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Setting the Stage

After the Civil War most Americans wanted to concentrate on domestic concerns. Economic issues dominated society, particularly those that involved the creation of an industrial juggernaut. During this period, the United States increasingly became a nation of industrial cities. Metropolitan areas exploded: between 1880 and 1900 Chicago's population tripled; over the same period New York's nearly doubled. In 1880 fewer than half of America's workers held jobs in agriculture. Perhaps the best way to illustrate the country's development is to point out that by 1890 the value of manufactured goods produced in the U.S. exceeded the combined total of those made in England, France, and Germany.

For the most part, the federal government devoted little time or money to defense and foreign policy issues. During the 1880s the State Department had only 60 employees; spending in 1879 on the Army and Navy Departments was half its level of 10 years earlier. A small group, however, did look outward. Some focused on the Caribbean and Latin America, arguing for a stronger navy to enforce the Monroe Doctrine and even supporting further acquisition of territory. Others concentrated on the European nations, noting their race for colonies in Africa and Asia and the rapid buildup of their navies.

National and international affairs did occasionally overlap. Some businessmen and politicians argued that a stronger military could help the country in at least two ways. A more powerful navy could protect vessels trading U.S. goods overseas, and a stronger system of coastal defenses could safeguard the economic resources in major American cities such as New York. These positions were by no means shared by all, however.

 

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