43 North America

The Rising Power of the United States

After decades of western expansion and industrial development, by 1890 American production and per capita income exceeded that of all other world nations. The U.S. also emerged as a major military power after the Spanish-American War, exerting its influence throughout the continent and beyond.

Learning Objectives

Detail the increasing influence of the United States in the New World

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • The American Revolutionary War was the first successful colonial war of independence against a European power.
  • The Second Continental Congress adopted the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776, which proclaimed in a long preamble that humanity is created equal in their unalienable rights and that those rights were not being protected by Great Britain. It declared, in the words of the resolution, that the Thirteen Colonies were independent states and had no allegiance to the British crown in the United States.
  • Britain recognized the independence of the United States following their defeat at Yorktown in 1781.
  • Americans’ eagerness to expand westward prompted a long series of American Indian Wars.
  • The Louisiana Purchase of French-claimed territory in 1803 almost doubled the nation’s area.
  • A series of military incursions into Florida led Spain to cede it and other Gulf Coast territory in 1819.
  • After the American Civil War, new transcontinental railways made relocation easier for settlers, expanded internal trade, and increased conflict with Native Americans.
  • Rapid economic development during the late 19th and early 20th centuries fostered the rise of many prominent industrialists. The American economy boomed, becoming the world’s largest, and the United States achieved great status.

Key Terms

  • Spanish–American War: A conflict between Spain and the United States in 1898. Hostilities began in the aftermath of the internal explosion of the USS Maine in Havana harbor in Cuba, leading to United States intervention in the Cuban War of Independence. American acquisition of Spain’s Pacific possessions led to its involvement in the Philippine Revolution and ultimately in the Philippine-American War.
  • Gilded Age: A term that Mark Twain used to describe the period of the late 19th century with a dramatic expansion of American wealth and prosperity, in which the rapid expansion of industrialization led to real wage growth of 60% between 1860 and 1890, spread across the ever-increasing labor force.
  • Manifest Destiny: A widely held belief in the United States that its settlers were destined to expand across North America. There are three basic themes to manifest destiny: the special virtues of the American people and their institutions; the mission of the United States to redeem and remake the west in the image of agrarian America; and an irresistible destiny to accomplish this essential duty.

Brief History of the U.S. Through the 19th Century

In 1776, the Second Continental Congress declared the United States a new, independent nation, no longer just a collection of disparate colonies. With large-scale military and financial support from France and military leadership by General George Washington, the American Patriots won the Revolutionary War against the British, confirming the new nation.

A peace treaty of 1783 gave the U.S. the land east of the Mississippi River (except Florida and Canada). The central government established by the Articles of Confederation proved ineffectual at providing stability, as it had no authority to collect taxes and no executive officer. Congress called a convention to meet secretly in Philadelphia in 1787 and wrote a new Constitution, which was adopted in 1789. In 1791, a Bill of Rights was added to guarantee inalienable rights to all Americans. With Washington as the first president and Alexander Hamilton his chief political and financial adviser, a strong central government was created. When Thomas Jefferson became president he purchased the Louisiana Territory from France, doubling the size of the United States. A second and final war with Britain was fought in 1812.

Encouraged by the notion of Manifest Destiny, federal territory expanded all the way to the Pacific. The U.S. always was large in terms of area, but its population was small: only 4 million in 1790. Population growth was rapid, reaching 7.2 million in 1810, 32 million in 1860, 76 million in 1900, 132 million in 1940, and 321 million in 2015. Economic growth in terms of overall gross domestic product (GDP) was even faster. The expansion was driven by a quest for inexpensive land for yeoman farmers and slave owners. The expansion of slavery was increasingly controversial and fueled political and constitutional battles that were resolved by compromises. Slavery was abolished in all states north of the Mason–Dixon line by 1804, but the South continued to profit off the institution, producing high-value cotton exports to feed increasingly high demand in Europe. The 1860 presidential election of Republican Abraham Lincoln was on a platform of ending the expansion of slavery and putting it on a path to extinction.

