Lesson Plan

Lesson 1: The Question of an American Empire

"Ten Thousand Miles From Tip to Tip" meaning the extension of United States domination (symbolized by a bald eagle) from Puerto Rico to the Philippines.
Photo caption

"Ten Thousand Miles From Tip to Tip" meaning the extension of United States imperialism from Puerto Rico to the Philippines (1898).

The U.S. Census of 1890 famously declared the American frontier to be closed. A decade later, the United States appeared well on the way to establishing new frontiers and perhaps a new imperial political system. The United States annexed the independent Hawaiian Islands; acquired Puerto Rico, the Philippines and Guam from Spain as part of the settlement ending the Spanish-American War; and dealt with threats to the political integrity and open markets of China. Cuba would soon become a political protectorate. The United States also acquired sovereign control over the Panama Canal Zone and declared its willingness to intervene if a country in the Western Hemisphere jeopardized the Monroe Doctrine by failing to maintain internal order or to pay its international debts. Americans argued at length whether such actions properly fit into their sense of national purpose and advanced their material interests.

This lesson will introduce the students to the challenges of American foreign policy in the late 19th century and specifically to the political debate over whether the United States should acquire further territory and/or become a European-style empire. With the help of primary source documents students will debate this issue to help them come to their own assessment of the idea of an American Empire.

Guiding Questions

Why did the U.S. pursue national expansion and imperialism in the late 19th century?

Learning Objectives

Define imperialism and explain its significance for late 19th century America.

Examine the reasons why imperialism appealed to many in the U.S. in the 1890s.

Evaluate the use of "Manifest Destiny" within U.S. History and its connection to imperialism during the 1890s.

Compare the competing perspectives regarding imperialism.

Evaluate the relevance of imperialism in the 1890s to today.