Discussing Theodore Roosevelt’s views of American Nationalism and Imperialism Essay

The Theodore Roosevelt’s ideology on American Imperialism and Nationalism was majorly motivated by his strong belief in the superiority that existed in the Anglo-Saxon peoples in relation to civilization and race. Some of his famous remarks and speeches indicate his clear position and views towards nationalism and imperialism. A good example is his remarks that America must go back to the error when racism was not looked at as a noxious moral evil but a honest appreciation of the differences among people. By the nineteenth century, it was almost impossible to interchange the concepts of nationalism and racism. Enlightenment ideals heightened on nationalism and imperialism regardless of the emphasis on the equality and liberty of men as well as the cosmopolitan aspirations. Following the French Revolution, the republican government tries to unify all the French-speaking nations making them a single rule. This led to an aggressive campaign by the military in the Low Nations. Italian liberals on the other hand hoped to have a unified nation that would be under the Italians only and not a jumbled combination of foreign and domestic monarchs.

Come the nineteenth century, there was no accord that the different species of mankind shared a common origin and that there worth was not equal. Most nations and leaders believed on the biological superiority of what was referred to as the Caucasian race and this was common with the Germanic peoples who seemed to be justified by the global colonial empires rise headed by the European countries. It is in the wake of this situation that this paper looks at the position taken by Theodore Roosevelt on imperialism and nationalism.

Theodore Roosevelt’s came to power at a time when most of nations had adopted nationalistic and imperialistic modes as they tried to gain more territories and come up with the best military. This situation strengthened the desire of Theodore Roosevelt to construct the American race so that it becomes one that is full of ambitious, brave and hardworking men. To come up with such a race, Theodore Roosevelt’s remained open to mixing races as he believed that by mixing different races, he will be able to have men who had superior qualities than those men who were pure. Despite this position, Theodore Roosevelt also believed that there were some groups of people who he viewed as better representations of this race. He was in favor of people from the European descent as he excluded the Asians and African American considering them as being inferior. Some of his actions and speeches contrasted this position on race. He strongly believed and promised that people from different races were welcome and that they had the same rights as the rest of the American citizens.

Early life Experience

Theodore Roosevelt came from a tradition that revered the Protestant ethic, the middle class Americans. In his early childhood, he learned the ethic of the Bible and was introduced to social consciousness now that his father happened to be an avid philanthropy practitioner as well as a social worker who believed in putting in action what the Bible preached. His concern with regards to the poor was that the legislative form in pursuing to lessen the distress resulting from a new industrial and urban society. This take is evident in his progressive stance while he was serving as a New York’s Governor as well as the President. This showed that Theodore Roosevelt attitude was reverent and he pursued the highest Christian virtue ideals and opted to implement his own faith in assisting others and helping to come up with a better world. Theodore Roosevelt’s involvement in religion in his early life was that of works. His early Christianity life was behind his means to live a good life and this led to his ruling to emphasize on moral and good life. This remained to be an overriding passion in the faith of Theodore Roosevelt all through his leadership. As he was taught, Christianity entailed doing good and that any man should work hard to ensure that the ideal of doing good translates into reality. Good life translates to good citizenship, patriotism and moral responsibility.

This upbringing equipped Theodore Roosevelt with a deep feeling for ethical and moral values that were prized by his own class. His father who he learned almost everything from stressed on civil responsibilities like courage, honor, disinterested service and honor. Following this, such an individual with a Christian upbringing full of requisite qualities had a great role to play in the history of the nation and together with other like-minded leaders, they could improve a lot. Theodore Roosevelt grew up to be militant and open expansionists that gave him a logical outgrowth with regards to his virulent nationalism.

As he assumed office as the president, it was clear to him that he had a duty to bring civilization blessings to those who were less fortune. At the time when he was assuming the office, the increasing urbanization and industrialization in America had led many people to become fearful of getting weak. The culture of Americans embraced patriotism, masculinity and nationalism. Issues related to masculinity remained predominant during this time. This situation made it ripe for Theodore Roosevelt to exalt the masculine virtues that he had gained through his strenuous life and thus his administration went for imperialism and nationalism.

His Desire for an American Empire

Just like most of the Americans, Theodore Roosevelt believed that America was the greatest nation of all nations and this made him to reach to a conclusion that the United States ought to have an empire now that it was for the highest ideals and had the ability to practically implement such ideals. In one of his remarks, he claimed that he had an ethic contests taste and believed that this was a necessary inclusion in an effort to have nations that were civilized to establish themselves over other nations looked at as being barbaric. He continued to say that the world’s great powers had a twofold responsibility to overwhelm both barbarism and savages and to assist the nations struggling towards civilization. According to his view, the civilized race expansion was an essential part to world peace. Failure to have this, barbaric nations could find room to gain ground leading to endless war. Theodore Roosevelt believed that the decrease in wars was as a result of the power of civilized races which had kept their fighting instincts and that their expansion brought peace in areas where the barbarians hold sway. Modern imperialism is normally identified with peace promotion throughout the world and this was what Theodore Roosevelt was preaching.

