Dickinson College Fall 2023

Paris 1783

Category: Maps

Dollar Diplomacy in Latin America

US-Latin American relations have been historically complicated, shifting between a quasi-imperialist northern neighbor to isolationism from the region. After the US acquisition of Cuba and the Philippines at the end of the Spanish-American War the United States found itself in a precarious situation. Having historically opposed the idea of imperialism the US now held two territories that did not have a planned path to statehood. From 1989-1902 the US balanced its disdain for imperialism with its desire to control surrounding regions, inevitably resulting in wars in both Cuba and the Philippines.[i] As violence and instability continued throughout Latin America, there began to grow an even stronger anti-imperialist sentiment within Congress and the American public. By 1902 Venezuela had acquired a massive foreign debt that resulted in European intervention within the Western Hemisphere.[ii] The scorn of US imperialist behavior and fear over continued European intervention forced Roosevelt to develop a strategy that would stabilize Latin America without requiring traditional imperialism through military intervention. The strategy which President Theodore Roosevelt would first implement, and President William Taft would continue during his presidency is now known as Dollar Diplomacy.

Political Cartoon

The World’s Constable courtesy of The Library of Congress depecits President Theodore Roosevelt as a constable standing between Europe, Latin America, Asia, and Africa with a truncheon labeled The New Diplomacy

Eventually, Dollar Diplomacy would come to identify a partnership between private US investment banks and the US government in which customs collections within a Latin American state would be transferred over to a US-appointed company.[iii] Dollar Diplomacy straddled the Gilded Age and Progressive Era and thus explains US policy after its transition from territorial colonialism but prior to the foundation of international financial institutions after WWII.[iv] Spanning the two contrasting eras Dollar Diplomacy may be perceived as the US’ abonnement of imperialism at the forefront of the Progressive age. In reality, it was not the US’ relinquishment of imperialism but solely a shift from territorial to economic imperialism under the guise of humanitarian principles.

Photograph showing Theodore Roosevelt

Photograph of Theodore Roosevelt courtesy of The Library of Congress

In 1892, during the period of traditional US colonialism in Latin America, prior to the Spanish American War, the San Domingo Improvement Company (SDIC) was founded in the Dominican Republic by New York Democratic, Smith Weed.[v] Due to SDIC’s suspect dealings and continual loan default throughout Latin America, the Dominican Republic acquired an enormous foreign debt and the Roosevelt Administration was forced to act. In 1904, Roosevelt issued a corollary to the Monroe Doctrine which decreed that in the event in which states within the Western Hemisphere participate in negligent finical practices that could result in European intervention it is the US’ responsibility as the “international police power” to intervene.[vi] Under the Roosevelt Corollary, if states in the Western Hemisphere “act with reasonable efficiency and decency in social and political matters, if it keeps order and pays its obligations, it need fear no interference from the United States,” it is only when “it became evident that [states] inability or unwillingness to do justice at home and abroad had violated the rights of the United States or had invited foreign aggression to the detriment of the entire body of American nations” that the US would be obligated to intervene.[vii] Under the corollary, Roosevelt established US dominance as the regional hegemon entitled to intervention as it sees fit.

Photo of Jacob Hollander

Photo of Jacob Hollander courtasy of The Library of Congress

Therefore, in 1904 the Dominican Republic became the test subject for a new means of transforming the failing financial system, Dollar Diplomacy. In the following year, under the pretext of the interventionist Roosevelt Corollary, the US intervened in the Dominican Republic’s debt crisis.[viii] With the assertion of the Roosevelt Corollary, the United States had shifted its policy in Latin America to one of commitment and activism. The US believed in their inherent exceptionalism and that under this precedent Roosevelt was doing the “world’s work” in assisting in the development of their Latin American neighbors.[ix] In March of 1905, Roosevelt appointed Jacob Hollander, a prominent John Hopkins economist to operate as an agent for the US to begin investigating the Dominican debt crisis.[x] By December of 1905, Hollander had the Dominican Republic converted to the gold standard and by September of 1906, he had fully adapted the Dominican debt into a persuasive US instrument to establish hegemony in the region.[xi] Hollander had created an outline for Dollar Diplomacy where finance and foreign relations intersected to create a complex system that both US bankers and the government could manipulate for their benefit.[xii] United States policymakers believed that the increase in foreign investment would provide economic and political stability in the region. Within the US in the late nineteenth century, there was a rise in investment banking which provided an avenue to move investments abroad and receive higher foreign interest rates.[xiii] Dollar Diplomacy, therefore, incentivized a partnership to form between investment bankers and the Roosevelt administration with a two-sided mission, for investment bankers to get rich off Latin America and for the US to have influence in the region without taking on its political sovereignty. Roosevelt saw Dollar Diplomacy as a gift to Latin America, specifically, the Dominican Republic so that “stability and order and all the benefits of peace are at last coming to Santo Domingo, [the] danger of foreign intervention has been suspended” all due to the US’ intervention.[xiv]

It wasn’t until after the Roosevelt Administration, during William Taft’s presidency that Dollar Diplomacy transitioned from informal arrangements to official US policy, ultimately becoming a key aspect of Taft’s foreign policy.[xv] President Taft and Secretary of State Philander Knox initially attempted to institute Dollar Diplomacy through treaties, but after receiving pushback from Latin American countries and Congress they converted to a system of “colonialism by contract” that more resembled what Roosevelt had implemented in the Dominican Republic.[xvi] In President William Howard Taft’s fourth State of the Union Address, he described the shift from traditional imperialism to Dollar Diplomacy as a “response to modern ideas of commercial intercourse” which is characterized as “substituting dollars for bullets” in order to avoid direct military intervention.[xvii] Overall during the Taft administration George Herring concluded that Dollar Diplomacy amounted to nothing more than increased instability and US military intervention in Latin America, the exact of which the US claimed to be trying to prevent.[xviii] Even though Taft claimed to be acting in the interest of “idealistic humanitarian sentiments” he and Knox still maintained an air of ethnocentrism in which they believed in US dominance over the “rotten little countries” of Latin America.[xix]

Political Cartoon

The Crown Prince courtesy of The Library of Congress depicts President Theodore Roosevelt, wearing royal robes, holding on his shoulders and presenting a diminutive William H. Taft wearing a crown

Through Dollar Diplomacy both the Roosevelt and Taft Administrations were able to use commercial-government partnerships throughout Latin America and beyond to facilitate fiscal reform without the US taking on complete responsibility for the sovereignty of states. Under the definition of imperialism in which a state assumes a part of the sovereignty of another in order to foster a dependent relationship, the US’ dominance over the financial systems of Latin American countries through Dollar Diplomacy represents a form of imperialism even though the US never formally held the territories.[xx] No matter what intentions the US claimed to have during this period there was an underlying exploitive nature in their actions, since the primary objective of the policies were political, the stability of Latin America, not the development of states for pure humanitarian gains.[xxi] Dollar Diplomacy was the manifestation of US quasi-imperialist ideals where the US sought to achieve its best interest with little regard for other states.[xxii]


[i]Ellen D. Tillman, “Military Diplomats and Dollar Diplomacy” In Dollar Diplomacy by Force: Nation-Building and Resistance in the Dominican Republic,” 28-52. (Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 2016), 22. [JSTOR]

[ii]George C. Herring, From Colony to Superpower: US Foreign Relations since 1776(New York: Oxford University Press, 2008), 370.

