Exciting and profitable opportunities at home turned American attention inward during the decades following the Civil War. The stable and peaceful international situation enabled the United States to survive its neglect of foreign affairs without damage. Nevertheless, little-noticed changes at home and abroad during the "nadir of diplomacy" quietly eroded those bases for "isolationism" and "continentalism." Aggressive political leaders tried to guide the United States toward more ambitious policies abroad, particularly in Latin America and the Pacific. Sometimes they tried to get colonies, but more often they sought friendly governments and economic opportunities. Until the nineteenth century neared its close, those precursors of American overseas imperialism generally failed. They could not arouse enough enthusiasm among the American people, and the United States lacked the power commanded by Great Britain in South America and the western Pacific. But those leaders, rather than their less expansionist compatriots, were in tune with things to come.
The advance agents of American overseas imperialism represented domestic influences fundamentally different from those represented by the leaders who had guided American continental expansion westward across North America. The agrarians who followed the footsteps of Thomas Jefferson and James K. Polk generally were not impressed by the need for overseas expansion, except when they were aroused by appeals to patriotism, national honor, and national security. The spokesmen for