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Chapter Twenty-Three. “Uplifting the Barbarian”

Carol C. Chin


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Theodore Roosevelt lived at a time that is often characterized as the age of US imperialism. Americans, according to this narrative, came to believe in the superiority of the Anglo-Saxon “race” and American principles. Depictions of TR as imperialist can easily veer into caricature. The well-known cartoon of TR at the time of the Roosevelt Corollary, striding around the Caribbean “lake” with his big stick and string of toy boats, from “Receivership” to “Debt Collection,” is a staple of undergraduate textbooks and lectures. Theories of Social Darwinism, combined with a faith in the “manifest destiny” of the United States, led Americans to consider it their responsibility to “civilize” and rule over non-white, “barbarian” peoples. Such pronouncements, from McKinley to TR to Taft and others, are often seen as founded on arrogance and crude racial superiority. Yet TR himself held more nuanced views. Though certainly an advocate of American expansionism through the strong policy of naval development, TR's views on how the United States should deal with less developed peoples reveal complexity and contradiction. TR believed that “barbarians” and less developed peoples could be gradually improved, to the point where they might qualify to join the ranks of civilized nations. The early, standard works on TR present a straightforward picture of TR's views on the responsibilities of imperialism. ... log in or subscribe to read full text

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