[iii]Cyrus Veeser, “Inventing Dollar Diplomacy: The Gilded-Age Origins of the Roosevelt Corollary to the Monroe Doctrine,” Diplomatic History, Vol. 27, No. 3 (2003): 325. [JSTOR]

[iv]Emily S. Rosenberg and Norman L. Rosenberg, “From Colonialism to Professionalism: The Public-Private Dynamic in United States Foreign Financial Advising, 1898-1929,” The Journal of American History, Vol. 74, No. 1 (1987): 59. [JSTOR]

[v]Eric Paul Roorda, “Imperial Improvement,” Diplomatic History, Volume 28, Issue 5, (2004): 796. [JSTOR]

[vi]Rosenberg, 63

[vii]President Theodore Roosevelt, “Fourth Annual Message to Congress on the State of the Union.” (speech, Washington, DC, December 6, 1904) The American Presidency Project, https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/documents/fourth-annual-message-15

[viii]Roorda, 795

[ix]Herring, 364.

[x]Cyrus Veeser, “Concession as a Modernizing Strategy in the Dominican Republic,” The Business History Review, Vol. 83, No. 4 (2009): 753. [JSTOR]

[xi]Emily S. Rosenberg, “Foundations of United States International Financial Power: Gold Standard Diplomacy, 1900-1905,” The Business History Review, Vol. 59, No. 2 (1985): 192. [JSTOR]

[xii]Veeser, 323.

[xiii]Rosenberg, 62

[xiv]President Theodore Roosevelt, “Fifth Annual Message to Congress on the State of the Union.” (speech, Washington, DC, December 5, 1905) The American Presidency Project, https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/documents/fifth-annual-message-4

[xv]Herring, 372

[xvi]Herring, 373

[xvii]President William Howard Taft,  “Fourth Annual Message to Congress on the State of the Union.”(speech, Washington, DC, December 3, 1912) The American Presidency Project, https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/documents/fourth-annual-message-16

[xviii]Herring, 373

[xix]President William Howard Taft,  “Fourth Annual Message to Congress on the State of the Union.”(speech, Washington, DC, December 3, 1912) The American Presidency Project, https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/documents/fourth-annual-message-16; Quoted in Herring, 373.

[xx]Rosenberg, 65

[xxi]Herring, 364

[xxii]Dana G. Munro, “Dollar Diplomacy in Nicaragua, 1909-1913,” The Hispanic American Historical Review, Vol. 38, No. 2 (1958): 209. [JSTOR]





The Gradual Process of Woodrow Wilson and the United States of America Joining World War I

Woodrow Wilson served as President of the United States from 1913 to 1921. Just after winning the election, he stated that, “It would be the irony of fate if my administration had to deal chiefly with foreign affairs” (1). Wilson’s focus when entering office was on domestic matters, however, his presidency would be consumed by emphasis on foreign policy issues, particularly of World War I. Wilson and the majority of Americans were adamant in staying neutral throughout World War I (1914-1918). However, the United States would face countless problems and pressures, eventually pushing the nation into war. With the threat of Germany growing greater, especially through its use of unrestricted submarine warfare, the U.S. took numerous steps in avoiding direct conflict. However, Wilson and his administration would also take incremental steps in preparing the nation for the growing inevitability of war. This map provides place marks for some of the most significant events leading up to the U.S. joining World War I. The map not only provides the incidents that slowly pushed America closer to war, but also the actions Wilson’s administration took in preparing for the increasing likelihood of conflict.

Wilson declared a policy of neutrality with the emergence and development of war in Europe. Neutrality was not only widely accepted by the public, but it also provided the flourishing of American businesses through the demand of products for war (2). Furthermore, Wilson believed that the declaration of neutrality would protect American citizens and ships from attacks, however, he would be proven wrong as both Germany and Britain would repeatedly violate the neutrality rights of the U.S (3). Britain set up a blockade in order to prevent imports into Europe, and moreover to essentially, “strangle the enemy economically” (4). This led to the British violating U.S. neutrality as they would prevent the transportation of American goods to Germany (5). Wilson would not take strong action against the British, therefore as a result the, “Acceptance of the blockade tied the United States closer to the Allied cause” (6). On the other hand, Wilson and the American public would not concede so easily to Germany’s breaking of neutrality rights through the use of unrestricted submarine warfare.

The sinking of the British liner Lusitania in May of 1915, can be marked as a turning point in the change of attitude of the American public towards the war. The result of the attack led to the death of twelve hundred people, with one hundred twenty-eight of them being American citizens (7). The public turned strongly against Germany and moreover, Wilson was pressed to take a strong stance against the perpetrators. Notably and not surprisingly, Theodore Roosevelt pressed the Wilson administration to take action and enter the war (8). Wilson took cautious steps in the aftermath of the Lusitania attack. He gave a speech in Philadelphia in order restate the U.S. position of neutrality, however, his poor choice of the words “too proud to fight” lacked as a sufficient response to the assault (9). Wilson’s strictly pacifist message would not do enough to quell the anger of Americans. Consequently, he took a stronger stance by sending a note to Germany that demanded the change in unrestricted submarine warfare. His note suggested that another sinking, which resulted in American civilian casualties, could lead the United States to break diplomatic relations and even join the war (10). However, it was not until the sinking of the British Liner Arabic on August 19, 1915, in which two Americans were killed, did the German government officially and publicly announce the prohibiting of unrestricted submarine warfare (11).

Germany’s public pledge in the aftermath of the sinking of the Arabic would not do enough to fully suppress its ruthless tactics in its use of U-boats. In March of 1916, a German submarine sank another ship with Americans aboard, the Sussex (12). Although no Americans died, there were calls for the government to sever ties with Germany and furthermore even enter the war. Wilson was still determined to avoid war, and was successful in doing so by coercing the Germans to make the Sussex Pledge in early May. The Sussex Pledge stipulated that Germany would not undertake anymore surprise attacks against passenger liners (13). Although Wilson was able to keep the United States out of the conflict in Europe, it forced him into a corner. If Germany believed that preventing the U.S. from entering the war was not as crucial than resuming unrestricted U-boat warfare, then American neutrality would surely cease to exist (14). Wilson at best would have to break relations with Germany and at worst go to war against them.

In the aftermath of the Sussex Pledge, Wilson signed the National Defense Act and Naval Expansion Act in 1916. Not only was the National Guard strengthened, but also construction of battleships and cruisers were undertaken (15). Wilson understood how fragile the German pledge was and the potential implications of it being broken. Wilson took the necessary steps to insure America’s safety, while not overly pressing for war. This was not the first instance in which Wilson took progressive steps to assure U.S. safety. Although America was generally not enticed to join the war in the aftermath of the Lusitania sinking, Wilson’s administration sent forces to Nicaragua and Haiti in order to protect its overseas interests and influence in case of future outbreak (16). Germany could potentially take control of these nations and as a result pose a threat to America’s sphere of influence. Furthermore, the U.S. bought the Danish West Indies in August of 1914 in order to protect the Panama Canal. The administration was worried that Germany could build a base there and threaten to take control of the coveted passage (17).

