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Walter LaFeber : America's Economic and Industrial Expansion
Walter LaFeber One of the most important things about the 1890s is that it marks the point at which Americans are concerned less about land than they are about overseas markets. For a century, indeed, for three centuries, Americans had been moving westward and had been developing a continent. Suddenly in the 1890s the census report says that there is no more frontier in the United States. That's not right, but, nevertheless, that's the belief in the 1890s, that the frontier's closed. And, as a consequence, that realization together with this incredibly productive industrial complex that Americans had built since the Civil War, merge and the result is in the 1890s a belief that Americans must now move from continental expansion to overseas economic and industrial expansion. And so they go abroad essentially in a search for markets. And they essentially move westward. They've been moving westward for three centuries. Now they just keep on moving westward across the Pacific and into Asia, and China is the logical place, many Americans believe, to look for these new markets. The Chinese have five million potential customers and they need everything that Americans produce. Another nice thing about the Chinese is that they're incapable of defending themselves. Whatever the Americans, and the other imperial powers, want to impose upon the Chinese, it looks as though the Chinese really can not resist. So that the Americans and the Europeans and the Japanese can essentially dictate terms, commercial terms, to the Chinese. There is also that the Chinese are open to American missionary influences, and the feeling here is that American missionaries are essentially the cutting edge of American industrial expansion. An American minister to China in the 1890s, a man named Charles Denby, says that missionaries are essentially the advance agents, the pioneers, for American commerce and trade. So China seems to be the perfect place, this tremendous market, a people who are incapable of excluding, Western goods and Western influences, and open to missionaries as well as industrialists, and the two of them merge, come together, in the 1890s essentially to focus on China as a great potential market for America.

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