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The Turning Point -
6 years ago
| Surprise Me

This excerpt is just wonderful as it reminds of, and shows us the way back to, the American ideals all Americans, indeed people all over the world, hold most dear, then when they lived it and now when we are deprived of it...


"American Foreign Policy The Turning Point, 1898–1919," The Future of Freedom Foundation, 1995


With the end of the 20th century rapidly approaching, this is a time to look back and gain some perspective on where we stand as a nation. Were the Founding Fathers somehow to return, they would find it impossible to recognize our political system. The major cause of this transformation has been America's involvement in war and preparation for war over the past hundred years. War has warped our constitutional order, the course of our national development, and the very mentality of our people.

The process of distortion started about a century ago, when certain fateful steps were taken that in time altered fundamentally the character of our republic. One idea of America was abandoned and another took its place – although no conscious, deliberate decision was ever made. Eventually, this change affected all areas of American life, so that today our nation is radically different from the original ideal and, indeed, from the ideal probably still cherished by most Americans.

The turning point was signaled by a series of military adventures: the war with Spain, the war for the conquest of the Philippines, and, finally, our entry into the First World War. Together, they represented a profound break with American traditions of government.

Until the end of the 19th century, American foreign policy essentially followed the guidelines laid down by George Washington in his farewell address to the American people:

The great rule of conduct for us in regard to foreign nations is – in extending our commercial relations – to have with them as little political connection as possible.

The purpose of Washington's admonition against entanglements with foreign powers was to minimize the chance of war. James Madison, the father of the Constitution, expressed this understanding when he wrote:

Of all enemies to public liberty, war is, perhaps, the most to be dreaded, because it comprises and develops the germ of every other. War is the parent of armies; from these proceed debts and taxes; and armies, and debts, and taxes are the known instruments for bringing the many under the domination of the few.

History taught that republics that engaged in frequent wars eventually lost their character as free states. Hence, war was to be undertaken only in defense of our nation against attack. The system of government that the founders were bequeathing to us – with its division of powers, checks and balances, and power concentrated in the states rather than the federal government – depended on peace as the normal condition of our society.

This was the position not only of Washington and Madison but of John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, and the other men who presided over the birth of the United States. For over a century, it was adhered to and elaborated by our leading statesmen. It could be called neutrality, or nonintervention, or America first, or, as its modern enemies dubbed it, isolationism. The great revisionist historian Charles A. Beard called it Continental Americanism. This is how Beard defined it in A Foreign Policy for America, published in 1940:



6 years ago


[It is] a concentration of interest on the continental domain and on building here a civilization in many respects peculiar to American life and the potentials of the American heritage. In concrete terms, the words mean non-intervention in the controversies and wars of Europe and Asia and resistance to the intrusion of European or Asiatic powers, systems, and imperial ambitions into the western hemisphere [as threatening to our security].

Wherever the standard of freedom and independence has been or shall be unfurled, there will be America's heart, her benedictions, and her prayers. But she does not go abroad in search of monsters to destroy. She is the well-wisher to the freedom and independence of all. She is the champion and vindicator only of her own.

John Quincy Adams was the real architect of what became known as the Monroe Doctrine. In order to assure our security, we advised European powers to refrain from interfering in the Western Hemisphere. In return, however, we promised not to interfere in the affairs of Europe. The implied contract was broken and the Monroe Doctrine annulled in the early 20th century by Theodore Roosevelt and, above all, Woodrow Wilson.

This noninterventionist America, devoted to solving its own problems and developing its own civilization, became the wonder of the world. The eyes and hopes of freedom-loving peoples were turned to the Great Republic of the West.

But sometimes the leaders of peoples fighting for their independence misunderstood the American point of view. This was the case with the Hungarians, who had fought a losing battle against the Habsburg monarchy and its Russian allies. Their cause was championed by many sectors of American public opinion. When the Hungarian patriot Louis Kossuth came to America, he was wildly cheered. He was presented to the president and Congress and hailed by the secretary of state, Daniel Webster. But they all refused to help in any concrete way. No public money, no arms, aid, or troops were forthcoming for the Hungarian cause. Kossuth grew bitter and disillusioned. He sought the help of Henry Clay, by then the grand old man of American politics. Clay explained to Kossuth why the American leaders had acted as they did: by giving official support to the Hungarian cause, we would have abandoned "our ancient policy of amity and non-intervention." Clay explained,


By the policy to which we have adhered since the days of Washington … we have done more for the cause of liberty in the world than arms could effect; we have shown to other nations the way to greatness and happiness. … Far better is it for ourselves, for Hungary, and the cause of liberty, that, adhering to our pacific system and avoiding the distant wars of Europe, we should keep our lamp burning brightly on this western shore, as a light to all nations, than to hazard its utter extinction amid the ruins of fallen and falling republics in Europe.


