1815-1915: Americas Developing Identity Essay

Published: 2020-02-04 21:52:28
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The century passing between 1815 and 1915 is essentially the transitional period leading from what we might refer to as a classical era into one of increasing modernity. So would this particularly be the case for the United States, which would enter into its first full century as a fledgling but”in the wake of its naval victory in the war of 1812”burgeoning regional power. Now entering a period of sheer expansionism, particularly given the vast stretches of land which lay before it in the west, the United States would take on the 19th century with a newly aggressive outward orientation which bespoke its origins as a colony of the similarly oriented British Kingdom.

This would combine with the global conditions of industrialization, in which many nations who had experienced significant economic growth would now find themselves at the other side of a material revolution with an apparent need to expand resource available, market size and other factors which, when absent, were producing the recession of the late 19th century. It would be this sentiment, combined with a sense of its own cultural power at this point, that would drive the United States to assume a crucial stake in the affairs of such nations as Cuba and Puerto Rico, then warring with the long-conquering Spanish, a the Philippines. In all of these contexts, the U.S. pursued an imperialist agenda as a foil to that pitched by the Europeans, staking a considerable degree of future influence in Latin America that remains persistent today.

Much as Americas new brand of imperialism gravitated outward from the policies of Theodore Roosevelt, so too would this be the case with a brand of New Nationalism, which the powerful central leader also coined. This would correlate philosophically with the actuality of New Imperialism, which assumed as its rationale that which Nationalism posited. Particular, it was argued that the United States had achieved constitutionally, ideologically and economically, the superior way of life for the future of nations.

Through the premise of a strong central government and a sweeping global authority, it was argued that the United States was in the unique position to help elevate the third world. Particularly, this ideology would be fueled by the premise that industry and business leaders were to be seen as the self-regulating powers of the future, with the government taking responsibility primarily to simply protect laborers, women and children from the overbearing authority of corporate power. In its disposition toward corporate deregulation as a path to realizing international American greatness, this would help to set in motion many of the cultural shifts that have forged the cross-section of industrialists and nationalists constituting the modern Republican Party.

This brings the discussion squarely into a consideration of Social Darwinism, which has rightfully received sharp scrutiny in the generations succeeding Hitlers genocidal co-opting of this term. Implying a survival of the fittest mentality in the social organization context as is inherently done with this term, its capacity to warrant some the imperialist impulses helping to form the U.S. through the 19th and early 20th century would make Social Darwinism an oft-unspoken but implicitly acknowledged approach to world affairs.

Namely, this conception of American or post-European culture as inherently superior to the cultures produced by numerous conquered races would spill over into a justification of military and economic dominance in Latin America, the Caribbean and, ultimately, throughout the world as is sought today. Though today it would be considered anathema to assert the racialist overtones which precipitate Social Darwinism, the 19th century would see this confused mix of racism and asserted humanism unroll into voyages to nearby and conquerable lands. Indeed, we can see the inklings of the nation-building theories that would dominate global discourse in the second part of the 20th century.

As with many social or cultural aspects of American development during this, its identity would remained embattled, caught between the vestiges of old world prejudice and the pressure for change implied by the optimism of the U.S. Constitution. Within this scope of equal parts idealism and conservatism, women struggled to gain equal recognition. Though the late 19th and early 20th centuries would see the improvement of labor protections for women and further recognition of the right of women to work, few if any real constitutional activities had taken place to recognize the equality of women.

However, the start of the 19th century would see the very first murmuring of an aggressive movement for womens suffrage. Still not recognized to the extent of being entitled a vote in the Constitutional Democracy, women would as a collective begin to assume an identity and recognition of themselves as having rights. This would, by no coincidence, occur within direct historical proximity to the Enlightenment-stimulate premise of Universal Suffrage. Though it would not come into actuality until the notoriously progressive 1920s, the right of women to vote was first and frequently demanded a century prior and with gathering aplomb thereafter.

This act of self-liberation by women would parallel a growing sense of independent entitlement throughout the world. Where wars between nations in the centuries prior had generally seen such powerful forces as France, the Netherlands, Germany, Britain, Spain and the United States come to blows with one another over territories.

The persistence of the empire, in the form of the dominant Ottoman or Holy Roman Empires for example, would come to a state of decay as the principle of Universal Suffrage swept through colonies and territories. Wars in the mid and 19th century would increasingly see local populations rise up and declare independence from dominant forces, with the cessation of Greece from the Ottoman Empire, the demarcation across Mexico ending its war with the U.S. and uprisings as far afield as the Canadian territories serving as symptomatic of splintering of empires into nations. The New Imperialism which would emerge in the years following would reflect a transition in the philosophy of the dominant nation as a response to the waning success of the old empire.

This points us toward an appropriate resolution to a discussion on a century which, in reflection, may be seen as more socially and ideologically progressive even than the century to follow. Such is to say that it would be this century, in its pitting of the old feudalist nature of economic dominance with the irrepressible proliferation of Marxist and Enlightenment-related principles concerning the rights of all human beings. This conflict would be bore out in the transition which so many nations would undertake during this time, either toward a new form of self-determination in the case of those newly dependent or toward a reformation according to the shifting philosophical tide as in those nations where dominance had given way to equivalency.

Naturally, it would be overly optimistic to suggest that the tumultuous shift precipitated by worker rebellions, developing-sphere self-determination and the premise of Universal Suffrage could have been had with any ease. The change in power structure would engender massive resource conflict, returning the continental focus inward for many of the world powers now retracting in Europe. With that, the complicated litany of related events that sparked World War I would bring to an end not just a century of ideological progress but ultimately and perhaps more importantly, it would bring an end to the dying feudalist structures that had for centuries detained the world.

Perry, M.; Chase, M. & Jacob, J.R. (2006). Western Civilization, Volume 2: Ideas, Politics and Society. Houghton Mifflin Company.

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