Updated date:

Masculinity as a Means of Racial Supremacy: American Imperialism of the 19th Century

J. Schatzel works in healthcare administration in rural upstate New York and has a master's degree in history.

Throughout the nineteenth century, American imperialism was justified through the use of rhetoric encouraging American masculinity. With great emphasis on the economic implications of territorial expansion, imperialism of the late nineteenth century centered on justifications of the need for American paternalism and masculinity exercised over inferior and characteristically effeminate peoples of the lands being expanded upon for American economic gain. In the late nineteenth century, Theodore Roosevelt wrote a series of speeches regarding American imperialism, relying on other instances of American imperialism throughout the nineteenth century, emphasizing the masculine duty of America to imperialize upon the effeminate and thus savage and uncivilized peoples. Historians have used analyses of primary sources including the writings of Theodore Roosevelt, as well as documentation of justifications for late nineteenth century imperialism in their assertion that American imperialism of the post-Civil War nineteenth century was encouraged by the Industrial Era rhetoric of American masculinity in an effort to justify the economic benefits of such race-based international exploits.

In contribution to the growing body of literature that incorporates America’s political and cultural history in an attempt to document the changing American relationship with the rest of the world, historians such as William Leughtenburg (1952), Robert Zevin (1972), Paul Kennedy (1987), Amy Kaplan (1990), Robert May (1991), Gail Bederman (1995), Arnaldo Testi (1995), Mona Domosh (2004), Amy Greenberg (2005), Jackson Lears (2009), have used a Marxist approach to history, emphasizing the economic, political, and social power scramble of the United States in an era of economic opportunities of “Grosse Politick” [1] and cultural extension through masculinity and white supremacy based territorial expansion. Using analyses of novels contemporary to nineteenth-century imperialism, the speeches and writings of Theodore Roosevelt and a variety of politicians, historians have asserted that masculinity was a means through which racial hierarchies were justified in the procurement of economic gains for the United States through imperialism.

According to historian John Darwin, imperialism can be defined as “the sustained effort to assimilate a country or region to the political, economic, or cultural system of another power.” Historians in the century following the Gilded Age have used such common themes as Social Darwinism, Christian paternalism, and a focus on the importance of the lingering effects of the Mexican War and ideas of Manifest Destiny in their analysis of American masculinity’s use of gendered rhetoric to encourage and justify territorial expansion. Through an analysis of both primary and secondary sources on late nineteenth century American imperialism after the Mexican War and Civil War, it is clear that American imperialist endeavors of the latter decades of the nineteenth century were directly encouraged by the growing emphasis on masculinity and white male assertion of racial superiority regardless of class. Asserting their whiteness through an embodiment of masculinity to assert their superiority over racially inferior non-white people, white males of post-bellum America used imperialistic expansion strategies to reaffirm their social superiority in a world in which formerly suppressed racial and gender groups were gaining increasing rights and powers in American society and politics. White male interest in imperialism following the Mexican War and Civil War was a direct manifestation of American male attempts to reassert their social and political superiority as in a racial hierarchy in an era of rapid political shift towards a more egalitarian American society. Such assertions of masculine superiority were means by which American males could justify imperialism and the resulting economic benefits of such endeavors. [2]

Theodore Roosevelt served as a Republican president of the United States from 1901 through 1909. His embodiment of stereotypically ascribed American masculinity was embodied through his numerous speeches regarding imperialism, as well as his membership in other masculine organizations such as the Oyster Bay Masonic Lodge. [3] As stated by Theodore Roosevelt in one of his many speeches addressed to the American public, in locations such as American economic interests including the “Philippines and Cuba, many of their people are utterly unfit for self-government, and show no signs of becoming fit” without the intervention of “our own brave men.” Due to the perceived incapability of such governments to hold a sustainable self-government, Roosevelt contended that it was the “duty” of the American male to their nation and their supposedly superior race, to imperialize such places as a means of preemption against the “savage anarchy” assumed by such rhetoric to follow effeminate self-rule. [4]

Using the example of the English imperial project in India and Egypt throughout the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, Roosevelt argued in his speeches that to further the cause of the economic advance of western civilization in the implementation of superior masculine authority over effeminate and thus inferior peoples, American masculinity could be used to stimulate economic benefit for both the imperialized territories and their imperializing paternalistic savior, the United States. Roosevelt asserted that through imperialism, the American nation’s encapsulation of such masculine qualities as physical strength, high moral character, and persistence towards “uplifting mankind” as a “Christian gentleman,” the United States could gain the economic advantages that would accompany the supposed rescue of effeminate inhabitants of American imperial interests. According to Roosevelt,

