Chapter 24 Growth of Colonial Nationalism, 1880-1939

Section 5 Nationalism in the American Sphere of Influence

Driven by the same motives as other imperial powers, in the last part of the 1800s and the early 1900s, the United States too joined the scramble for empire. In the 1880s, in search of coaling stations for its new fleet, the United States took control of eastern Samoa. In the Spanish American War, the United States also gained control of Cuba, the Philippines, Puerto Rico, and the island of Guam. Like other imperial powers, the United States also confronted growing demands for independence from peoples within its sphere of influence.

The Spanish American War

Although the United States annexed eastern Samoa in the late 1880s to provide its navy with coaling stations, it was not until the 1890s that Americans really entered the scramble for overseas territories. Even then, most Americans were probably less interested in gaining colonies than in helping the people of the Caribbean island of Cuba throw off Spanish imperialism.

            Since the 1850s, Cuban nationalists had periodically tried to throw off the Spanish yoke and establish their own independent republic. Spain suppressed these efforts with increasing brutality. In the face of Spanish persecution, many nationalists emigrated to the United States, where they found both money and advice for their struggle. The great Cuban poet Jose Marti, for example, lived many years in exile in New York City. There he did much to unify other Cuban nationalists living in the United States.

            Under Marti’s inspiration, in 1895 Cuban nationalists launched yet another bid for independence. Marti himself returned to Cuba to lead the nationalist forces but was killed in battle with the Spanish. Nevertheless, the revolution continued with great ferocity and brutality on both sides. As the fighting grew more bitter, the American consul in the Cuban capital of Havana requested an American battleship to stand by in case American citizens needed protection or evacuation. In February 1898, the battleship Maine mysteriously blew up in Havana harbor with enormous loss of life. This event, combined with lopsided American newspaper accounts that emphasized Spanish atrocities, inflamed American public opinion.

            In April 1898 Congress publicly recognized Cuban independence—an act that quickly led to war with Spain.[49] Within months U.S. forces crushed Spanish resistance in both the Caribbean and the Pacific, and Spain capitulated. In the peace settlement, the United States gained control not only of Cuba, but also Puerto Rico in the Caribbean, and Guam and the Philippine Islands in the Pacific.

            Although most Americans had probably not thought of the war as a means to take new territory, with victory came the temptations of empire. During the war Congress had recognized Cuban independence and repudiated any territorial claims on the island. Afterwards, however, President McKinley refused to withdraw American troops until the new Cuban Government had incorporated into its constitution the Platt Amendment passed by Congress.

            The Platt Amendment practically made Cuba an American protectorate. It gave the United States “the right to intervene for the preservation of Cuban independence, the maintenance of a government adequate for the protection of life, property, and individual liberty”[50]—as well as rights to maintain naval bases on the island. Congress also annexed Puerto Rico, Guam, and the Philippines. Thus, the “splendid little war” with Spain, as Secretary of State John Hay called it, made the United States an imperial power almost overnight. 

Interventionism in Latin America

Despite strong anti-imperialist sentiment in the United States, the Spanish American War temporarily gave the upper hand to pro-imperialists. With the election of Theodore Roosevelt as president in 1900, the United States pursued an ever more active policy of projecting its power overseas. Under the so-called Roosevelt Corollary to the Monroe Doctrine, in 1902 the new president outlined a policy that would lead to increasing overseas intervention: 

“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 . . . wrong-doing . . . , to the exercise of international police power.”[51] 

Over the next several decades, the Roosevelt Corollary led to American intervention in the Dominican Republic, Haiti, Cuba, and several Central American states. 

Panama. Roosevelt was an ardent imperialist. In addition to policing the hemisphere he also supported the construction of a canal connecting the Caribbean and the Pacific across the Isthmus of Panama in Columbia. When the Columbian Government refused to cooperate, the United States first encouraged a local revolt in the isthmus, then forced Columbia to acknowledge the independence of the region. Thus was born the new Republic of Panama. Meanwhile, the U.S. also gained control of the projected ten-mile-wide Canal Zone. Just as the Suez Canal became a vital imperial interest to Great Britain, as the shortest route to its Indian Empire, so the Panama Canal, opened in 1914, became a vital American interest as the shortest sea-route between the eastern and western United States. 

