American foreign policy, 1890-1920 lecture outline

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  1. U. S. acquired new, activist foreign policy between 1890 and 1920.

  1. The new policy had two strands: ideological and economic. The strands sometimes were braided, sometimes were separate.

  1. The new policy of activism and world leadership also prompted debate and conflict within the United States.

  1. The two strands and the debate over the U. S. role in the world evident in:
    • Spanish-American War and the debate over imperialism
    • Theodore Roosevelt’s foreign policy, especially in regard to Latin America
    • Woodrow Wilson’s foreign policy, especially in regard to World War I

1890s and the Spanish-American War

  1. Conflict with Spain over Latin America erupted into war in 1898

  • Spain owned Cuba and there were tense relations between its colony and Cuba.

  • Cuba wanted independence from Spain.

  • Rough Riders up San Juan Hill.

  • They could’ve take Spain’s empire.

  1. U. S. victoryacquisition of territory and debate over imperialism.

  1. The debate was not about activism. It was about acquisition of colonies.

Roosevelt’s Foreign Policy

  1. T. R.’s Big Stick diplomacy

  • The evidence of might and muscle was to a deterrent.

  1. T. R. and Latin America:
    •Panama Canal –
    •Platt Amendment (1901) - Cuba couldn’t let a (European) power to gain partial or foreign control. U.S. was going to protect the independence of Cuba. It was to warn off European powers. They were like the watchdog of Cuba.
    •Roosevelt Corollary to the Monroe Doctrine (1904):

“Chronic wrongdoing may in America, as elsewhere, ultimately require intervention by some civilized nation, and in the Western Hemisphere the adherence of the United States to the Monroe Doctrine may force the United States, however reluctantly, in flagrant cases of such wrongdoing or impotence, to the exercise of an international police power.”

Wilson and World War I

  1. Wilson’s Missionary or Moral Diplomacy

  1. Wilson and Mexico—see textbook.

  1. Wilson and World War I, 1914-1916:
    •The U. S. was “too proud to fight.”
    •Americans were to remain “impartial in thought as well as in action.”
    •The challenge was preserving American neutrality at home and overseas. Americans were divided but not neutral about the prospect of war. And Great Britain and Germany both compromised U. S. commitment to neutrality in the Great War.

  1. Ultimately, Germany opted for war with the U. S. United States entered the war in April 1917.

  1. Wilson’s Fourteen Points (January 1918) were his vision for postwar peace.

  • A blueprint for peacemaking.

  • Guide to great post-war world.

  • Some points called for disbarment, freedom of the seas, 14th and most important (League of Nations) – great and small alike would come together to each other’s independence (collective security idea).

  • He said the United States will achieve/arbitrate this.
  1. War ended in November 1918. At peace conference at Versailles in Paris in 1919, Wilson tried unsuccessfully to shape the treaty to resemble his Fourteen Points.

  • Germany did lose the war.

  • A peace conference was called after the war in Paris.

  • Wilson tried to shape the treat in resemblance to his 14 points.

  • The allies wanted a punitive peace. They wanted to assign all war guilt to Germany.

  • Wilson said there was enough dirt on both sides but the allies wanted to strip Germany of its colonies.

  • The wanted Germany to pay big time for the war.

  • They were going to safeguard “everything”.

  1. Wilson clung to the League of Nations and Article X in the hopes of postwar peace.
    Article X of the League of Nations covenant:
    ”The Members of the League undertake to respect and preserve as against external aggression the territorial integrity and existing political independence of all Members of the League. In case of any such aggression or in case of any threat or danger of such aggression the Council shall advise upon the means by which this obligation shall be fulfilled.”

  1. Back home, the battle over ratification of the peace treaty revolved around Article X of the League Covenant. The debate was over collective security vs. unilateralism.


  1. Wilson lost the battle. The United States did not ratify the Treaty of Versailles and did not join the League of Nations. In July 1921, Congress ended the war by joint resolution. In October 1921, the U. S. signed separate treaties with Germany, Austria, and Hungary.

  1. World War I made many—even advocates of an activist foreign policy—despair and recoil. Internationalists and isolationists worried about the prospects for global peace and prosperity.

  1. The domestic impact of war also took the wind out of progressivism’s sails.

  1. We will see the consequences of the experience of war when we look at the 1920s.

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