Alfred Thayer Mahan: Proponent of American Naval Power

Alfred Thayer Mahan was born in West Point, New York, in 1840, educated at the U.S. Naval Academy and served as a Union naval officer during the Civil War. He was a lecturer at the Newport War College, where he prepared ideas that would later appear in his highly influential writings. Mahan served twice as president of the college, 1886 to 1889 and 1892 to 1893.

Alfred Thayer Mahan

The Influence of Sea Power upon History appeared in 1890 and The Influence of Sea Power upon the French Revolution and Empire in 1892. These works made Alfred Thayer Mahan one of the leading spokesmen for the age of imperialism. He downplayed the philanthropic side of overseas involvement and concentrated on harsh political realities. According to his analysis of history, the great powers were those that maintained strong navies and merchant marines. He urged the United States forward in its naval building programs.

Alfred Thayer Mahan also argued that modern navies needed repair and coaling stations. Those facilities would not be dependable if controlled by other nations. This reasoning inferred a rationale for American acquisition of port facilities throughout the world.

Alfred Thayer Mahan wrote at the time of a great international arms race. He exerted a major impact on Theodore Roosevelt, as well as upon leaders in Britain, Japan and Germany.

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