The protection of overseas interests and bolstering of forces would pay off, as the Zimmermann Telegram confirmed the U.S. joining the war, if there was any doubt to begin with. In exchange for Mexico’s alliance, Germany would return its former territories currently presiding in the U.S (18). On April 2, 1917, Wilson presented Congress with a declaration of war against Germany. At this point the administration and the American public were in general decisively supportive of fighting in the war.

Negative public sentiment towards Germany increased starting with the sinking of the Lusitania. Want of joining the war only increased with the continuous use of German unrestricted U-boat warfare and moreover the sinking of other passenger vessels. Wilson tried his best to prevent the U.S. from fighting in Europe, however, he was also cautious of the threat Germany presented. Although reluctant to fight, he took steps to ensure the safety of the U.S. either through the protection of overseas interests or increasing of armed forces. Wilson and America’s joining of World War I was a gradual process that increasingly became inevitable.

(1) H. W. Brands, “Wilson at War Wilson in Love,” American History 48, no.2 (2013): 48.
(2) Brands, “Wilson at War Wilson in Love,” 50.
(3) Brands, “Wilson at War Wilson in Love,” 51.
(4) George C. Herring, From Colony to Superpower: U.S. Foreign Relations Since 1776 (New York: Oxford University Press, 2008), 401
(5) Herring, From Colony to Superpower, 401
(6) Herring, From Colony to Superpower, 402
(7) Herring, From Colony to Superpower, 402
(8) Michael S. Neiberg, “Blinking Eyes Began to Open: Legacies from America’s Road to the Great War, 1914-1917,” Diplomatic History 38, no.4 (2014): 805
(9) Brands, “Wilson at War Wilson in Love,” 51
(10) Brands, “Wilson at War Wilson in Love,” 52
(11) Brands, “Wilson at War Wilson in Love,” 52-53 and Herring, From Colony to Superpower, 403
(12) Neiberg, “Blinking Eyes Began to Open,” 809
(13) Herring, From Colony to Superpower, 404
(14) Herring, From Colony to Superpower, 404
(15) Herring, From Colony to Superpower, 405
(16) Neiberg, “Blinking Eyes Began to Open,” 806
(17) Neiberg, “Blinking Eyes Began to Open,” 808
(18) Herring, From Colony to Superpower, 410

The Cuban Missile Crisis: Brink of Catastrophe

In October of 1962, the world was brought to the brink of destruction by the two largest super powers at the time, The United States and The Soviet Union. With tensions rising since the end of World War II, the two nations had entered into a Cold War that lasted until the late 1980s. While the two powers never directly fought, the world came closest to nuclear war in the early 1960s. In the previous decade, conflict resulting from the Cold War had been overseas, with vast oceans on either side protected The US. Communism was mostly on the other side of the world and contained to the Eastern Hemisphere. This all changed on January 1, 1959. After 6 years of struggle and revolution, President Baptiste of Cuba was ousted and Fidel Castro was instated as Prime Minister, eventually taking the title of President.[1] With his rule came a communist form of government. Communism was not only close to home, but it was only 90 miles off of the coast of Florida.

In the years after the Cuban Revolution, the CIA, under the Eisenhower administration, planned an operation that would bring over one thousand Cuban exiles into the country in order to topple the communist government. The plan was still in the works when President Kennedy entered office and in early 1961, Kennedy approved of the plan. What has come to be known as the Bay of Pigs occurred in April of 1961 and was a complete failure.[2] Most of the Cuban exiles were either captured or killed and Castro stayed in power. This failure made Kennedy look weak and unprepared for the foreign policy challenges he would have to face in the future. Over all, this event was a complete embarrassment for the United States Government.

Over the next year, the Soviets continued to antagonize the United States through intimidation and strategic action. Two of the most notable events to occur in 1961 are the Berlin Crisis, which resulted in the building of the Berlin Wall and the testing of the Tsar Bomba, the largest manmade explosion ever to be detonated. In Kennedy’s first year of his presidency, he faced the division of Europe with a physical wall and the mounting perils of nuclear war. With all of this on his plate, and with lessons learned from the Bay of Pigs, Kennedy had no option but to make perfect maneuvers.

On October 15th, 1962, the President was informed that Soviet Nuclear Weapons had arrived in Cuba. For 13 days, the world watched as nuclear war was contemplated. Top officials essentially gave Kennedy two options, either immediately attack Cuba, or accept Soviet nuclear weapons in Cuba.[3] Kennedy along with The ExComm, seeing neither of these as a viable option, decided to strike a balance between the two approaches. On October 22, Kennedy announced a U.S. naval blockade around Cuba.[4] At this moment, the world was at the closest to total destruction that it ever had been before and hopefully will ever be again. On television, Kennedy declared,


“To halt this offensive buildup, a strict quarantine on all offensive military equipment under shipment to Cuba is being initiated. All ships of any kind bound for Cuba from whatever nation or port will, if found to contain cargoes of offensive weapons, be turned back. This quarantine will be extended, if needed, to other types of cargo and carriers.”

-John F Kennedy, October 22, 1962[5]


Further more,

“It shall be the policy of this Nation to regard any nuclear missile launched from Cuba against any nation in the Western Hemisphere as an attack by the Soviet Union on the United States, requiring a full retaliatory response upon the Soviet Union.”

-John F Kennedy, October 22, 1962[6]


After Days of the blockade and negotiations between Kennedy and Khrushchev, it was announced in October 28th that the Soviets would remove all of their nuclear weapons from Cuba if the US promised to not invade Cuba and end the quarantine. However, Kennedy also secretly negotiated the removal of US nuclear weapons from Turkey. This moment is Kennedy’s biggest foreign policy achievement. In the following year, both Kennedy and Khrushchev began working towards peace and were eventually able to agree on a Test Ban Treaty. Some even speculate that if Kennedy would have lived and under the right conditions, the Cold War could have ended in the 1960s.[7] While the crisis ended without the use of nuclear weapons, it tittered far too close to the edge.   This was one of the first true tests of collective security and luckily at that moment, level heads prevailed.


[1] Herring, George. From Colony to Superpower: U.S. Foreign Relations since 1776. New York: Oxford University Press, 2008.

[2] Herring, From Colony to Superpower.

[3] Graham, Allison. “The Cuban Missile Crisis at 50.” Business Source Complete, Vol. 91, Is. 4. August, 2012.

[4] Graham, Allison. “The Cuban Missile Crisis at 50.”

[5] JFKLibrary. “Cuban Missile Crisis,” Accessed November 12, 2014. < http://www.jfklibrary.org/JFK/JFK-in-History/Cuban-Missile-Crisis.aspx>

[6] JFKLibrary. “Cuban Missile Crisis.”

[7] Graham, Allison. “The Cuban Missile Crisis at 50.”

The USS Panay: An Incident Long in the Making

As 1937 came to an end, the bombardment and subsequent destruction of the USS Panay had the potential to at least demolish US-Japanese relations and at most draw the United States into an early engagement with the axis countries, a potentially history altering sequence of events. Less than fifteen minutes after spotting three Japanese bombers overhead,  at 1:38 PM on December 12th the destruction of the first American warship since WWI commenced (Jellison). Initially passed off as a freak accident rectified by the profuse apologies of both the Japanese people and their government, the destruction of the USS Panay and three Standard Oil tanker ships was over fifteen years in the making.