Nicaragua. Such heavy-handed methods made many Latin Americans suspicious and resentful of the United States. In 1909, for example, economic chaos brought Nicaragua to the brink of civil war. The Nicaraguan government sought U.S. help to prevent war and stabilize the economy. The United States responded by sending troops to restore peace and engaging the interest of leading New York bankers—who soon dominated the Nicaraguan economy. In 1926, the nationalist and reformist leader Augusto Cesar Sandino led a liberal uprising against the growing influence of the United States. His followers began to seize American property and in 1927 U.S. authorities declared Sandino an outlaw. For the next five years he waged a guerrilla war in an effort to drive the U.S. out of Nicaragua. 

The “Good Neighbor Policy.” In 1933, however, the new American president Franklin Roosevelt declared an end to the previous policy of interventionism. In its place, he proposed the so-called “Good Neighbor Policy.” Roosevelt withdrew the last American marines from Nicaragua in 1933. Sandino himself was granted amnesty. Nevertheless, the next year Nicaraguan government agents killed Sandino in Managua. Such violence on the part of conservative authoritarian governments supported by the United States, as well as American investment in the region, inflamed peoples’ fears of American imperialism. Latin American nationalism quickly took on anti-U.S. overtones. 

Nationalism and Imperialism in Hawaii

As the United States became increasingly aggressive in its overseas policies, like other imperial powers it too experienced the rise of local nationalist movements. Unlike other imperial powers, however, in most cases the United States was not the immediate cause of local nationalism. In the Hawaiian islands, for example, the process of building a Hawaiian national identity had begun in the late 1700s under King Kamehameha I, who used European firearms to unite the islands.

            Once united, Hawaii became increasingly wealthy through trade. With growing prosperity came further contacts with Westerners, especially Americans. The islands became a favored landfall for ships engaged in the China trade and whaling. Outside contacts, however, also exposed the Hawaiians to European diseases to which they had no immunities. As had happened earlier in the Americas, tens of thousands died from diseases like measles and smallpox.

            In the 1820s Protestant missionaries from New England arrived in the islands. Over the next 50 years, the missionaries and their children became major landholders in Hawaii. In addition to converting most of the Hawaiians to Christianity, they also introduced Western political and economic forms. Their influence soon transformed the nature of Hawaii’s traditional patriarchal and polygamous society.

            Under American influence, for example, in the 1840s the Hawaiian monarch enacted the first constitution for Hawaii. It included an upper house made up of chiefs and a lower house of elected representatives—though the king himself remained extremely powerful. In 1848, King Kamehameha III also abandoned the traditional system of land tenure in favor of a system of private property. Under these reforms, Hawaii’s economy grew steadily. With growing demands for labor, planters imported workers from Japan, China, Korea, even Puerto Rico. Hawaiians soon became a minority in their own country.

            In the 1870s, however, under King Kalakaua, old Hawaiian customs began to re-emerge. Kalakaua himself tried to limit foreign, especially American, influences. In reaction, in the mid-1880s some 400 of the leading Western traders, planters and missionaries formed the secret Hawaiian League. In 1887 they forced the king to accept a new constitution that largely stripped him of power and put the government in the hands of non-Hawaiians. Their real aim was the annexation of Hawaii by the United States.

            Kalakaua died in 1891 and was succeeded on the throne by his strong-willed sister Liliuokalani. Like her brother, Liliuokalani wanted to restore full Hawaiian control over the kingdom. In 1893, however, after she announced plans for a new constitution, members of the Hawaiian League carried out a bloodless revolution. Placing Liliuokalani under house arrest in her own palace, they declared an end to the monarchy. In a proclamation they justified their revolution on the grounds that 

“independent, constitutional, representative and responsible government, able to protect itself from revolutionary uprisings and royal aggression is no longer possible in Hawaii under the existing system of Government.”[52] 

With the help of the American minister to Hawaii, who ordered marines from an American ship to “keep order” ashore, they set up a provisional government.

            After several years as an independent republic, in 1898 Hawaii was finally annexed by the United States, where victory in the Spanish American war had set the tides of imperialism running full force. As more and more foreigners settled in the islands under American rule, Hawaiian nationalism effectively ceased to be a political force and instead expressed itself in the maintenance of cultural traditions and identity. 

