This article examines American elites, mostly from the Republican Party, in the 1860s and 1870s to explain how they understood European empires, and the British Empire in particular. Specifically, it looks at leading politicians and journalists who, perhaps quite naturally, compared the rapidly expanding United States to Great Britain and its dominions. During this period, they took an increasingly internationalist outlook as they sought to demonstrate, explain and justify growing Anglo-American influence in Asia and the Americas. The article argues that while many of these men were ambivalent about, skeptical of, and sometimes even opposed to the policies of the British Empire, they also often wanted the US to adopt some of the same practices in the Western hemisphere and beyond. They also sometimes claimed that British imperial rule brought the colonial populations the benefits of what they saw as Anglo-Saxon “civilization,” in the same way that Americans believed they had done on the Western frontier. Thus, the article shows that, despite their misgivings about European imperialism, these men often accepted that Britain’s was preferable to the empires of other European powers, and this view influenced their conceptions of America’s growing international stature.

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