US Imperialism in the Americas: Causes, Timeline & Examples

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  • 0:05 Yankee Imperialism
  • 1:00 Roosevelt Corollary
  • 2:40 Panama Canal
  • 3:33 Dollar Diplomacy
  • 4:45 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Jessica Whittemore

Jessica has taught junior high history and college seminar courses. She has a master's degree in education.

This lesson will explore United States imperialism in the Americas. In doing so, it will highlight the presidencies of Roosevelt and Taft, focusing on Yankee Imperialism, the Roosevelt Corollary, and Dollar Diplomacy.

Yankee Imperialism

Although the 1800s had seen most of Latin America gain independence, the area continued to struggle. Sadly, life for most of its people did not improve. Poverty continued, as did civil wars. The wealthy continued to rule over the poor, and local dictators known as caudillos became the law of the land. With these troubles brewing for decades, it's not difficult to see why the United States was able to step in and use their influence to gain power. Known to the world as Yankee Imperialism, America's military and economic influence crept further into the Western Hemisphere.

First, as Latin America broke their old ties to places like Spain, the United States stepped in to fill the void. No longer receiving as many goods from Europe, Latin America's dependency on the United States increased. With this, the U.S. was able to set prices and control trade.

Roosevelt Corollary

Not content with merely trade, the U.S. set its sights on more. With this, we come to the presidency of Teddy Roosevelt.

Known for his desire to elevate the U.S. to a world power, Roosevelt was bent on lessening Europe's influence in the Western hemisphere. Making this desire formal, he issued the 1904 Roosevelt Corollary. As an addendum of sorts to the famous 1823 Monroe Doctrine, in which the U.S. basically proclaimed the Americas were no longer open to European colonization, the Roosevelt Corollary took this a bit further. In true Roosevelt form, it aggressively declared that the U.S. held the right to intervene if Europe threatened to seize or control any republic in the Americas. In other words, 'keep your hands off our side of the world, or you'll have us to reckon with!'

Although the Roosevelt Corollary may have looked like it was protecting Latin America, history has not judged its intentions so altruistically. In reality, it allowed for unchecked U.S. military intervention throughout Latin America. To many, the corollary relegated Latin America, and its people, to nothing more than pawns in America's political game.

This was seen in the Platt Amendment, in which the U.S. forcibly took temporary control of Cuba after it tried to rebel against their elected government. Of course, many believed this elected government was pretty much a puppet with the U.S. pulling its strings. Perhaps proving these rebels' case, and making the U.S. look even more imperialistic, a few years later the United States set up a permanent naval base at the famous Guantanamo Bay.

Panama Canal

Wanting to make trade as easy as possible, sights were also set on the creation of a Panama Canal. To do this, Roosevelt would have to get around the Columbians, who ruled Panama and had no intentions of letting the U.S. build their precious canal.

Not one to take being told 'no' lightly, the United States hatched a plan. Knowing of the Panamanian's desire for independence from Columbia, the U.S. decided to back their rebellion. When the U.S. navy began to descend on the area in support of the Panamanian rebels, the Columbians knew they were pretty much toast! They backed down, Panama got its freedom, and Roosevelt was clear to build his canal. Not only was his canal a go, the treaty forged with the new republic of Panama declared the area designated for the canal to be sovereign United States territory - what a deal!

Dollar Diplomacy

Following in Roosevelt's footsteps, President William Howard Taft picked up the imperialist mantle.

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