"Columbia's Easter Bonnet, Puck magazine (1901)."
Khan Academy. Accessed March 13, 2018.
In Empire for Liberty, Richard Immerman differentiates imperialism from empire as “a process by which one state employs instruments of power to acquire control over peripheral peoples and territory” (10). In doing so, he extends the traditionally narrow historiographical vision of the United States as imperialist to the colonial, Revolutionary and Antebellum periods, as well as the twenty-first century – demonstrating the nation’s founding and continued growth and consolidation to be an inherently imperial process. Immerman modifies Walter LaFeber’s economically-focused, late-nineteenth-century-specific argument by presenting imperial expansionism as not just an “outward-gazing product of the Industrial Revolution” (as I previously described), but also a rhetorical interplay between allyship and interventionism, liberty and tyranny. Immerman cites Carl Parrini’s “Theories of Imperialism,” asking whether American imperialism originated with “the conscious choices of statesmen … or [was] the inevitable result of the industrial capitalist political economy and social structure” (10).
Immerman presents the (mis)application of American ideology. Liberty denied domestically – rather, an imperial project meant to exclude rather than subsume enslaved Blacks and native peoples – belied American support for and camaraderie with rebelling populations external* to its borders. For instance, John Quincy Adams “sympathized with emerging Latin American nations. But he did not empathize. Adams was too convinced of U.S. exceptionalism to equate its revolution with theirs,” deeming the “ignorant miscegenated populace” unfit for self-governance (87).
As Michel Gobat demonstrates in “The Invention of Latin America,” ‘race’ became the basis for a geopolitical entity because Spanish colonialism produced cultural hybridity. Was Adams’ aversion to so-called solidarity inherently racialized? Immerman claims Adams was “obviously** not an isolationist,” as he went on to warn against championing foreign movements for independence during his 1821 Congressional address, claiming the American ideal of liberty could easily transmute into force (88). This premise connects well to Richard Hofstadter’s discussion of “benevolent imperialism” in “Cuba, the Philippines, and Manifest Destiny.” Does the myth of American exceptionalism only inspire paternalistic intervention in other countries as Hofstadter claims, or does it also encourage the opposite – isolationist policy born of the notion that only America is capable of establishing a free state?
Immerman describes Andrew Jackson’s policy towards Native Americans, whose presence he deemed “irreconcilably hostile to God’s design for America” (93). Adams, appalled, decried the “extermination of the Indians whom we have been driving like swine into a pen west of the Mississippi” – coming to understand American expansionism as “no longer the fulfillment of God’s promise but a ‘disgraceful, tyrannical usurpation of the national purpose’” (94). But was not the American nation itself (and, before that, the colonies that came to comprise it) formed on the premise of what Fredrick Jackson Turner would come to call “free land?” Connecting back to my previous question about expansionism versus encroachment – how might indigenous perspectives on and experiences of imperialism clarify this dynamic? Similarly, Immerman concludes with the proclamation that the War on Terror was conceived of as “a war for liberty” rather than “a war for empire” (234). Are these concepts mutually exclusive? One man’s freedom is another man’s tyranny.
* Once again, how do historians responsibly define “interiority?” How do the binary concepts of inside and outside apply to borderlands and acquired territories?
** This is a problematic word choice; why is it “obvious?”