Seven cotton-based deep South slave states seceded and founded the Confederacy months before Lincoln’s inauguration. No nation ever recognized the Confederacy, but it opened the war by attacking Fort Sumter in 1861. A surge of nationalist outrage in the North fueled a long, intense American Civil War (1861–1865). It was fought largely in the South as the overwhelming material and manpower advantages of the North proved decisive in a long war. The results were restoration of the Union, the impoverishment of the South, and the abolition of slavery. In the Reconstruction era (1863–1877), legal and voting rights were extended to the freed slave. The national government emerged much stronger, and because of the Fourteenth Amendment in 1868, it gained the explicit duty to protect individual rights. However, when white Democrats regained their power in the South during the 1870s, often by paramilitary suppression of voting, they passed Jim Crow laws to maintain white supremacy and new disfranchising constitutions that prevented most African Americans and many poor whites from voting. This situation that continued for decades until gains of the civil rights movement in the 1960s and passage of federal legislation to enforce constitutional rights.

Westward Expansion and Manifest Destiny

Through wars and treaties; establishment of law and order; building farms, ranches, and towns; marking trails and digging mines; and pulling in great migrations of foreigners, the United States expanded from coast to coast, fulfilling the dreams of Manifest Destiny.

From the early 1830s to 1869, the Oregon Trail and its many offshoots were used by over 300,000 settlers. ’49ers (in the California Gold Rush), ranchers, farmers, and entrepreneurs and their families headed to California, Oregon, and other points in the far west. Wagon trains took five or six months on foot; after 1869, the trip took sixdays by rail.

Manifest Destiny was the belief that the United States was preordained to expand from the Atlantic coast to the Pacific coast. The concept was expressed during Colonial times, but the term was coined in the 1840s by a popular magazine which editorialized, “the fulfillment of our manifest destiny…to overspread the continent allotted by Providence for the free development of our yearly multiplying millions.” As the nation grew, manifest destiny became a rallying cry for expansionists in the Democratic Party. In the 1840s the Tyler and Polk administrations (1841–49) successfully promoted this nationalistic doctrine. However, the Whig Party, which represented business and financial interests, was opposed. Whig leaders such as Henry Clay and Abraham Lincoln called for deepening society through modernization and urbanization instead of simple horizontal expansion. Starting with the annexation of Texas, the expansionists had the upper hand. John Quincy Adams, an anti-slavery Whig, felt the Texas annexation in 1845 to be “the heaviest calamity that ever befell myself and my country.”

Mexico became independent of Spain in 1821 and took over Spain’s northern possessions from Texas to California. The Spanish and Mexican governments attracted American settlers to Texas with generous terms. Tensions rose, however, after an abortive attempt to establish the independent nation of Fredonia in 1826. William Travis, leading the “war party,” advocated for independence from Mexico, while the “peace party” led by Austin attempted to get more autonomy within the current relationship. Immigration continued and 30,000 Anglos with 3,000 slaves were settled in Texas by 1835. In 1836, the Texas Revolution erupted. Following losses at the Alamo and Goliad, the Texans won the decisive Battle of San Jacinto to secure independence. The U.S. Congress declined to annex Texas, stalemated by contentious arguments over slavery and regional power. Thus, the Republic of Texas remained an independent power for nearly a decade before it was annexed as the 28th state in 1845. The government of Mexico, however, viewed Texas as a runaway province and asserted its ownership.

The latter half of the 19th century was marked by the rapid development and settlement of the far West, first by wagon trains and riverboats and then aided by the completion of the transcontinental railroad. Large numbers of European immigrants (especially from Germany and Scandinavia) took up low-cost or free farms in the Prairie States. Mining for silver and copper opened up the Mountain West. The United States Army fought frequent small-scale wars with Native Americans as settlers encroached on their traditional lands. Gradually the U.S. purchased the Native American tribal lands and extinguished their claims, forcing most tribes onto subsidized reservations.