Similarly, in 1863, when Russia crushed a Polish revolt with great brutality, the French emperor invited us to join in a protest to the Tsar. Lincoln's secretary of state, William Seward, replied, defending "our policy of non-intervention – straight, absolute, and peculiar as it may seem to other nations,"


The American people must be content to recommend the cause of human progress by the wisdom with which they should exercise the powers of self-government, forbearing at all times, and in every way, from foreign alliances, intervention, and interference.


6 years ago

This policy by no means entailed the "isolation" of the United States. Throughout these decades, trade and cultural exchange flourished, as American civilization progressed and we became an economic powerhouse. The only thing that was prohibited was the kind of intervention in foreign affairs that was likely to embroil us in war.

Towards the end of the 19th century, however, a different philosophy began to emerge. In Europe, the free-trade and noninterventionist ideas of the classical liberals were fading; more and more, the European states went in for imperialism. The establishment of colonies and coaling stations around the globe – and the creation of vast armies and navies to occupy and garrison them – became the order of the day.

In the United States, this imperialism found an echo in the political class. In 1890, Admiral Alfred Thayer Mahan, of the Naval War College, published The Influence of Sea Power Upon History. Soon translated into many foreign languages, it was used by imperialists in Britain, Germany, Japan, and elsewhere to intensify the naval arms race and the scramble for colonies. In America, a young politician named Theodore Roosevelt made it his bible.

The great Democratic president Grover Cleveland – strict constitutionalist and champion of the gold standard, free trade, and laissez-faire – held out against the rising tide. But ideas of a "manifest destiny" for America transcending the continent and stretching out to the whole world were taking over the Republican Party. Roosevelt, Mahan, Senator Henry Cabot Lodge, John Hay, and others formed a cabal imbued with the new, proudly imperialist vision. They called their program "the large policy."

To them, America up until then had been too small. As Roosevelt declared, "The trouble with our nation is that we incline to fall into mere animal sloth and ease." Americans lacked the will to plunge into the bracing current of world politics, to court great dangers, and to do great deeds. Instead, they were mired in their own petty and parochial affairs – their families, their work, their communities, their churches, and their schools. In spite of themselves, the American people would have to be dragged to greatness by their leaders.

Often, the imperialists put their case in terms of the allegedly urgent need to find foreign markets and capital outlets for American business. But this was a propaganda ploy, and American business itself was largely skeptical of this appeal. Charles Beard, no great friend of capitalists, wrote, "Loyalty to the facts of the historical record must ascribe the idea of imperial expansion mainly to naval officers and politicians rather than to businessmen." For instance, as the imperialist frenzy spread and began to converge on hostility to Spain and Spanish policy in Cuba, a Boston stockbroker voiced the views of many of his class when he complained to Senator Lodge that what businessmen really wanted was "peace and quiet." He added, with amazing prescience, "If we attempt to regulate the affairs of the whole world we will be in hot water from now until the end of time."

-Reprinted from


6 years ago



That is a very interesting and thought provoking article.  (I followed the link to the Mises iInstitute and am a lttle confused as to why it is based on Autrian principles but located in the American USA.)  But the article does make me wonder "what if" we had never elected Teddy Roosevelt.  "What if" we had remained politically isolated.  Woudl it have been possible to stay that way?  Would our trade and economics have allowed up to ignore alot of what happened in the world as it would have affected us economically due to our non-political involvements.


Granted, T. Roosevelt was a living breathing somewhat killing machine who enjoyed fighting and killing wildlife to a fault. But would someone equally as pushy and aggressive arisen in his place?  Could we have remained isolated in one respect but not in others? Could we have continued to live aned let live? All rhetorical inquiries, of course because I do not think the past can be replicated nor are there really any paricularly astute correct/incorrect answers to questions arising from "what ifs."


