American Imperialism: The Treaty of Portsmouth

Hi, and welcome to this video lesson on American Imperialism and the Treaty of Portsmouth.

First, I’ll address the treaty, then go into how it fits into American Imperialism.

The Treaty of Portsmouth was intended to bring a peaceful end to the Russo-Japanese War.

Here’s a breakdown of the war:

By 1904, Russia and Japan had been arguing for several years over a section of Manchuria (an area of Northeast China). The Russians had entered the region and, along with Germany and France, forced Japan to give up its demands for ports in South Manchuria.

So, Japan attacked the Russian fleet prior to any declaration of war, surprising the Russian navy and earning an early victory. Over the following year, the two forces fought in Korea and the Sea of Japan. War casualties were high on both sides. By 1905, the combination of these losses and the economic cost of financing the war led both countries to seek an end to the war.

The Japanese asked U.S. President Roosevelt to negotiate a peace agreement, and representatives of the two nations met in Portsmouth, New Hampshire in 1905. For the sake of maintaining the balance of power and equal economic opportunity in the region, Roosevelt preferred that the war end on terms that left both Russia and Japan a role to play in northeast China. Though excited by the Japanese military victories, Roosevelt worried about the consequences to American interests if Japan managed to drive Russia out entirely.

The Treaty ultimately gave Japan control of Korea and much of South Manchuria, including Port Arthur and the railway that connected it with the rest of the region, along with the southern half of Sakhalin Island; Russian power was curtailed in the region, but it was not required to pay Japan’s war costs. Because neither nation was in a strong financial position to continue the war easily, both were forced to compromise in the terms of the peace.

So, what does this all have to do with American Imperialism?

To answer that, let’s step even further back into history, to the early 1800s. During this period the American idea of Manifest Destiny was rising to new heights. President Thomas Jefferson advocated for an America that stretched from Atlantic to Pacific. Fast forward 90 years, and America does stretch from one coast to the other… which led some to wonder, “why not keep going”. That’s the idea of Imperialism in a nutshell, a notion of a national mission to spread American culture, power, and ideology throughout the world. The Treaty of Portsmouth elevated America to international mediator. And, although Roosevelt’s main mission was peace between Russia and Japan, he also desired to create a precedent for America’s involvement in Asian political affairs. From the 1850s leading into the Treaty of Portsmouth, the United States had expanded its influence across the Pacific: Jarvis Island, Midway, Hawaii, Guam, and Samoa, just to name a few examples. The Treaty of Portsmouth, therefore, was just one more step toward making America a relevant power in Asia, quickly followed by the commission of the Great White Fleet, but that’s for another time. I hope that helps, thanks so much for watching, be sure to subscribe to our channel and check out our website. Until next time, happy studying.

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by Mometrix Test Preparation | Last Updated: September 6, 2021