Re-thinking “Open-Door Imperialism”

Nicole M. Phelps
University of Vermont

Review of Marc-William Palen. The “Conspiracy” of Free Trade: The Anglo-American Struggle over Empire and Economic Globalisation, 1846-1896. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2016. 331 pp. $99.99 (hardcover).

[For full review and citation, see: Nicole M. Phelps, “Re-thinking ‘Open-Door Imperialism,'” Diplomatic History 41 (Jan. 2017): 211-214.]

conspiracy of free trade coverStill basing your Gilded Age foreign policy lecture—perhaps reduced now to just a PowerPoint slide—on the quest for markets a la William Appleman Williams’s The Tragedy of American Diplomacy and Walter LaFeber’s The New Empire?1 Marc-William Palen convincingly argues that it is time for a change. According to Palen, lumping all the Gilded Age administrations from Grant to McKinley into proponents of an undifferentiated “Open Door imperialism” misses essential differences between the Democratic Grover Cleveland administrations and those of the Republicans and, more importantly, falsely paints free traders as imperialists and obscures the protectionist, closed door bent of the actual imperialists. By focusing our attention on the debate over tariffs waged by Cobdenite free traders and Listian economic nationalists—protectionists—from the early days of the Republican Party through McKinley’s election in 1896, Palen offers important contributions to our understanding of imperialism, the development of American political parties, and Anglo-American relations. In so doing, he smooths out the story of nineteenth-century U.S. foreign policy, which often skips abruptly from the end of the Civil War to the start of the Spanish-American War. Continue reading “Re-thinking “Open-Door Imperialism””

Republican Imperialism vs. Puerto Rican Democracy – A Long History

51st-state

Marc-William Palen
History Department, University of Exeter
Follow on Twitter @MWPalen

Puerto Rico has a new governor, Ricardo Rosselló – and he’s committed to making Puerto Rico the 51st US state.

Stemming from Rosselló’s election on a pro-statehood platform, the Puerto Rican Senate has now approved a bill that calls for holding a referendum on June 11, where citizens will be given a stark choice to either (1) become the 51st US state or (2) declare independence.

Governor Rosselló quickly gave the referendum bill his support in anti-colonial language:  “Colonialism is not an option for Puerto Rico. It’s a civil rights issue … The time will come in which the United States has to respond to the demands of 3.5 million citizens seeking an absolute democracy.”

Puerto Rico held a similar vote in 2012, when a slim majority voted in favor of statehood. But nothing happened. Why not? Because a Republican-controlled Congress stood in the way of Puerto Rican democracy: 21st-century American imperialism on display. Continue reading “Republican Imperialism vs. Puerto Rican Democracy – A Long History”

This Week’s Top Picks in Imperial & Global History

UC San Diego Library
UC San Diego Library

Marc-William Palen
History Department, University of Exeter
Follow on Twitter @MWPalen

From C. L. R. James’s anti-colonialism to the relevance of Dr. Seuss, here are this week’s top picks in imperial and global history. Continue reading “This Week’s Top Picks in Imperial & Global History”

100 Years After the Balfour Declaration – Revisiting Sir Herbert Samuel’s Legacy

Sir Herbert Samuel inaugurating the Jaffa-Jerusalem railway, 5 Oct 1920 (Prints and photographs division of the Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.)
Sir Herbert Samuel inaugurating the Jaffa-Jerusalem railway, 5 Oct 1920 (Prints and photographs division of the Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.)

Charlotte Kelsted
University of Exeter

Speaking before the UN General Assembly last year, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas requested that the British government offer an apology for its 1917 Balfour Declaration supporting a Jewish homeland in Palestine. ‘We ask Great Britain, as we approach 100 years since this infamous declaration, to draw the necessary lessons and to bear its historic, legal, political, material and moral responsibility for the consequences of this declaration, including an apology to the Palestinian people for the catastrophes, misery and injustice this declaration created and to act to rectify these disasters and remedy its consequences, including by the recognition of the state of Palestine,’ Abbas said. ‘This is the least Great Britain can do.’

Abbas’s demand for an apology is far from the only one. Just last November, for example, Liberal Democrat peer Baroness Jenny Tonge hosted the launch of the Palestinian Return Centre initiative to get the UK government to recognize its role in ‘almost a century of Palestinian suffering.’ 100 years on, the Balfour Declaration’s legacy remains a controversial part of the present day – so, too, is the legacy of the first High Commissioner to the Palestine Mandate, Herbert Samuel. Continue reading “100 Years After the Balfour Declaration – Revisiting Sir Herbert Samuel’s Legacy”