The United States’s influence continued to expand into foreign countries. President Theodore Roosevelt mediated disputes in Asia and Latin America and acquired the Panama Canal Zone. Presidents Taft and Wilson increased U.S. trade and influence in Latin America.

American Diplomacy in Asia

Why did the United States want to eliminate spheres of influence in China?

In 1899 the United States was a major power in Asia, with naval bases all across the Pacific. Operating from those bases, the United States Navy—by then the world’s third-largest navy—could exert American power anywhere in East Asia. The nation’s main interest in Asia, however, was not conquest but commerce. Between 1895 and 1900, U.S. exports to China quadrupled. Although China bought only about two percent of U.S. exports, the vast Chinese markets excited American business leaders, especially those in the textile, oil, and steel industries.

The Open Door Policy

In 1894 war erupted between China and Japan over Korea, which was a client state dependent upon China. Western observers were astonished when Japan easily defeated China’s massive military. The war showed that Japan had mastered Western technology and that China was weaker than anyone had thought. In the peace treaty, China recognized Korea’s independence and gave Japan territory in Manchuria.

The Russians were concerned about Japan’s rising power. They did not want Japan to acquire the territory in Manchuria because it bordered Russia. Backed by France and Germany, Russia forced Japan to return the Manchurian territory it had acquired. Then, in 1898, Russia demanded China lease the territory to Russia instead.

Leasing meant the territory would still belong to China, even though a foreign government would maintain overall control. Soon Germany, France, and Britain also demanded “leaseholds” in China. Each leasehold became the center of a country’s sphere of influence, an area where a foreign nation controlled economic development.

U.S. politicians and businessmen worried that China would be divided among the Europeans and Americans would not be allowed to do business there. President McKinley and Secretary of State John Hay both supported what they called an Open Door policy, which would allow all countries to trade with China.

In 1899 Hay asked countries with leaseholds in China not to discriminate against other nations wanting to do business in their sphere of influence. Each nation responded by saying it accepted the Open Door policy but would not follow it unless all the others agreed. Once Hay had received assurances from all of the nations with leaseholds, he declared that the United States expected the other powers to uphold the policy. The policy helped the U.S. economy by ensuring that American companies could continue to trade with China.

The Boxer Rebellion

While foreign countries debated access to China’s market, secret Chinese societies organized to fight foreign control and influence. One group, the Society of Righteous and Harmonious Fists, was known to Westerners as the Boxers. In 1900 this group decided to destroy both the “foreign devils” and their Chinese Christian converts, whom they believed were corrupting Chinese society.

In what came to be called the Boxer Rebellion, the Boxers and some Chinese troops attacked foreign embassies in Peking (now Beijing) and Tientsin (now Tianjin), killing more than 200 foreigners, including many Christian missionaries. After the German ambassador to China was killed, eight nations—Germany, Austria-Hungary, Britain, France, Italy, Japan, Russia, and the United States—intervened. A large multinational force rescued the foreigners and ended the rebellion.

During the crisis, Secretary of State John Hay worked with British diplomats to persuade the other powers not to partition China. In a second set of Open Door notes, Hay convinced the participating powers to accept compensation from China for damages caused by the rebellion. After some discussion, the powers agreed not to break up China into European-controlled colonies. The United States retained access to China’s lucrative trade in tea, spices, and silk and gained a larger market for its own goods.

Roosevelt and Taft’s Diplomacy


Was President Roosevelt correct in his belief that a strong military presence promoted global peace?

President McKinley was reelected in 1900, but his second term was cut short by an assassin’s bullet. After McKinley’s death in September 1901, Vice President Theodore Roosevelt assumed the presidency. Roosevelt favored increasing U.S. power and believed that the United States had a duty to shape the “less civilized” corners of the Earth.

