misconceived. Blaine, having been vilified before his reinstatement under President Harrison, was in 1889 still a figure of influence, as Harrison himself implied by professing a commitment to the “improvement of our relations with the Central and South American states,” adding: “We must win their confidence by deserving it. It will not come upon demand” [31]. He could feel vindicated by how, that same year, the pan-American conference opposed by politicians more instinctively resistant to change did finally go ahead.

This second term for Blaine has been marked out as a high point of economic expansionism, featuring as it did a bill in October 1890 that authorised imposition of the higher tariffs deemed by many, through rather nonsensical logic, to be conducive to the growth of foreign trade by encouraging American industries to create a more competitive product [32]. In effect, it might also be read as the culmination of a second phase of Gilded Age foreign policy, originating in the late 1870s, where a sudden upturn in the United States economy fuelled almost relentless lobbying for the projection of business interests abroad. From a prolonged depression that had taken approximately half the nation’s iron and steelworks out of operation, a situation was faced, by 1881, of agricultural and industrial surpluses that could only apparently be redressed through a rapid rise in exports and the extension of reciprocity treaties. In the era of Seward, some impulse towards this type of expansion had been noticeable in a convention the United States signed with the Dominican Republic, pledging both countries to “augment, by all the means at their disposal, the commercial intercourse of their respective citizens,” yet for all the bankers and railroad entrepreneurs he gathered in support of his cause he was never so crucially assisted by circumstance [33].

At first glance, therefore, the ‘glut’ thesis of which market-minded historians such as Williams have proven so enamoured is compelling, and underpinned by the semblance of a consensus, at least in the 1880s, that massive surpluses had to be directed overseas to guard against domestic discontent. However, there is margin for misinterpretation in terms of whether a contemporary assertion by Kansas senator Preston Plumb that the United States stood at the “threshold of a contest for the foreign commerce of the world” ought to be construed as endorsement of expansion or free trade [34]. Another key area of weakness in arguments dominated by economics is that they omit to say how the spread of American commerce in these years was both uneven and discontinuous. In contrast to the concentrated campaign to turn Cuba into an economic satellite by exploitation of its iron reserves, trade relations with China suffered during the 1880s from government capital shortages and the decline of major American merchant houses [35]. Meanwhile, LaFeber is mistaken in adhering to a view that highlights the near complete continuity and rationality of transition towards expansion driven by commerce, since he overlooks evidence from President Cleveland’s first administration of a deliberate dissociation from efforts to penetrate new foreign markets, and even an active withdrawal of the reciprocity system linking the United States with Latin America.

It is this artificial sense of complete continuity that partly colours Field’s perception of the Gilded Age – or, more accurately, the accounts of it that stress economic determinism – as constituting the ‘worst chapter’ in a history of American expansion. Without doubt, the primacy traditionally accorded to economic motivation is shown to be misplaced by analysis, for example, of equally important shifts in expansionist ideology in this period, yet his additional criticism of policy-makers’ “almost total lack of accomplishment” is far less convincing. A key component of the more conceptual framework within which foreign policy at this time needs to be examined is to recognise that pre-eminent personalities such as Seward and Blaine did understand the means by which to accomplish the ends of the campaigns they pursued. Seward, notably, was lauded at his funeral for the “courage” he had shown in running counter to popular preoccupations with domestic troubles, and it remains beyond dispute that his many schemes, whether completed or not, were invariably premised carefully upon strategic or commercial considerations [36]. Similarly, it might be said that the sincerity of Blaine’s faith in what diplomatic arbitration could achieve renders his somewhat maladroit practical handling of the process incidental.

Worthy ambitions, furthermore, were matched with concrete progress to confirm the overall impression of transition, as revealed through the emergence, by 1890, of a strategic ‘synthesis’ that rejected a purely passive, defensive posture, and through strident rhetoric that presented American aggrandisement as the “grandest moral and political sight possible on the face of the globe” [37]. These were the sure signs that American politicians, together with an increasing number of the people for whom they spoke, had undergone during the Gilded Age intellectual and psychological adaptations that emboldened them to reinforce the nation’s place in the world.

University of Oxford


[1] Thomas A. Bailey, A Diplomatic History of the American People (Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1980), 358

[2] Ernest N. Paolino, The Foundations of the American Empire: William Henry Seward and US Foreign Policy (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1973), 210. Here it suggested that the events of 1898 be rethought as “The Great Culmination” as opposed to “The Great Aberration”, and that those imperialists involved in them may have been “unconscious Sewardites”.

