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Category: Will Klein

American Business Influence of U.S. Expansion

Throughout American history, economic interests of prominent individuals and businesses have been prioritized by the U.S. government due to the conflict of interest of many government officials, racist policies such as ‘Manifest Destiny,’ and the desire to prioritize American interests above all else.


When considering the rise of the United States of America, in the past 100 years in particular, one of the most crucial facets of American foreign policy has been overseas trade (Malchow 2016).  Americans have associated themselves first and foremost with the principle of democracy and the right to democratic government since the founding of the United States under the U.S. Constitution in 1789 (Foner 2017).  As a direct result of this democratic system, capitalism and free trade have emerged as the dominant economic policies of the United States that have in turn been included in foreign policy as America attempts to expand these values abroad (Johnson 2005).  At the core of these efforts, especially during the late 19th and early 20th century, was the policy of expansion in an effort to obtain new territories on the continent and eventually overseas.  American combination of foreign policy and business interests has lead the United States to pursue ambitious expansionist strategies since its inception and will continue to use the same strategies in the future (Cobbs Hoffman 2013).

Despite many arguments that American expansion resulted from popular demand and enjoyed support from the majority within the nation, one can hardly ignore the economic influence and the influence of businesses on the decision to expand the United States.  Initially, this expansion focused on ‘westward expansion’ and the efforts of the United States to create a nation that stretched from the Atlantic to the Pacific coasts (LaFeber 1963).  While many Americans individually sought to move west into the newly purchased Louisiana territory, the government influenced their decisions heavily as it attempted to create new states and markets in the newly expanded lands.  These efforts gave subsidies or directly invested in the movement of white settlers to entice them to move west from the east coast.  Furthermore, railroad companies became some of the largest businesses in the U.S., as they were often the only means for transporting goods and people across the nation (LaFeber 1963).  This in turned lead to strong support from the federal government that hoped to use the rail companies to facilitate the spread of goods and people west.  To this end, the government provided huge tracts of land to these companies to entice them to expand west and to subsidize the costs of their expansion, which would in turn lead to new markets in the U.S.

Once Westward Expansion was realized in full and the United States was connected from the Atlantic to the Pacific, the United States turned south and abroad as it began to expand the border even further (Colby 2011).  This period lead to the most significant period of expansion abroad in American history after victory in the Mexican-American War and the Spanish-American War that lead to massive land concessions to the United States (Colby 2011).  One can argue that American efforts during this era that lead to the creation of the state of Panama and the construction of the Panama Canal represent the most ambitious expansion in American history (Missal 2008).  Not only did the United States support a military lead coup to establish a new state, it also funded and completed one of the largest most expensive and projects in history; one that the French Empire had already failed to complete.  While American expansion and the influence of business on the government did not stop here, this project represents a seemingly blind support of initiatives to promote both business and trade through the full support of the American government for international trade (Missal 2008).

Following the opening of the Panama Canal and the expansion of American trade in the Pacific, the United States was involved in the First and Second World Wars that eventually lead to the end of the colonial era across the world and loss of popular support for expansion (Johnson 2005).  This lead to efforts by the U.S. government to establish new means of projecting power abroad to ensure that the values of democracy and free trade continued to allow business to succeed across the world.  As a direct result of the massive military expansion during the wars and eventual bipolar Cold War with Russia, the United States began to negotiate for and establish bases across the world to counter the Russians and protect American interests (Johnson 2005).

Today with over 700 active bases around the world, the United States continues to project power on every continent and seeks to promote American interests through these satellite military installations (Johnson 2005).  It remains up for debate whether or not this policy of ‘base-ing’ constitutes a modern American Empire or something entirely new; however, the values this policy attempts to promote remain the same.  Through the projection of force from the bases themselves and the use of carrier fleets to rapidly deploy force in areas where bases do not exist, the United States has the ability to project their values on every country in the world almost instantaneously (Cobbs Hoffman 2013).  While some scholars claim that this influence has created a modern empire, others such as Cobb Hoffman argue that the exorbitant military spending of the United States has propelled it into the role of ‘international umpire’ serving to prevent international conflict rather than world domination.  More specifically, Cobbs Hoffman argues that operations such as Freedom of Navigation patrols and deployment of carrier fleets to the Arabian Sea seek to support allies and democracies in their respective regions while also protecting the free trade through these vital regions (Cobbs Hoffman 2013).