Balancing Power in East Asia

President Roosevelt supported the Open Door policy in China and worked to prevent any nation from controlling trade there. To that end, he helped negotiate a resolution to a war between Japan and Russia that had begun in 1904. At a 1905 peace conference, Roosevelt convinced Russia to recognize Japan’s territorial gains and persuaded Japan to end the conflict and seek no further territory. In the years after the treaty, as the United States and Japan continued to compete for greater influence in Asia, they pledged to respect each other’s territorial possessions, uphold the Open Door policy, and support China’s independence.

The Panama Canal

Roosevelt believed that displaying U.S. power to the world would deter nations from fighting. He expressed this belief with a West African saying, “Speak softly and carry a big stick.” His “big stick” policy was evident in the U.S. acquisition and construction of the Panama Canal. He and others believed that having a canal through Central America was vital to U.S. power in the world and would save time and money for commercial and military shipping. In 1889, a French company abandoned its efforts to build a canal in Panama. In 1902 Congress authorized the U.S. purchase of the French company’s assets and the construction of a canal.

Panama was a province of Colombia at that time. In 1903 the United States offered Colombia a large sum of money and yearly rent for the right to build the canal and to control a narrow strip of land on either side of it. When Colombia refused, tension increased between Colombia and those Panamanians who opposed Colombian rule. Worried that the United States might back out of its offer, the French company met with Panamanian officials and together they decided to make a deal with the United States. In November 1903, with U.S. warships looming offshore, Panama revolted against Colombia. Within days, the United States recognized Panama’s independence, and the two nations signed a treaty allowing the canal to be built.

Geography and the Canal

Before the Panama Canal opened, ships sailing from New York to San Francisco traveled over 12,000 miles around the treacherous tip of South America. After the canal opened, the trip was only 4900 miles, and could be completed in half the time. Panama's geography made building the canal a challenge because the center of the country is much higher than sea level. Engineers built a series of lakes and concrete locks to raise and lower ships as they traveled the 51-mile canal. They also built a dam to create an artificial lake, Lake Gatún, in the center of Panama.

During the construction, malaria and yellow fever, transmitted by mosquitoes, sickened workers and slowed their progress. By inspecting and controlling all potential breeding places, Surgeon General of the U.S. Army William Crawford Gorgas helped minimize disease and allowed workers to continue the building of the canal. The canal was completed in 1914.

The Roosevelt Corollary

By the early 1900s, American officials had become concerned about large debts that Latin American nations owed European banks. In 1902, after Venezuela defaulted on its debts, Britain, Germany, and Italy blockaded Venezuelan ports. The crisis was resolved peacefully after the United States pressed both sides to reach an agreement. Roosevelt then gave an address to Congress in which he stated what came to be known as the Roosevelt Corollary to the Monroe Doctrine. It stated that the United States would intervene in Latin American affairs when necessary to maintain economic and political stability in the Western Hemisphere.

The goal of the Roosevelt Corollary was to prevent European powers from using the debt problems of Latin America to justify intervening in the region. The United States first applied the Roosevelt Corollary in the Dominican Republic, which had fallen behind on its debt payments to European nations. In 1905 the United States began collecting customs tariffs in the Dominican Republic, using the Marine Corps as its agent.

Roosevelt Corollary
"Chronic wrongdoing . . . may, in America, as elsewhere, ultimately require intervention by some civilized nation, and in the Western Hemisphere the adherence of the United States to the Monroe Doctrine may force the United States, however reluctantly, in flagrant cases of such wrongdoing or impotence, to the exercise of an international police power."
—Theodore Roosevelt, from his Fourth Annual Message to Congress, December 6, 1904

Dollar Diplomacy

Roosevelt’s successor, William Howard Taft, placed less emphasis on military force and more on economic development. Taft believed that supporting Latin American industry would increase trade and profits for American businesses and lift Latin America countries out of poverty and social disorder. His policy came to be called dollar diplomacy.

To give Europeans less reason to intervene in Latin American affairs, Taft’s administration worked to replace European loans with loans from American banks. In 1911 American bankers began making loans to Nicaragua to support its shaky government. The next year, civil unrest forced Nicaragua’s president to ask for greater assistance. U.S. marines entered Nicaragua, replaced the customs collector with an American agent, and formed a committee to control the customs commissions. U.S. troops supported the government and customs until 1933.