[3] James A. Field, Jr., “American Imperialism: The Worst Chapter in Almost Any Book”, The American Historical Review 83:3 (Jun. 1978), 655; Robert L. Beisner, From the Old Diplomacy to the New, 1865-1900 (Arlington Heights, IL: Harlan Davidson, 1986), 32

[4] William A. Williams, The Tragedy of American Diplomacy (New York: Norton, 1988), 19-25; William H. Becker, “American Manufacturers and Foreign Markets, 1870-1900: Business Historians and the ‘New Economic Determinists'”, Business History Review 47:4 (Winter 1973), 466-481

[5] Marilyn B. Young, “American Expansion, 1870-1900: The Far East”, in Barton J. Bernstein, ed., Towards a New Past: Dissenting Essays in American History (New York: Pantheon Books, 1968), 177; Walter LaFeber, The New Empire: An Interpretation of American Expansion, 1860-1898 (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1963). LaFeber’s later work, The American Search for Opportunity, 1865-1893 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993), has a grander scope.

[6] Milton Plesur, America’s Outward Thrust: Approaches to Foreign Affairs, 1865-1890 (DeKalb: Northern Illinois University Press, 1971), esp. 10-11; Hugh deSantis, “The Imperialist Impulse and American Innocence, 1865-1900”, in Gerald K. Haines and J. Samuel Walker, eds., American Foreign Relations: A Historiographical Overview (Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Press, 1981), 73

[7] Lance C. Buhl, “Maintaining an American Navy, 1865-1889”, in Kenneth J. Hagan, ed., In Peace and War: Interpretations of American Naval History, 1775-1978 (Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Press, 1978), 151

[8] T. C. Smith, “Expansion After the Civil War, 1865-1871”, Political Science Quarterly 16:3 (Sep. 1901), 425

[9] Glyndon G. Van Deusen, William Henry Seward (New York: Oxford University Press, 1967), 515

[10] Foreign Relations of the United States, 1875, Pt. I (Washington: Government Printing Office, 1875), 677. The Hawaiian king himself acknowledged: “Our [geographical] position is a most favourable one”.

[11] Edith J. Archibald, Life and Letters of Sir Edward Mortimer Archibald: A Memoir of Fifty Years of Service (Toronto: G. N. Morang, 1924), 206. Sir Edward served as the British Consul-General in New York at the time, and this dispatch was found among papers he bequeathed.

[12] Adrian Cook, The Alabama Claims: American Politics and Anglo-American Relations, 1865-1872 (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1975), 244; Jay Sexton, Debtor Diplomacy: Finance and American Foreign Relations in the Civil War Era, 1837-1873 (unpublished D.Phil thesis, University of Oxford, 2003), 255

[13] E. L. Pierce, “A Senator’s Fidelity Vindicated”, North American Review 127 (1878), 79

[14] Buhl, “Maintaining an American Navy”, in Hagan, ed., In Peace and War, 157

[15] James G. Blaine, Twenty Years of Congress (Norwich, Connecticut: Henry Bill, 1893), 614; Rudyard Kipling, American Notes (Boston: Brown, 1899). The navy was also satirised in Oscar Wilde’s The Canterville Ghost (London: John W. Luce, 1906); David M. Pletcher, The Awkward Years: American Foreign Relations Under Garfield and Arthur (Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1962), 350

[16] Smith, “Expansion After the Civil War”, PSQ 16:3, 416. In July 1868, Senator C. C. Washburn (Wisconsin) resolved, following the Alaska episode, “that in the present financial condition of the country any further purchases of territory are inexpedient”.

[17] Pletcher, The Awkward Years, 20; James Bryce, The American Commonwealth (London: Macmillan, 1888)

[18] Foster R. Dulles, Prelude to World Power: American Diplomatic History, 1860-1900 (New York: Collier Books, 1965), 120; Plesur, America’s Outward Thrust, 10

[19] Beisner, From the Old Diplomacy to the New, 25. Benjamin F. Butler was urging the United States to expand “so far north that the wandering Esquimau will mistake the flashings of the midnight sun reflected from our glorious flag for the scintillations of an aurora borealis”; Field, Jr., “American Imperialism”, AHR 83:3, 647

[20] Edward N. Saveth, “Race and Nationalism in American Historiography: The Late Nineteenth Century”, Political Science Quarterly 54:3 (Sep. 1939), 440; Robert C. Bannister, Social Darwinism: Science and Myth in Anglo-American Social Thought (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1979), 226. For the most part, this has superseded the earlier account of Richard Hofstadter, Social Darwinism in American Thought, 1860-1915 (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1945), 147-154, although Hofstadter includes a helpful mention of a transformation in contemporary political theory too, in terms of how John W. Burgess was encouraging the view of strong political capacity being limited to only a small number of nations.