Looking at the ethnic contests, whether nations assumed the military conquest form or settled for economic penetration, they managed to protect backward individuals from both self destructive welfare and prevented those termed as higher races from losing their nobler characteristics and from being overshadowed by the other lower races. Theodore Roosevelt clearly viewed the less civilized nations as being a threat to North America and European culture. Through promoting and asserting the western culture in an aggressive manner, the West managed to protect its own future from barbarian conquest. The active involvement in ethnic contests led to the Westerners to have no choice but exercise their traits that were more noble compared to the other traits which they feared could be lost if they happened to be assimilated through marriage or be conquered. This concern was explicitly dealt with by Theodore Roosevelt as he addressed the Latin Americans. He did not look at the Latin race as being among the dominant races and he shifted the blame to the Spaniard in relation to the manner in which he dropped to an ethnic level that was lower with ease. While referring to his trait to easily breed with the tropic races as a proof for his decision, Theodore Roosevelt’s racist condescension with regards to the Latin Americans was directed more towards the tropics as a result of a tradition that had existed for centauries with the tropical people of being shiftless and dull. Theodore Roosevelt esteem towards a people seemed to increase as his interests moved away from the equator. This was evident as he was heard publicly praising the republicans of Brazil, Chile and Argentina .

The races from the tropics had been regarded as being condemned or irredeemable to permanent barbarism. Despite this, Theodore Roosevelt remained confident that some men had the ability to offer military and industrial prosperity and that their lack of civilization at that time was only temporary. Industrialization was viewed as being very essential to any civilization though in the past, civilization was looked at as primarily the social organization of people through the establishment of cities. Theodore Roosevelt on his part had a strong American belief that economic production was the trademark of a society that was sophisticated. Hence when in one of his speeches he referred to Philippines as a country that is still struggling to get civilized, he meant that the nation was still struggling to get industrialized and not that it was lacking cultural development .

This is still witnessed in this centaury with some benevolent imperialists still having the attitude towards less developed nations incase the lack economic wealthy or they are not heavily industrialized like the West. They fail to consider the fact that some nations choose to be less industrialized following the culture. In this case, it is assumed that the highest social value that a man can achieve is economic production and hence it remains the most significant measure of the civilization degree in any society. Both conservatives and liberals seem to agree with this as they view most of the social ills of man to be increased economic productivity. Considering a cultural critic that is astute, nothing erodes the social virtues of a tradition more than having the economic values come above everything else as seen in the continuous destruction of norms in western culture in with regards to the post war era changing the societies into becoming more than just zones for free trade occupied by self-indulgent individuals. In the modern vulgarity age, the equation existing between higher civilization and economic modernization has never been more uncertain.

The Monroe Doctrine

Whether viewed as industrialization or civilization, Theodore Roosevelt believed that it was the duty of Americans to guide the rest of the nations to a higher society form similar to that of the United States of America. Just like the rest of the imperialists in Europe, he never regarded himself as being a conqueror but viewed himself as an emancipator and tutor. Theodore Roosevelt had a strong belief that America had a responsibility to carry out this imperial enterprise in the new centaury through the virtue of his own peculiar Monroe Doctrine interpretation. In the past, the Monroe Doctrine was directed against the European powers that were after colonizing newly independent America’s states. It stated that the those viewed as the New World were to remain off-limits when it came to colonial powers and that the United States had the responsibility of defending this continent autonomy. At this juncture, the United States was incapable supporting such a declaration thus allowing the Europeans to establish minor colonies successfully across Latin America some of which exist until now. What is of great concern is how America managed to presume the authority to act for the rest of the continent and it declared as its protector.

The above presumption was more evident as the nineteenth centaury approached its end and the United States asserted aggressively itself in Central America under the name of maintaining law and order. The interests of the United States in Central America were mainly economic thus most of its interventions were in such away that they defended the business interests of Americans and not promoting the economic development locally. Such early interventions surpassed Theodore Roosevelt Monroe Doctrine corollary that made the United States take on the responsibility of maintaining order in countries in Latin America. This has been confused in the past as being outright colonialism that Theodore Roosevelt opposed stridently. Colonialism made the basic antithesis of the main Monroe Doctrine and Theodore Roosevelt viewed a colony as being an unnatural and cramped state that is behind the prevention of any popular growth that is healthy.

