Alfred Thayer Mahan, The Interest of America in Sea Power, Present and Future (1897)

prolific writer, Mahan became one of the most famous naval and sea power prophets of the late nineteenth century.  Concerned with the United States’ place in the world, Mahan wrote to influence both policymakers and common Americans.  Although some of his articles and books are less resonant today, they still provide a fascinating glimpse into the state of the world of in the 1890s, shortly before the Spanish-American War, and how it was perceived by many Americans. 

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Polk, War Message to Congress (1846)

Although he was not the first to put his eyes on the territory west of the Louisiana Purchase, it was the presidency of James K. Polk (1845-1849) that put the finishing touches on the last major acquisition of new territory before the Civil War. A member of the Jacksonian-nationalist wing of the Democratic Party, Polk’s intentions were clear from the start—his famous campaign slogan, “54-40 or Fight!” indicated his intention to settle the status of the Oregon Territory with Great Britain on American terms. But even more famously associated with Polk is the Mexican-American War, and with it the acquisition of New Mexico and Upper California.

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Richard Rush, Memoranda of a Residence at the Court of London (1833)

While serving as Minister to England from 1817-1825, Rush kept a journal that became the basis for his diplomatic memoirs, Memoranda of a Residence at the Court of London (covering the years 1818-9; originally published in 1833); and the less comprehensive second volume, A Residence at the Court of London, Comprising Incidents, Official and Personal, from 1819 to 1825, published in 1845. A third edition, edited by his son, Benjamin, which included an account of his time as Minister to France during the Revolutions of 1848, was issued in 1872. In part to avoid diplomatic complications that might result from his unvarnished views, Rush edited the journals to smooth out the rough edges and added explanatory material to bring the narrative context up to date. Rush and his son made it clear that one of the principal purposes in publishing these memoirs was to improve Anglo-American relations.

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William Gilpin, The Central Gold Region (1860)

William Gilpin, sometime U.S. Army officer, Western explorer, Mexican War veteran, friend of Andrew Jackson and Thomas Hart Benton, land speculator, and governor of the Colorado Territory (1861-1862), is sometimes accorded the title of America’s first geopolitician. In a series of articles and speeches, which were summarized in his best known publication, The Central Gold Region: The Grain, Pastoral and Gold Regions of North America (1860), Gilpin argued that the development of the interior of the continent, made possible in large part by a properly-sited transcontinental railroad, would create a new and dominant commercial line of communication between Europe and Asia. This would inaugurate a new era in human affairs focused around what would become the greatest civilization in history, the Republican Empire of North America.

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William H. Stiles, Austria in 1848-49 (1852)

When the European revolutions of 1848 spread to Austria and the Habsburg lands, William H. Stiles, the American chargé d'affaires in Vienna, became both a participant and a chronicler of these watershed events. Stiles, an attorney from Savannah, Georgia, had been a one-term Democratic Congressman before being appointed to his diplomatic position

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