6.2B: Japanese, Russian, and American Imperialism

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Learning Objective 6B

Compare processes by which state power shifted in various parts of the world from 1750 to 1900.

Historical Development 1

The United States and Japan acquired territories throughout Asia.

Historical Development 2

The United States, Russia, and Japan expanded their land holdings by conquering and settling neighboring territories.


American Expansion

America was also an emerging imperial power in the 19th century. America expanded west across the North American continent and into the Asia Pacific region. 

Westward expansion and manifest destiny

Manifest destiny was a widely held cultural belief in the 19th-century United States that American settlers were destined to expand across North America to the Pacific Ocean. There are three basic themes to manifest destiny:

To spread American ideas and virtues

To remake the west in the image of the American agricultural east

That America’s westward expansion fulfilled God’s destiny for the American nation

Important moments in American westward expansion and manifest destiny

(1803) The Louisiana Purchase: America purchased what would become the American Midwest from the government of French Emperor Napoleon.  

(1835-1836) The Texas Revolution: The Texas Revolution (October 2, 1835 – April 21, 1836) was a rebellion of colonists from the United States and Tejanos (Hispanic Texans) against the government of Mexico. Following Texas’ victory over Mexico, it became an independent nation. In 1845, Texas gained admission into the United States. 

 (1846-1848) The Mexican American War: The Mexican-American war was an armed conflict between the United States and Mexico from 1846 to 1848. It followed the 1845 U.S. admission of Texas as a state into the United States. The direct cause was the disputed border between the United States and Mexico. The United States claimed the border was the Rio Grande river, while Mexico claimed the border was the Nueces River hundreds of miles north. The war started when Mexican troops attacked American troops on the Northern side of the Rio Grande river. The war ended with an American victory. The Texas border with Mexico officially became the Rio Grande, and the United States forced Mexico to sell what is today the American southwest to the United States.

(1862) The Homestead Act: American President Abraham Lincoln signed the Homestead Act on May 20, 1862. The act gave citizens or future citizens up to 160 acres of public land provided they live on it, improve it, and pay a small registration fee. By 1934, the American government processed over 1.6 million homestead applications and gave away more than 270 million acres—10 percent of all U.S. lands—passed into the hands of individuals.

(1867) Acquisition of Alaska: On March 30, 1867, the United States agreed to purchase Alaska from Russia for $7.2 million. The purchase of Alaska in 1867 marked the end of Russian efforts to expand trade and settlements to the Pacific coast of North America. It was a significant step in the United States’ rise as a great power in the Asia-Pacific region.

Important note: American westward expansion took place into lands Europeans and  Americans forcibly took from indigenous peoples. Americans forced natives onto reservations and stripped their cultures from them through forced assimilation. When tribes did sign agreements with the American government, the treaties were unequal. Often, the American government violated treaty obligations made to natives as conditions changed, and the government decided they no longer wanted to honor previous agreements. 

Expansion into the Pacific

In the late 19th century, America expanded beyond mainland North America. Some historians say that this expansion was a continuation of the ideas of manifest destiny. Other scholars explain it as an example of American imperialism.

(1893) The invasion of Hawaii  

The overthrow of the Hawaiian Kingdom began on January 16, 1893, with a coup d’état against Queen Liliʻuokalani on the island of Oahu by foreign residents residing in Honolulu, and the unlawful invasion of the Kingdom of Hawaii by U.S. Marines. American businessmen in Hawaii supported the coup because they viewed the monarchy as a threat to their money and power. The rebels established the Republic of Hawaii, but their ultimate goal was for Hawaii to join the United States, which occurred in 1898. Sanford Dole of the Dole fruit company was the first president of an independent Hawaii. He then became its first governor when it entered the United States. 

(1898) The Spanish American War 

In 1898, when America defeated Spain in the Spanish American War, the Spanish colonies of Puerto Rico and the Philippines were transferred to American control. 

The Philippines colony: America established a colonial government in the Philippines. The American government established a legislature elected by Filipinos, while the American president appointed a Governor-General to lead the Philippines. All major decisions had to be approved by the American governor-general. The Americans officially designated the Philippines an American Protectorate.

Puerto Rico: On October 18, 1898, American troops fighting in the Spanish-American War raised the United States flag in Puerto Rico, formalizing U.S. control of the former Spanish colony. In 1917, Puerto Rico became a U.S. territory, and its people became U.S. citizens. The United States currently classifies Puerto Rico as a territory of the United States.

Japanese Expansion

Following Japanese industrialization in the late 19th century, Japan began to expand across East Asia. Japan began a period of imperial expansion that lasted till its defeat in the Second World War.

Key moments in Japanese imperial expansion before 1920

(1895) Japan invades China 

China and Japan fought a brief war that ended with Japanese victory and the requirement that China surrender the island of Formosa (today the country of Taiwan) to Japan.

(1910) Japan invades Korea 

Japan invaded and occupied Korea.

Russian Expansion

During this period, Russia continued its expansion to the east and the South.

Russia expanded east toward the Pacific

In the east, Russia took advantage of the weakening of the Qing dynasty to expand into new coastal territories. From 1859 to 1882, Russia established ninety-five settlements in the Primorye region along Russia’s Pacific coast in the far east of the country. In 1860, the future port city of Vladivostok was constructed. Vladivostok became a large, prosperous city and Russia’s main Pacific port. The city has played an important role in Russian economics and defense throughout the 20th and 21st centuries. 

Russia in the Americas: The Russian Empire also expanded into the Americas. While Russia had a few settlements along the North American coast in present-day California and a few three forts in Hawaii, the most significant Russian presence was in Alaska. The Russian-American colony began in 1799. The colony initially prospered from the fur trade, but by the mid 19th century, overhunting and logistical challenges led to its gradual decline. With most settlements abandoned by the 1860s, Russia sold its last remaining possessions to the United States in 1867 for $7.2 million ($133 million in today’s terms). 

The Great Game: Russia in Central Asia

The Great Game was a political and diplomatic confrontation that existed for most of the 19th century and beginning of the 20th century between the British Empire and the Russian Empire over Afghanistan and neighboring territories in Central and South Asia. 

Why did the Great Game develop?: Britain feared that Russia planned to invade India and that this was the goal of Russia’s expansion in Central Asia. Russia feared the expansion of British interests in Central Asia. There was deep distrust between the Russian’s and the British. Britain prioritized protecting all potential land invasion routes to India, while Russia continued its conquest of Central Asia. Most historians of Russia have concluded that after 1801, Russia had minimal intentions or plans involving India and that it was mostly a matter of British suspicions.