The New World Power: American Foreign Policy, 1898-1917

The New World Power: American Foreign Policy, 1898-1917

The New World Power: American Foreign Policy, 1898-1917

The New World Power: American Foreign Policy, 1898-1917


From the era of the Spanish American war onward, the United States found itself increasingly involved in the affairs of countries beyond North America. The New World Power offers an interpretive framework for understanding U.S. foreign policy during the first two decades of America's emergence as a world power. Robert E. Hannigan describes the aspirations of American leaders, explores the bedrock social views and ideological framework they held in common, and shows how the approach of U.S. policymakers overseas mirrored their attitudes toward domestic progressivism. While the vast bulk of work on U.S. foreign policy has been concerned with the period from World War II to the present, this comprehensive examination of American policy at the turn of the twentieth century is of vital importance to the comprehension of subsequent events.

Hannigan relates U.S. foreign policy to domestic society in ways that are new; in particular, he examines how issues of class, race, and gender were combined in the ideology held by policy makers and how this shaped their approaches to foreign affairs. His study reveals a fundamental unity to U.S. activity throughout the period, not only toward the Caribbean and China, regions that have been the traditional focus of historians, but toward the rest of North and South America as well. It also relates these regional activities to American policy toward the British Empire, European great power rivalries, and international institutions, arbitration, and law, culminating in a reinterpretation of U.S. involvement in World War I.

Based on exhaustive research in the writings of presidents, secretaries of state, and key diplomats and advisers, The New World Power draws parallels between the methods by which policy makers sought to shape international society and the methods by which many of them hoped to secure the conditions they wanted within the United States. Most important, the book describes how an international search for order constituted the fundamental strategy by which American leaders sought to ensure for the United States a position of what they saw as wealth and greatness in the coming twentieth-century world.


My principal purpose in this book is to try to explain the trajectory (or fundamental course, objectives, and methods) of American foreign policy in the era running from the late 1890s to 1917 (the year the United States became a military participant in World War I). Although commonly referred to, and accorded significance, as the age of America’s “emergence as a world power”—a label correctly connoting that it was in this period that Washington began to involve itself as never before in developments beyond the continent of North America—most studies of American diplomacy in the early twentieth century have either been organized around the boundaries of particular presidential administrations or focused on one particular geographical region of U.S. external activity (normally the Caribbean or the Far East, the two regions of highest profile activity).

Historians have now attained sufficient distance from, as well as knowledge of, the turn-of-the-century era, however, to enable us to probe beyond these boundaries and to try to reveal more about the direction and methods of this extra-continental involvement. The potential exists to identify and discuss in detail more fundamental patterns running both through this whole period and through the different U.S. global engagements. Some useful efforts to go beyond the basic theme of “emergence” have been undertaken in essay form, especially in several articles that have tried to find a correspondence between “progressivism” and early twentiethcentury foreign policy. But this marks the first systematic, book-length effort to do that for this period.

Attempts to discern patterns and continuities (without denying that each administration in this era had its own distinctive qualities and style) must also contend with the commonly held idea that Woodrow Wilson’s foreign policy constituted a rejection in substance of the diplomacy of his predecessors. That notion stems mostly, I think, from the simple fact that scholars have tended to be far too accepting of Wilson’s own descriptions of what he and the Republicans who came before him were all about. Its adoption, nevertheless, undoubtedly helps to explain why historians have tended not to accord sufficient importance to whole areas of pre-1913 diplomacy that do not seem to fit into this framework (such as PanAmericanism and the Hague system) and why the sophistication and . . .

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