Imperialism in Woodrow Wilson's Latin American policy.
Degree GrantorUniversity of Canterbury
Degree NameMaster of Arts
There is a unique quality about the way the people of the United States have viewed their position in regard to other nations. Whereas many dominant civilisations have sought, through force, to impose their cultures onto peoples whom they have regarded as inferior, the American approach has been different. Since the time of the seventeenth century Puritan migrations to New England shores, many Americans have believed that they have a duty to the rest of the world: a duty which entails moral reform rather than the coercive measures used by dominant societies in the past. John Winthrop saw his "city on a hill" as a model community which, in providing a contrast to the evils of Europe, could benefit mankind in general. Likewise, the authors of the Monroe Doctrine were able to convince themselves that in protecting the western hemisphere against the corruption of the Old World, they were performing a moral service to Latin America.
Although much of the altruistic nature of this goal has, at different times being neglected, it has always been present and ready to be rekindled by such idealistic leaders as Woodrow Wilson. However, the conflicts between America's need for leadership, and the desire to liberate the world, led Wilson into difficulties. Often he was forced into the trap of imperialism as he succumbed to the belief that the end justifies the means.
Wilson's presidency represented an effort to revitalise the American dream of world leadership through moral example. It is the combination of moral duty and leadership which forms the character of the American blend of progressivism and imperialism. Latin America was to be the testing-ground of much of Wilson's philosophy, and eventually, under the auspices of the League of Nations, the dream would be extended in an attempt to embrace the world.
The obsession with leading the world to liberty is an intrigt1ing concept, and one which is as relevant for Americans today as it was in past centuries. Woodrow Wilson's career epitomises the complexities of leadership and liberty, and highlights the inescapable conflict presented by the combinations of idealism and practicality, of morality and expediency.
One major purpose of this study is to investigate the seemingly incompatible relationship between the humanitarian domestic reform movement of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, and the rise of United States' imperialism which occurred at a similar period in history. Woodrow Wilson's policies form the central part of the study, and I aim to show that it was his administration, rather than those of Theodore Roosevelt or William Taft, which best exemplifies the ambiguous relationship between progressivism and imperialism. Close attention will be given to the problem of rhetoric as opposed to actual occurences, in order to demonstrate that these two aspects of Wilsonian philosophy, although often seemingly irreconcilable, can be viewed as an entity. Evidence points to a leader caught in the various webs of liberalism, of a Presbyterian background and of the almost sacrosanct American way of life. Always the actions he took and the paths he wished to pursue had to be explained in terms of morality and benevolence.
As president of the United States, Wilson's efforts to achieve progress in the shortest possible time often entailed a complete reversal of stance from .the conservative view of change which he had advocated as an academic historian, and in which he had been an ardent disciple of Edmund Burke. The English influence forms an important basis of his philosophy, especially in the admiration Wilson felt for Burke, his appreciation of William Gladstone as a politician, and the belief that America could learn from the example of British colonialism.
Because of the necessarily concise nature of this study, I shall confine my attention to Mexico, Haiti and Nicaragua: chapters on each of these countries forming the basis of this thesis. Mexico has been chosen because of its position as the largest and most powerful of the Central American states. Nicaragua is a much smaller country, but one which held strategic significance for the United States, and Haiti is an interesting case because it exemplifies the racial prejudice which underlies much of American foreign policy. Despite his strongly religious background and his speeches calling for brotherly love, Woodrow Wilson firmly believed in the superiority of the Anglo-Saxon civilisation.