Global Policy Forum

US Westward Expansion

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The development of the US "empire" arguably began in the 18th and 19th centuries with the westward expansion of the seaboard colonies and military campaigns against the indigenous North Americans. What began as continental expansion, however, later turned to seizure of overseas territories, e.g. Hawaii, Guam, Puerto Rico. Justifications always relied heavily on religious and moral doctrines of superiority, righteousness, and "manifest destiny


GPF Perspectives

US Territorial Acquisition: Continental Expansion (January 2006)

This list of US territorial acquisitions in North America shows how the US increased its territory through land purchases, annexations and cessions from 1803. These lands, which were acquired at little or no cost, constitute more than half of the current continental US territory. For a list that includes territory beyond the continent please go to US Territorial Acquisitions. (Global Policy Forum)

US Interventions – 1798-Present (December 2005)

This timeline lists US military and clandestine interventions abroad from 1798. The list does not pretend to be definitive or absolutely complete. It does, however, demonstrate that the US has engaged in military operations worldwide for political and economic reasons for more than two centuries. (Global Policy Forum)



Famous Are the Flowers: Hawaiian Resistance Then – and Now (April 8, 2008)

The Nation questions why the US has not returned sovereignty to Hawaii after a group of "American businessmen" overthrew the constitutional government in 1893. Congress annexed Hawaii by a resolution rather than a treaty, which set the mark for future US relations with the Pacific Islands. A hundred years apart, Presidents Cleveland and Clinton apologized for this event which remains fresh in the minds of indigenous Hawaiians.

"Our Indian Wars Are Not Over Yet" (January 19, 2006)

Former US State Department official John Brown views the US war on terror as a continuation or "replication" of the Indian wars. Brown compares the arguments seeking to justify the wars, the struggle between the "civilized world" and the "primitive enemy" and the establishment of US businesses in the occupied areas after each war. He warns that if history repeats itself, Washington will have more "savage wars ahead." (TomDispatch)

A Brief Story About the American Empire (March 5, 2004)

This article tracks the US continental expansion and its impact on native American civilization. The author argues the US "designed a colonial policy well calculated to deprive" Indian nations and peoples of our ancestral lands and resources, and to rob [them] of a free and independent existence." (Indian Country Today)

The Rosy Dawn of US Imperialism (January 16, 2003)

Historians cite 1898 and the acquisition of an overseas empire as the beginning of US imperialism. This article claims that the removal of the queen of Hawaii in 1893 by the US Committee of Public Safety was imperialistic. (Counterpunch)

Fear of Annexation by the United States (February 19, 2002)

In the mid-19th Century, political leaders in the United States such as Secretary of State William Seward sought to expand the US northward into what is now Canada. In 1864 annexation was made an election issue by the Republicans, and two years later the House of Representatives passed a bill favoring the acquisition of the entire territory north of the border, then called British North America. (Library and Archives Canada)

Indian Removal, 1814-1858 (1999)

In the early 19th century, while expanding its borders into the southwest, the US government dispossessed and "relocated" tens of thousands of indigenous North Americans. It used methods including military force, fraudulent treaties, and the passing of President Andrew Jackson's "Indian Removal Act" of 1830. Native Americans and some US citizens resisted the campaign of "removal," but the government cleared 25 million acres of land for white settlement by 1837. (Public Broadcasting Service)

An Ideal or a Justification? (1998)

Manifest Destiny was the 19th century conviction that God intended the European colonists who established the United States to conquer all of continental North America. It was also a racist justification for seizing desirable territory. (Public Broadcasting Service)

Hawaii's Annexation a Story of Betrayal (November 9, 1996)

In 1893, a group of rich sugar plantation owners from the United States overthrew the monarchy of independent Hawaii. The US sent the marines to support the coup, immediately recognized the sugar planters as Hawaii's new government, and annexed the island country a few years later. The plantation owners desired annexation in order to escape high tariffs on sugar exports to the US mainland, their biggest market. (Orange County Register)

103d Congress S. J. Res. 19 (November 23, 1993)

In this resolution, signed by President Clinton, US Congress apologizes to indigenous Hawaiians for the "illegal acts" of US merchants who overthrew the constitutional government of Hawaii in 1893. The document acknowledges a version of US history that Congress had long denied, and which condemns the annexation of Pacific Islands. However, the 1993 statement remains silent on how the US government should compensate Hawaiians for their loss of sovereignty. (Library of Congress)

The Making of The United States: Westward Expansion 1783 to 1890 (1978)

Describes US "domestic imperialism" between 1783 – 1890 as the US, enjoying the "luxury of a built-in empire," marched westwards, destroying native North American cultures and creating the enduring myths and symbols of the US frontier. Includes a map.

President Grover Cleveland's Message (December 18, 1893)

President Cleveland's contemporary critique of US annexation of Hawaii identifies US imperial tendencies that would shape subsequent administrations' policy. Cleveland describes how "a disposition and a condition of mind" led the conspirators to violate "international rules" and overthrow "by an act of war the Government of a feeble but friendly and confiding people." The statement also paints a patriotic vision of the US as an "enlightened" nation of morality and honor, which Cleveland feared expansionist projects would undermine. The President prophesies that pragmatic intervention would never win hearts and minds. (Civics Online)

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