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Howdid Racism affect US Foreign Policy before 1904 in Cuba?

In the 1880s and 1890s, U.S foreign policy focused on the country`sexpansion beyond its natural borders. At that time, U.S. foreignrelations were mainly between Philippines and Cuba. Nevertheless,racism had a significant influence on the foreign policy adopted bythe Federal government before 1904. A People’s History byHoward Zinn and Racism in U.S. Imperialism by Rubin Westonhighlight the extent of racism in American foreign policy at thetime.


Before the onset of the 20th century, several characterstypified American foreign policy. For example, President TheodoreRoosevelt served as the 26th Head of State (Zinn 422). Hecommandeered victory in the Spanish-American war. He also steered theconstruction of the Panama Canal so as to open up the country toforeign merchants. Dean Rusk served as the Secretary of State duringthat tumultuous period. Rusk clamored for the use of armed forcesagainst Cuba. For example, he enlisted the instances when themilitary had been used abroad so as to provide a precedent forupcoming attacks (Zinn 430). Captain Alfred T. Mahan served as theNavy Commander. He had a great influence on President Roosevelt andsubsequent leaders. Senator Henry Cabot Lodge also fostered theoccurrence of racism in American foreign policy by helping toformulate the Sherman Anti-Trust Act in 1890 (Zinn 502). The booksalso mention the contribution of William McKinley, who served as the25th President of the U.S (Weston 111). Nevertheless, theincidence or racism in U.S. foreign policy was condemned by criticssuch as William James, a renowned anti-imperialist and philosopher.

Existentialismand Expansionism

President Roosevelt spearheaded the American efforts at expansion. Inthis regard, he was prepared to engage in war with countries thatseemed inferior. The period during the 1880s and 1890s also saw theemergence of existentialism as a guiding principle for Americanforeign policy. Gradually, the U.S. came to view itself as a divinelyselected nation. All other countries had to match up to its highstandards of governance and prosperity. Existentialism laid thegroundwork for the widespread occurrence of racism (Weston 89). Otherracial groups were adjudged as unworthy of existence. Consequently,racism came to have a high impact on U.S foreign policy.

Expansionism emerged as a popular policy among the upper class ofAmerican citizens. This was because expansionism sought to raise theprofile of American markets in foreign territories. Other countrieswere viewed as inferior such that they would readily consent topurchase American goods. On the other hand, non-whites were used asslaves to provide labor in American industries. The impact of racismon U.S. foreign policy was also emphasized by the formulation of anopen trade policy (Weston 123). Initially, it was assumed that tradecould be conducted without the use of military force. However, eventstook a turn for the worse in 1897-1898 (Zinn 469). European countriessuch as Germany enhanced their imperialistic presence in China at theexpense of the U.S. This action moved the US to increase itsdominance.


Perhaps the greatest impact of racism on U.S. foreign policy can beobserved in the onset of the imperialist campaign. Americans wereenticed by the prospect of spreading Western customs and civilizationto areas beyond the Pacific. In the late 1800s, Hawaii presented theU.S. with the marvelous opportunity to accomplish its goals ofexpansion (Weston 125). However, opinion among American leaders anddiplomats was sharply divided. Some viewed the annexation of Hawaiias the first step towards establishing an empire towards the Pacific.On the other hand, some dissenters felt that such an action would beacting contrary to the ideals of the Republican state (Weston 127.Consequently, it became necessary to popularize the idea of imperialpossessions to the American public.

Several advocates campaigned for the merits of launching animperialist campaign in the region. Some of these campaigners wereteachers, statesmen, politicians, publicists, and militarystrategists. Captain Mahan was one of the people that formed ideassupporting the incidence of imperialism. Mahan was a militarycommander with teaching and writing skills. He was respectful of therights of civilized nations. For example, his writings and utterancesbetrayed a deep reverence for French, German, and English persons(Weston 128). However, his racist tendencies were reflected in hisrepulsion to the rights of natives. Mahan had drafted a blueprintthat charted the course of American expansion (Weston 129). While herecognized the rights of other Western powerhouses, h neglected thenatives that would have to be displaced so as to increase the empire.

