For much of its history, the United States has fostered the dream of building an empire. From visions of the Empire of Liberty to Manifest Destiny and the expansion westward, colonizing native peoples and increasing Washington’s dominion at the expense of Mexico. In 1893, as Frederick Jackson Turner’s observation that the “frontier” had closed in U.S. society, this did not mean a cessation in a desire for expansion and control of new territory. The Monroe Doctrine grouped the entire Western Hemisphere under the aegis of the United States, Americans sought to command economic and political opportunities in the region. The result of this policy had far-reaching social, political, and economic ramifications for the other countries involved.
In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, as the frontier became the border, the United States expanded its notions of what an American empire should encompass in terms of ideas and territory. This growing imperial dragnet ensnared elite Nicaraguans with modernizing dreams, a savvy island dictator who hoped to “blanche” his realm, and the Chinese diasporic community in the Republic of Panama. Studying how local elites and non-elites viewed American power, and interacted with it, reveals the dynamic movement and complexity of ideas related to empire as they were transmitted between “periphery” and “metropole.” Continue reading