Since its inception, the United States has valued democracy and free trade domestically. Following success at home, American business and economic interests quickly searched for new markets and sought to expand the United States to ensure access to new regions on the continent and abroad (Foner 2017).  This legacy continues to persist today, despite the end of colonial expansion, through the use of the U.S. military to protect American business interests abroad by supporting free trade (Johnson 2005).  While these ideals are largely accepted around the world, nations such as China and Russia often question the legitimacy of American action abroad and condemn the use of military force in regions the claim as their own, such as the South China Sea.  Considering the consistent support for these principles through massive spending on the military to maintain fleets and bases abroad, the U.S. most consider to what extent these policies remain successful and cost effective, especially in areas so far from the U.S (Cobbs Hoffman 2013).

Westward Expansion

Carey, Mathew. 1814. “Missouri territory formerly Louisiana” Map. When considering American Expansion, one must start with Westward Expansion and the concerted effort to connect the nation to the Pacific Ocean in addition to the Atlantic.

Carey’s map illustrates one of the major enlargements of the United States the addition of the Louisiana Territory to the United States after President Thomas Jefferson purchased Louisiana from Napoleonic France (Malchow 2016). Considered one of the best achievements of his Presidency, the purchase doubled the size of the United States only a few years after it had gained independence from the British Empire and lead to an explosion in Westward Expansion. After doubling the size of the United States, as one can clearly recognize in the map, the United States now spanned the majority of the Continent in its push for direct access to the Pacific Ocean and would continue to expand for the rest of the century. This map in particular helps to illustrate how directly the U.S. government was involved in westward expansion as the President himself sent diplomatic envoys to negotiate with the French.  American efforts to ensure westward expansion and connect the domestic United States to the Atlantic and Pacific oceans lead to an explosion of development across the United States.

Burlington & Missouri River Railroad Co. 1872. “Millions of acres. Iowa and Nebraska. Land for sale on 10 years credit by the Burlington & Missouri River R. R. Co. at 6 per ct interest and low prices” Commercial advertiser printing house. Buffalo, New York.

This image produced by the Burlington & Missouri Railroad Company directly illustrates the subsequent attempts by the U.S. government and railroad companies to entice Americans to move westward and purchase land along the railway lines that the company has built (Foner 2017).  In addition to offering a deal on tickets during their travels west, this company was a beneficiary of land donation from the U.S. Federal Government, meaning that they have a surplus of land unnecessary for developing just their railroad.  In turn, the company hoped to sell the land to the American people to turn a profit from the land that had been given to them by selling it for on 10 years of credit to potential homesteaders.  Furthermore, following the construction of the railways across the United States, consumer markets expanded and the rail companies hoped to expand them further along their lines by promoting growth along their rail lines and in turn creating new markets (LaFeber 1963). Efforts such as the partnership between the U.S. and rail road companies demonstrate the  ways in which American businesses at the time attempted to raise popular support for the expansion of their business while also benefitting from favorable treatment from the government.

Rand McNally And Company, and Union Pacific Railway Company. 1883. “New map of the Union Pacific Railway, the short, quick and safe line to all points west” Chicago, IL. Map.

In addition to geographic maps from the time, a map outlining the development of the American Union-Pacific railway illustrates one of the pinnacles of cooperation between the United States government and business (Foner 2017).  More specifically, American businesses were so successful in convincing the Federal Government that the United States needed to be connected from coast to coast that the U.S. made the Louisiana Purchase and went to war with Mexico to obtain much of the American Southwest specifically for business expansion (LaFeber 1963). One can clearly see the ways in which these actions benefitted U.S. business development initiatives as the Union-Pacific railroad came as a direct result of Westward Expansion by the United States.  Furthermore Union-Pacific, like many other rail companies at the time, was able to utilize this connection westwards to expand into other lines of business and become one of the most successful companies in America at the time.

