america takes the pacific -- 7/22/14

Today's selection -- from William McKinley by Kevin Phillips. In the late 1800s, robust U.S. business interests extended their reach West across the Pacific ocean in an effort to build trade relations with Asia (with opium at the heart of this trade). This captured the imagination of the American public (Canton, Ohio was named after the Chinese port of Canton). It led to the U.S. compelling open trade relations with Japan and Korea, to the takeover of Hawaii and then culminated in the taking of the Philippines in the Spanish American War:

"[When] the Western frontier superficially closed in the 1890s, Northern eyes then refocused on a new Pacific frontier that stretched from Alaska, with its beckoning goldfields, to Hawaii, with its New England settlements, and south to Samoa, a favorite stopping place for Yankee sailors even before Herman Melville's Polynesian portraits....

"The push was led by New Englanders who for a century had traded by sailing around Cape Hom and now sought a commercial shortcut across the isthmus of Panama. As the 1890s lengthened, so did the catalogue of Republican-sponsored Pacific expansion: the annexation of Hawaii, stepped-up battleship construction, an Isthmian canal, and, after 1898, control of the Philippines. All won their greatest support in Congress from the Yankee Northeast, Upper Midwest, and Pacific. [President William] McKinley pushed all four. The Spanish-American War was only a catalyst. Expansionism was ingrained in the American psyche.

U.S. Expansion in the Pacific

"The first independent American voyage to the Orient came in 1784, when the Massachusetts brig Empress of China sailed to Canton. This began a commerce that would flower through the 1840s and leave a dozen U.S. cities, including McKinley's in Ohio, named for the great Chinese entry port. By McKinley's inauguration, the American push westward into the Pacific had a long naval and mercantile chronology.

"So strategic were the Hawaiian islands by the 1840s that President John Tyler extended the hemispheric shield of the Monroe Doctrine to include them. In 1854, Commodore Matthew Perry visited Japan and negotiated a treaty that opened up the ports of Shimoda, Hakodate, and later Nagasaki to U.S. trade. Perry even urged that the United States take control of Formosa. By that same year, resolutions in Congress to annex Hawaii to the United States began to get serious attention.

"The Civil War briefly eclipsed the Orient, but in 1867, U.S. naval expeditions visited Wake Island and occupied Midway -- its position was halfway between California and Japan -- to establish a coaling station and cable relay. The purchase from Russia in 1867 of Alaska, with its Aleutian island chain pointing toward Asia, pushed American territory even closer to Japan.

"In 1871, the U.S. Navy leased facilities in Samoa, and in 1875, the Republican administration of U.S. Grant established trade reciprocity with Hawaii, still at least nominally an independent kingdom. Pago Pago became a naval coaling station in 1879.

"Imitating Perry in Japan, U.S. Navy Commodore Robert Shufeldt, under presidential instructions, in 1882 forced Korea to sign a treaty opening itself to American commerce. In 1885, when Hawaii gave the United States exclusive rights to Pearl Harbor as a coaling and naval repair station, President Cleveland called the islands 'the stepping-stone to the growing trade of the Pacific.' Shufeldt evoked a commercial boudoir: 'The Pacific is the ocean bride of America .... China and Japan and Korea are the bridesmaids, California is the nuptial couch, the bridal chamber, where all the wealth in the Orient will be brought to celebrate the wedding.' "


Kevin Phillips


William McKinley: The American Presidents Series: The 25th President, 1897-1901 (American Presidents (Times))


Times Books


Copyright 2003 Kevin Phillips


barns and noble booksellers
Support Independent Bookstores - Visit

All delanceyplace profits are donated to charity and support children’s literacy projects.


Sign in or create an account to comment