We cannot sit huddled within our own borders and avow ourselves merely an assemblage of well-to-do hucksters who care nothing for what happens beyond. Such a policy would defeat even its own end; for as the nations grow to have ever wider and wider interests, and are brought into closer and closer contact, if we are to hold our own in the struggle for naval and commercial supremacy, we must build up our power without our own borders. [5]

Upon such rise to commercial supremacy through the assertion of masculinity via imperialistic expansion, Roosevelt contended that the United States was serving as the world’s paternalistic force as a paradigm of masculinity, “which by their expansion are gradually bringing peace into the red wastes where the barbarian peoples of the world hold sway.” [6]

Following the Civil War, the reconnection of the North and South led to a transformation of America through Reconstruction politics deeply embedded with violence, as shown through lynching of African Americans in the south as a reassertion of white American masculinity, and protectiveness of traditional senses of American womanhood. Figures such as Richard Cabot, who preached that the “healing power of good work,” embodied the emphasis of the 1877-1900 merging of manliness with militarism, as masculinity increasingly, became a goal of republican, moral-based, economic independence. [7]

Through an analysis of such accounts as Jackson Lears’ analysis of Houdini’s physical manifestation of the period’s emphasis on liberty to whites and social-escapism, it becomes apparent that Social Darwinism was used to position prosperity and public morality within the framework of Industrial Era American ideological agendas. Through documents such as the memoirs and personal correspondence of economically powerful individuals, the self-made man such as Andrew Carnegie and John D. Rockefeller became a model of philanthropy, power, success, and resulting whiteness and masculinity; stressing American masculinity’s superiority on a global scale which thus seemed to validate superior American autonomy to figures such as Theodore Roosevelt. The Industrial Era’s rhetoric of imperial expansion for “progress,” and increasingly militant ideology to explain the spread from a national class and race domination of white males, metamorphosed into a global interest in the ideology of imperialism in the U.S. reach for world power, as a triumph of white supremacy at home through the conquest of non-whites abroad. [8]

Juxtaposing a vast number of examples of earlier nineteenth century imperialism also used by Roosevelt as precedents for American imperialism of the later nineteenth century, as well as examples of the imperialistic endeavors of the late nineteenth century, it is apparent that the masculine rationalization of imperialism was used as a justification of the economic advancement of the United States at the expense of supposedly racially inferior nations and territories. Using racial hierarchies to ensure white domination when power through economic advancement was unavailable, white Americans’ belief in racial superiority provided the promise of imperialistic reassurance and cultural justification. Throughout the late nineteenth century, a continuing emphasis of American images of republican masculinity resting in concepts of domination, (in which Reconstruction era shifts in militant reform turned from northern domination of the South, towards white American domination of African, Asian, and Native American enemies), played a prominent role in imperialistic ideology; as the rising significance of race placed personal and social advancement at the forefront of a battle between white American social and economic superiority and non-white race-based inferiority. Despite “black dreams of freedom” and working class strikes disrupting white, Anglo-Saxon, Protestant American progress, Lears documents such instances and asserts that white power and paranoia prevented efforts to create a biracial social atmosphere in America failed even amidst times of economic turmoil, thus proving the presence of deeply ingrained social constructs of race in the era of regeneration. [9]

The late nineteenth century experienced a resurgence of the importance of “regeneration” to social movements, reflecting a growing emphasis of American society on changes through social uplift as opposed to violence in the quest for American revitalization, until struggles between Americans moved from class based to race-based clashes enforcing white domination of society on a national and global scale using the rhetoric of masculinity. Jackson Lears contends that late nineteenth century protestant reforms, reasserting the importance of the moral dimension of regeneration (and the religious-based justifications of Social Darwinism through masculine assertions of force used in the decades following the Civil War), were used to justify social race-based hierarchies such as the economics of imperialism. [10]