The maps shows that the territory of the original thirteen states was ceded by Great Britain in 1783; the Louisiana Purchase was made from France in 1803; portions of current-day North Dakota, Minnesota, and South Dakota were ceded by Britain in 1818; East Florida was ceded by Spain in 1819, West Florida was ceded by Spain in 1819; a portion of modern-day Louisiana was ceded by Spain in 1819; a portion of modern-day Colorado was ceded by Spain in 1819; the Texas Annexation (former Republic of Texas) occurred in 1845; the Oregon Territory was ceded by Britain in 1846, the entirety of modern-day California, Nevada, and Utah as well as portions of modern-day Wyoming, Colorado, Arizona, and New Mexico were ceded by Mexico in 1848; the Galsden Purchase was made from Mexico in 1853; the Alaska Purchase was made from Russia in 1867; Puerto Rico was ceded by Spain in 1898; and the Hawaii Annexation (former Republic of Hawaii) occurred in 1898. It also shows that the U.S. ceded portions of modern-day Alberta and Saskatchewan to the Britain in 1818.
Manifest Destiny: U.S. territorial acquisitions throughout U.S. history. The new nation grew rapidly in population and area, as pioneers pushed the frontier of settlement west.

A Rising Power: American Industrialism and Imperialism

The ” Gilded Age ” was a term that Mark Twain used to describe the period of the late 19th century with a dramatic expansion of American wealth and prosperity. The Gilded Age was an era of rapid economic growth, especially in the North and West. As American wages were much higher than those in Europe, especially for skilled workers, the period saw an influx of millions of European immigrants. The rapid expansion of industrialization led to real wage growth of 60% between 1860 and 1890, spread across the ever-increasing labor force. The average annual wage per industrial worker (including men, women and children) rose from $380 in 1880 to $564 in 1890, a gain of 48%. By 1890 American industrial production and per capita income exceeded those of all other world nations. However, the Gilded Age was also an era of abject poverty and inequality as millions of immigrants—many from impoverished European nations—poured into the United States, and the high concentration of wealth became more visible and contentious.

Railroads were the major growth industry, with the factory system, mining, and finance increasing in importance. Immigration from Europe and the eastern states led to the rapid growth of the West, based on farming, ranching and mining. Labor unions became important in the rapidly growing industrial cities.

The United States emerged as a world economic and military power after 1890. The main episode was the Spanish-American War, which began when Spain refused American demands to reform its oppressive policies in Cuba. The “splendid little war,” as one official called it, involved a series of quick American victories on land and at sea. At the Treaty of Paris peace conference the United States acquired the Philippines, Puerto Rico, and Guam.

Cuba became an independent country under close American tutelage. Although the war itself was widely popular, the peace terms proved controversial. William Jennings Bryan led his Democratic Party in opposition to control of the Philippines, which he denounced as imperialism unbecoming to American democracy. President William McKinley defended the acquisition and was riding high as the nation had returned to prosperity and felt triumphant in the war. McKinley easily defeated Bryan in a rematch in the 1900 presidential election.

After defeating an insurrection by Filipino nationalists, the United States engaged in a large-scale program to modernize the economy of the Philippines and dramatically upgrade the public health facilities. By 1908, however, Americans lost interest in an empire and turned their international attention to the Caribbean, especially the building of the Panama Canal. In 1912 when Arizona became the final mainland state, the American Frontier came to an end. The canal opened in 1914 and increased trade with Japan and the rest of the Far East. A key innovation was the Open Door Policy, in which the imperial powers were given equal access to Chinese business, with not one of them allowed to take control of China.

The Monroe Doctrine

The Monroe Doctrine, first expressed in 1823 by U.S. President James Monroe, proclaimed that European powers should no longer colonize or interfere in the Americas.

Learning Objectives

Synthesize the Monroe Doctrine and its place in global affairs

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • The Monroe Doctrine, first promoted in James Monroe ‘s State of the Union Address in 1823, stated that Europe should no longer interfere in the affairs of the American continent, particularly opposing any new colonial efforts.
  • At the same time, the doctrine noted that the United States would recognize and not interfere with existing European colonies nor meddle in the internal concerns of European countries.
  • Initially, because the United States was not seen as a major military power, the doctrine was largely ignored by Europe, although Britain generally agreed with its terms for its own reasons.
  • The doctrine was welcomed and applauded by most Latin Americans, many of whom were in the midst of freeing themselves from European colonialism.
  • In many instances, the United States did not intervene against European actions in the Americas and thus the doctrine was often not enforced. Later in the century, the United States backed Cuba in their fight for independence from Spain in what became the Spanish-American War.

