Sea Power and the American Interest

From the Civil War to the Great War

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From the Civil War to the Great War, the transatlantic commercial trading system that dated from the nation’s colonial times continued in America. By 1900, the sustainability of this Atlantic System was in the material interest of an industrial America on which its aggregate national prosperity depended. The principal beneficiary of this political-economic reality was the American moneyed interest centered in the Northeast, with New York City at the heart.

Author John Fass Morton explains how this country came to put a value on commercial opportunities overseas in support of America’s steel industry. Europeans and Americans alike pursued informal empires for resource acquisition and markets for surplus capital and output. Morton looks at how U.S. policy found consensus around the idea of empire, taking stock of the opening of Latin American and Chinese markets to American commerce as a means for averting socially destabilizing economic depressions.

Republican administrations reflected Wall Street finance and America’s other three Madisonian interests—commercial, manufacturing, and agrarian—with the Open Door and Dollar Diplomacy policies to establish fiscal protectorates in Central America and the Caribbean. Undergirding Dollar Diplomacy was their commitment to “a great navy” that would be the “insurance” for an ongoing American interest that Dollar Diplomacy represented. With the strategic arrival of the petroleum sinew and the Wall Street reassessment of the Open Door in China, the Wilson administration tilted toward protecting American investments in the hemisphere—notably in Mexico—with a “Big Navy.” With Wilson, a progressive foreign policy establishment arrived while continuing to reflect the transatlantic internationalism of the Northeast moneyed interest. As a twentieth century progressive institution, the Navy would thus sustain an American expansion that was now progressive.

The Navy story from the Civil War to the Great War reveals a truth. The foundational and dynamic sectors of a great nation’s economic base—its sinews—give rise to policy consensus networks that drive national interest, long-term strategy, and the characteristics of its elements of national power. It follows that the attributes of sea power must be material expressions of those sinews, allowing a navy better to serve as a sustainable and actionable tool for a great nation’s interest.

About the Author

Editorial Reviews

“Morton excels in linking infrastructure development to the emerging Atlantic System based on U.S. industrial output/export and eventual hegemony in finance.”—John T. Kuehn, Ph.D., Professor, U.S. Army Command and Staff College and author of Strategy in Crisis
“The introduction of steel for construction of bridges/skyscrapers and a steel navy is particularly interesting and provides an excellent grounding for understanding the emergence of America as a global power.”—Lawrence Burr, author of Battleship Iowa and Battleship Texas
“John Fass Morton’s superb new book, Sea Power and the American Interest, is essential reading for understanding American economic and political history in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, and especially the role played by the U.S. Navy.”Adm. Steve Abbot, USN (Ret.), former Deputy Commander in Chief, US European Command, and Deputy Homeland Security Advisor to President George W. Bush    
"If you thought you knew U.S. Navy history during the half century from the Civil War to World War I, this book will make you think again. John Morton explains the influence on the Navy of domestic and international finance, of industrial development, of American politics, and of individuals from the famous Alfred Thayer Mahan to the less known Charles Conant. There is much to learn in this fine book for both the expert or general reader interested in America’s growth from a nation divided to a world power."—Adm. Dennis Blair, USN (Ret.), former Commander in Chief, US Pacific Command, Director of National Intelligence, and Knott Distinguished Visiting Professor of the Practice, University of North Carolina
Sea Power and the American Interest throws unique light on the rise of American maritime power. Morton’s knowledge of, for example, the development of the American steel industry, banking, and domestic oil resources provides context invaluable for our understanding of the process. From the European, and particularly the British, point of view, Morton’s description of the changing transatlantic relationship, starting with British dependency on wheat imports from the USA in the 1840s, followed by the Civil War when the Royal Navy was regarded as an ‘abolitionist threat’ by the North, gives new insights. American isolationism for much of the First World War, followed by the enormous growth in shipbuilding after losses to U-boat attacks, are further examples of the disparate and often conflicting drivers of the process on which Morton expertly enlightens us.”—Amb. Sir David Logan KCMG, former British Ambassador to Turkey and Assistant Under Secretary of Defence at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in London