Turning Point: America Expands its Empire

You will need Cornell Notes for this lesson.

As discussed in the lesson about the Spanish-American War of 1898, the United States of America had visions of global influence in the late 19th century.  The island nation of Hawaii supported the United States during the Spanish-American War by allowing the American Navy to build a base in the port of Pearl Harbor. The islands of Hawaii were annexed by the United States in July of 1898. The islands remained a United States territory until 1959, when Hawaii was admitted to the Union as the 50th state.

How does a small, sugar rich, island nation become America’s Pacific Ocean jewel? In a word, economics.

The westernization of Hawaii began well before 1898.  Captain James Cook of Great Britain happened upon the Polynesian islands in 1778. Captain Cook wrote extensively about the culture, climate, and riches he found in Hawaii. Cook’s accounts brought Russians, French, and eventually American missionaries to the island nation.

American Presbyterian missionaries from Boston arrived in Hawaii in the first half of the 19th century to spread Christianity. Upon arrival the missionaries helped build the first written version of the Hawaiian language. The missionaries of America began to expose native Hawaiians to American culture and the United States to the treasures of Hawaii, like sugarcane.

It was the son of a missionary that delivered Hawaii, and its sugar wealth, to the contiguous United States in earnest. Create a biography card for Sanford B. Dole. Click here to read about his contributions to Hawaii and the United States.

In 1898, when the United States officially annexed Hawaii, it was clear that the United States viewed Hawaii as the key to military domination of the Pacific Ocean, and the gateway to selling American exports to China.

Following the Spanish-American War and the annexation of Hawaii, the United States wanted to use the Philippines, Guam, and Hawaii to build spheres of influence in China; a hotbed of trade competition among established European and Asian powers. In an effort to give American entrepreneurs the best chance for success in China, Secretary of State John Hay wrote the Open Door Policy note in 1899 to all nations conducting trade in China. In the note, Hay purposed that all countries interested in conducting trade with China should refrain from using their respective spheres of influence to achieve an unfair trade advantage in China. In short, China would be open to trade with all European, Asian, and American companies. China would decide who to trade with and how. Using dollar diplomacy, the United States gambled that America could offer better products to China and build greater influence in Asia than any other country.

On an index card define: Sphere of Influence, Dollar Diplomacy, and Open Door Policy.

Finally, needing a quicker trade route from the east coast of the United States to the Pacific Ocean than traveling around the southern coast of South America, the United States began construction on the Panama Canal in 1903. The Panama Canal was completed in 1914.

Do you think the construction of the Panama Canal gave the United States  a sphere of influence in Central and South America? Why or Why not?

Return to your Google Tour from the Spanish-American War lesson and add the following.

  1. The annexation of Hawaii. Include dates and a brief description of why and how Hawaii was annexed by the United States.
  2. The location of the Panama Canal. Include a video from youtube.com showing how the Panama Canal functions.
  3. The Spheres of Influence America established in China, Central America, and South America.  Include a brief summary about how each sphere of influence was achieved.

You will be presenting your Google Tour to the the class. Be prepared to answer the following question: Do you consider the United States to be an empire? Why or Why not?


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