In 1900, Republican senator Albert Beveridge addressed Congress with his defense of American imperialism, arguing that white Protestant Americans were God’s chosen people and thus were justified in their imperialist endeavors in foreign lands “peopled by a race which civilization demands must be improved,” describing imperialized nations of American expansionism as child-like and “incurably indolent” peoples incapable of self-government; thus in need of American intervention. Beveridge explained that America is a country motivated by the spirit of progress through the actions of self-governing white American men for the benefit of the nation and the territories being expanded upon. Through an analysis of Senator Albert Jeremiah Beveridge’s 1900 speech addressing the United States to encourage an immediate annexation of the Philippines, it is clear that American males of the nineteenth century used violence through imperialism to assert their masculinity and the rhetoric of such means of aggression were used to justify the economic ends..Beveridge stated in his speech that imperialism of American power in the Pacific meant “opportunity for all the glorious young manhood of the republic, the most virile, ambitious, impatient, militant manhood the world has ever seen.” [11]

In 1900, Democratic congressman William Jennings Bryan reflected back on nineteenth century imperialism in an address to the Indianapolis Democratic Convention, in opposition to the United States occupation of the Philippines. In his address, Bryan condemned the theory of Manifest Destiny for its destructive impact on the territories it imperializes. Although his argument opposed imperialism, his assertions of why imperialism was wrong verify the assertion that themes of racial superiority through manifestations of masculinity underlie nineteenth century imperialism. Bryan acknowledges America’s “manfully” imperialistic expansion out of America’s masculine duty to spread civilization to those lands incapable of self-government, in his condemnation of such ideology. Despite his condemnations, his assertions validated the existence of an underlying sense of masculinity-based imperialism in an attempt to assert American, thus white American superiority through political and economic domination. Bryan discusses at length the American commercial interests in the Philippines, and uses the rhetoric of masculinity, manifest destiny, imperialism, and Christian superiority in his condemnation of American expansion to the Asia. [12]

Historian Robert Zevin emphasizes the importance of the Mexican War in engaging young American males in an adventurous masculine spirit, which subsequently helped to bolster support of imperialist expansion endeavors by American troops and individual filibusterers later in the nineteenth century. Acknowledging the economic interests of American capitalist, nineteenth century imperialists focused on foreign potential economic assets, using the rhetoric of American paternalistic ideas of seeking to dominate the economic or political affairs of underdeveloped and characteristically ascribed effeminate areas or weaker countries, in the American spread of capitalist ideology. Evidence of contemporary nineteenth century expansionism participants and political figures such as President Theodore Roosevelt can be used to argue that American imperialistic actions were conducted through an embodiment of the rhetoric of masculinity and Social Darwinism in an effort to spread capitalistic ideals through the globe, especially to socialist nations; in an effort to gain economic and political power for the United States. Using the ideology of Manifest Destiny encouraged in the post-Mexican War era, Americans used a combination of economic, political, and military means to acquire territories such as America’s 1898 annexation of Hawaii, purchase of Alaska, and “force of arms” taking of Texas, all argued by Zevin to have been in search of economic opportunities such lands held for the increasingly economically and politically advantageous expansion of the United States through imperialism in the latter nineteenth century. [13]

Historian Robert May contends that the central role of filibustering in American territorial expansion to Mexico, Nicaragua, Cuba, Ecuador, Canada, Honduras, and Hawaii of the latter half of the nineteenth century was a cultural phenomenon bolstered by a the geopolitical controversy of westward expansion coupled with the masculine adventuring spirit of the Gold Rush, and the American tradition of subjugation and exploitation of non-whites by white American males using the rhetoric of progress. Through the lenses of class and gender, contemporary accounts of filibustering American troops validate the argument that filibustering crossed class lines and appealed to the youthful idealism of young white males regardless of social class, because filibustering was a means of racial domination over inferior non-white populations. Using the Mexican War as a means of masculine-rhetoticized motivation for filibusterer’s emphasis on Manifest Destiny of the Filibuster Movement, the origins of filibustering in the late nineteenth century can be traced to the colonial conquest of Native Americans, an ideology of racial hierarchy revived during the Mexican War through increasing emphasis on Manifest Destiny and Social Darwinism by American proponents of economic gain through imperialism. [14]

