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United States Expansion and Incorporation in the Long Nineteenth-century

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Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)431-458
Number of pages28
JournalJournal of Imperial and Commonwealth History
Volume49
Issue number3
DOIs
Published2021

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Publisher Copyright: © 2021 Informa UK Limited, trading as Taylor & Francis Group. Copyright: Copyright 2021 Elsevier B.V., All rights reserved.

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Abstract

Historians of the United States are making increasing use of the term empire to describe and analyse U.S. expansion in the nineteenth century. But this process is better captured by the term incorporation, which is used by Antony Hopkins in his American Empire. Nineteenth-century U.S. statesmen strove to people outlying territories with white settler-colonies that could be incorporated into the American federal union as sovereign and equal republics. They avoided acquiring territories with large non-white populations due to their belief that these were not fit for incorporation in the Union but had to be ruled as imperial dependencies. The American mode of territorial expansion was ultimately shaped by the organisation of the United States as a federal union of republics that rejected imperial rule. Neither republican government nor federal union were compatible with the jurisdictional and ethnic heterogeneity typical of empires. For this reason, American territorial expansion tried to reproduce on a continental scale the white republics of the Atlantic seaboard. The dispossession and exploitation of ethnic ‘others’ that characterised nineteenth-century territorial expansion therefore originated in American republicanism and American federalism, principles that can be traced back to the nation’s point of origin, rather than in imperial legacies or borrowings.

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