After having tumultuous interactions in 1919 with Woodrow Wilson over a racial equality clause, the Washington Naval Conference of 1921 was the first sign of life for US-Japanese relations (Lafeber 145). After finding themselves as signatories on all three naval agreements conceived at the conference (Dobbs), both nations left with a sense of reforged relations and the hopes of renewed cooperation and positive interaction between the two powers (Herring 467). Improving upon the good relations fostered during the Washington Conference was the United States’ aid of Japan in 1923 after a massive earthquake (Herring 467). The early part of the 1920s looked kindly upon US-Japanese relations, however in the midst of positive relationship building activity, bankers such as Thomas Lamont of J.P. Morgan and friends looked to make a financial killing and began to inadvertently fund a growing Japanese presence in Manchuria (Cohen 31). While these loans appeared fairly innocuous upon initial review, the United States government found itself stuck between regulating the Japanese presence in Manchuria and avoiding any action that could potentially offend the Tokyo government (Cohen 32).

Relations took a grave turn in 1924 with the introduction of the National Origins Act. This  legislation placed quotas on many prominent immigrant groups who had arrived over the past thirty years and effectively banned the immigration of Japanese citizens. A shocking development in light of the recent years of cooperation and positive interaction between the US and Japan, the bill is described by Walter LaFeber as having attracted a great deal of opposition, but unfortunately, none of this support came from within the Senate (LaFeber 145). After the passing of the bill, US-Japanese relations degenerated rapidly. The first palpable instance of the decay came on July 1st that very same year, as the new foreign minister Shidehara came to power, the public showed its discontent with US policy by ripping down American flags adorning the US embassy in Tokyo, and one citizen going as far as committing suicide on the steps leading to the embassy entrance (LaFeber 145-146). While Lamont and the efforts of his fellow bankers continued to launder money into Japan, the United States had become the main importer into China, and this relationship was not to be overlooked when relations between the Chinese and the Japanese started to turn dark. Six years after the Japanese invaded Manchuria, the United States ran aground in its navigation of the tensions between the Japanese and the Chinese. A few short months before the sinking of the Panay, President Roosevelt delivered what would become one of his most memorable speeches as he compared the lawlessness and savagery of the conflicts in China and throughout Europe as a disease in need of quarantining. While FDR spoke in a vague manner about taking action against the abject violence found throughout the world, the speech provided us with eerily accurate predictions of the times to come. Not two months later, the violence FDR had addressed in his Chicago speech reemerged in a much more personal way.

As mentioned earlier, the United States had entered China earlier in the decade. Even in the wake of the 1924 Exclusion Act, a venture down the Yangtze may not have merited a watery grave for US ships in the region. However an important factor in staving off a violent outburst towards the Americans was no longer present, Shidehara who had worked hard to pursue policies of cooperation had been replaced by the policies of the Kwantung Army which were of a violent, imperial nature (LaFeber 146). In 1937 during what would become infamously known as the Rape of Nanking, efforts to evacuate Standard Oil employees located outside of Nanking, the Japanese fired what can be seen now as a warning shot across the nose of the Americans. On the afternoon of December 12th, miles upstream of Nanking, the USS Panay and three tankers belonging to Standard Oil. The bombardment destroyed all four targeted ships, and the oil tankers sustained untold Chinese casualties (Jellison). Aboard the Panay, three had lost their lives in the chaos, two servicemen: Charles Ensminger and Edgar Hulsebus and Italian correspondent Sandro Sandri (Jellison). Given the live footage Eric Mayell and Norman Alley were able to record on that fateful day, there is  little doubt that the attack on the USS Panay was not the honest mistake the Japanese had attempted to portray it as (Jellison), but was something much more malicious.

In the days to come, sentiment reminiscent to “Remember the Maine” and the Lusitania could have created a great deal of outrage stateside, however the incident was all but forgiven. But why was it forgiven and seemingly forgotten in spite of the empirical evidence explained by Norman Alley’s film footage of the attacks? Where was the United States’ desire for retribution? While this could be tidily explained by FDR’s decision to edit the footage to soften the blow to US-Japanese relations (Sparks 9), it seems that subsequent similar US responses to neutral attacks indicated that FDR was truly a man with “determination to pursue a policy of peace”. Even less than two months before the events of Pearl Harbor, in the wake of a German U-Boat attack on the USS Kearny, FDR made a statement that would foreshadow the next four years for the United States “We have wished to avoid shooting. But the shooting has started.” (FDR, USS Kearny).

Sources Consulted

Norman Alley’s Bombing of the USS Panay. China: Universal Studios, 1938. Film.
Cohen, Warren I. Empire without Tears: America’s Foreign Relations, 1921-1933. Philadelphia: Temple UP, 1987. Print.
Dobbs, Charles M. “Washington Naval Conference 1921-1922.” Encyclopedia of Chinese-American Relations. N.d. Credo Reference. Web. 14 Nov. 2014. <http://search.credoreference.com/content/entry/mcfcham/washington_naval_conference_1921_1922/0?>.
Herring, George C. From Colony to Superpower: U.S. Foreign Relations since 1776. New York: Oxford UP, 2008. Print.
Jellison, Charles A. “A Prelude to War.” American History 34.5 (1999): n. pag. Reader’s Guide to Full Text Mega. Web. 14 Nov. 2014.
“President Franklin Delano Roosevelt Address over the Radio on Navy Day concerning the Attack upon the Destroyer U. S. S. Kearny, October 27, 1941.” Franklin Delano Roosevelt Addresses the Attack upon the Destroyer USS Kearny. Radio. 27 Oct. 1941. US Merchant Marine at War. Web. 14 Nov. 2014.
Roosevelt, Franklin D. “Quarantine the Aggressors Speech.” Chicago. 5 Oct. 1937. Points of View Reference Center. Web. 14 Nov. 2014.
Spark, Nick T. “Suddenly and Deliberately Attacked! The Story of the USS Panay Incident.” USS Panay. N.p., 2007. Web. 14 Nov. 2014.

The Cuban Missile Crisis (1962): Diplomacy Played as Poker

This thirteen-day crisis is remembered as the closest the world has ever come to a nuclear Armageddon. In the fifty-two years since the fall of 1962, the indispensable role diplomacy and restraint played in safely deescalating this confrontation is commonly forgotten. This diplomatic episode is unique in the sense that the leaders of the United States and Soviet Union – John F. Kennedy and Nikita Khrushchev – were at the center of the decision making process. President Kennedy, during a White House meeting, stated “It is insane that two men, sitting on opposite sides of the world, should be able to decide to bring an end to civilization”(1). Both Kennedy and Khrushchev were using diplomacy to play a game of high stakes poker with the fate of humanity in the balance with neither willing to back down until the last minute. This map focuses on the United States’ relations with Cuba before 1962, the thirteen-day nuclear crisis, and its resolution.