Woodrow Wilson’s Diplomacy in Mexico


How did “moral diplomacy” shape President Wilson’s foreign policy?

“It would be the irony of fate,” said Woodrow Wilson just before he was inaugurated in 1913, “if my administration had to deal chiefly with foreign affairs.” Wilson's experience and interest were in domestic policy. He was a university professor before entering politics and was a committed progressive. Foreign affairs, however, absorbed much of Wilson’s time and energy as president.

Wilson opposed imperialism. He believed that democracy was essential to a nation’s stability and prosperity. He wanted the United States to promote democracy to create a world free of revolution and war. He hoped the United States would lead by moral example, but his first international crisis thwarted that hope.

The Mexican Revolution

For more than 30 years, Porfirio Díaz ruled Mexico as a dictator. During Díaz’s reign, Mexico became much more industrialized, but foreign investors owned the new railroads and factories that were built. Most Mexican citizens remained poor and landless. In 1910 discontent erupted into revolution. Francisco Madero, a reformer who seemed to support democracy, constitutional government, and land reform, led the revolution. Madero, however, was an unskilled administrator. Worried about Madero’s plans for land reform, landowners plotted against him. In 1913 General Victoriano Huerta seized power, and Madero was murdered.

Huerta’s brutality repulsed Wilson, who refused to recognize the new government. Instead, Wilson announced a new policy. To win U.S. recognition, groups that seized power in Latin America would have to establish a government based on law, not on force. Wilson believed that, without U.S. support, Huerta soon would be overthrown. Meanwhile, Wilson ordered the navy to intercept arms shipments to Huerta’s government. He also permitted Americans to arm Huerta’s opponents.

Wilson Sends Troops Into Mexico

In April 1914, American sailors visiting the Mexican city of Tampico were arrested after entering a restricted area. After their release, their American commander demanded an apology. The Mexicans refused. Wilson saw the refusal as an opportunity to overthrow Huerta. Soon after Congress authorized the use of force, Wilson learned that a German ship was unloading weapons at the Mexican port of Veracruz. Wilson immediately ordered American warships to Veracruz, where U.S. Marines forcibly seized the city.

Although the president expected the Mexican people to welcome his action, anti-American riots broke out. Wilson then accepted international mediation to settle the dispute. Venustiano Carranza, whose forces had acquired arms from the United States, became Mexico’s president.


Mexican forces opposed to Carranza conducted raids into the United States, hoping to force Wilson to intervene. In March 1916, Pancho Villa (VEE•yuh) and a group of guerrillas—armed fighters who carry out surprise attacks—burned the town of Columbus, New Mexico, killing 17 Americans. Wilson responded by sending about 5,800 troops under General John J. Pershing across the border to find and capture Villa. The expedition ended without success.

Wilson’s Mexican policy damaged U.S. foreign relations. The British ridiculed the president’s attempt to “shoot” the Mexicans into self-government. Latin Americans regarded his “moral imperialism” as no improvement over Theodore Roosevelt’s “big stick” diplomacy. In fact, Wilson followed Roosevelt’s example in the Caribbean. In 1914 he negotiated exclusive rights for naval bases and a canal with Nicaragua. In 1915 he sent marines into Haiti to put down a rebellion. In 1916 he sent troops into the Dominican Republic to set up a government he hoped would be more stable and democratic than the current regime.

Connections to TODAY
Panama Canal
Grain, petroleum products, and coal are just a few of the goods that passed through the Panama Canal in 2009 on their way to or from the United States. Recognized as a remarkable feat of civil engineering, the Panama Canal remains a vital link in international trade almost a century after it was completed. A $5.25 billion expansion project, expected to be finished in 2014, will allow today’s larger vessels to use the canal, thus increasing the amount of goods that can be shipped through the canal each year.

Reviewing Vocabulary



Using Your Notes

TEKS: 4A, 4B, 12A


Answering the Guiding Questions





Writing Activity