THE origins of American expansion towards the Far East go back to the infancy of the Republic, for Americans were entering the China trade by the last decades of the eighteenth century. By 1800 this trade had become of sufficient importance to warrant sending an American man-of-war to the Orient to protect it, and during the first half of the nineteenth century its volume steadily increased. Trade treaties were made with Siam, China, and other oriental states. Enterprising American naval commanders raised the flag in such places as Formosa and the Bonin Islands, only to be disavowed by the authorities at home. And it was, of course, an American, Commodore Perry, who in 1853 opened up Japan to the outside world.
After 1858 a period of dry rot set in for the American trade in Asia; all the great American mercantile houses, famous in the Far East during the first half century, either withdrew or failed. American business men found readier profits in the tremendous industrial expansion of the post-bellum decades in their own country. Nevertheless, American political interest in the Pacific area did not by any means disappear. And it was inevitable that this political interest should bring the United States more and more into contact with reawakening Japan. In the case of Hawaii, for instance, it was pointed out by American observers that failure to acquire the islands would lead to their annexation by Japan, which, in turn, would inevitably lead to a conflict between the two countries. When the United States annexed Hawaii in 1897, Japan did indeed enter a vigorous protest.
After Dewey's victory in Manila Bay the United States saw itself drawn ever more closely into the Orient. But the American people had not intended to embark on a policy of imperial expansion in the Far East, and the question as to whether the Philippines should be retained caught them unawares. They scarcely knew where the islands were. American trade with them had never been important. A number of American
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