The list of major events on this map highlight two of the most historically important policies the United States pursued in international affairs — the policy of containment (1947) and the Monroe Doctrine (1823). In the years after the conclusion of World War II, the United States, led by President Harry S. Truman, adopted the policy of containment in an effort to curb Soviet expansion and the spread of communism. When the Cuban revolutionary, Fidel Castro, took power and declared the country communist in 1959, the United States adhered to their policy of containment and was committed to deposing Castro. The CIA and President Kennedy failed to accomplish this task by means of the covert invasion at the Bay of Pigs (2). With regards to the Monroe Doctrine, the United States has long upheld keeping foreign influence from the Western hemisphere and would not stand for Soviet influence in Cuba.

This map depicts the military and political operations that took place before, during, and after the Cuban Missile crisis. Each of these events is denoted by a flag of the respective country associated with the military or political operation. More specifically, this map aims to accentuate the diplomatic correspondence between Kennedy and Khrushchev during the crisis. A black building with a flag next to it represents these points on the map. Lastly, the map portrays the role that international institutions played in resolving the crisis by generating global support. An orange flag characterizes these posts. These events are critical to understanding the causes, motivations, and the diplomatic solutions associated with the Cuban Missile Crisis.

This map is presented in chronological order of when each event occurred. Throughout the post-World War II era, the United States and Soviet Union were fighting to gain permanence on the world stage. This struggle most clearly manifested itself through a nuclear arms race. The Cuban Missile Crisis was the tipping point, in which the two super powers came closest to war (3). The causes and motivations that led to the delivery of Soviet nuclear weapons to Cuba were multifaceted. Khrushchev believed he could sneak the missiles into Cuba because he perceived Kennedy as young and ineffective after his failed invasion at the Bay of Pigs. When speaking about deployment of missiles, Khrushchev explicitly asked why we don’t throw “a hedgehog down Uncle Sam’s pants” (4). The Soviet leader was encouraged to do so due to a lagging missile gap with the United States, the need to defend his Cuban ally from invasion, and pressures to force concessions with the occupation of Western Germany. Khrushchev also made pushes to respond forcefully to American nuclear weapons in Turkey, to show strength, and to concede to domestic pressures at home (5). Khrushchev’s gamble would soon be exposed by American intelligence agencies and would spark the infamous thirteen-day nuclear crisis.

On October 13, 1962 a U-2 spy plane captured the first images of a Soviet nuclear build up in San Cristobal, Cuba. The photos were analyzed on October 14, sent to Washington D.C. on the 15th, and were given to President Kennedy the morning of Tuesday the 16th – officially marking the first day of the crisis. The President responded by calling together the Joint Chiefs of Staff and a team of expert advisors called ExComm. From the intelligence gathered, they concluded that if the Soviets could make these weapons operational, they could strike any where in the Western hemisphere with nuclear force. The meetings in the White House produced two possible courses of action – an air strike followed by an invasion or a naval quarantine with the threat of force (6). On October 22, 1962, President Kennedy informed the world on television of the presence of nuclear weapons in Cuba and of his decision to enforce a naval quarantine on Soviet ships bound for the island.

This decision was a stroke of diplomatic genius, allowing Kennedy to buy time and petition support from the Organization of American States (OAS) and the United Nations (UN) (7). On October 24, Khrushchev responded to the naval quarantine by sending a letter that called the blockade an act of war and explaining his decision to order Soviet ships to continue their course towards Cuba. By this time, the United States had already gained a unanimous vote from the OAS supporting the quarantine and authorizing action to make sure the missiles would not threaten the Western hemisphere. The United States was also preparing to present its case to the UN on October 25 by sending representative, Adlai Stevenson, with photos of the missile sites (8). This international support and multilateralism allowed the United States to exert more diplomatic pressure on Khrushchev.

On October 26, 1962, Khrushchev sent a letter to President Kennedy presenting terms of a peace settlement. Before receiving a response, Khrushchev sent another letter on October 27 with a much harsher tone that demanded the removal of American nuclear weapons in Turkey. On the very same day, a U-2 spy plane was shot down over Cuba, effectively reigniting the crisis (9). Kennedy’s Joint Chiefs of Staff now pushed for war, but the President practiced restraint, agreeing to a peaceful settlement the next day, October 28. This peace agreement called for the removal of all nuclear weapons in Cuba and the dismantlement of the Jupiter missiles in Turkey.

The agreement immediately went into effect and the Soviets began deconstructing their missile sites in Cuba. On December 1, 1962, the last Soviet Missiles and warheads left the island. Shortly after, the Jupiter missiles were scrapped and their nuclear warheads were returned home in April of 1963 (10). This was not viewed as a strategic loss because the Jupiter missiles were due to come off line, because they were obsolete. In terms of leverage and diplomacy, the United States viewed the agreement as a victory, effectively negotiating the removal of nuclear weapons from Cuba without having to sacrifice anything of importance.

The Cuban Missile crisis was an event in which the world’s two most powerful nations at the time held the fate of the world in their hands. Without the use of shrewd diplomacy and restraint, this conflict could have very easily escalated into a full-out nuclear war. One mistake could have caused mutually assured destruction for the United States, the Soviet Union, and their allies. The Cuban Missile Crisis had a lasting impact on the international system and allowed for the first steps towards dètente to be taken (11).



(1) It Is Insane That Two Men Sitting on opposite.” Presidential Libraries. Tumbler, 5 Aug. 2011. Web. 10 Nov. 2014.

(2) Munton, Don. Cuban Missile Crisis: A Concise History. N.p.: Oxford UP, 2011. Print. pg. 14-20.

(3) Herring, George C. From Colony to Superpower: U.S. Foreign Relations since 1776. New York: Oxford UP, 2008. Print. pg. 719.

(4) Herring, George C. From Colony to Superpower: U.S. Foreign Relations since 1776. New York: Oxford UP, 2008. Print. pg. 720.

(5)  Munton, Don. Cuban Missile Crisis: A Concise History. N.p.: Oxford UP, 2011. Print. pg. 22-24.

(6) Cuban Missile Crisis – John F. Kennedy Presidential Library & Museum.”Cuban Missile Crisis – John F. Kennedy Presidential Library & Museum. N.p., n.d. Web. 10 Nov. 2014.

(7) Weaver, Michael E. “The Relationship between Diplomacy and Military Force: An Example from the Cuban Missile Crisis.” Diplomatic History38.1 (2014): 137-81. Print. (8) Munton, Don. Cuban Missile Crisis: A Concise History. N.p.: Oxford UP, 2011. Print. pg. 68-73.

(9) Cuban Missile Crisis – John F. Kennedy Presidential Library & Museum.”Cuban Missile Crisis – John F. Kennedy Presidential Library & Museum. N.p., n.d. Web. 10 Nov. 2014.

(10) Munton, Don. Cuban Missile Crisis: A Concise History. N.p.: Oxford UP, 2011. Print. pg. 92-93.

(11) Munton, Don. Cuban Missile Crisis: A Concise History. N.p.: Oxford UP, 2011. Print. pg. 94-95.

