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The U.S. Expansion: Main Reasons

The main idea that determined the desire of Americans to expand was the concept of a special destiny. John L. O’Sullivan, the editor of the Democratic Review, referred to America’s “manifest destiny to overspread the continent allotted by Providence for the free development of our yearly multiplying millions” (Manifest destiny, 1839). This idea inspired many Americans to migrate west to acquire new lands. Another important ideological aspect was the concept of Theodore Roosevelt, who initiated a large-scale expansion of a civilized nation. He believed that uncivilized nations that produce raw materials and do not succeed in industrialization are not capable of self-government (President Theodore Roosevelt, n.d). Rapid industrial growth became an important idea for Americans, who perceived expansion as a peacekeeping activity.

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The expansion also made it possible to build up military power and manage the internal affairs of neighboring territories. Thus, the U. S. through expansion sought to secure control over both production and raw materials, for example, through the elimination of Hawaii sovereignty (The Bayonet Constitution, n.d). Native American tribes also threatened the U.S. and represented the personification of chaos and uncivilization (The Bozeman trail, n.d). These ideas about the superiority of industrial society over other orders became the basis for expansion.

It is noteworthy that in earlier periods, the foreign policy of American leaders was slightly different. Thus, President George Washington, in Farewell Address 1796, expresses the hope that the U. S. will maintain friendly relations with neighboring nations in the future (Transcript of President George Washington’s, 1796). He also stressed that the expansion of the military force is a threat to the freedom of the nation (Transcript of President George Washington’s, 1796). Additionally, John Quincy Adams stated in 1821 that America “has abstained from interference in the concerns of others” (July 4, 1821: Speech, 1821). Thus, by the second half of the 19th century, the views of the leaders regarding foreign policy changed radically.

The U.S. became a more expansionist world power starting in the 1870s because more human capital and natural resources were needed to produce goods. The industrialization has forced Americans to view neighboring territories, in particular the lands of Native Americans and Mexico, as sources of necessary materials. Thus, the crowding out of other independent actors on the continent and land expansion allowed the U.S. to create military and production capacity.


July 4, 1821: Speech to the U.S. House of Representatives on Foreign Policy. (1821). Web.

Manifest destiny. (1839). Web.

President Theodore Roosevelt: Foreign policy statesman or bully? (n.d). Web.

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The Bayonet Constitution. (n.d). Web.

The Bozeman trail: Who was Red Cloud? (n.d). Web.

Transcript of President George Washington’s Farewell Address. (1796). Web.

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