Mahan supposed that the annexation of Hawaii would be acceptablesince none of the Western powers would be adversely affected.Furthermore, French and German states had made no claims on theisland (Weston 131). Therefore, the U.S. could annex Hawaii withoutsparking a war with European nations. Also, Mahan attempted torationalize the annexation of Hawaii by claiming that such a policyhad been used in earlier times. In this regard, he referenced pastcolonial policies that recognized only lands dominated by Christianrulers (Weston 132). Nevertheless, while Christianity was used as thebasis for expansion, Mahan was purely motivated by racism.

The influence of racism on U.S. foreign policy was also manifestedthrough the idea of a plebiscite. The principle of the plebiscite wasbased on the assumption that people from inferior racial groups werefundamentally flawed (Weston 135). Such a second-rate group of humanswas incapable of exercising rulership over seemingly advanced racialgroups. Mahan held that some American citizens in Hawaii wanted to beconjoined with their motherland. Therefore, the U.S had only toconsider the desire of these Americans (Weston 139). In this respect,the wishes and opinions of the greater number of Hawaiian inhabitantscounted for little. This is because most of the people in Hawaii wereconsidered to originate from inferior races.

The principle of the plebiscite was later modified in severalinstances so as to foster the American agenda. For example, countriessuch as the Dominican Republic and Haiti were also brought under thecontrol of the U.S. Cuba was also forced to adopt the Platt Amendmentthat empowered Americans to intervene whenever they sensed threats toCuban independence (Zinn 470). In these cases, decisions were madeand implemented without due consideration of the natives. Mahanpredicted that adopting such a principle would make the United Statesmore decisive in its foreign policy. Also, the country would focus onthe approach towards Panama rather than trying to get consensus forforeign policies.

Roosevelt had an unshakable belief in the soundness of Mahan`steachings and doctrines. Besides, Roosevelt held that the politicalsociety of Anglo-Saxons had advanced far beyond the level of otherraces. Racist leanings were also reflected in his belief thatinferior racial groups would never match up to the white race.Roosevelt was also guided by a strong nationalistic instinct. In1894, the combination of racism and nationalism led him to criticizethe foreign policy adopted in Cleveland (Weston 142). Roosevelt hopedthat the Republicans could reach a consensus to pursue annexation ofHawaii while building an oceanic canal using Federal funds.

Roosevelt also believed that different racial groups had varyingabilities and capacities. In this respect, exposure of various racialgroups to the same stimuli would produce different results. Forexample, Roosevelt opposed the view that ceremonial Christianitycould civilize and reform human society (Weston 144). Rather, he heldthat Christian values could only have an impact on Americans andother superior racial groups. Roosevelt cited the examples of Haitiand Abyssinia to prove that ceremonial Christianity had less impacton inferior racial groups (Weston 148). The high levels of poverty incountries such as Haiti led him to conclude that blacks lackedintellectual development. Therefore, the inferiority of blacks madeit necessary for U.S. foreign policy to control Haitian affairs.

Racism also had a significant impact on the immigration policiesadopted by the Federal government. Roosevelt abhorred the use ofAfrican and Asian slaves. In fact, he felt that slaves from inferiorracial groups had led to the weakening of the Roman Empire (Weston153). Therefore, he lent his support to legislation aimed atrestricting immigration of inferior races. Such groups of people wereconsidered difficult to assimilate. Roosevelt also felt thatgeographic location had a bearing on the development observed amongdifferent races. In this regard, he was grateful that the temperateregions had been preserved for whites (Weston 154). Also, heconsidered racial groups in the tropics as existing in an inferiorstate of development. Such people needed to be educated by thesuperior whites. Consequently, whites were burdened with theresponsibility of colonizing inferior races. Future civilizationswould hence benefit from the fact that white people lived intemperate zones. Such racist views also contributed to the adoptionof strict immigration guidelines.