From Munich to Pearl Harbor: FDR’s Progression Towards War

Moyra Schauffler

During the years prior to American entry into World War II (WWII), president Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s (FDR) actions show his instinct of eventual American participation in the war combined with his practical resolve to keep the country neutral until both Congress and the public would be supportive of involvement. Beginning with the Munich Conference and the subsequent crisis of German appeasement, the president showcased his apprehensions of Adolf Hitler’s Germany while still trying to maneuver his country through an economic crisis and the isolationist tendencies that defined this moment in American history.  As the war began with Hitler’s disregard for the agreements established in Munich and the Nazi invasion of Poland in September 1939, FDR reacted by showing his willingness to take steps to protect the Western Hemisphere, but continued to insist on American neutrality.  When Hitler initiated the blitzkrieg, or “lightning war” on Western Europe in the spring of 1940, FDR immediately reacted by attempting to mobilize American popular opinion in the direction of support for the Allied Powers consisting of Great Britain, France, and the Soviet Union, among other smaller countries.

The American president’s consistent efforts to assist the Allies but remain out of the war resulted in the congressionally approved lend-lease bill in March 1941.  The implementation of lend-lease increased American presence in the North Atlantic Ocean.  The regular presence of United States (US) vessels unnerved German naval forces in the area, eventually leading to the USS Greer incident and the beginning of an undeclared naval war between the US and Germany. Finally, the entire progression of US preparation for entrance into WWII culminated with the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. The surprise attack on US soil pushed president Roosevelt to urge Congress to declare war on Japan and initiate a new era of American involvement in global affairs.

In order to demonstrate America’s complicated path to WWII, a map is helpful because it can clearly illustrate how global catastrophes lead to clear US reactions directly involving American diplomats and politicians.  Overall, the map displays how FDR and the United States reacted in increasingly aggressive ways that eventually led to complete support and allegiance with the Allies.  Each point on this interactive Google map represents an event or significant change in American foreign policy that led to entry into WWII.  As is evident on the map, the most significant events occurred on either side of the Atlantic Ocean, with the exception of the attack on Pearl Harbor.  That being said, other events occurred, which signaled another war on the horizon and accelerated US involvement, that are not displayed on the map.  For example, Hitler’s 1935 announcement of rearmament in violation of the Treaty of Versailles, and FDR’s invocation of the Neutrality Acts in September 1939 in response to the start of WWII do not appear, but are still important to understanding the motivations and process the United States went through to prepare for war.

The first point on the map represents the Munich Conference on September 28, 1938 in Munich Germany.  In his book entitled From Colony to Superpower, George Herring cites this conference and what later became known has the Munich Crisis, as a major turning point in FDR’s view and opinion on Hitler’s Germany.  Herring says that, “Munich…convinced FDR that Hitler was responsible for Europe’s drift toward war and might be bent on world domination.  The president was no longer casually confident of a British and French victory in the event of war”(Herring, 515).  As this quote illustrates, the idea of German appeasement in Munich and Hitler’s apparent intentions of bringing the European continent to war concerned president Roosevelt.  Herring goes on to explain how Munich forced the president to realize his country was no longer secured by its two-ocean buffer in the event Hitler chose to use military strength to harm the United States (Herring, 515). Hitler’s invasion of Poland in 1939 only reinforced FDR’s growing apprehensions.

On September 1, 1939, Hitler invaded Poland thereby beginning the second great European war. The place mark on the map sits on Wielun, Poland because the town was the first to encounter Nazi bombings.  According to The Atlantic, Poland officially surrendered to the Germans in October 1939 after losing over 60,000 troops and thousands of civilians (Alan Taylor). Immediately following the invasion, on September 3rd, FDR gave a fireside chat entitled, “On the European War”.  In this radio broadcast, the president encouraged his listeners to remember, “You must master at the outset a simple but unalterable fact in modern foreign relations between nations. When peace has been broken anywhere, the peace of all countries everywhere is in danger.”  In this instance, the president recognized US abstinence from involvement in the European war, but he emphasized how interconnected the world was in the new era, and that the country could no longer remain unaffected by the conflict.

The next significant transition in this saga occurred in late September 1939 when the US attended a conference in Panama City with other Latin American countries, where they discussed neutrality, hemispheric security, and economic cooperation in connection to the war (Sanders, 232). The most significant agreement created at the conference, was the “Declaration of Panama”, in which the countries in attendance established a “neutrality zone” extending an average of three hundred miles around the hemisphere and thereby outlawing belligerent ships from committing hostile acts within the area (Herring, 528). This declaration is significant because it highlights a clear step towards American engagement in the European war by enforcing its neutrality through the zone encircling the Western Hemisphere.


Image of William Allen White courtesy of Wikipedia

In April 1940, with the initiation of the blitzkrieg in Europe, the bloodiest phase of the war began.  As Hitler’s attacks shocked the world, FDR attempted to tip the balance of neutrality in favor of the Allies.  The most significant of these attempts involved the president endorsing the creation of the Committee to Defend America by Aiding the Allies (CDA).  As a way to mobilize public opinion in favor of the Allies, the CDA worked to “educate the nation about the fascist threat and mobilize backing for aid to Britain”(Herring, 521).  Herring goes on to emphasize how the FDR administration, “furnished inside information, making it appear that the government was responding to popular demand…”(Herring, 521). The CDA provides a clear example of FDR maneuvering his country into supporting the Allies and thereby moving closer to war.

The critical turning point in American policy towards WWII occurred in March 1941, when Congress passed the Bill to Promote the Defense of the United States, better known as the Lend-Lease bill or HR-1776 (Herring, 525).  Herring describes lend-lease as the opening of, “the nation’s warehouses to what was now a de facto ally and providing a mechanism for the first U.S. foreign aid program”(Herring, 525).  With the implementation of lend-lease came increased US shipping in the North Atlantic Ocean.  FDR mobilized the Atlantic Fleet on March 15, 1941 and made clear US intentions to protect lend-lease supplies going to Britain (Schuessler, 156).  As lend-lease transports continued throughout the summer of 1941, tensions rose between the American and German vessels in the North Atlantic resulting in the USS Greer incident on September 4, 1941.


Image of the Reuben James courtesy of the National Archives

The undeclared naval war between the American and German naval forces in the North Atlantic began when a German U-boat launched a torpedo attack on the USS Greer.  The torpedoes missed the American vessel, but after that incident several US ships, such as the Kearney and the Reuben James, sank from German torpedo hits (Freeland, 27 & 50).  These attacks comprised the last phase of US “neutrality” in the war because three months after the first attack on the Greer, the Japanese executed their surprise attack on Pearl Harbor.

Image of FDR signing the declaration of war courtesy of Wikipedia

December 7, 1941 marked the day when the United States could no longer avoid becoming directly intertwined in the ongoing war in Europe and the Pacific.  Herring describes Japan’s attack as, “…a desperate effort to solve their problems and, they hoped, intimidate the United States into acquiescing to their East Asian design, the Japanese mounted a bold attack by carrier aircraft against the U.S. naval and military bases at Pearl Harbor.  They achieved complete surprise…with devastating results, killing 2,500 soldiers…” (Herring, 535).  The attack prompted FDR to submit an immediate request for a congressional declaration of war and a radio address to assure the American people that justice would be served against the Japanese.

In total, the long process towards US involvement in WWII tells the story of how an isolationist nation transitioned to a role of global leadership thanks to the aggressive policies and rhetoric of its president, Franklin Delano Roosevelt.  As FDR became aware of  Hitler’s tyrannical actions, he stepped in, to at first defend the Western Hemisphere from harm and later to assist Great Britain and the Allies. Following the end of WWII, the nation would never return to the isolationist tendencies of the 1930s, and instead would become one of the most powerful countries in the world.


