The belief in American expansion, or the Manifest Destiny philosophy of the mid-19th century, pushed for the United States to expand from coast to coast. By the late 1800s, Americans began to see a new Manifest Destiny beyond the continental United States, beginning with the purchase of Alaska in 1867. At century’s end, overseas territories were acquired such as Puerto Rico, the Philippines, Samoa, Hawaii and other Pacific islands such as Wake and Palmyra.

New Manifest Destiny

The expansion of the Navy in the 1880s and victory in the Spanish-American War in 1898 established the United States as an imperial power in both the Caribbean and the Pacific. The war forced Spain to cede control of Cuba and grant Puerto Rico, the Philippines and Guam to the United States. In particular, the acquisition of the Philippines gave the U.S. a stepping stone to becoming an economic power in Asia. The annexation of Hawaii, also in 1898, was a further indication of the imperial ambitions of the nation.

Hawaii and Samoa

By the end of the 19th century, American sailors had long been familiar with the various Pacific islands. American businessmen involved in overseas trade saw Samoa as an important link in the South Pacific. Similar businessmen were also heavily involved in the sugar trade with Hawaii, and plantations owned by Americans began to exert heavy influence over the islands. These entrepreneurs pressured naval officers and U.S. government officials to negotiate with Pacific islanders for naval bases, harbors and trade partners. In 1898 and 1899, both Samoa and Hawaii were officially annexed to the United States.

The Philippines

Spain ceded the Philippines to the United States in 1898 under the terms of the Treaty of Paris. However, this marked the beginning of a brutal conflict between Filipino nationalists and the American military. The role of the U.S. in the Philippines was controversial, and many saw it as unabashed American imperialism. Those in favor of annexation feared another colonial power taking over the islands and threatening American economic concerns. President McKinley likewise viewed commercial interests as a key reason to acquire the Philippines. The battle for control formally ended in 1902, but the U.S. faced opposition in the Philippines for years.

Puerto Rico

The United States acquired Puerto Rico as a spoil of victory in the Spanish-American War. Unlike the Philippines, annexation of Puerto Rico went much more smoothly. The U.S. viewed the territory not only as an important economic region, but it also sought to establish a key naval base on the island. The governing of Puerto Rico moved rapidly, and a civilian government was established in April 1900 under the Foraker law. The law essentially established the territory as subject to all U.S. federal laws, but it has yet to become a state. Many think that Puerto Rico may become the 51st state.