An Introduction to U.S. Foreign Policy


Have students note the dates and compare to previous units:

Industrial America 1865-1900(ish)

U.S. Immigration Shift 1880-1924

Progressive America 1900(ish)-1920

Just as we note that in the last unit, Progressive Era is the response of the government to the “growing pains” brought about an increasingly industrialization. The federal government began to take increased responsibility for the welfare of everyday Americans through increased regulation, we will see that at the same time the federal government begins to take on an increased interest in world affairs. This will reach a climax with World War I which effectively puts an end to the spirit of reform in the Progressive Era.

Looking Backward

  • The Declaration of Independence & the American Revolution

“the shot heard ‘round the world”

the Rev as an experiment in democracy that would be watched by other countries

Looking Backward

B. The U.S. after 1776 through Civil War

U.S. foreign policy is based on 2 key things:

  • assuring American independence;

so staying neutral = major policy

Remind students or ask - what do we mean by “staying neutral”? Answer: keeping out of all the wars in Europe, keeping to ourselves

Looking Backward

B. The U.S. after 1776 through Civil War

U.S. foreign policy is based on 2 key things:

  • assuring American sovereignty; therefore neutrality = major policy

But not just neutrality...


Expansion in the 19th century

  • 1803 - Louisiana Purchase
  • 1840s - manifest destiny

- Texas, California, Oregon

The examples on this slide go through expansion--key acquisitions of US territory--in the 1800s.

So another way to think about U.S. foreign policy in the 19th century:

Our foreign policy is not to have a foreign policy.

Civil War briefly interrupts US expansionism, but then...


  • by 1885, U.S. surpasses Britain in manufacturing
  • by 1900, US produces more energy than Germany, France, Italy, Austria-Hungary, Russia and Japan combined!

Post Civil War Growth, 1865-1900

  • steel 523%

  • coal 800%

  • RR track 567%

  • wheat 256%

  • immigration - U.S. population doubles

and yet, despite this growth, the U.S. is still viewed as a small player on the world stage

Examples: most foreign diplomats from Europe would rather take a cut in salary than be posted to Washington, D.C.--viewed as a really a backwater, the boonies.

U.S. has a very small army, ranked 14th in the world after…..Bulgaria!

U.S. navy is not only smaller than those of big countries like Britain and France, but also smaller than the navy of Chile, Brazil, Argentina and Italy (and yet US has 13 times the industrial strength of Italy).

and in 1890...the “closing of the frontier”

Surveys showed that there wasn’t a free expanse of “empty” land anymore.

So, if the U.S. has expanded a lot--both in territory, population & industry...

And, the frontier is now considered “closed”...

And, at the same time, Britain and France and Belgium and other European nations are busy getting colonies, especially in Africa.

What prediction might you make about what the U.S. would do if a European power decided to intervene in a place very near the United States?

Here you are setting up the Spanish American War. Ask students to predict. You can have students discuss with a partner or write something down. If they seem bewildered or need more of a clue, you can suggest things such as: Is the U.S. more/less likely to expand abroad? What role does the increase in industrial production make in such a decision?

US Foreign Policy - Middle School Version - Google Slides