Works Cited

Herring, George C. From Colony to Superpower. New York: Oxford University Press, 2008.

Taylor, Alan. “World War II: The Invasion of Poland and the Winter War.” The Atlantic. June 26, 2011. http://www.theatlantic.com/infocus/2011/06/world-war-ii-the-invasion-of-poland-and-the-winter-war/100094/.

Sanders, William. “Consultation Among The American Republics.” World Affairs 102, no. 4 (December 1939): http://www.jstor.org/stable/20663342.

Schuessler, John M. “The Deception Dividend: FDR’s Undeclared War.” International Security 34, no. 4 (Spring 2010). Project Muse.

Freeland, Stephen. “‘Shoot on Sight!’: FDR and the Greer Incident.” Sea Classics 34, no. 9 (September 2001). Proquest Research Library.

Maine’s Boundary Brawl and the 1842 Webster-Ashburton Treaty

By Will Nelligan

Upon his arrival at Vancouver International Airport in the fall of 1964, President Lyndon Johnson remarked, “no nation in the world has had greater fortune than mine in sharing a continent with the people and the nation of Canada.” In an address to the Canadian parliament more than a decade earlier, President Dwight Eisenhower described a Canadian-American border that “grows stronger every year, defended only by friendship.” Eloquent as such sentiment may be, that friendship-fortified dividing line was not always uncomplicated. In fact, after the Revolutionary War, Americans grew accustomed to many complications with their northern neighbors, particularly regarding issues of boundaries and borders. It was the Webster-Ashburton Treaty, authored in 1842 by Secretary of State Daniel Webster, that cultivated the enduring friendship between Canada and the United States that Johnson and Eisenhower could proudly proclaim more than a century later. The more than half-century between the signing of the Treaty of Paris in 1783 and the signing of the Webster-Ashburton Treaty in 1842 offers a rich and relatively-unknown example of America’s earliest diplomacy.

A map used by negotiators drafting the Treaty of Paris. Photo courtesy:: Library of Congress

In an effort to secure “perpetual peace and harmony” between the United States and Great Britain, the Treaty of Paris drew clear and mutually-agreeable boundaries between the United States and Canada, a British colony. The treaty drew Maine’s boundary with Canada largely as it is today, but as a great deal of history has shown us over the ages, borders are rarely as simple as what is drawn on a piece of paper. Less than a year after the treaty was signed, conflict over the enforcement of its border provisions had already begun in broader New England. The likely earliest published account of such conflict was printed just a year after the treaty was signed. A September 1784 issue of Boston Magazine described the refusal of Governor Frederick Haldimand, the Governor of Quebec, to release territories “within the limits of the United States” that were occupied by British soldiers. While letters exchanged between the governors of New York and Vermont and Governor Haldimand suggest a delay in the latter’s official notification of the Treaty of Paris, correspondence between Haldimand and Lord Sidney, the British Trade Secretary, suggest something different. In letters exchanged between Haldimand and Lord Sidney in April and May, Sidney counsels Haldimand against retreating from the occupied North Hero Island, in northern Vermont’s Lake Champlain. “As America has not complied with even one article of the Treaty,” wrote Sidney, “I think we may reconcile it in the present instance to delay the evacuation of those posts.”

The tenous relationship between Vermont and Canada traveled east to Maine where it joined with confusion. As historian Francis Carroll explains it, the original treaty’s boundary descriptions of Maine’s Canadian border relied on subjective geographic terminology. In the interest of defining the borders of a new nation, Benjamin Franklin and his cohorts had rushed to set specific boundaries in the Treaty of Paris. Later treatymakers saw bigger unresolved issues, such as trade rights, access to fisheries, and the allegiances of American Indian populations, and were perfectly amenable to passing off border issues to joint commissions and survey groups. Over the course of the next 40 years, those commissions would form, decisions would be made, a war would be fought, but no outcome seemed to be able to stand the test of time.

Historian Howard Jones, a noted expert on Canadian-American relations, identifies the winter of 1839 as the turning point in the long history of unsettled and unresolved border disputes. In January 1839, in an effort to protect the state’s lumber industry from looting in the contested northern border region near New Brunswick, the Maine legislature appropriated $10,000 in support of the Governor of Maine’s request for riflemen and surveyors. In February, New Brunswick issued a proclamation pledging the use of troops if Americans entered their territory. A patchwork of dueling detainments ensued, as did a media frenzy, and finally, cries for war. The Maine legislature authorized more funding for more troops, and the request for federal support rippled across the front pages of newspapers from Bangor to Boston. Bloodless as it had been so far, what diplomats in Washington and London had hoped was a regional geographic problem was likely hurtling towards outright warfare, and thus towards the international stage. In the hindsight of diplomatic history, this seemed bound to happen; borders, as important as they were to states and provinces, were largely regarded as nuisances by international policymakers. Decades of partial resolutions were reaching a breaking point. After two months of standoff in the so-called Aroostook War, Winfield Scott, the prolific American military leader, arrived in Augusta in March of 1839. Much to the relief of many, he was able to negotiate a stop to the proclamations and threats pending a resolution. In 1842, that resolution came.

A 20th century map of disputed areas and boundaries drawn by treaties. Photo courtesy: The American Nation Magazine (1906)

The complexity of the boundary disputes in past decades was matched in the negotiations leading to the Webster-Ashburton Treaty. Negotiations took place between Webster and Ashburton, but also included representatives from a variety of states, provinces, and consulates. As Francis Carroll notes though, it may have been the first time that the dispositions of the two sides dovetailed perfectly. Webster and his cohort from Massachusetts and Maine were more willing to accept British and Canadian boundary contentions than previous negotiators, while Ashburton was more motivated to end the conflict. In the years after the Treaty, both would be accused of betraying the interests they had been sent to represent. The merit of those arguments seemed subjective at best, and more likely represented one portion of a larger catharsis needed by the people of the region to move forward with fresh perspective. Questions remained, both about Webster’s tactics and Ashburton’s attitude, but one thing was certain: a lasting boundary had finally been forged.

The statements, events, and outcomes that defined the boundary dispute in Maine offer insight into the priorities foreign policymakers had in the 19th century. In an age when the security of our borders is a perennial issue, the notion of policymakers ceding control of such boundaries to a joint commission in the interest of negotiating on access to fisheries seems foreign. Similarly, the idea that a state and a foreign power could be embroiled in a years-long conflict with little intervention from the national government seems antithetical to the foreign policy process our Constitution mandates. Yet this was the paradigm through which diplomatic history was made in the first half of the 19th century. Later, as changes in technology, industry, and political ideology came about, the paradigm shifted and changed; policymakers developed new priorities and principles that informed their interactions with other nations. However, in understanding America’s first foreign policy framework, that which emerged with the American Revolution, the Webster-Ashburn Treaty and the events preceding it are instructive.

