Should the U.S. have tried getting more Caribbean territories in the early 20th century?

Futurist

Ad Honoris
May 2014
13,494
SoCal
#1
I know that the U.S. successfully acquired the Danish West Indies in 1917--in large part due to Denmark's willingness to sell these islands as a result of World War I. However, I am curious as to whether you think the U.S. should have tried getting additional Caribbean territories during the early 20th century?

For instance, I was thinking of the U.S. asking France and/or Britain to give up some of their Caribbean territories in exchange for loans/credit, war supplies, et cetera. Note that this doesn't necessarily have to happen during WWI; rather, it could be done after WWI as a way of getting the US to forgive French and British debts. Also, I seem to recall that there was an offer by France in 1939 to trade some of its Caribbean possessions in exchange for American planes or something like that. Could this offer have actually been successful if it wasn't for the Fall of France?

Also, while we're on topic--could the Netherlands have been successfully persuaded to sell its Caribbean possessions to the U.S. if Germany would have occupied the Netherlands during WWI as a part of the Schlieffen Plan?

Any thoughts on all of this? Basically, I want to know if there were missed opportunities for additional U.S. territorial expansion in the early 20th century.
 
Nov 2011
8,771
The Dustbin, formerly, Garden of England
#2
Denmark's sale of its Caribbean possessions was only circumstantially to do with WW1. The colonies had been unprofitable and unwanted since the end of slavery and Denmark had been hawking them around since the 1850s, they were offered to Prussia, France, Britain and the USA. The USA did express interest in buying Islands for a naval base at the beginning of in the Civil War and, by such purchase control St Thomas which was the main departure port of British shipping from the Caribbean (why British?--A long story). The sale fell though then again in 1899. The 1917 purchase at five times the price agreed in 1899 was ostensibly in fear of Germany establishing a U-boat base there that could threaten the Panama canal.
There was a 19thC movement in the US called "The Golden Circle" (fictionalised by Harry Turtledove) in the 1850s that, as a reaction to abolitionism, planned a huge Empire composed of the Southern States, Central America, all the Caribbean and a few bits and bobs of the S. American Northern Coast. How this Empire was to be acquired is anyone's guess as any military strategy seems to have come out of a whisky bottle.
The US has had a history of trying to grab Caribbean Islands, McKinley seems to have wanted to annex Cuba in his War Message of 1898, expressly defeated by the Teller Amendment, Grant & Hamilton Fish fancied annexing Santa Domingo (Dominican Republic as is) but had their proposal rejected by Congress. It seems that the annexations following the Spanish American War were unpopular among a large number of US voters mainly because they would make US citizens of "inferior races" if the cartoons of the time are any guide.
The problem for the US was, apart from public sentiment, by the mid 19thC the Caribbean Islands were not much use economically. The ending of slavery made the old plantation economies unprofitable except where slavery had been replaced by indentured labour or the peon labour of Spanish possessions--both of which may have disappeared under American sovereignty and, before the end of the 19thC the mineral economies had not appeared and finance & tourism didn't appear until the later 20thC .
The only rationale for additional US acquisitions was strategic and it wasn't necessary to control a whole country to have a naval or military base--especially if you can send in the marines whenever you feel like it as so many American presidents from Teddy Roosevelt to Ronald Reagan have done and had coaling rights at British and French harbours.

I am pretty sure that France would never have given up control of any of it's overseas possessions voluntarily, it has steadfastly held on to St. Pierre & Miquelon for no sound reason and has been far more reluctant to grant proper independence to its smaller colonial possessions---you may, though be thinking of the discussions between the US and Britain running up to the Destroyers for bases deal and the Lend-Lease project. In May 1940 immediately after Dunkirk and the fall of France when the US Administration had little confidence in Britain "holding out" the State Department suggested "protective occupation" of the British Caribbean Islands, a demand that coalesced into bases for some material show of support for Britain. The question of a handover of territory arose again a few months later when Britain was pleading flat-out poverty and the State Department again suggested the exchange of some or all Islands for cash and weapons. Oddly, apart from an old copy or War Plan Black, there seems to have been no WW2 plan to occupy the French Islands, although there may have been had Vichy become an enemy of the US.
 
Nov 2010
7,158
Cornwall
#3
I know that the U.S. successfully acquired the Danish West Indies in 1917--in large part due to Denmark's willingness to sell these islands as a result of World War I. However, I am curious as to whether you think the U.S. should have tried getting additional Caribbean territories during the early 20th century?

