Date Awarded


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)




Edward P Crapol


This dissertation explores American attitudes toward British imperialism between 1815 and 1860 to determine what Americans thought of imperialism before the United States became an imperial power. It addresses the debate of whether the United States's acquisition of an empire in the 1890s was intentional or was, as many historians have characterized it, an accidental acquisition by a people long opposed to empire. This study also explores the benefits of incorporating American culture and society into the study of American imperialism.;This era connects the time when Americans re-established their independence from Great Britain---with the War of 1812---to the eve of the Civil War, which solved the sectional crisis and thus put the nation in a position to pursue overseas expansion unimpeded. America changed rapidly during this era. New Protestant denominations challenged the church's authority, industrialization made workplaces more hierarchical and caused greater awareness of class, and a print revolution brought many more Americans into the reading public.;During the era under review, many Americans commented on episodes throughout the British empire. their views on issues including religion, war, and slavery strongly influenced their attitudes toward foreign events. Meanwhile, the often sketchy nature of accounts from abroad enabled writers to accept some accounts and doubt others.;The variety of American experiences partly explains the varying attitudes toward imperialism. Many Americans praised the British for spreading Protestant Christianity, a rigorous work ethic, and British governance, and for bringing new producers and consumers into international trade. They tended to accept the means to these ends, such as high mortality among natives and British suppression of native insurrections. But others lambasted the British for introducing diseases, weapons, and alcohol that decimated native populations and for reaping profits by exploiting natives.;Almost all Americans agreed that the British imperial system was flawed, but few concluded that imperialism was inherently wrong or unworkable. Although most considered the acquisition of a territorial empire unnecessary, they believed that a commercial American empire could benefit all parties involved.



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