The “Samoan Crisis” and the Development of U.S. Imperialism

Summer 2020

Sophia Brown-Heidenreich : History

Donor: Wishek Fund
Mentor: Daniel Sargent

Among U.S. foreign policy historians, the Spanish-American War of 1898 marks a commonly accepted turning point for the course of U.S. expansion and the country’s status as a great power in the European-led international system. Newer scholarship, however, has reevaluated the war’s centrality for American imperial ascendance, and this project seeks to contribute to these efforts by scrutinizing an earlier moment in American history. Through an analysis of a conflict which brought the Cleveland administration to the brink of war with Bismarck’s Germany, I intend to examine the intellectual influences upon the evolving and centralizing American federal government. Such influences, evident in the response to the Samoan Crisis of 1887–1889, enabled the projection of American power overseas—enabled, in other words, American imperialism. By examining the ideas circulating among legislators and government reformers at the time, this project strives to understand just how imperially-minded the U.S. was in the post-Civil War years and how conceptions of European colonization affected their own foreign policy choices.

This grant has allowed me to dedicate invaluable time to a study of American and international history. The world’s imperial past is paramount to an understanding of modern institutions and it is a privilege to receive the resources to better discern the trajectory of that development. I want to thank the SURF program for their support and the opportunity to whole-heartedly devote a summer to a project that will become the capstone of my undergraduate career.