Very good article.

6 years ago

Thanks, Mary



Mary, THIS wiki entry will probably clear up your question.


This is an excerpt from the 'About' page at


The Ludwig von Mises Institute was founded in 1982 as the research and educational center of classical liberalism, libertarian political theory, and the Austrian School of economics. It serves as the world's leading provider of educational materials, conferences, media, and literature in support of the tradition of thought represented by Ludwig von Mises and the school of thought he enlivened and carried forward during the 20th century, which has now blossomed into a massive international movement of students, professors, professionals, and people in all walks of life. It seeks a radical shift in the intellectual climate as the foundation for a renewal of the free and prosperous commonwealth.


What ifs... no, we can't turn back the clock, but by asking ourselves 'what if' and find reasonable alternatives to our present government policies and behavior we could reshape things for the better.  All anyone can know for 'certain' is that the course we are on is like the Titanic's.  It's only a matter of time before we hit the iceberg.


Isolationism is when a country has nothing whatever to do with any country on the planet; no travel, no trade, no allying with, no agreements with, nothing.


It is non-interventionism when you are friends with, trade with other countries, with their peoples freely traveling back and forth between countries while government doesn't entangle itself [politically, millitarily], or 'ally' itself with this or that country (which automatically makes 'enemies' of this or that other countries).


If Switzerland can be 'friends' with everyone, why not America?  By being what Switzerland calls 'neutral' ('non-interventionist') (i.e. not warring). she doesn't have an 'enemies'.

6 years ago

That is a great article Katti but I think a big point has been missed.  When America set those nuclear bombs off in Japan they let the genie out of the bottle as it were.  Using the biggest and most devestating war machine ever created they almost decimated the whole Island.  It recovered with the help of America but ....


IMO it also created a sense that America was now responsible for keeping that bottle corked.  All future nuclear scares and negotations concerned America alone and usually Russia.  Now, with things the way they are in the middle east a whole new area of concern has opened up.


People were often afraid of North Korea but that never made sense to me.  The rulers there like the isolation of that country and any move to use nuclear abilities would have meant the end of North Korea.  There, it is a matter of power and control.  In the middle east however it is a matter of radical religion.  A totally different carpet to ride as it were.


Prior to Obama your country has been able to keep nuclear ability out of the hands of the radicals.  Prior to Obama that is when they were afraid of the power and the might of your military.  Much rather that fear have been maintained than what we are possibly looking at now.


America made a hail of a lot of mistakes over time.  But the one person who recognized your country had to let go of supporting corrupt governments as you always did - was Bush.  Surprising but true.

6 years ago

Cam, first, please don't use the word 'you' when you're referring to our 'government'  I will not accept any responsibility for what our government does or has done in the past two decades because I haven't voted or any of it.


But, what corrupt foreign regim/s did Bush let go of?



6 years ago

It was Bush who with Condi Rice set up the Facebook site (still maintained by the Obama adminis) that led to the democratic overthrow in Egypt.  The young lad who led it found that site and was brought to America and trained in peaceful protest which he then passed on.  There were pictures of Martin Luther King and Ghandi used during that Egyptian protest and in the end the people won.  Whether they are able to keep it or not remains to be seen.


I post in many groups and many sites everyday Katii.  When I talk about the 'you' pertaining to countries I am referring to that specific country.  Not you or your ideals about things at all and I apologize.

6 years ago

Sadly Cam, what might have started out in Egypt as a peaceful democratic ovethrow had in its chaotic wake opened the door for the very un-democratic Muslim Brotherhood to get its organised claws into Egypt.


America might have finally killed Osama Bin Laden, but has another one of his kind maturing/gaining strength in the joint forces of Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood and surrounding countries. The Muslim Brotherhood has a history of dictatorship and no mercy towards democracy.


Perhaps America is of the attitude 'if you cannot beat them' (the Muslim Brotherhood) 'then join them'?

6 years ago

Yepm that there Muslim Brotherhood is quite the radical organization.

6 years ago

Cam, can you link me/us to the FB page you're talking about?  I don't know what it's named.


Yes, Alexandra, OBL will just be replaced by one of many who surely can't wait to fill his vacated position.

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