When Did American Imperialism by "Divine Right" Begin?
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Thomas Jefferson got it right in a lot of respects, especially with regard to freedom of religion and public schools. Even more important in terms of nationalism, his Louisiana Purchase, while expanding the nation, was not imperialistic. It was a protective move to prevent France from really taking over the gulf and the Louisiana Territory. And his Corps of Discovery was not imperialistic but exploratory to learn the lay of the land, a route to the Pacific, the nature of the flora and fauna, and the Native American tribes and nations.
The American Empire really began, domestically, in 1823 with the Doctrine of Discovery, which declared that Native Americans had no rights to their lands. That's when the really bad stuff began to happen, and then it got even worse with the railroads.
It could be said that The American Empire then gradually expanded its reach, and then really took a giant leap globally with the Spanish American War of 1898, after which it "owned" Cuba, the Philippines, Guam and Puerto Rico, and thus the U.S. became just like the European empires that the Founding Fathers wanted freedom from.
The tragic irony of American Empire is that those who have established it have either forgotten or ignored the fact that the United States of America were founded by liberating revolutionaries who demanded and won independence and freedom from the British "Christian" military industrial empire that operated on an "evangelical mandate" to rule by "Divine Right."
That's how Republicans in Congress felt in 1898, while establishing a treaty with Spain. They followed the British tradition of "Divine Right," and they argued that "Providence has given the United States the duty of extending Christian civilization. We come as ministering angels, not despots."
Clearly the Republicans in 1898, like their modern-day counterparts, considered such imperialism to be an "evangelical mandate," even if it meant taking control and ruling by force of arms, and even killing resisters if necessary. And in fact, that did become necessary in the Philippines, because 16,000 Filipino freedom fighters, and as many as 200,000 Filipino civilians were killed. Then, for the next 34 years, the U.S. had to use forceful rule to maintain control. So, in fact, the U.S. was not led by "ministering angels."
But here's the thing, in following the British tradition of "evangelical mandate" and rule by "divine right" in 1898 (and ever since), the Republicans have completely ignored that fact that what they did was and still it actually in violation of the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, and in violation of the intent of the Founding Fathers.
In spite of that, the imperialism by the U.S. ("Religious") Military Industrial Complex continued. Hawaii was taken by the U.S. in 1893 because of its strategic military importance, and because of its natural resources. The Panama Canal Zone was taken in the early 1900s. Wake Island, Samoa, the Virgin Islands and the Marshall Islands followed, along with others. And similar policies justified U.S. Military actions in the "banana republics" in Central America, in order to secure access to natural resources and pave the way for U.S. Corporate Industry.
After World War Two, there was almost nothing stopping it. Nixon's Imperial Presidency renewed it, and the Reagan's Globalization policies enabling multi-national corporations furthered it. And Bush completed the mission with his Project for a New American Century (PNAC), establishing the blueprint for global domination (which President Obama has signed off on, apparently).
(The above expresses a point of view I agree with, which is expressed more fully in several articles, including: Why the "Religious Right" Is Wrong, Neo-Imperialism, and Ignored American History.)