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Trade and US as a World Power

By — McGraw-Hill Professional
Updated on Feb 4, 2012

Pressure to Expand

While domestic reforms were under way at home, the United States developed a new agenda outside its borders. The United States had always been inclined to expand its influence, taking over any available land and subjugating the people who already lived there, but until the late 1800s, this tendency had been con- fined to North America. From the late 1800s until World War I, the United States began flexing its muscles and testing its powers overseas.

The American desire for expansion had the same motives as the European colonization drive during the Age of Exploration. The United States wanted to establish new markets for its exports, to acquire lands that could supply raw materials the United States lacked, and to gain a reputation as a major military and political force in world affairs. Some Americans also argued that the United States had a moral duty to spread democracy through the world; others felt that invading and taking control of a foreign nation was hardly moral or justifiable.

The United States already had long-established trade relationships with European nations. It looked to Africa, Asia, and the Caribbean and Pacific islands as new markets for its abundance of grain and manufactured goods. Since European powers had already colonized most of Africa, the United States turned its attention to the Pacific. Because of their climate, the Pacific islands were or could be made major producers of sugar, rubber, coffee, and other raw materials that the United States could not supply for itself.

Trade with China

The United States had begun trading with China in the late 1700s. In 1843, China expanded trade options for the West by opening five ports for trade. After losing an 1895 war with Japan, China was weakened, and four European nations were quick to take advantage and seize exclusive trade rights over various parts of China. Afraid of being left out in the cold, the United States created an Open Door Policy that contained three principles:

  • Any nation that had a trade agreement with China would extend that agreement to other nations
  • Only Chinese officials could collect tariffs and duties on imports and exports
  • Harbor, trade, and tariff rates would be equal for all nations trading with China

European nations that received official notice of the Open Door Policy ignored it; the United States took their silence for consent. After the Boxer Rebellion of 1900, Secretary of State John Hay reinforced the Open Door Policy.

Trade with Japan

Trade between the United States and the tiny island nation of Japan had begun in 1854, when the United States forced Japan to end its centuries of isolation. Japan had had no contact at all with the outside world in hundreds of years, but it proved eminently adaptable to modern life and soon became a world power. In 1904, Japan attacked Russia. The United States brokered a peace treaty between the two nations in 1905, for which President Roosevelt was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

Practice questions for these concepts can be found at: The US Becomes a World Power Practice Test

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