Did Anglo-Saxonism Allow Americans to See Empire as Normative?
While the line between the United States of America and the definition of “empire” is somewhat blurry, no one can deny that it is hard to determine the USA as an empire in a very classic understanding of the word. However, we can definitely see the tendencies, both nowadays and in the past. In order to answer the question above, some things must be clarified.
Firstly, what is an empire? According to the Oxford Dictionary, an empire is “an extensive group of states or countries ruled over by a single monarch, an oligarchy, or a sovereign state” (575). In the world’s history there were plenty of empires, and they differed by size, strength, cultural population, and some of them lasted for decades and others didn’t, but despite the differences, there are some aspects they share in common. One of them is the intention to spread their influence all around the world, to expand their territories much further than the original borders.
Secondly, what exactly does “Anglo-Saxonism” mean? It should be noted that the word “Anglo-Saxonism” may refer to several meanings. The Anglo-Saxons were the ancestors of the British nation; to be more precise, they were the Germanic tribes that inhabited the part of the island, nowadays recognized as England, during the Norman Conquest. In addition, this word is well-known as a term that is often claimed holding the superiority of the Anglo-Saxons over the other nations. In the case of the USA, both of the meanings hold relevant in one way or another.
By the end of the 19th century, the US had one of the most effective economies of all, but despite that fact, it wasn’t the number one country when we are to talk about the diplomatic value or the military strength back in those days. The economy was highly dependent on foreign trade, almost half of the products were meant to end up overseas, which is why the American fleet was reorganized, but the control over the seas also required a presence of naval bases. This led to the expansion of the territories.
The “Anglo-Saxonism” also attained its popularity in the late 19th century due to the increasing popularity of the racial theories of the century in both Europe and America. In the USA, one such well-known person who was declaring that one nation is higher than another was Josiah Strong. His thoughts on that matter are expressed in his book, called Our Country. One of his central statements throughout his works was that Anglo-Saxons are the superior race and they “Christianize and civilize” the “savage ones” and such an approach would serve well for the American economy and for the “lesser races” as well (79). By the Anglo-Saxons, Strong meant the white, English-speaking people (80). It’s fair to tell that Strong wasn’t the only one affected with the idea of the superiority of the Anglo-Saxon race, for example, Theodore Roosevelt wrote next: “The sons of the unknown Saxon, Anglian, and Friesic warriors now hold in their hands the fate of the coming years” (20-21). Such beliefs, among other factors as well, led to the Spanish-American War which took place in 1898, and a year later in 1899, the world saw Rudyard Kipling’s infamous poem The White Man’s Burden.
Moreover, it would not be amiss to mention the Philippine-American War, the overthrow of the Kingdom of Hawaii, the Mexican-American war, and even the purchase of Alaska; all these events were predetermined by the American development into empire. Anglo-Saxonism was (and for some it still is) a sort of compass of moral superiority, formed by the winds of the era, and it wasn’t the only leading aspect to form the nation’s word view, but it definitely had an impact, as all idealistic guidelines do.
Roosevelt, Theodore, and Frederic Remington. The Winning of the West. New York: Collier, 1889. 20-21. Print.
Stevenson, Angus, Judy Pearsall, and Patrick Hans, eds. ‘Empire.’ Oxford Dictionary of English. 3rd ed. 2010. 575. Print.
Strong, Josiah. The New Era: Or, the Coming Kingdom. New York: The Baker & Taylor co.,1893. 79-80. Print.
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