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The Global Influence of the United States

Instructor: Nate Sullivan

Nate Sullivan holds a M.A. in History and a M.Ed. He is an adjunct history professor, middle school history teacher, and freelance writer.

In this lesson we will learn about the global influence of the United States. We will explore the role of the U.S. in world affairs from 1776 to the present and see how American influence has impacted modern history.

The American Republic: A Young, But Vibrant Nation

You may know that the United States of America is roughly 250 years old. Compared with nations like Greece, China, Egypt, or even France, America is a relatively young nation. What is remarkable, however, is how rapidly the United States has achieved ascendancy. A major world power since its inception, the United States has grown into a superpower that has exerted profound influence around the globe. Let's trace the global influence of the Unites States from its beginning to the present.

Early Influence of the United States

Most-likely you know a few things about the American Revolution. Most Americans are familiar with the general narrative and can relate stories such as the Boston Tea Party and General Washington's crossing of the Delaware. But some may not fully realize how influential the American Revolution actually was. The American Revolution from 1763 - 1783 inspired the French Revolution which took place between 1789 - 1799 and resulted in the overthrow of the French monarchy and the establishment of the First French Republic. There were some pretty major differences between the two revolutions, but at a basic level it was the democratic ideals of the American Revolution that inspired the French people to revolt against their king. The American Revolution and the U.S. Constitution that grew out of it proved to be the blueprints for democracy for the next 250 years.

The French Revolution was inspired by the American Revolution that preceded it.
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The Industrial Revolution was a period of tremendous industrial and technological advancement that took place between the mid-1700s to the mid-1800s. While the Industrial Revolution actually began in Great Britain, it soon spread to the United States. By the mid-1800s America was one of the most industrialized nations on earth. The U.S. played a critical role in exporting industrial technologies all over the world, both through commerce as well as imperialism. By the late 19th/early 20th century, the U.S. had superseded Great Britain as the world's leading industrial power. American ingenuity would result in a host of inventions like electric lighting, the airplane, the automobile, and others that would transform countries all over the world.

By the late 19th century, the U.S. turned its back on isolationism and moved toward imperialism. An American victory in the Spanish-American War (1898) resulted in the U.S. acquiring territories in the Caribbean and the Pacific.

America and the World Wars

When World War I broke out in 1914, the U.S. was determined to stay out of it. However, German U-boat attacks against American ships finally provoked the U.S to invention in 1917. With American assistance, the Allied Powers won the war. In many respects it was as if the U.S. came to the rescue of Great Britain and France. The American victory in the war ushered the U.S. into what has commonly been called the American Century, which is basically a term describing American dominance in global affairs over the 20th century.

Under the leadership of President Woodrow Wilson, the U.S. played a critical role in restructuring postwar Europe. The Treaty of Versailles, signed in 1919, officially ended World War I. The treaty provided for an international assembly called the League of Nations, which aimed to prevent war and promote international cooperation. The League of Nations ultimately proved to be ineffective, but it did set the framework for the future United Nations.

Woodrow Wilson led the U.S. through World War I and was instrumental in restructuring postwar Europe.
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The aggression of Nazi Germany brought war again to Europe in 1939. The surprise Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii in December 1941, brought the U.S. into the conflict. American industrial output played a critical role in securing victory for the Allies, and arguably won the war.

In the aftermath of World War II, aspects of American culture spread dramatically throughout the world. This is considered 'Westernization.' For example, Japan became highly westernized following World War II. Today American clothing brands are worn by people all over the world. Americans companies like McDonald's and Starbucks are also worldwide.

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