Key Terms

  • Pax Britannica: The period of relative peace in Europe (1815–1914) during which the British Empire became the global hegemonic power and adopted the role of a global police force.
  • James Monroe: An American statesman who served as the fifth President of the United States from 1817 to 1825. He was the last president who was a founding father of the United States and the last president from the Virginian dynasty and the Republican Generation. In 1823, he announced the United States’ opposition to any European intervention in the recently independent countries of the Americas with the Monroe Doctrine, which became a landmark in American foreign policy.
  • Spanish–American War: A conflict fought between Spain and the United States in 1898. Hostilities began in the aftermath of the internal explosion of the USS Maine in Havana harbor in Cuba, leading to United States intervention in the Cuban War of Independence. American acquisition of Spain’s Pacific possessions led to its involvement in the Philippine Revolution and ultimately in the Philippine-American War.

The Monroe Doctrine was a U.S. policy of opposing European colonialism in the Americas beginning in 1823. It stated that further efforts by European nations to take control of any independent state in North or South America would be viewed as “the manifestation of an unfriendly disposition toward the United States.” At the same time, the doctrine noted that the United States would recognize and not interfere with existing European colonies nor meddle in the internal concerns of European countries. The Doctrine was issued in 1823 at a time when nearly all Latin American colonies of Spain and Portugal had achieved or were at the point of gaining independence from the Portuguese and Spanish Empires.

President James Monroe first stated the doctrine during his seventh annual State of the Union Address to Congress. The term “Monroe Doctrine” itself was coined in 1850. By the end of the 19th century, Monroe’s declaration was seen as a defining moment in the foreign policy of the United States and one of its longest-standing tenets. It would be invoked by many U.S. statesmen and several U.S. presidents, including Ulysses S. Grant, Theodore Roosevelt, John F. Kennedy, and Ronald Reagan.

The intent and impact of the Monroe Doctrine persisted with only minor variations for more than a century. Its stated objective was to free the newly independent colonies of Latin America from European intervention and avoid situations that could make the New World a battleground for the Old World powers, so that the United States could exert its own influence undisturbed. The doctrine asserted that the New World and the Old World were to remain distinctly separate spheres of influence, for they were composed of entirely separate and independent nations.

After 1898, Latin American lawyers and intellectuals reinterpreted the Monroe doctrine in terms of multilateralism and non-intervention. In 1933, under President Franklin Roosevelt, the United States went along with the new reinterpretation, especially in terms of the Organization of American States.

International Response

Because the United States lacked both a credible navy and army at the time, the doctrine was largely disregarded internationally. Prince Metternich of Austria was angered by the statement, and wrote privately that the doctrine was a “new act of revolt” by the United States that would grant “new strength to the apostles of sedition and reanimate the courage of every conspirator.”

The doctrine, however, met with tacit British approval. They enforced it tactically as part of the wider Pax Britannica, which included enforcement of the neutrality of the seas. This was in line with the developing British policy of laissez-faire free trade against mercantilism. Fast-growing British industry sought markets for its manufactured goods, and if the newly independent Latin American states became Spanish colonies again, British access to these markets would be cut off by Spanish mercantilist policy.

The reaction in Latin America to the Monroe Doctrine was generally favorable but in some occasions suspicious. Historian John Crow states, “Simón Bolívar himself, still in the midst of his last campaign against the Spaniards, Santander in Colombia, Rivadavia in Argentina, Victoria in Mexico—leaders of the emancipation movement everywhere—received Monroe’s words with sincerest gratitude.” Crow argues that the leaders of Latin America were realists. They knew that the President of the United States wielded very little power at the time, particularly without the backing of the British forces, and figured that the Monroe Doctrine was unenforceable if the United States stood alone against the Holy Alliance. While they appreciated and praised their support in the north, they knew that the future of their independence was in the hands of the British and their powerful navy. In 1826, Bolivar called upon his Congress of Panama to host the first “Pan-American” meeting. In the eyes of Bolivar and his men, the Monroe Doctrine was to become nothing more than a tool of national policy. According to Crow, “It was not meant to be, and was never intended to be a charter for concerted hemispheric action.”


