"The Fruits of Imperialism, Be They Bitter or Sweet ...": "America's Mission" and the Rhetoric of the Imperialism Debates (1898-1900)

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"The Fruits of Imperialism, Be They Bitter or Sweet ...": "America's Mission" and the Rhetoric of the Imperialism Debates (1898-1900)

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Title: "The Fruits of Imperialism, Be They Bitter or Sweet ...": "America's Mission" and the Rhetoric of the Imperialism Debates (1898-1900)
Author: Lundblade, Eric James
Advisor: Jefferson, Paul
Department: Haverford College. Dept. of History
Type: Thesis (B.A.)
Issue Date: 2009
Honors: Department of History Prize Winning Thesis
Abstract: My thesis unpacks the rhetoric of the imperialism debates which took place at the end of the eighteenth century in response to the American annexation of the Philippine Islands. The United States, confronted with the experience of a direct and sustained colonial project for the first time in its history, engaged in a brief but intense period of national self-examination. At the core of these debates was the question of whether or not this new policy was in keeping with the "American mission" as this idea was conceptualized by the political actors of the day. Although these debates grew bitter at times, both sides argued from a fundamental consensus which presupposed an exceptional American nation. The ultimate goal of this study is to uncover the common rhetorical traditions which shaped the discursive boundaries of these debates and American national self-conceptions of the time. The rhetorical form of the Puritan jeremiad sermon serves as a useful heuristic device for better understanding the assumptions which informed the arguments of the participants in these debates. The jeremiad is a mode of exhortation where a leader laments the degenerate state of his community, especially in contrast to a venerated past. The speaker reminds his audience of a set of norms which are not being fulfilled, often listing the divine punishments or other forms of declension that will be unleashed if this waywardness continues. The jeremiad typically ends with a prophetic reassurance in the ultimate success of the community’s mission, exhorting them to reflect on their shortcomings and reform their ways. I analyze the American jeremiad both in its original historical context in colonial New England, and as a rhetorical form that reappears throughout the imperialism debates. I also mine the rhetorical structure itself for its potential to shape a community’s self-conception. In the context of this study, I define America’s national mission as the widely-held belief that the United States has a special leading role to play in world affairs. This idea has manifested itself in many ways throughout American history. The Puritans exhorted each other to better fulfill their divinely-sanctioned "errand into the wilderness" as they struggled to establish an exemplary community or a "city on a hill." American mission has also informed the idea of "American exceptionalism," which posits the United States differs qualitatively from other nations, or that it can transcend the historical laws under which other nations must exist. Both the ideas of national exceptionalism and national mission present ambivalent worldviews. This allows advocates of diametrically opposed policies to appeal to those worldviews for support. This was the case in the imperialism debates. These represent an archetypal moment in which a novel experience forced Americans to struggle with and reinterpret the meanings of the American national self. This thesis closely examines this historical moment, while also connecting the varied arguments of the time to common rhetorical traditions.
Subject: National characteristics, American -- History -- 19th century
Subject: United States -- Politics and government -- 1897-1901
Subject: Nationalism -- United States -- History -- 19th century
Subject: Imperialism -- United States -- History -- 19th century
Terms of Use: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/3.0/us/
Permanent URL: http://hdl.handle.net/10066/3724

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Lundblade, Eric James. ""The Fruits of Imperialism, Be They Bitter or Sweet ...": "America's Mission" and the Rhetoric of the Imperialism Debates (1898-1900)". 2009. Available electronically from http://hdl.handle.net/10066/3724.

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