During the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the United States pursued an aggressive policy of expansionism, extending its political and economic influence around the globe. That pivotal era in the history of our nation is the subject of this online history. After temporarily resolving the problems of Reconstruction and Industrialization, Americans began to resume the panama canal essay of expansion.
The horrors of the Civil War had interrupted the original Manifest Destiny that began in the 1840s. Now, as pioneers settled the last western frontiers, expansionists looked yet farther to the west—toward Asia and the Pacific. A leading expansionist, Captain Alfred T. Mahan, cautioned that the Pacific could “be entered and controlled only by a vigorous contest.
As head of the Naval War College, Mahan believed that America’s survival depended upon a strong navy. He argued that a strong navy would require island possessions to serve as naval bases. The time had come, Mahan wrote, for Americans to turn their “eyes outward, instead of inward only, to seek the welfare of the country. American ships had long been active in the Pacific. The New England whaling fleets scoured the ocean in search of their prey. The China trade had been enriching Yankee merchants since 1784. Japan, however, had effectively closed its doors to outsiders, and it restricted foreign ships to a small part of Nagasaki.
Perry, commander of the United States naval forces in the China seas, was a staunch expansionist. Back in 1852 he warned President Fillmore that the British, who had already taken control of Hong Kong and Singapore, would soon control all trade in the area. Perry recommended that the United States take “active measures to secure a number of ports of refuge” in Japan. Kayama Yezaimon, daimyo of Uraga, raced to the battlement, the clash of the warning gong still ringing in his ears.
Stopping beside the brass cannon that guarded the entrance of Edo Bay, he scanned the horizon. The summer sun flashed high above the blue Pacific, and beneath it four ships approached with the tide. As the ships sailed closer, the daimyo, his samurai, and their retainers watched in silent awe. Two huge steam frigates spouted thick black clouds as they maneuvered against the wind. With their paddle-wheels churning the water, the frigates came about, bringing their gun-decks to bear upon the shore defenses. Two sailing ships waited downwind in support. Bright signal flags fluttered from halyards.