In early 1843, the British reasserted their sovereignty over the Falkland Islands. No action was taken by the United States, and George C. Herring wrote that the inaction “confirmed Latin American and especially Argentine suspicions of the United States.” In 1838-50 Argentina was blockaded by the French and later by the British. No action was taken by the United States, despite protestations.

In 1842, U.S. President John Tyler applied the Monroe Doctrine to Hawaii and warned Britain not to interfere there. This began the process of annexing Hawaii to the United States.

On December 2, 1845, U.S. President James Polk announced that the principle of the Monroe Doctrine should be strictly enforced, reinterpreting it to argue that no European nation should interfere with the American western expansion (“Manifest Destiny”).

In 1862, French forces under Napoleon III invaded and conquered Mexico, giving control to the puppet monarch Emperor Maximilian. Washington denounced this as a violation of the doctrine but was unable to intervene because of the American Civil War. This marked the first time the Monroe Doctrine was widely referred to as a “doctrine.” In 1865 the United States stationed a large combat army on the border to emphasize its demand that France leave. France did pull out, and Mexican nationalists executed Maximilian.

In 1862, Belize was turned into a crown colony of the British empire and renamed British Honduras. The United States took no action against Britain, either during or after the Civil War.

In the 1870s, President Ulysses S. Grant and his Secretary of State Hamilton Fish endeavored to supplant European influence in Latin America with that of the United States. In 1870, the Monroe Doctrine was expanded under the proclamation “hereafter no territory on this continent [referring to Central and South America] shall be regarded as subject to transfer to a European power.”

In 1898, the United States intervened in support of Cuba during its war for independence from Spain. The United States won what is known in the United States as the Spanish-American War and in Cuba as the Cuban War for Independence. Under the terms of the peace treaty from which Cuba was excluded, Spain ceded Puerto Rico, the Philippines, and Guam to the United States in exchange for $20 million. Cuba came under U.S. control and remained so until it was granted formal independence in 1902.

A painting depicting Teddy Roosevelt atop a horse leading soldier through a field during the Spanish-American War.
Spanish-American War: Spanish–American War, the result of U.S. intervention in the Cuban War of Independence, which released Cuba from European influence as per the Monroe Doctrine.

The Canadian Confederation

In 1867, the Province of Canada was joined with two other British colonies, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia, through Confederation, forming a self-governing entity named Canada.

Learning Objectives

Describe the Canadian Confederation

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • The Confederation of Canada emerged from multiple impulses. The British wanted Canada to defend itself; British-Canadian nationalism sought to unite the lands into one country, dominated by the English language and British culture; and the fear of possible U.S. expansion northward.
  • On a political level, there was a desire for the expansion of responsible government and elimination of the legislative deadlock between Upper and Lower Canada, and their replacement with provincial legislatures in a federation.
  • Unification had been discussed as early 1839, but it was not until the 1860s that terms of federation were officially on the table.
  • In 1864, there were two important conferences to discuss federation, the Charlottetown Conference and the Quebec Conference. Those who attended are referred to as the Fathers of Confederation.
  • The resolutions decided at the Quebec Conference laid out the framework for uniting British colonies in North America into a federation, officially put into effect by Queen Victoria on March 29, 1867, with a royal proclamation.
  • While confederation eventually resulted in Canada having more autonomy, it was far from full independence from the United Kingdom.

Key Terms

  • Dominion: A semi-independent polity under the British Crown constituting the British Empire, beginning with Canadian Confederation in 1867. They included Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Newfoundland, South Africa, and the Irish Free State, and from the late 1940s also India, Pakistan, and Ceylon (now Sri Lanka).
  • Fathers of Confederation: The 36 people who attended at least one of the Charlottetown (23 attendees) and Quebec (33) Conferences in 1864 and the London Conference of 1866 (16) in England, preceding Canadian Confederation.