Republican Platform Of 1860. A reprint of the original broadside containing the Republican Platform of 1860, adopted by the National Republican Convention held in Chicago. Chicago, IL.

Considering the fact that efforts made by the U.S. government often prioritized business expansion over the interests of the average citizen one would likely assume that officials hid their efforts, but this was not the case.  Platforms established by political parties are often based on their most important values and the values that they intend to prioritize the most in the legislation and policies they intend to pursue once they have been elected to office (LaFeber 1963).  On this document in particular, the Republican Party explicitly lists business interests such as completing the transcontinental railroad in their platform.  Due to the overt efforts of business and the American government to expand westward and eventually overseas, one can clearly identify the influence that these corporations had over political parties at the time (Foner 2017).  Not only had these companies succeeded in pushing their values into political ideologies, they were now codified in political platforms as well.  The Republican Party’s platform of 1860 clearly exemplifies the relationship and direct cooperation between government officials and the American businesses they were closest to at the time.

Check for the Purchase of Alaska

“Check for the Purchase of Alaska” (1868) Photograph. Our Documents.

While many Americans did not necessarily appreciate the purchase of Alaska at when it happened, referring to it instead as things such as ‘Seward’s Folly,’ American business clearly supported American efforts to expand north (Foner 2017).  In addition to the increase in protection for American shipping in the Northern Pacific in particular due to expansion of American territory, this region was ripe with opportunity if for no other reason than its size.  As the largest state in the Union, many Americans have considered Alaska the last frontier since its purchase, American businesses clearly agree (Johnson 2005).  Today, Alaska contains some of America’s largest oil fields used to promote American energy independence in addition to being a prime source of gold and fishing economies for American industry.  Considering the low approval rate for the purchase of Alaska, one cal clearly identify the desire of American government officials to continue expansion at all costs once westward expansion had been fully realized (LaFeber 1963).




Building an American Empire

National Railway Publication Company. 1914. “General Railway Map: The Official Guide of the Railways and Steam Navigation Lines of the United States, Puerto Rico, Canada, Mexico, and Cuba” New York City, NY.

Railway and navigation maps are particularly illuminating when analyzing the economy and business strategies of America at the turn of the 19th Century as the majority of American domestic commerce was driven by railway expansion and steam power (Foner 2017).  At this time in particular, one of the major goals of American Business was to connect the East and West coast by rail line through the ‘transcontinental railroad.’  The National Railway Publication Company map picture above shows the completed transcontinental lines, bu includes Canada and inserts of train lines in Puerto Rico, Mexico, and Cuba in addition to the American lines.  Considering an analysis of the drive for expansion from U.S. business during this same time period, one can clearly identify the most important regions for the U.S. domestically and in the Northwestern Region of the globe  (Santamarina 2000).  Furthermore, this map allows the viewer to contextualize U.S. expansionist goals at the end of westward expansion as railways connect the East and West coast by the time of publication.

“When next I realized that the Philippines had dropped into our laps I confess I did not know what to do with them. I sought counsel from all sides—Democrats as well as Republicans—but got little help. I thought first we would take only Manila; then Luzon; then other islands perhaps also. I walked the floor of the White House night after night until midnight; and I am not ashamed to tell you, gentlemen, that I went down on my knees and prayed Almighty God for light and guidance more than one night. And one night late it came to me this way—I don’t know how it was, but it came: (1) That we could not give them back to Spain—that would be cowardly and dishonorable; (2) that we could not turn them over to France or Germany—our commercial rivals in the Orient—that would be bad business and discreditable; (3) that we could not leave them to themselves— they were unfit for self-government—and they would soon have anarchy and misrule over there worse than Spain’s was; and (4) that there was nothing left for us to do but to take them all, and to educate the Filipinos, and uplift and civilize and Christianize them, and by God’s grace do the very best we could by them, as our fellow-men for whom Christ also died. And then I went to bed, and went to sleep, and slept soundly, and the next morning I sent for the chief engineer of the War Department (our mapmaker), and I told him to put the Philippines on the map of the United States [pointing to a large map on the wall of his office], and there they are, and there they will stay while I am President!”