[21] Josiah Strong, Our Country: Its Possible Future and Present Crisis (New York: Baker and Taylor, 1885), 178

[22] Paolino, The Foundations of the American Empire, 206

[23] Papers Relating to Foreign Affairs, 1869, Pt. I (Washington: Government Printing Office, 1869), 478; Smith, “Expansion After the Civil War”, PSQ 16:3, 429, 433

[24] Paul S. Holbo, Tarnished Expansion: The Alaska Scandal, The Press, and Congress, 1867-1871 (Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1983), 88-89; LaFeber, The American Search for Opportunity, 12. Minister I. A. Shestakov recorded: “This principle [of ‘manifest destiny’] enters more and more into the veins of the people and this latest generation imbibes it with its mother’s milk and inhales it with the air”.

[25] Pletcher, The Awkward Years, 354; Plesur, America’s Outward Thrust, 10

[26] Buhl, “Maintaining an American Navy”, in Hagan, ed., In Peace and War, 165

[27] Plesur, America’s Outward Thrust, 5; Young, “American Expansion”, in Bernstein, ed., Towards a New Past, 180. LaFeber is among those economic historians Young criticises for focusing too narrowly.

[28] Norman A. Graebner, Foundations of American Foreign Policy: A Realist Appraisal from Franklin to McKinley (Wilmington, Delaware: Scholarly Resources, 1985), 309-310. Mahan was a leading advocate of more constructive Anglo-American relations; Field, Jr., “American Imperialism”, AHR 83:3, 656

[29] Russell H. Bastert, “Diplomatic Reversal: Frelinghuysen’s Opposition to Blaine’s Pan-American Policy in 1882”, Mississippi Valley Historical Review 42:4 (Mar. 1956), 668

[30] Herbert Millington, American Diplomacy and the War of the Pacific (New York: Columbia University Press, 1948), 132-143. Diplomacy had been calculated to reduce Chilean demands on Peru, but due to ever-changing tactics, could do nothing to bring about an equitable peace. Also see Beisner, From the Old Diplomacy to the New, 64, for a memorable illustration of diplomatic bungling in China, where American minister John Russell Young depicts members of the Chinese imperial court as “pink-buttoned censors who read the stars”.

[31] Albert T. Volinder, ed., The Correspondence Between Benjamin Harrison and James G. Blaine, 1882-1893 (Philadelphia: The American Philosophical Society, 1940), 44

[32] Paul S. Holbo, “Economics, Emotion and Expansion: An Emerging Foreign Policy”, in H. Wayne Morgan, ed., The Gilded Age (Syracuse: Syracuse University Press, 1970), 206-207. This was the McKinley Bill, which Democrats complained would lead to the creation of monopolies; David M. Pletcher, “1861-1898: Economic Growth and Diplomatic Adjustment”, in William H. Becker & Samuel F. Wells, Jr., eds., Economics and World Power: An Assessment of American Diplomacy Since 1789 (New York: Columbia University Press, 1984), 133

[33] William M. Molloy, ed., Treaties, Conventions, International Acts, Protocols and Agreements Between the United States of America and Other Powers, 1776-1909, vol. II (Washington: US Government Printing Office, 1910), 403. The convention is dated February 8, 1867.

[34] Williams, The Tragedy of American Diplomacy, 20

[35] Michael H. Hunt, The Making of a Special Relationship: The United States and China to 1914 (New York: Columbia University Press, 1983), 143-146

[36] Charles F. Adams, An Address on the Life, Character and Services of William Henry Seward (Albany: Weed, Parsons and Co., 1873), 57

[37] Buhl, “Maintaining an American Navy”, in Hagan, ed., In Peace and War, 158. The ‘Mahanian’ synthesis, after Admiral Mahan, approved the use of offensive military tactics; Plesur, America’s Outward Thrust, 13. The quotation comes from Democrat George E. Seney, addressing his party’s 1887 convention in Ohio.