The end of the frontier officially occurred in 1891. Many changes accompanied this historic moment, including a surge in manufacturing and work in public utilities. However, unemployment remained an issue; during the depression of 1894, unemployment was at 18%. Social conflict ensued, including the Haymarket Massacre of 1886. Some worried that these class tensions were indicative of the dangerous growth of “an illiterate, ignorant, immoral, and ‘criminal’ population.” Workers in urban tenements were embracing socialism, resentful of the millionaires profiting from their labor.
After having read about all the myriad ways in which workers were exploited, underpaid, and oppressed in the US, it can hardly be surprising that class tensions began leading to social unrest. Workers had never been content to suffer under the brutal control of employers, but at this historical moment, momentum was gathering behind ideas of socialism and anarchism.
With the frontier closed, Admiral Alfred Thayer Mahan suggested that the US should focus on rebuilding its navy. He argued that the US should retain its colonizing spirit, but now turn this out toward the rest of the world. He maintained that it was essential the US become a major sea power, and seize control of territory in East Asia. Mahan believed that, as a “superior” race, white people had a right and duty to colonize other lands and reap the benefits of their natural resources. He became “chief architect” of the war against Spain in 1898. His ideas influenced Theodore Roosevelt, who appointed him Secretary of the Navy in 1897.
As Takaki explains in third and fourth parts of the book, war and colonialism have been ways for the US to build its power and boost the economy, all while redirecting money away from things like social welfare. The fact that this comes at the price of global devastation and destruction did not seem to concern figures like Admiral Mahan.
The war against Spain concluded with a fulfilment of Mahan’s dreams, when the US annexed the Philippines. His imperial desires paved the way for the conflict between the US and Japan, which would culminate in bombing of Pearl Harbor and the nuclear obliteration of Hiroshima. The 1890s and the closing of the frontier heralded a new wave of American imperialism, a new influx of Russian and Japanese immigrants, and the northward migrations of Mexicans and African Americans.
As Takaki will show in the chapters to come, there is a connection between US colonialism abroad and its treatment of the people of color living within its own borders, which several theorists have categorized as a form of “internal colonialism.”