In the 1860s, the British were concerned with the possibility of an American assault on Canada in the wake of the American Civil War. Britain also feared that American settlers might expand to the north, into land that was technically British but sparsely settled. There were also problems with raids into Canada launched by the Fenian Brotherhood, a group of Irish Americans who wanted to pressure Britain into granting independence to Ireland. Canada was already essentially a self-governing colony since the 1840s, and Britain no longer felt it was worth the expense of keeping it as a colony. Both sides would be better off politically and economically if Canada was independent. These factors led to the first serious discussions about real political union in Canada. However, there were internal political obstacles to overcome first. The Province of Canada had little success in keeping a stable government for any period of time; the Tories, led by John A. Macdonald and George-Étienne Cartier, were constantly at odds with the “Clear Grits” led by George Brown. In 1864, the two parties decided to unite in the “Great Coalition.” This was an important step towards Confederation.

Meanwhile, the colonies farther east—Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island, and Newfoundland—were also discussing a political union. Representatives from the Province of Canada joined them at the Charlottetown Conference in Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island in 1864 to discuss a union of all the colonies, and these discussions extended into the Quebec Conference of 1864.

Canadian Confederation

The Canadian Confederation was the process by which the British colonies of Canada, Nova Scotia, and New Brunswick were united into one Dominion of Canada on July 1, 1867. Upon Confederation, the old province of Canada was divided into Ontario and Quebec; along with Nova Scotia and New Brunswick, the new federal state was thus composed of four provinces. Over the years since Confederation, Canada has seen numerous territorial changes and expansions, resulting in the current configuration of ten provinces and three territories.

Technically, Canada is a federation and not a confederate association of sovereign states. It is nevertheless often considered to be among the world’s more decentralized federations.

The Seventy-Two Resolutions from the 1864 Quebec Conference and Charlottetown Conference laid out the framework for uniting British colonies in North America into a federation. They were adopted by the majority of the provinces of Canada and became the basis for the London Conference of 1866, which led to the formation of the Dominion of Canada on July 1, 1867. The term dominion was chosen to indicate Canada’s status as a self-governing colony of the British Empire, the first time it was used in reference to a country. With the passage of the British North America Act enacted by the British Parliament, the Province of Canada, New Brunswick, and Nova Scotia became a federated kingdom in its own right.

Confederation was accomplished when the Queen gave royal assent to the British North America Act (BNA Act) on March 29, 1867, followed by a royal proclamation stating: “We do ordain, declare, and command that on and after the First day of July, One Thousand Eight Hundred and Sixty-seven, the Provinces of Canada, Nova Scotia, and New Brunswick, shall form and be One Dominion, under the name of Canada.” That act, which united the Province of Canada with the colonies of New Brunswick and Nova Scotia, came into effect on July 1 that year. It replaced the Act of Union (1840) that previously unified Upper Canada and Lower Canada into the united Province of Canada. Separate provinces were re-established under their current names of Ontario and Quebec. July 1 is now celebrated as a public holiday, Canada Day, the country’s official National Day.

The form of the country’s government was influenced by the American republic to the south. Noting the flaws in the American system, the Fathers of Confederation opted to retain a monarchical form of government.

While the BNA Act eventually resulted in Canada having more autonomy than before, it was far from fully independent from the United Kingdom. Defense of British North America became a Canadian responsibility. Foreign policy remained in British hands, the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council remained Canada’s highest court of appeal, and the constitution could be amended only in Britain.

Gradually, Canada gained more autonomy, and in 1931, obtained almost full autonomy within the British Commonwealth with the Statute of Westminster. Because the provinces of Canada were unable to agree on a constitutional amending formula, this power remained with the British Parliament. In 1982, the constitution was patriated when Elizabeth II gave her royal assent to the Canada Act 1982. The Constitution of Canada is made up of a number of codified acts and uncodified traditions; one of the principal documents is the Constitution Act, 1982, which renamed the BNA Act 1867 to Constitution Act, 1867.

The painting depicts a room filled with a few dozen men, sitting and standing around a conference table.
Fathers of Confederation: 1885 photo of Robert Harris’ 1884 painting, Conference at Quebec in 1864, to settle the basics of a union of the British North American Provinces, also known as The Fathers of Confederation. The original painting was destroyed in the 1916 Parliament Buildings Centre Block fire. The scene is an amalgamation of the Charlottetown and Quebec City conference sites and attendees.


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