Rusling, General James. 1903. “Interview with President William McKinley,” The Christian Advocate 22 January 1903, 17.

Following the Spanish American War, President William McKinley received some criticism for his decision to assume control over the Philippines, especially following the outbreak of war in order to keep them under U.S. control (Malchow 2016).  In response to these criticisms, President McKinley argues that he had no choice but to annex the Philippines for the United States (Johnson 2005).  In his opinion, following Spanish withdrawal, a new government would need to take over to ensure the successful development of the Philippines who could not redevelop their nation or self-govern.  While this argument was extremely hypocritical, as the U.S. had just fought Spain in part due to the colonial policies in Cuba, many people at the time accepted this argument and even supported the efforts to ‘develop’ the Philippines (Johnson 2005).  When considering the location of the Philippines, however, one cannot ignore the strategic importance of the countries location in the Pacific for the transportation of goods across the Atlantic, which inevitably influence the American decision to expand there.

American Mutoscope and Biograph Company. 1901. “25th Infantry.” Jersey City, NJ. Alexander Street: America in Film. Film: 68 seconds.

This clip of film showing the 25th Infantry during the Philippine War has two levels of importance in analyzing the influence of American Economic Principles and American Business in expansionist movements.  First, this film clip allows one to observe actual U.S. troops deployed to the Philippines during the war, declared by McKinley as he justifies above, on their march back from a battle in a war to acquire more territory for America.  Despite many arguments by the United States government that they were forced to govern the Philippines following the Spanish American War, the use of force by the Americans clearly illustrates that the United States made a conscious decision to expand their empire against the will of the Philippines (Santamarina 2000).  In addition, this regiment in particular is made up almost entirely of African American soldiers commanded almost entirely by white officers and certainly does not include any of the business men lobbying Congress to fight the war (Foner 2017).  Again this displays the efforts of the United States to promote the interests of the wealthy by exploiting African American soldiers who would not benefit from the war they were fighting.

Office of the Chief Signal Officer. 1937. “The Construction of the Panama Canal [1913-1914], (Reel 1-5 of 5)” National Archives and Records Administration.

When considering expansion by the United States to territories in South America and the Pacific, the efforts to create the Panama Canal represent the peak of the U.S. expansionist movement as the United States annexed the ‘Canal Zone’ in the newly formed country of Panama that the United States itself largely created (Missal 2008).  Not only does this project display territorial expansion into South America, it also represents one of the most ambitious and expensive infrastructure projects administered by the United States, which almost entirely occurred to promote American business interests (Johnson 2005).  Not only does this film in particular display the size and scope of this massive project, it also shows the brutal conditions that the laborers were forces to work in while constructing the canal with not much more than dynamite, pickaxes, and steam shovels.  In addition when considering the workers in the film, one can clearly note that the majority of the workers are South American and the only Americans working on the project are found in supervisory roles or at the opening ceremony once the canal was completed.  As a result of these factors, the goal of completing the Panama Canal was to expand opportunities for U.S. business that sought expansion into foreign markets in order to continue to grow (Cutter 1927).

“School Begins,” 1899. Puck. American Yawp Reader.