Similarly, historian Amy S. Greenberg asserts that the American victory over Mexico in 1847 seemed to justify and empower the military efforts of filibusters and other territorial expansionists in late nineteenth century America, encouraging imperialists through a heightened sense of ability and purpose. The gendered rhetoric of imperialism, often placing the conquered territories under the assumption of being effeminate and consequently deserving (and even in need of) American masculine power structures to provide such lands with Victorian Era gendered spheres ideology as were commonplace in nineteenth century America. Using accounts of territorial expansion experiences of the late nineteenth century, it is possible to argue the development and existence of a militant ideology of American masculinity in antebellum America used to justify American imperialism for economic purposes. The shrinking American frontier’s expansion via American territorial expansion across its’ borders was encouraged by circumstances in which masculine values such as dominance through physical aggression were valued; in an era in which technical skilled labor and other such means of success were increasingly devalued at home due to changing economic, political, and social conditions. [15] The era between the Mexican War and the Civil War gave rise to a new American ideology of masculinity and aggression, through which Manifest Destiny could be both achieved and justified. As Americans traversed westward onto the frontier and embraced a physically dominating position of expansion over supposedly racially inferior and effeminate groups of people, gendered rhetoric was used in the spread of American progress and enlightenment; in effect creating and reinforcing a hegemonic American masculinity through the lens of territorial expansionism; asserted on a global scale when the local frontier of the American west was explored and conquered. [16]

During the post-Civil War period of American history, ideas of expansion and Manifest Destiny were heavily dependent upon the prevalent social and political ideology of the mid-nineteenth century. Likewise, the idea that American imperialistic interactions with men and women in the expanding American territories in places such as Jamaica, Japan, Hawaii, and Latin America, were heavily influenced by gendered rhetoric and ideologies of masculinity and paternalism of the American home front. Latin Americans, especially Latin American men, were depicted by American expansionist proponents of Manifest Destiny as effeminate to justify American acquisition of neighboring territories. As stated by Greenberg, “in his domination over both men and women in Latin America, the American man, even one who had limited success in the United States, could prove that he was successful and manly” through is assertion of “aggressive American manhood.” American enthusiasm for territorial expansion was bolstered by the militant masculinity of American cultural shifts in gender identity; encouraging courage, physical strength, and aggression in territorial expansion, instead of their former application to participation in duels, social men’s’ clubs, urban sporting culture, the volunteer fire department, and other such activities with more restrained masculine behavior. [17] As stated by Theodore Roosevelt in an 1899 reflection upon nineteenth century American imperialism, “to preach that highest form of success which comes, not to the man who desires mere easy peace, but to the man who does not shrink from danger, from hardship, or from bitter toil, and who out of these wins the splendid ultimate triumph.” [18]

Using the rhetoric of masculinity and Manifest Destiny to reinforce and justify American expansionism without the anti-liberty connotations of the term “imperialism,” American men filibustering in places such as Japan, Hawaii, and Cuba, used violence and physical intimidation reflecting white supremacist justifications of white American domination of inferior races. Lands such as Cuba were depicted through nineteenth century rhetoric of Manifest Destiny as childish and effeminate, and consequently in need of masculine protection intended to be provided by American control, in exchange for American economic benefit. Nineteenth century assumptions that such places as Hawaii and Cuba had originated in America and been separated by waters of the Atlantic and Pacific oceans, thus American paternalistic control of Cuba and Hawaii was justified and necessary were used to legitimize American senses of duty to aid such territories while reaping the economic benefits of such endeavors. [19]

Lucy Petway Holcombe’s The Free Flag of Cuba; or, The Martyrdom of Lopez: A Tale of the Liberating Expedition of 1851, a romanticized account of the 1851 filibustering expedition to Cuba lead by Narciso López, echoes the imperialist rhetoric of nationalism, manifest destiny, racial supremacy, and masculinity. Throughout Holcombe’s novel, filibustering reflects the values American women expected of men in a culture in which masculine strength and the vigor to pursue such notions as Roosevelt’s “strenuous life” of imperialism were held as tantamount to the definition of an American citizen. While women were expected to fit within the ideals of republican motherhood, raising strong patriotic young men, men were expected to pursue national ideals of strength and racial superiority encouraged by the rhetoric of American masculinity. [20] Holcombe characterizes Lopez as leading the filibuster campaigns in Cuba to liberate the people of Cuba out of a sense of paternalistic duty, as well exercise his “conscious right and glorious esteem” as a white American male for the good of all humanity. Characterizing Cuba as an effeminate “honey flower,” Holcombe’s portrayal of American males reflects the nineteenth century American ideology of masculine authority in a global Herrenvolk democracy. [21]

