The American spirit of "Manifest Destiny" which had remained unbroken since the founding of the Republic reached one of its peaks at the end of the nineteenth century. The years following the Civil War had seen a steady preparation for this. In 1867, for example, William H. Seward, Secretary of State under Lincoln and Johnson, purchased Alaska from Russia. His successors used the new American foothold in the North to declare that the Bering Sea was to be an area in which American authority was absolute. In other areas of the Pacific, as well as in Latin America, the growing assertiveness of the United States became more and more evident as the century drew to a close.
One spectacular illustration of the American sense of destiny was occasioned by a border dispute which arose between Venezuela and the colony of British Guiana. The dispute was a long-standing one, but it came to a head when gold was discovered in the area. Britain repeatedly refused to submit the dispute to arbitration. In 1895 Secretary of State Olney wrote a note to the British Prime Minister in which he reasserted the Monroe Doctrine and claimed that no European power had the right to interfere in "American" affairs. Olney denounced European imperialism and proclaimed that the Americas lay within the United States "sphere of influence." "Today," he wrote, "the United States is practically sovereign on this continent, and its fiat law upon the subjects to which it confines its interposition.".
To support Olney's position, President Cleveland obtained funds from Congress for a commission to determine the boundary between Venezuela and British Guiana. He declared that it was the duty of the United States to enforce the findings of this commission "by every means in its power," which meant war if Britain remained adamant. At this time, however, various alliances were being formed on the continent of Europe, all of which excluded Britain.