For instance, I was thinking of the U.S. asking France and/or Britain to give up some of their Caribbean territories in exchange for loans/credit, war supplies, et cetera. Note that this doesn't necessarily have to happen during WWI; rather, it could be done after WWI as a way of getting the US to forgive French and British debts. Also, I seem to recall that there was an offer by France in 1939 to trade some of its Caribbean possessions in exchange for American planes or something like that. Could this offer have actually been successful if it wasn't for the Fall of France?

Also, while we're on topic--could the Netherlands have been successfully persuaded to sell its Caribbean possessions to the U.S. if Germany would have occupied the Netherlands during WWI as a part of the Schlieffen Plan?

Any thoughts on all of this? Basically, I want to know if there were missed opportunities for additional U.S. territorial expansion in the early 20th century.
I can't remember but do you regard European Colonialism in general as 'territory opportunities'? Or does this only apply to the appetite of the US for swallowing up other people's properties (mainly Mexico and Spain)
 

Futurist

Ad Honoris
May 2014
13,494
SoCal
#4
I can't remember but do you regard European Colonialism in general as 'territory opportunities'? Or does this only apply to the appetite of the US for swallowing up other people's properties (mainly Mexico and Spain)
European colonialism can also be a case of acquiring additional territory. Of course, I would prefer it if the people in the territories being acquired were given the citizenship of the country that was ruling them. In this regard, I praise the U.S. for granting citizenship to the Mexicans and eventually (in 1924) Native Americans who were living in the territories that it acquired--as well as granting citizenship to the people of Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
 

Futurist

Ad Honoris
May 2014
13,494
SoCal
#5
Denmark's sale of its Caribbean possessions was only circumstantially to do with WW1. The colonies had been unprofitable and unwanted since the end of slavery and Denmark had been hawking them around since the 1850s, they were offered to Prussia, France, Britain and the USA. The USA did express interest in buying Islands for a naval base at the beginning of in the Civil War and, by such purchase control St Thomas which was the main departure port of British shipping from the Caribbean (why British?--A long story). The sale fell though then again in 1899.
It was actually 1902, not 1899. This proposal failed in 1902 by a tie vote in the upper house of the Danish Parliament (Landst(h)ing).

It is the failure of the 1902 sale attempt which causes me to have some skepticism as to whether the U.S. would have still eventually acquired these islands without World War I. I mean, it's very possible that Denmark would have still eventually sold these islands to the U.S. even without WWI, but it's certainly not guaranteed.

The 1917 purchase at five times the price agreed in 1899 was ostensibly in fear of Germany establishing a U-boat base there that could threaten the Panama canal.
Yes, this is correct.

There was a 19thC movement in the US called "The Golden Circle" (fictionalised by Harry Turtledove) in the 1850s that, as a reaction to abolitionism, planned a huge Empire composed of the Southern States, Central America, all the Caribbean and a few bits and bobs of the S. American Northern Coast. How this Empire was to be acquired is anyone's guess as any military strategy seems to have come out of a whisky bottle.
It's quite unfortunate that expansionism in this case was associated with slavery. Had this plan actually worked, I suspect that the U.S. would have had trouble digesting all of this new territory. I mean, it might not have been too populated in the 1850s, but eventually there would have likely been a population explosion in these territories like there was in French Algeria.

The US has had a history of trying to grab Caribbean Islands, McKinley seems to have wanted to annex Cuba in his War Message of 1898, expressly defeated by the Teller Amendment,
Why was the Teller Amendment only passed by a narrow margin in the U.S. Senate, though? Did almost half of U.S. Senators in 1898 actually want to annex Cuba?

Grant & Hamilton Fish fancied annexing Santa Domingo (Dominican Republic as is) but had their proposal rejected by Congress.
Yep.

Of course, I do wonder whether Santo Domingo would have been a particularly appealing destination for U.S. settler colonialism. I mean, Puerto Rico certainly wasn't.

It seems that the annexations following the Spanish American War were unpopular among a large number of US voters mainly because they would make US citizens of "inferior races" if the cartoons of the time are any guide.
It's quite sad that the U.S. was very racist back then, isn't it? :(

That said, though, these territories--other than the Philippines--didn't have a very large population and thus could be easily swallowed by the U.S. Indeed, I suspect that these territories' small population is why the U.S. was willing to grant citizenship to the people of these territories in the early 20th century (with the exception of the Philippines due to its much larger population).