American masculinity during the latter Victorian Era, was exemplified through the violence of the American empire via imperialism, duels, and other such militant means of expression; which were a means through which American males could reassert their masculinity in America and American territories before what historian Amy Kaplan calls “the eyes of a global audience.” [22] As American masculinity of the late nineteenth century grew threatened by the economic, social, and political influences of a modern industrial economy, writers of the 1890s publishing popular novels used depictions of heroic and militant male protagonists to affirm American gender ideology regarding masculinity as a traditional American display of paternalism and heroic militancy. Masculinity and nationalism of American males were so closely linked during the latter half of the nineteenth century due to American economic interest in imperialism, as shown through Theodore Roosevelt’s The Strenuous Life, as well as other novels including Ivanhoe, To Have and to Hold, Under the Red Robe, and Richard Carvel, written in the 1890s. Reflecting an imperialist empire through the inclusion of a male protagonist portrayed as a self reliant participant in frontier violence in the struggle for the “pleasures of imperialism” of a “chivalric rescue narrative,” according to Kaplan, the novels embody the masculine emphasis on imperialistic economic advancement. Using novels written during the late nineteenth century in an analysis of the underlying themes of masculinity, imperialism, and violence on the frontier and abroad, masculinity was asserted through a robust muscular physique by American males on an individual level, and through an increased interest in imperialistic activities as a sign of American strength on a national level. Emphasis on physical appearances of American males was a means of conceptualizing more abstract ideas such as imperialism and American empire, through an emphasis on physical strength to assert socially accepted doctrines of paternalism and white racial superiority. Masculinity was used to recover the autonomy denied by social forces of modernization in which American whites lost their legally allowed status above African Americans following the thirteenth, fourteenth, and fifteenth Amendments. [23] The increasing emphasis on American masculinity in imperialism created increased links between femininity and the dependent and perceivably inferior peoples of the world, thus bolstering the American male show of masculinity in assertion of American dominance in territorial expansion for economic ends through expansionist means. [24]

Amy Kaplan has analyzed dozens of novels published in the 1890s, accompanied by other primary sources contemporary to the novels to explore the historical context of the novels and validate her thesis. In doing so, Kaplan contends that the “spectacle of masculinity” of the Era of American imperialism between the Civil War and the Progressive Era was embodied by the popularity of the chivalric rescue novel throughout the Industrial Era. Through the use of 1890s novels such as Via Crucis, masculinity was used in imperialistic rhetoric to raise and maintain the status of American imperialists through a regard for the natives of territories subject to American economic-based territorial expansion as effeminate in the rhetoric of gendered hierarchies. According to Kaplan, “without any physical exertion, the American men automatically recover their primal virility in a relation of difference, in contrast to the native men around them.” In justification of the violence and brutality of American imperialistic efforts, masculinity was used as a justification of male American power over the ostensibly inferior peoples of the territories prey to American expansionism. Novels of the late nineteenth century portrayed glorified images of masculinity through a romanticized depiction of such masculine associated activities as struggles in the athletic arena as well as the imperial battlefield in contemporary discourse. Through the circulation of such imperial adventures as those narrated throughout the adventure novels of the nineteenth century into the American home, late nineteenth century American novels encouraged masculinity through imperialism, through their embodiment of social movements of the late nineteenth century. The novels embody a manifestation of the American vision of global conquest, through a portrayal of imperial conflict as the dramatization of the economic gains attained through assertion of masculinity abroad, before a domestic audience. [25]

Throughout the late nineteenth century, the rhetoric of territorial expansion, racial superiority, and masculinity were used in justification of economically beneficial territorial expansion. American imperialism placed a heavy emphasis on what historian William Leuchtenburg calls the “rise of the United States as a world power” through imperialist territorial expansion to promote American hegemony through manifestations of masculinity and attainment of economic means of superiority in a global competition for resources. The United States held a nearly religious faith in the democratic mission of America, using masculine ability and manly duty as the basis for the growing American wish to extend democracy and capitalism to the rest of the world, manifested in the resulting increase in American naval growth and activities in the Pacific and Caribbean. Using rhetoric of racial supremacy of White Americans, Leuchtenburg late nineteenth century emphases on imperialism were similar in nature to the era’s progressive political ideology; including an emphasis on the application of liberty to those presumably effeminate people assumed by American imperialists to be incapable of self government. While preaching liberty to those capable of self government, American imperialism was in effect an attempt to uphold Herrenvolk Democratic principles of a resulting white-supremacist democracy heavily based in the rhetoric of masculinity and gender hierarchies on a larger global scale. America’s economic interests in the lands the United States was expanding upon throughout the nineteenth century, such as the Panama Canal and Mexican oil interests, are embodied through a white masculine American society on a larger global scale, which was pursued in large part for the economic ramifications of such territorial and resulting political ideological expansion. Americans of the late nineteenth century had an imperialistic tendency to judge any action not by the means employed in its achievement, but by the results achieved in what Leughtenburg explains as a “worship of the definitive action for action’s sake.” [26]