Theodore Roosevelt appreciated that the Monroe Doctrine represented an American policy and not an international law thus he came out strongly to defend the way he interpreted the doctrine before the nations. In the Pan-American Exposition held in 1901 in Buffalo, he said that the doctrine should not be invoked following the aggrandizement of any of the leaders at the expense of the rest of the continent. The position taken by Theodore Roosevelt was viewed as a denial of self intent that he expressed elsewhere. He patronized that the United States didn’t have the slightest wish to come up with a universal protectorate overseeing the American States or any intentions of taking responsibility for the misdeeds. Despite his position on this issue, Theodore Roosevelt had great respect with regards to nationalism.

Imperialism ands Nationalism Practice

Theodore Roosevelt established several protectorates and colonies in America justifying his ideology on nationalism and ideology. The Panama seizure from Colombia had to be defended considering the economic necessity of the commerce in America across the isthmus as Puerto Rico and Cuba were liberated from the hands of Spain after which they ended up being colonies of America. The position taken by Theodore Roosevelt with regards to the Pan-American empire implied that the United States could only came up with colonies in Latin America in the event that it was expedient and that the United States would release its responsibility for any misfortunes facing the rest of the continent. This kind of practical imperialism shows the neo-imperialists current attitudes. The United States has the freedom to liberate any nation it chooses and come up with a protectorate yet it should not be held liable for the problems facing the rest of the world.


Many elements of Theodore Roosevelt’s nationalism and imperialism have been identified in the modern American society. There exists the necessity of conviction that America serves as the highest ideals of all societies and that the rest of the nations have to emulate it. There is also a universal acceptance of how to measure the economic production of any nation in relation to its civilization level. It has been presume that the United States will have to bear the burden of stepping in and liberating other nations of its own choice. After the World War II, Theodore Roosevelt repercussion with regards to the Monroe Doctrine has been effected globally causing several economic actions and military interventions one of them being natural resource ownership in the Third World countries. This is the view shared by Theodore Roosevelt and witnessed in the Marshall Plan great model that played a key role in rebuilding Europe while at the same time ensuring that the United States penetrated deep into the European market that was once protected and also come up with permanent military bases in Europe.

After the collapse of the Soviet Union, a good ploy for the American empire fell away as a consequence of this collapse yet the interventions by the military abroad failed to abate. Contrary to the expectations, it increased resulting to the United States maintaining its economic and military presence all over the world. It improved the relationship of the United States with totalitarian China indicating that commerce comes before ideology. Currently, the terrorism threat may be raised in an effort to justify a wave of interventionism by the military of which it can be looked at as a real security threat. In imperialism, keeping the world as a safe place for opening new markets and businesses remains its main mission and this is what Theodore Roosevelt preached all through his era.

The aggressive military promotion and interventions by the United States of free trade responsible for free capital business transfer as a panacea resulted in few economic and humanitarian disasters. Those who were majorly behind the idea of free trade were the first ones to run away from the social fallout responsibility of their resulting economic imperialism. Instead, they blamed the actions of the backward peoples who were unable to come up with a functioning capitalist and democratic economy. It was such a conviction that lack of prosperity was caused by personal failures of other people that remains a lingering remnant in relation to racism which has informed the nationalism and imperialism by Theodore Roosevelt which the Americans inherited.

Most Americans vehemently deny being involved in racism in any way and this can be seen as being true to some extend. Theodore Roosevelt himself stood out as not being a racist in that he was in a position of fraternizing and admiring the Black people like Booker T. and preached for basic equality of all people. However, he was also observed to hold the overtly racist views. The position taken by Theodore Roosevelt during his ruling indicate that he was strongly behind coming up with an America that practiced imperialism and nationalism despite the different and contradicting approaches he assumed. His views on nationalism and imperialism have been appreciated by many and are being applied by leaders not just in the United States but across the world.


Chessman, Wallace. 1969. Theodore Roosevelt and the Politics of Power. New York: BCR

Ellsworth, Clayton. Theodore Roosevelt’s Country Life Commission. “Agricultural History, Vol. 34, No, 4. 2000. pp 155-172

Gerstle, Gary. “Theodore Roosevelt and the Divided Character of American Nationalism”, The Journal of American History, Vol. 86, No. 3. 1999. Pp 1280-1307

Gosnell, Harold. Boss Platt and His New York Machine: A Study of the Political Leadership of Thomas C. Platt, Theodore Roosevelt and others. 1994

Pinchot, GifFord. 1994. Theodore Roosevelt An Auto Biography. New York: Pocket Books

Roosevelt, Theodore. 2009. The Winning of the West. New York: BCR.

Thayer, William. 2000. Theodore Roosevelt: An Intimate Biography. Boston: Houghton Mifflin

Watts, Sarah. Rough Rider in the White House: Theodore Roosevelt and the political of Desire. 2003. pp 289

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