The problem for the US was, apart from public sentiment, by the mid 19thC the Caribbean Islands were not much use economically. The ending of slavery made the old plantation economies unprofitable except where slavery had been replaced by indentured labour or the peon labour of Spanish possessions--both of which may have disappeared under American sovereignty and, before the end of the 19thC the mineral economies had not appeared and finance & tourism didn't appear until the later 20thC .
The only rationale for additional US acquisitions was strategic and it wasn't necessary to control a whole country to have a naval or military base--especially if you can send in the marines whenever you feel like it as so many American presidents from Teddy Roosevelt to Ronald Reagan have done and had coaling rights at British and French harbours.
Excellent points!

I am pretty sure that France would never have given up control of any of it's overseas possessions voluntarily, it has steadfastly held on to St. Pierre & Miquelon for no sound reason and has been far more reluctant to grant proper independence to its smaller colonial possessions---you may, though be thinking of the discussions between the US and Britain running up to the Destroyers for bases deal and the Lend-Lease project. In May 1940 immediately after Dunkirk and the fall of France when the US Administration had little confidence in Britain "holding out" the State Department suggested "protective occupation" of the British Caribbean Islands, a demand that coalesced into bases for some material show of support for Britain. The question of a handover of territory arose again a few months later when Britain was pleading flat-out poverty and the State Department again suggested the exchange of some or all Islands for cash and weapons. Oddly, apart from an old copy or War Plan Black, there seems to have been no WW2 plan to occupy the French Islands, although there may have been had Vichy become an enemy of the US.
Yes, I was thinking of these U.S.-British negotiations in 1940 but I was also remembering an offer by French Prime Minister Paul Reynaud (or was it Edouard Daladier?) in 1939 where he was willing to trade some French Caribbean possessions in exchange for U.S. planes--or something along those lines. I'll need to research this more and see if I can find the relevant source(s) again.

As for France being unwilling to grant independence to its smaller colonies, I was under the impression that there is no large-scale demand for independence in most of France's smaller colonies. Am I wrong in regards to this? I know that France was willing to allow New Caledonia to hold an independence referendum recently--an independence referendum whose outcome was a majority of voters in favor of continued French rule! If the New Caledonians aren't that eager to get independence from France, are you sure that the people in France's other small colonies actually want independence?
 

Futurist

Ad Honoris
May 2014
13,494
SoCal
#6
BTW, in response to johnincornwall's point about U.S. imperialism, I would like to point out that it appears that the residents of the Danish West Indies actually voted twice--once in 1868 (for two of the islands) and once in 1916--in favor of U.S. rule:

1868 Danish West Indies status referendum - Wikipedia

1916 Danish West Indies status referendum - Wikipedia

The margins in both of these referendums were actually extremely overwhelming in favor of U.S. rule. Also, for what it's worth, while I would certainly be extremely disappointed if this actually came to pass, I would certainly support allowing the U.S. Virgin Islands to get independence if that is what a majority of the people there genuinely want. My own interest in U.S. territorial acquisition has primarily to do with living space, but the U.S. Virgin Islands aren't particularly good for this due to their extremely small size.
 

Rodger

Ad Honorem
Jun 2014
5,250
US
#7
In hindsight, no. While at one time Caribbean bases had a purpose (although the U.S. had enough in my opinion), as is evident today, there are challenges, for both sides, with having territories like Puerto Rico.
 
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Futurist

Ad Honoris
May 2014
13,494
SoCal
#8
In hindsight, no. While at one time Caribbean bases had a purpose (although the U.S. had enough in my opinion), as is evident today, there are challenges, for both sides, with having territories like Puerto Rico.
Does these challenges include Puerto Rico's lower standard of living? Also, what else is there?
 

Rodger

Ad Honorem
Jun 2014
5,250
US
#9
Does these challenges include Puerto Rico's lower standard of living? Also, what else is there?
The nation is in financial ruins and has been for some time. The recent hurricane has really complicated things, but the fact is there has been a steady stream of emigration from the island because jobs, and thus the standard of living, are lacking. Some want independence, some want statehood, some wish to retain it territorial status. As we have sen in history, imperialism is a two edged sword; it can cut both ways.
 
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Futurist

Ad Honoris
May 2014
13,494
SoCal
#10
The nation is in financial ruins and has been for some time. The recent hurricane has really complicated things, but the fact is there has been a steady stream of emigration from the island because jobs, and thus the standard of living, are lacking. Some want independence, some want statehood, some wish to retain it territorial status. As we have sen in history, imperialism is a two edged sword; it can cut both ways.
I think that very few Puerto Ricans want independence if the past referendums there are anything to go by.

Also, your points here are certainly very valid. This is why, in my honest opinion, it would only be wise to annex or acquire territories with a small population. The one exception to this rule would be if a territory with a large population, culture, economic development, et cetera comparable to that of one's own country actually wants to join your country.
 

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