Social Darwinism was used by American expansionists to justify imperialist actions towards gaining access to economic resources. [27] President Theodore Roosevelt’s ideologies regarding imperialism even in the years before his presidency emphasize what historian Gail Bederman describes as “racial health and civilized advancement,” which encouraged both American masculinity and race-based imperialism for American economic benefit. An effeminate race was perceived through such rhetoric as a decadent race; and a dissolute race was too weak to advance civilization. Bederman contends that only through an embrace of virile racial expansionism could late nineteenth century American civilization achieve its true manhood on a global scale. Theodore Roosevelt’s ideology of imperialism as the “masterful duty of the manly race,” was perceived by American imperialists as America’s paternalistic duty towards the inferior peoples of lands of American economic interest to encourage expansionism. [28]

The imperialized American empire of the late nineteenth century spread with it a cultural empire, beyond simply the economic and political power structures it had initially intended for economic purposes; including the spread of what Americans believed was a superior white American culture over inferior non-white peoples. American imperialist endeavors in Guam, Hawaii, and other Pacific interests of the United States during the late nineteenth century must be studied through the lenses of gender, race, and culture, to grasp a comprehensive understanding of the implications of expanding capitalistic American consumer-culture through American imperialism. Using such evidence as consumer good advertisements and contemporary political discourse regarding territorial expansion to note the presence of masculine rhetoric-based American foreign policy towards expansionism ideology, historian Mona Domosh argues that in establishing political and economic dominance on a global scale through imperialism, the United States also spread an American consumer culture to the world through racial and religious domination with the ideology of Social Darwinism and White American superiority. Such links as that between late nineteenth century ideas of racial supremacy, protestant Christianity, and modernity of civilization, were used to assert American imperialist authority over non-white, non-Christian peoples of the places American imperialists sought to conquer. [29]

In an era in which American masculinity was challenged by increasing female participation in politics contrary to Victorian Era separate spheres gender ideology, American males found ways to assert their masculinity through such means as imperial expansion on the global frontier. Using Theodore Roosevelt’s Strenuous Life, a collection of speeches written and compiled by Roosevelt to validate and justify American interests in territorial expansion and its’ economic benefits, it is cogent that men such as Roosevelt, with a reputation for being stereotypically masculine through gender assumptions of the late nineteenth century, were idealized by society for their muscular physique and passion for vigor and strength; due in large part to their propensity towards “aggressive imperialism abroad.” As stated by historian Arnaldo Testi, Roosevelt’s autobiography is the autobiography “not of a self-made man, but of a self-made male.” The “masculine hero of muscle,” Theodore Roosevelt, embodied the reconstruction of a male identity in a society of rapidly changing gender-related rhetoric and behaviors in an age of imperialistic opportunity. [30]

Theodore Roosevelt’s “Speech Before The Hamilton Club” in April of 1899 proclaimed Roosevelt’s understanding that a man who is opposed to imperialism is not an upstanding American citizen, but instead a coward, lazy, distrustful of his country, and untrusted by his countrymen; labeling the imperialistic ventures in Hawaii, Cuba, Puerto Rico, the Philippines, and Panama as economic and civilizing responsibilities confronting the American people, and encouraging Americans to use their masculinity and racial superiority to “enable us to have our say in deciding the destiny of the oceans of the East and the West” through imperialism. Roosevelt’s speech condoned the use of American resources in the conquest of neighboring territories, for the future security of increased resources, recognizing the economic purposes for the masculine means of territorial acquisition. Using a justification of masculine means of imperialism towards an economically beneficial end for the United States, Roosevelt used the rhetoric of manifest destiny in his assertions that the paternalistic United States would be providing aid to the lands upon which it expanded through the spread of superior American masculine culture. In his speech regarding the American occupation of the Philippines, Roosevelt stated that “if we do our duty aright in the Philippines, we will add to that national renown which is the highest and finest part of national life, will greatly benefit the people of the Philippine Islands, and, above all, we will play our part well in the great work of uplifting mankind.” [31]