Similarly to the images of the 25th Infantry in the Philippines war, this cartoon emphasizes the overtly racist practices of the United States in the areas taken under U.S. control during the expansionist period (Colby 2011).  In this image from Puck, America (represented by a large and imposing Uncle Sam) begins class for a room full of students holding books labeled with the names of their respective states and territories.  In one section sit all of the states of the Union quietly reading their books on their own, while the front and separate section of the class features all of America’s overseas territories, such as Guam.  Each of the students appears terrified of Uncle Sam as he leans forwards from a desk containing documents such as the Constitution that one can infer he will soon attempt to teach to the territories despite their fear and disinterest in the lesson (Colby 2011).  Considering this image in the context of the American expansion being driven westward and eventually overseas by business, one can clearly identify the expansion of American principles abroad as well in an effort to allow business to expand more easily (Cutter 1927).  Through this process of ‘teaching’, Americans hope to expand their values of democracy and free trade to other regions of the world (by force) in an effort to expand business opportunities (Colby 2011).

Influences of the World Wars

Haywood, William. 1919. “Industrial Workers Of The World. With drops of blood. The history of the Industrial workers of the world has been written” Chicago, Illinois.

In this document, Secretary William Haywood of the Industrial Workers of the World lists the ways in which workers across the world have been abused and killed by companies seeking to expand with little to no regard for their employees.  Haywood lists murder, starvation, kidnapping, and arrests amongst his list of charges against the companies he believes have conspired against the general public in an effort to exploit their labor in an effort to expand their companies.  Considering a critique of the efforts by American business to push the United States government to expand westward, the scathing critique of the business practices of these same companies illustrates their unethical business practices in expanding their own business (Colby 2011).  Considering the exposure of these practices and the efforts to improve the working conditions of American workers at the time, one may argue that these efforts by American businesses to expand overseas was an effort to find new labor forces to exploit (Johnson 2005).  Expansion abroad allowed the U.S. government to avoid scrutiny in the U.S. for poor worker protection while guaranteeing high profits for companies by allowing them to expand abroad (Colby 2011).  Outsourcing and globalization begin during this stage immediately following the First World War as the world became more interconnected and industrialization allowed for increases in production.

Keppler, Udo J. 1911. The magnet. United States. Photograph. Library of Congress.

Keppler’s cartoon represents an unnamed American businessman holding an extremely large magnet that pulls high value recourses and commodities associated with various regions of the world towards the United States from all directions. Given the time period of the illustration, one can infer that the artist intended to satirize American policies of global free trade as policies of American greed rather than mutually beneficial strategies for other nations (Cutter 1927).  In addition, given the fact that the businessman uses a magnet and does not leave the United States to obtain the goods, it appears that they are being taken by force from their countries of origin (Santamarina 2000).  Again, seizure by force implies that the policies and practices used by American business that have been sectioned by the government only benefit American businesses and seek to promote American profits above all else (Johnson 2005).  While this document originated during the period of the First World War, the United States has continued to prioritize its own interest in using the same strategies pioneered during this period (Johnson 2005).

“Open for Business,” 1914. Digital Public Library of America.

Following the construction of the Panama Canal, one of the pinnacles of American Expansionist policies, the canal was advertised in this political cartoon as a new store that was now open for new business (Missal 2008).  With a ‘Welcome’ sign on one side and Uncle Sam with his arms outstretched on the other, this cartoon emphasizes the effort of the United States to connect the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans together as a means of expanding trade.  Furthermore, the title ‘Open for Business’ implies that efforts undertaken by the United States government in creating this canal will be directly felt by the businesses attempting to participate in trade from the Atlantic to the Pacific (Missal 2008).  While efforts by the government to promote business are not inherently bad, the methods used by the United States in the development of the Panama Canal were inhumane and the annexation of the Canal Zone by the United States were not carried out in an ethical manner (Missal 2008).  As discussed previously with Colby, in the construction of the Panama Canal, one can again identify the racist policies of the United States designed to exploit indigenous peoples to promote American profits and prioritize U.S. interests across the globe (Colby 2011).