Mapping Out the U.S. in China’s Boxer Rebellion

By Julianne Greco ’12

China’s Boxer Rebellion at the turn of the 20th century was a three-way clash and shifting balance of power between Chinese peasants, the Qing Empire, and foreign powers (primarily Western). The Boxers, a religious and mystic-based group, predominantly peasants, are traditionally characterized by historians as xenophobic, anti-Christian, and anti-modernization (Esherick xiii). Their uprising reflected a wide frustration with internal social and economic problems attributed to the Qing Empire and also foreign imperial exploitation, especially by the British.

The breadth of the Boxer Rebellion is much too vast to fully capture in a single Google Map, or book for that matter, and the United States’ involvement in the episode is additionally too extensive for a single project. All things considered, the purpose of this map is to provide a geographical conceptualization of the United State’s connection to the Boxer Rebellion by highlighting significant people, institutions, and ideas of the episode. By using place-marks on this Google Map, we can see the physical dispersal of these factors and their international nature—this map gives a big picture, while providing analysis.

The main secondary sources in this map consist of three academic books published by scholars Robert Bickers and R.G. Tiedemann, Joseph W. Esherick, and Paul A. Cohen, which provide a foundation and analysis of the episode, and journal articles by A. E. Campbell and Walter Lafeber, which offer framework for linking the U.S. to the episode.

The decision of how to group place-marks on this map was not an easy one given the interweaving nature of the excerpts from secondary sources in featuring ideas, people, and institutions. Thus, this post is roughly organized in chronological order to not divorce the different factors (some points do not fit cleanly into dates), but thematically in a couple of cases.

In order to grasp how the United States fits into the Boxer narrative, it is necessary to travel to the birthplace of the Boxer movement, the Yellow River floodplains of the Shandong Province in China, to contextualize the developments of the rebellion. The first marker is April-May, 1899, a time when foreign Western powers had “little awareness of the Boxer phenomenon” and only just noted, “skirmishes between Boxers and local Christians.” These assertions by Cohen highlight a limited knowledge of the social situation in China’s interior among foreigners at the time and can explain how the rebellion was able to erupt to the extent that it did without foreign intervention.

June 20, 1900, the second place marker, indicates the point when things got violent in Beijing and a force of Boxer and Qing imperial troops went after foreigners in the city’s Legation Quarter.  The next day, June 21, the Empress Dowager Cixi even declared “that a state of war existed between the Qing and the foreign powers,” and allied itself with the “Boxers” (Bickers & Tiedemann xiii). The cooperation between Boxer rebels and the imperial army demonstrates a strong vehemence against foreign presence at the time and frustrations with colonialism and foreign cultural influence. This common frustration was so strong that it united almost diametrically opposed forces, the army and the Boxers.

International attention turned to the situation of the Chinese Boxers once the rebellion broke out in June 1900: “in Europe, North America, and in their empires, newspaper readers devoured accounts of the sieges, the battles on the plain,” etc. (Bickers & Tiedemann xiv). Media outlets like The Washington Post in the U.S. had a field day with the rebellion despite limited reporters on the ground and even discussed the lack of confirmation of facts and the disconnect between information in China and the U.S. public. This gap underscores the challenges of the age in long-distance communication and the feeling of confusion in the U.S.

Prior to the rebellion, U.S. expressed its desire for commercial benefits in China, emphasizing the “Open Door” in the hopes of competing with British commercial dominance in China, however, it did not want to get involved in terms of military or allying with other countries against China. Secretary of State John Hay, during the McKinley Administration, upon realizing the gravity of the rebellion, “was willing to approve joint action” in working “concurrently with other Powers” (Campbell 171). The U.S.’s involvement challenges its diplomatic traditions/tendencies of Washington’s Farewell Address in avoiding entangling alliances and the Monroe Doctrine in involving itself in the colonial matters of imperial Europe. The stakes were too high for the U.S. to not act and the Boxer Rebellion was perceived to be a serious threat to U.S. interests by Hay and McKinley.

Consequently, the Eight Nation Alliance evolved to defend their legations and respond the crisis. The alliance consisted of the United States, Great Britain, Austria-Hungary, Germany, France, Italy, Japan, and Russia. The forces sacked Tianjin and then marched to Beijing, leaving a “great swaft of destruction in their wake”, similar to Sherman’s March engaging in looting, targeting of civilians, and demolition (Esherick 310). Here, there is a twisted irony in the idealistic foreigners’ march of vengeance, as they are responding to attacks targeting foreigners in the country.

The place mark in July 1900, demonstrates the strain of the conflict on the Qing Empire with its defeat in Tianjin and the stress of taking on the major world powers at the time, so “court moderated its policy significantly: the shelling of the legations stopped,” and it plead to the “United States, France, and Germany to help resolve the conflict” (Esherick 309). Such a quick shift in alliances signifies the internal instability of the Qing Empire and the lack of deep loyalty to the fundamental cause of the Boxers.

When the Eight Nation Alliance arrived in Beijing, it “finally lifted the ‘Siege of Peking.” This was a big moment for the U.S. since it contained “American troops fighting on Chinese soil for the first time” (Esherick xiii). Troops were conveniently deployed from the U.S. naval base in the Philippines by order of President McKinley. He “ostensibly sent them to protect U.S. lives and property” but ultimately “set a historic precedent that the president without express authorization from Congress, could intervene in a sovereign nation act and, without that nation’s consent, go about reordering its political affairs” (Lafeber 174).

Once the flames of the rebellion were extinguished, the Eight Nation Alliance fixed the Boxer Protocol of 1901 to be signed between the alliance and the Qing Empire. The objective of the alliance, particularly the United States’ and Britain’s (remember preference for Open Door policy) was to “gain paramount influence at Peking or to prevent their rivals from gaining it, to partition China to their own advantage or to prevent for their own ends its partition” (Campbell 157).

Domestically, back on U.S. soil, the Boxer Rebellion sparked a number of debates and inspired much public discourse. Notably Mark Twain and his “I am a Boxer Speech” scorning the U.S. for involvement in China and the Reverend Scott Ament and fellow missionaries for indemnities collection. William Jennings Bryan responded to the satire Letters from John Chinaman with his Letters to a Chinese Official; Being a Western View of Civilization, offering a “very tart Western view” (Bickers & Tiedemann xv).

Although this map could not offer every intricacy of U.S. entanglements during the episode, it becomes apparent when placing the pieces of the map together that the Boxer Rebellion fundamentally challenged the nature of U.S. diplomatic tradition. It is often not credited enough for having such a major impact on the States, whether it involved destructive behavior of American troops towards Chinese, the beginning of American combat in China, the executive side-stepping of Congress, international alliances, media coverage and paranoia at home, or ideological and practical debates among intellectuals of the time.

Works Cited

Bickers, Robert, and  R. G. Tiedemann, eds. The Boxers, China, and the World. Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc., 2007. Print.

Campbell, A. E. “Great Britain and the United States in the Far East, 1895-1903.” The Historical Journal Vol. 1 No. 2 (1958): 154-175. Web.

Cohen, Paul A. History in Three Keys: The Boxers as Event, Experience, and Myth. New York: Columbia University Press, 1997. Print.

Esherick, Joseph W. The Origins of the Boxer Uprising. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1987. Print.

Lafeber, Walter. “’The Lion in the Path’: The U.S. Emergence as a World Power.” Political Science Quarterly Vol. 101 No. 5 (1986): 705-718. Web.


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