Roosevelt condoned the use of masculine force in imperialistic endeavors by the United States, and felt that such expansion was necessary to secure American financial gain as well as the global spread of the American empire. Using as a precedent for his imperialistic goals, the Spanish colonies in South America throughout the previous three centuries, Roosevelt warned against a recurrence of the “devastating anarchic warfare that obtained for three quarters of a century in South America after the yoke of Spain was thrown off.” Expressing his feeling that without American intervention, effeminate and inferior peoples could not remain autonomous, Roosevelt expressed his desire for urgent embracement of the masculine strength and vigor expressed through nineteenth century Americans in their expansionist movement towards broader global influence through economy, culture, racial hierarchies, gender ideals, and Christianity’s “deep sense of moral obligation” to encourage capitalism; all invoked in large part by the underlying theme of American masculinity in post-bellum America. [32]

Henry Cabot Lodge, serving as a Republican Senator from Massachusetts between 1893 and 1924, reflected the influential political voice of imperialistic attitudes in the late nineteenth century. Lodge, in speaking to his colleagues on the floor of the Senate, stated in 1896 that white Americans were marked by “unconquerable energy, a very great initiative, an absolute empire over self, [and] a sentiment of independence.” Speaking in support of a bill to limit immigration, he had no reservations against American expansion beyond its borders, expressing his faith in the superiority of the white American male in the struggle for American success in the global competition for a position as the “great race” among human civilization. Reflecting the arguments of other nineteenth century proponents of American imperialism such as Theodore Roosevelt and Albert Beveridge, lodge used the rhetoric of masculinity to assert American racial superiority and justify territorial expansion, encouraging American domination of neighboring territories such as Cuba and the Philippines through military conquest if necessary; justifying imperialism with the racial supremacy of the American male.[33]

Rudyard Kipling’s 1899 poem entitled “The White Man’s Burden,” uses satire to condemn the American attitudes of imperialism. Through Kipling’s condemnation of such attitudes, he draws attention to the importance of such beliefs as racial supremacy and paternalistic masculinity in encouraging and justifying imperialism in the late nineteenth century. Acknowledging American social Darwinism propelled through ideas of masculinity, Kipling refers to the American perspective of the territories to which they expanded to be childish and deserving of American paternalism, in the justification of imperialist endeavors by American males. Using masculinity to assert racial superiority, “The White Man’s Burden” mockingly proclaims that Americans must search for their inner masculinity and imperialize the nations around them for the economic benefit of the United States, under the guise of racially justified uplift of the territories being imperialized by America. Sarcastically urging Americans to “take up the white man’s burden,” Kipling’s poem uses the rhetoric of white American male imperialism, acknowledging the influence of such ideology on nineteenth century America.[34]

Throughout the nineteenth century, American imperialism was encouraged by the Social Darwinism exhibited through the gendered rhetoric of American economic interests. While economic interests were the root of American imperialism, Americans such as Albert Beveridge and Theodore Roosevelt used the rhetoric of masculinity to encourage and justify such imperialistic endeavors. As a means of encouraging the racial hierarchies exhibited by American males on a local and global scale through such activities as filibustering and military endeavors abroad, masculinity was asserted as a means of securing the white American male’s position of dominance in society and the world as political conditions and social conditions allowed growing power to formerly subservient races and females. In a political climate of global contests for territorial expansion of western civilization upon eastern civilization, characterized by such nineteenth century novels as The Free Flag of Cuba, America embraced its regional history of white American social dominance and employed the rhetoric of masculine strength in its continuance of white male supremacy on a global scale through imperialism.

[1] Paul Kennedy, The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers (New York: Random House, 1987), 242-249.

[2] John Darwin, “Imperialism and the Victorians: The Dynamics of Territorial Expansion.” The English Historical Review, Vol. 112, No.447. (Jun. 1997), p.614.

Recommended for You

[3] “Theodore Roosevelt Dies Suddenly at Oyster Bay Home; Nation Shocked, Pays Tribute to Former President; Our Flag On All Seas and In All Lands At Half Mast” New York Times, January 6, 1919.

[4] Theodore Roosevelt, “Expansion and Peace” The Independent, (December 1899), Re-printed in: Theodore Roosevelt, The Strenuous Life; Essays and Addresses. (New York: The Century Co., 1900) Pp. 10, 12-16.

[5] Ibid., 12.

[6] Ibid., 12.

[7] Jackson Lears, Rebirth of a Nation: The Making of Modern America, 1877-1920, (N.Y.: Harper Collins, 2009) Pp., 106-107.