As mentioned, U.S. foreign policy led to the enactment of the PlattAmendment in Cuba. The seeming concern for Cuban welfare was used asa ruse for American desire to formulate advanced imperialist foreignpolicies. In 1896, Roosevelt supported Lodge in developing the Cubanresolution (Zinn 462). Lodge had supposed that the country’s statuswould be raised if it acquired control of Cuba. He overlooked thesignificance of blacks in the fight for freedom in Cuba. Lodge wascommitted to ensuring the annexation of Hawaii and the conquest ofthe Philippines. Roosevelt also hoped that President McKinley wouldbe moved to adopt a firm stance on Cuba and Hawaii (Zinn 464). Theeffects of racism on U.S foreign policy was also reflected in thedecision to disregard the feelings of Japanese people while pursuingexpansion.

In 1898, the war with Spain revealed additional influences of racismon U.S. foreign policy. For example, Roosevelt instructed Lodge notto extend any peace deals until Puerto Rico and Cuba were liberatedfrom Spanish influence (Zinn 470). This shows Roosevelt’s beliefthat Puerto Ricans and Cubans were severely limited in running theirgovernments. The aftermath of the war was characterized by Rooseveltascending to the Presidency. He expressed his pessimism that anotherrace could achieve what the whites had accomplished in 30 generations(Weston 156). The inferior racial groups in the tropical regions hadto be trained and equipped for self-government.

President Roosevelt felt that inferior races would never learnthrough application and experience. Although the Anglo-Saxon peopleshad learned through actions, natives lacked such competencies. Inthis respect, the U.S. could use power and intimidation to dominateFilipinos. Consequently, American foreign policy emphasized themerits of a master-subordinate agreement (Weston 180). The endeavorto dominate the Philippine Islands was similar to the actions ofother Western powers. Such case examples included the French inAlgiers, Russians in Turkestan, Dutch in Java, Japanese in Formosa,and the British in Egypt and India (Weston 189). However, Rooseveltdecided to exclude the Japanese among the civilizing powers.Consequently, the Japanese government was forced to limit theissuance of passports to workers with previous residence in the U.S.

The effect of racism on U.S. foreign policy was also reflected in thenotion that only the whites could measure the success ofself-government (Weston 196). The act of controlling the affairs ofother nations was interpreted as beneficial to the residents. TheU.S. foreign policy did not consider Filipinos fit forself-government. Inferior racial groups in other countries wererequired to recognize and match up to the formulated standards ofcivilization. Also, whites were considered to have the innate abilityto practice self-government (Weston 199). Therefore, U.S. foreignpolicy had to be developed in a manner that sought to raise theprofile of racial groups incapable of achieving political success.


Indeed, racism had a great impact on U.S. foreign policy in the 1880sand 1890s. The impact of racism is highlighted through the policiesof existentialism, expansionism, and imperialism. The United Statesconsidered itself as the divinely chosen nation to provide guidanceand direction to other inferior national groups. The whitesconsidered themselves blessed and superior such that they coulddictate the affairs of other countries. This contributed to the riseof expansionism where the U.S. sought to increase its territorialcoverage at the expense of weaker racial groups (Weston 122). Theviews of Albert Mahan were fundamental in shaping the principle ofimperialism. Consequently, advocates such as Roosevelt and Lodgefostered the creation and implementation of racist policies designedto preserve American purity while modifying other inferior racialgroups.

Works Cited

Weston, Rubin. Racism in U.S. imperialism: The influence of racialassumptions on American foreign policy, 1893-1946. Columbia:University of South Carolina Press, 1972. Print.

Zinn, Howard. A people`s history of the United States: 1492-2001.New York, NY: HarperCollins, 2003. Print.