Filipino Nationalism

Although the United States had taken possession of the Philippines as a result of the Spanish American War of 1898, they always seemed slightly embarrassed by the fact. Nationalism in the Philippines dated back to the 1880s and 1890s, when Filipinos had revolted against Spanish rule. In 1898, when the American Commodore Dewey defeated the Spanish fleet in Manila harbor, he allied himself with the local nationalists led by Emilio Aguinaldo. Unaware of American plans to annex the Philippines, Aguinaldo was glad to have Dewey’s help against the Spanish.

            As it became clear that the United States was considering annexation, however, Aguinaldo warned that he would fight just as bitterly against American imperialism as he had against the Spanish. If American troops interfered with his newly proclaimed republic, he warned, “upon their heads will be all the blood.” Despite this warning, there were strong pressures in the United States Congress to approve annexation. As one advocate put it: 

“We have a great commerce to take care of. We have to compete with the commercial nations of the world in far-distant markets. Commerce, not politics, is king.”[53] 

Most in Congress had no idea how effective Aguinaldo’s threat could be—after narrowly voting for annexation, they soon found out.

            For three years the Filipinos fought from the hills—over 4000 American soldiers were killed in the bitter conflict and the estimates of Filipino losses run into the hundreds of thousands. Disillusioned by the violence and strength of this resistance, eventually the United States bought off the nationalists with promises of rapid self-government; the struggle for Filipino independence moved rapidly from the hills into the halls of Congress.

            Although American attitudes toward Filipinos displayed considerable racism, some nationalists actually lamented that U.S. rule was not harsh enough to create even more serious opposition among many Filipinos. As one put it, “Damn the Americans! Why don’t they tyrannize us more?”[54] The first steps toward self-government came in 1916 and by 1935 the Philippines had achieved full self-government with a promise of total independence in 10 years. In the meantime, under American rule new hospitals, roads, and schools had been built. American businessmen had also profited—in keeping with Lord Lugard’s theory about the dual mandate.

[1] Quoted in Nicholas Mansergh, The Commonwealth Experience, Weidenfeld and Nicholson,London, 1969, p. 256.

[2]William R. Keylor, The Twentieth Century World: An International History, 2nd ed., Oxford University Press, Oxford and N.Y., 1992, p. 40.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Paul Valéry, Variety, Harcourt Brace, 1972, p. 252.

[5] Article 22 of the Charter of the League of Nations, reprinted in Andrea and Overfield, The Human Record: Sources of Global History, vol. II, Houghton Mifflin, Boston, 1990, p. 445.

[6] Albert Sarraut, La Mise en Valeur des Colonies françaises, Paris, 1923, pp. 84-93.

[7]ANNO? When the Conservative Canadian Government of Sir Robert Borden introduced conscription in 1917, French Canadians resisted it vigorously, and the Liberal Party under Sir Wilfrid Laurier split over the issue. As one Canadian historian observed, this issue “introduced into Canadian life a degree of bitterness that surely has seldom been equalled in countries calling themselves nations.”

[8]ANNO: The most famous Irish political leader, James Parnell, made the question of Home Rule for Ireland one of the most bitterly contested issues of British politics in the late 1800s. The fires of Irish nationalism were also fired, as German nationalism had been fired earlier by the efforts of the Grimm brothers, by a revival of interest in Irish literature, art, and language. The great poet, William Butler Yeats, as well as other writers who reintroduced people to the old Celtic mythology of Ireland and inspired a general movement known as the Celtic Revival, encouraged a new sense of Irish national identity.

[10] Quoted in Nicholas Mansergh, The Commonwealth Experience, Weidenfeld and Nicholson,London, 1969, p. 256.

[12]Anno: The moving force behind the Congress was an Englishmen named Alan Octavian Hume, who had served in the government of India since before the Great Mutiny. The organization was also supported heavily by the membership of the Theosophical Society, a mystical religious organization that included both Indian and European members and sought to reconcile Hindu religion and philosophy with certain basic Christian doctrines and the findings of modern science.