[8] Ibid., 27-31.

[9] Ibid., 90-91.

[10] Ibid., 2-11.

[11] For Beveridge biography and analysis of political influence, see John Brarman, “Albert J. Beveridge and Demythologizing Lincoln.” Journal of the Abraham Lincoln Association. Vol.25, No.2, (Summer 2004) 4-6. For 1900 speech, see Albert Beveridge, “Albert Beveridge Defends U.S. Imperialism, 1900” Congressional Record, 56th Cong., 1st Sess., 704-712.

[12] William Jennings Bryan, “Speech at the Indianapolis Democratic Convention: August 8, 1900,” Speeches (New York: Funk and Wagnalls Co., 1909), 39-47.

[13] Robert Zevin, “An Interpretation of American Imperialism.” The Journal of Economic History. Vol.32, No.1, (Mar. 1972), Pp. 316.

[14] Robert May, “Young American Males and Filibustering in the Age of Manifest Destiny: The United States Army as a Cultural Mirror.” The Journal of American History. Vol. 78, No. 3. (Dec. 1991), Pp. 857-866.

[15] Amy S. Greenberg, Manifest Manhood and the Antebellum American Empire. (USA: Cambridge University Press, 2005) 270.

[16] Ibid., 222.

[17] Ibid., 74.

[18] Theodore Roosevelt, “Speech Before The Hamilton Club” (Chicago, April 1899), Pp. 1-16. Reprinted in: Re-printed in: Theodore Roosevelt, The Strenuous Life; Essays and Addresses. (New York: The Century Co., 1900), Chapter 1.

[19] Greenberg, 111-116.

[20] Linda Kerber, “The Republican Mother: Women and the Enlightenment-An American Perspective” American Quarterly, Vol. 28, No. 2 (Summer, 1976), 188.

[21] Lucy Petway Holcombe, The Free Flag of Cuba; or, The Martyrdom of Lopez: A Tale of the Liberating Expedition of 1851, (Louisiana, 1854), pp. 183-191. For explanation of Herrenvolk Democracy and study of race influence in politics, see Colin Wayne Leach, “Democracy's Dilemma: Explaining Racial Inequality in Egalitarian Societies” Sociological Forum, Vol. 17, No. 4 (Dec., 2002), 687.

[22] Amy Kaplan, “Romancing the Empire: The Embodiment of American Masculinity in the Popular Historical Novel of the 1890s,” American Literary History. Vol.2, No.4 (Winter 1990), pp.659-660.

[23] Alexander Tsesis “Undermining Inalienable Rights: From Dred Scott to the Rehnquist Court” Arizona State Law Journal, Vol. 39, (2008) 2.

[24] Kaplan, 659-665.

[25] Ibid., 660-668.

[26] William Leuchtenburg, “Progressivism and Imperialism: The Progressive Movement and American Foreign Policy, 1898-1916.” The Mississippi Valley Historical Review. Vol.39, No.3, (Dec. 1952) Pp. 483.

[27] Paul Kennedy. The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers. (New York: Random House, 1987), 242.

[28] Gail Bederman. Manliness and Civilization: A Cultural History of Gender and Race in the United States, 1880-1917. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1995) Pp. 170-171.

[29] Mona Domosh, “Selling Civilization: Toward a Cultural Analysis of America’s Economic Empire in the Late nineteenth and Early Twentieth Centuries. Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers. Vol.29, No.4 (Dec. 2004) Pp. 453-467.

[30] Arnaldo Testi, “The Gender of Reform Politics: Theodore Roosevelt and the Culture of Masculinity” The Journal of American History, Vol.81, No.4 (March 1995) Pp. 1509.

[31] Roosevelt, 1900. P.16.

[32] Ibid., 5-6.

[33] Henry Cabot Lodge, “Against Immigration,” Address to Congress, April 1896, Reprinted in: Jeanne Petit, "Breeders, Workers, and Mothers: Gender and the Congressional Literacy Test Debate, 1896-1897," Journal of the Gilded Age and Progressive Era, (January 2004)Pp.35-58.

[34] Rudyard Kipling, "The White Man's Burden." McClure's, Vol.12, (Feb. 1899).

Special Thanks

Special Thanks to the Sainte Marie Among the Iroquois Museum, Liverpool NY, for the use of their office library for my research.

Special Thanks to the Sainte Marie Among the Iroquois Museum, Liverpool NY, for the use of their office library for my research.

Related Articles