The nations of Europe already had extensive colonial holdings throughout the world when, following the Civil War, the United States also began to take steps to acquire overseas territory. Through the end of the 1880s, however, the pace of expansion was slow and uncertain. In the 1890s, the United States embarked on a new naval program that provided the means to project power overseas. The primary focus of attention was the Caribbean and, ultimately, the construction of a canal. The U.S. victory in the Spanish-American War not only solidified American control of the Caribbean, but it also gave the United States uncontested control of all of Spain's holdings in the Pacific, including the Philippines, and helped to resolve American uncertainty about annexing Hawaii and other islands. Though the United States did not seek concessions in China, it nonetheless insisted on an "Open Door" to this market.

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