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American Imperialism

The Territorial Expansion of the United States, 1783-2013

Adam Burns

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Provides a critical re-evaluation of US territorial expansionism and imperialism from 1783 to the present

The United States has been described by many of its foreign and domestic critics as an “empire”. Providing a wide-ranging analysis of the United States as a territorial, imperial power from its foundation to the present day, this book explores the United States’ acquisition or long-term occupation of territories through a chronological perspective. It begins by exploring early continental expansion, such as the purchase of the Louisiana Territory from Napoleon Bonaparte in 1803, and traces US imperialism through to the controversial ongoing presence of US forces at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba. The book provides fresh insights into the history of US territorial expansion and imperialism, bringing together more well-known instances (such as the purchase of Alaska) with those less-frequently discussed (such as the acquisition of the Guano Islands after 1856). The volume considers key historical debates, controversies and turning points, providing a historiographically-grounded re-evaluation of US expansion from 1783 to the present day.

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Introduction: Defining an Empire
1. Atlantic to Pacific (1783–1893)
2. Heading Northwards (1812-1903)
3. Leaving the Continent (1817-1890)
4. A Two Ocean Empire (1890–1898)
5. Spanish Plunder (1898–1917)
6. An Empire Among Equals (1899–1917)
7. Occupation Over Annexation (1912-1973)
8. Continuing Imperialism (1940-2013)

About the Author

Adam Burns is Senior Lecturer in History at the University of Wolverhampton. Since completing his PhD at the University of Edinburgh in 2010, Adam has taught US history and politics at a variety of secondary and higher education institutions. He has published a number of scholarly articles for journals such as American Nineteenth Century History, Comparative American Studies and Philippine Studies, and was also a contributor to A Companion to Theodore Roosevelt (Wiley-Blackwell, 2011).


A concise and lucid survey of US foreign policy. Adam Burns convincingly argues that empire has been a central feature of the American experience since the nation's founding.

- Fabian Hilfrich, University of Edinburgh
Burns’s opus, all inclusive and incisive, explores angles that have never been discussed before like Canada and Liberia. In this sense, it assists the reader, even the novice of American history, in appreciating the scope, parameters and nuances of American imperialist politics diachronically, from the early years of the new State until the dawn of the twenty-first century.
- Theodora D. Patrona , European journal of American studies

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