“It is based upon the belief that the security of a nation lies in the strength and character of its own people. It recommends the maintenance of armed forces sufficient to defend this hemisphere from attack by any combination of foreign powers. It demands faith in an independent American destiny. This is the policy of the America First Committee today. It is a policy not of isolation, but of independence; not of defeat, but of courage. It is a policy that led this nation to success during the most trying years of our history, and it is a policy that will lead us to success again.

We have weakened ourselves for many months, and still worse, we have divided our own people by this dabbling in Europe’s wars. While we should have been concentrating on American defense we have been forced to argue over foreign quarrels. We must turn our eyes and our faith back to our own country before it is too late. And when we do this, a different vista opens before us. Practically every difficulty we would face in invading Europe becomes an asset to us in defending America. Our enemy, and not we, would then have the problem of transporting millions of troops across the ocean and landing them on a hostile shore. They, and not we, would have to furnish the convoys to transport guns and trucks and munitions and fuel across three thousand miles of water. Our battleships and submarines would then be fighting close to their home bases. We would then do the bombing from the air and the torpedoing at sea. And if any part of an enemy convoy should ever pass our Navy and our air force, they would still be faced with the guns of our coast artillery and behind them the divisions of our Army.”

Lindbergh, Charles A. 1941. “Address delivered at the America First Committee meeting in New York City” New York, NY. Charles A.

Lindbergh was known for supporting domestic policies that prioritized American interests as opposed to American foreign policy that considered the situation of other nations. Commonly referred to as ‘isolationism’ Lindbergh’s ideas were held by many in the American public during the interwar period, and in 1941 when he gave this speech, as many Americans were wary of becoming involved in another ‘European conflict’ that they did not believe would have direct repercussions on them (Malchow 2016). Instead, Lindbergh and others believed the United States should instead focus on domestic development and remain in economic cooperation with European powers rather than military conflict. Though his strategy was not accepted as the United States entered into the war shortly after his speech, this ideology clearly illustrates the prioritization of American economic prosperity over the larger geopolitical concerns of the time.


One can clearly identify the correlations of Lindbergh’s America First Committee with policies the United State pursues in domestic policy and international relations today.  Cobbs Hoffman centrally argues that the modern policies of the United States are no longer imperial as they were in the past by using annexation and war to expand the United States (2013).  Rather the United States uses the power and influence it attained from acting imperially to serve as an ‘umpire’ on the global scale who prevents conflict and facilitates trade.  While the U.S. may have changed its rhetoric to imply the strategy that Cobbs Hoffman argues, the correlations between Charles Lindbergh’s speech and current U.S. policies are too significant to ignore.  With over 700 bases abroad and military forces on land and at sea that can reach any portion of the globe almost instantaneously, the United States clearly illustrates its goal of promoting American capitalist policies and interests above all else.

Secondary Sources

Cobbs Hoffman, Elizabeth. 2013. American Umpire. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press.

Colby, Jason M. 2011. The Business of Empire: United Fruit, Race, and U.S. Expansion in Central America. Ithaca, New York: Cornell University Press.

Cutter, Victor M. 1927. “Foreign Consuming Power and American Business Expansion.” Proceedings of the Academy of Political Science in the City of New York.

Foner, Eric. 2017. Give Me Liberty: An American History, Volume 2 (5th edition) New York, NY: W. W. Norton & Company

Johnson, Chalmers A. 2005. The Sorrows of Empire: Militarism, Secrecy, and the End of the Republic. Holt Paperbacks.

LaFeber, Walter. 1963. The New Empire: An Interpretation of American Expansion 1860-1898: 35th Anniversary Edition. Ithaca, New York: Cornell University Press.

Malchow, Howard L. 2016. History and International Relations: from the Ancient World to the 21st Century. New York, NY: Bloomsbury Academic.

Missal, Alexander. 2008. Seaway to the Future : American Social Visions and the Construction of the Panama Canal: Studies in American Thought and Culture. Madison, WI: University of Wisconsin Press

Santamarina, Juan C. 2000. “The Cuba Company and the Expansion of American Business in Cuba, 1898-1915.” The Business History Review 74, no. 1 (41-83).

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