[13] Minute by Lord Dufferin, November 1888, quoted in Cyril Henry Philips and Bishwa Nath Pandey, eds., The Evolution of India and Pakistan: Select Documents, Oxford University Press, London, 1962, p. 144.

[14]Wolpert, 278.

[15]Wolpert, 279.

[16]Quoted in Spear, India, p. 352.

[17]Wolpert, 299.

[18] Any standard biography of Gandhi; on India generally, Judith Brown, Modern India: the Origins of an Asian Democracy, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1985.

[19]Spear, pp. 357-358.

[20]Wolpert, 287.

[21]Wolpert, 288.

[22]Wolpert, 288.

[23]Use for ANNO:                 In 1919, a violent incident in the city of Amritsar convinced Gandhi that India must not only achieve self-government but complete independence. In response to terrorist actions by radical Indian nationalists, the British had begun to impose strict security regulations. When a large group of Hindus who had not heard about the new regulations gathered in Amritsar for a religious festival, the local British commander ordered his troops to open fire. Some 400 hundred men, women, and children were killed and over a thousand wounded. The Amritsar Massacre shocked both Indians and British alike. When a formal enquiry faulted the British officer but failed to punish him severely, Gandhi and many other nationalists decided that the British must leave India once and for all.

[24]Spear, p. 359.

[25]Wolpert, 296.

[26]Webster's Biographical Dictionary, 385.

[27]Quoted in Spear, India, p. 352.

[28]Botman, 25.

[29]Botman, 27.

[30]Botman, 30.

[31]For this whole section on Egypt see Hanes, The Sudan in Anglo-Egyptian Relations, passim.


[33]ANNO: Unlike Egypt, which had a long history of national identity going back to the days of the pharaohs, the new Arab states were artificial creations. Only in Syria was there a real sense of statehood. But the old Syria had included Palestine, which the British had taken, as well as Lebanon, which France had separated from the rest of the region. Iraq had traditionally been divided into three regions: Kurdistan in the north, the marshlands of the Persian Gulf in the south, and the so-called Middle Euphrates in between. Most people throughout the region continued the new western-educated classes. It was to these small groups of western-trained nationalists that the colonial powers eventually turned over the reins of power throughout the region.

[34]Webster's Biographical Dictionary, 471.

[35]Mansfield, 161.

[36] Lord Balfour to Lord Rothschild, November 2, 1917, reprinted in Ralph H. Magnus, ed., Documents on the Middle East, American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research, Washington, July 1969.

[37]ANNO: The mandate government began to allow Jewish migration and settlement in Palestine during the 1920s and 30s. The officially recognized Jewish Agency helped the process by purchasing Arab lands for Jewish settlement. Soon, many Palestinian Arabs became alarmed. They feared that the Zionists, aided by the British, wanted to make them a minority in their own land. Zionism looked to them like another version of European colonialism, with the Jews as “white settlers.” The Palestinians themselves, however, were divided between two major families, the Nashashibis and the Husaynis. Unable to form a truly united front, they had little success in convincing the British that they too should be granted self-government.

[38]Quoted in Robert Rotberg, The Rise of Nationalism in Central Africa: The Making of Malawi and Zambia, 1873-1964, Cambridge, Mass., 1965, p. 160.

[39]Webster's Biographical Dictionary, 961.

[40]Roberts, 669.

[41]Roberts, 669.

[42]Roberts, 670.

[43]Roberts, 670.

[44]Roberts, 671.

[45]Roberts, 671.

[46] Speech of 11 June 1945, Selected Works of Mao Tse-Tung, vol. 3, pp. 321-323, Peking, 1965

[47]Quoted in Modern Times, p. 201.

[48]Cindy Adams, Sukarno: An Autobiography, N.Y., 1965, p. 76.

[49]ANNO: Although both sides in the conflict were fighting with considerable brutality and committing atrocities, the American press tended to report only those committed by Spanish authorities. After a series of incidents including an explosion on board the American battleship Maine anchored in Havana harbor,

[50]Zinn, p. 303.

[51]Skidmore, p. 318.

[52]“Proclamation: Incident to the Change from the Monarchy to the Provisional Government,” in Jennings, p. 81.

[54]Quoted in Theodore Friend, Between Two Empires, p. 4.