American Imperialism and Progressivism: Impact on Power and Transformation

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The word ‘Progressivism’ comes from the root meaning of ‘progress.’ This term “.. first entered British political discouragement in the late 1880s.” (Kloppenberg, 1988, pg. 300) It generally focused on the advancement and progress of human conditions, whether it was in terms of science, economic development, or social organizations. In light of this idea, the political party was born in 1912.

Origins and Ideals of American Imperialism and Progressivism

Contrarily, ImperialismImperialism was a policy that focused on elevating the power and influence of a country through diplomacy or military force. Because the use of power was always involved, ImperialismImperialism has been considered morally reprehensible.
During the late 19th and early 20th century, both were linked together as they helped bring great power and status to the United States. In the book In Return to First Principles, Gerald E.Markowitz said, “ Between 1898 and 1917, American progressives developed an imperial attitude.” (Markowitz, 1975, pg 257) Both had the goal that within twenty years, America would be the world’s leading economic power. “They joined others in defining commercial expansion overseas as the essential normal functioning of the economy.” (Markowitz, 1975, pg 257)

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Imperialism had a very long history with a profound impact on the United States and beyond the Pacific Ocean. According to the American diplomatic historian George Herring, ImperialismImperialism was just what the doctor ordered to help America get out of its depression. Other historians, notably Kristin Hoganson, imply that America embarked on imperial adventures partly so that American men could prove to themselves how manly they were. E.g., joining the Navy. It started in the 1890s when the Americans had the intent to push westward and conquer territory. At this time, America was going through a decade of crises in many ways.

One of the primary causes of the phenomenon of American Imperialism was economics. It was the industrial age and economic growth that caused a huge demand for raw materials to feed factories and the need for new markets to sell products. Imperialism had the mentality of “this is our playground and our sphere of influence.” It saw war as an avenue to strengthen American power by dominating other countries’ economies, traditions, principles, and politics to become like the United States. Some obvious victims of ImperialismImperialism were the native americans, and we can also include the Mexicans, who lost their sovereignty after 1848.

American Imperialism’s Pursuit of Power and Influence

‘‘The Spanish-American war’ was one of the new imperialism actions, as well. President William McKinley responded cautiously to the Spanish war with a demand that Spain get out of Cuba or face war. Spain, as George Herring put it, “preferred the honor of war to the ignominy of surrender.” It was a war of the Monroe Doctrine, a war of raw materials and new markets, and a war of economics and control to get the U.S. to put its footprint in Cuba, Hawaii, Spain, etc. Quoting from William’s excerpt, “Spain was the first, for a long time the greatest, of the modern imperialistic states.”(Sumner, 1899) Another example was the American annexation of Hawaii in 1998, which later became a state in 1859, two years before President Obama was born! “In the context of this intensified attention on the Far East, McKinley submitted a treaty to annex the Hawaiian Islands in 1897.” (Markowitz, 1975, pg 257)

Progressivism, on the other hand, rose in the U.S. in different ways. “The first decades of the twentieth century came to be called the progressive era because of the well-publicized work of political reformers, muckrakers, and trust busters. ” (Progressives, Populists and Reform, 1976). It was a busy period focused on pulling Americans toward ‘The American Dream.’ During the Progressive Era, the formation of rapid industrialization and urbanization, innovations in science and technology, the construction of transcontinental railroads, the rise of business, social change, and economic growth took place. Although the U.S. was rapidly developing, there were issues that arose during that time, such as child labor and extreme working conditions in factories. The Progressive reform movement of the Progressive era led to the demolition of these issues and passed laws restricting child labor as well as their working conditions.


In conclusion, with both ImperialismImperialism focusing on enhancing the power of the U.S. and Progressivism focusing on the advancement and progress of human conditions, the United States prospered with massive power. Today, it is the world’s only superpower controlling the rest of the world’s political and economic systems.


  1. Kloppenberg, J. T. (1988). Uncertain Victory: Social Democracy and Progressivism in European and American Thought, 1870-1920. Oxford University Press.
  2. Markowitz, G. E. (1975). Return to First Principles: Essays in the Philosophy of Maimonides. State University of New York Press.
  3. Herring, G. C. (2008). From Colony to Superpower: U.S. Foreign Relations Since 1776. Oxford University Press.
  4. Hoganson, K. (2003). Fighting for American Manhood: How Gender Politics Provoked the Spanish-American and Philippine-American Wars. Yale University Press.

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American Imperialism and Progressivism: Impact on Power and Transformation. (2023, Aug 27). Retrieved from

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