The United States was an Imperialist Nation in the 1840s

Imperialism, from my own perspective, is using military/political power to forcefully take control over land or another governments property to claim it as your own.

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The United States has quite a bit of history that falls under this definition, especially from the very beginning. The land that the thirteen original colonies were settled on belonged to the Native Americans, not the English, yet the English still went and claimed the land for themselves with little regard for the Natives. As this was the use of political power (claiming international land), it it worth arguing that the settling of the first thirteen colonies, and the United States as a whole, is an large example of imperialism.

Another example is that of the formerly Spanish Florida. Even though Andrew Jackson attacked Spanish Florida in 1818, around 20 years from the 1840s, it is still a significant example as it feeds into the ideas of Manifest Destiny (believing it is “the divine right and duty of white Americans to seize and settle the American West”) and gives a good idea as to how the United States at the time was becoming even more imperialist over time. Particularly due to the fact that Andrew Jackson was “frustrated by his inability to punish Creek and Seminole raiders… and executed two British citizens… Outraged by the U.S. invasion of its territory, the Spanish government demanded that Jackson and his troops withdraw”. Clarifying that Jackson invaded Spanish Florida with no permission to do so, and even though Florida was still given to the United States through a treaty, Spain was almost forced to do so. Otherwise, they would have a huge conflict between the Natives of Florida and Andrew Jackson’s troops, pulling them into the conflict as well. This is one of the earlier examples of how the United States was an imperialistic nation.

One of the bigger, and more horrifying examples is the Trail of Tears. It indirectly began in 1830, when Congress passed the Indian Removal Act, which asked for “the removal of the Five Civilized Tribes from their home in the southeastern United States to land in the West, in present-day Oklahoma”. The “Five Civilized Tribes” were the Creek, Choctaw, Chickasaw, Seminole, and Cherokee. Of the Five Civilized Tribes, the Cherokee decided to try and oppose this act passed by Congress by claiming the Cherokees were an independent foreign government. Unfortunately, the United States government used their overwhelming federal power to find the Cherokees were not an independent foreign government, thus giving them no grounds to oppose the Indian Removal Act. Many Native Americans chose to remain on their lands, and due to these circumstances, the United States government used military power to force migration on the Natives. Under my definition of imperialism, this is a definitive example, as instead of traveling to land to claim it as your own, the United States forced the original inhabitants of the land off of it so they could claim that it was theirs in the first place.

The final, and most relevant example to the 1840s, is the Mexican-American War. It began with President James Polk sending U.S. troops down in 1846 to the highly debated border of Texas and Mexico, instructing them to build a fort. From this, the U.S. troops came in contact with Mexican cavalry, and around sixteen of them were killed. In order to make Congress declare war on Mexico (which would lead to seizing territory that Polk promised he would seize), Polk stated that Mexico “‘invaded our territory and shed American blood upon American soil’”. Congress then declared war on Mexico. The antislavery groups argued that “Polk had deliberately provoked hostilities”, which is exactly what he did, beginning a war with Mexico over Texas in order to gain Texas and California.

Clearly, Polk used his political power as Commander in Chief of the United States to provoke this war, which I claim is imperialistic, as the American soldiers also had “superior weapons”, giving them an unfair military advantage. The Mexican-American War also feeds into the ideas of Manifest Destiny, which is a clear imperialist ideology, that you have the “divine right” to take any land you want. From the end of the Mexican-American War came the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, which gave the United States territory in “California, New Mexico, Arizona, Nevada, Utah, and portions of Colorado and Wyoming” as well as giving them “$3.35 million worth of Mexican debts owed to U.S. citizens”. While receiving these debts wasn’t necessarily good for the United States, the value of the land given to the U.S. is worth a lot more than $3.35 million and the $15 million paid to Mexico for this land. Overall, the Mexican-American War was completely imperialistic as the United States had both military and political advantages over Mexico, making it unfair and a huge use of power.

In summary, these three examples highlight history prior to and during the 1840s which indicates how the United States became even more imperialistic than it was in the beginning. Each example represents how the United States used its power unfairly in biased ways, especially in the 1840s, with Polk’s straightforward imperialist strategy and belief in the principles of Manifest Destiny. From these historical examples it is undeniable that the United States was an imperialist country during the 1840s. 

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The United States Was an Imperialist Nation in the 1840s. (2022, May 29). Retrieved July 2, 2022 , from
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