America’s Founders sought to define a national good that transcended local interests and prejudices. The national good included the common benefits of self-defense and prosperity that all Americans would realize by participating in a large, commercial nation able to hold its own in an often hostile world. But it was only with the constitutional rule of law that the higher purpose, or true national interest, of America could be realized. That purpose was to demonstrate to all mankind the feasibility of self-government and the suitability of justice as the proper and sustainable ground for relations among nations and peoples. The honor of striving for domestic and international justice would give moral purpose to the American character. The United States would support, defend, and advance the cause of freedom everywhere. It would be a refuge for the sober, industrious, and virtuous of the world, as well as for victims of persecution. By sympathy and appropriate action, Americans would show themselves to be true friends of humanity.

—Excerpted from We Still Hold These Truths by Matthew Spalding

 

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Fundamental Writings and Videos  |  Primary Sources  |  Further Reading  |  Foreign Policy in History

 

America as a World Power

 

This lecture is  part of Hillsdale College's free, 10-part online course, History 102: American Heritage—From Colonial Settlement to the Reagan Revolution.

 

FUNDAMENTAL WRITINGS AND VIDEOS

It’s Never Just the Economy, Stupid
Brian T. Kennedy  |  January 2011  |  Imprimis

 

PRIMARY SOURCES

 

John Adams

The Declaration of Independence

With the War for Independence over a year old and hope for a peaceful resolution nonexistant, the Continental Cogress appointed a Committee of Five—including Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, and Benjamin Franklin—to draft a document "declar[ing] the causes which impel [the American colonies] to the separation." Thirty-three-year-old Jefferson composed the initial draft, completing it in seventeen days. The committee submitted its draft to Congress on June 28, 1776, and on July 2, Congress voted for independence. Two days later, after numerous edits, Congress approved the Declaration of Independence by unanimous vote.

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Causes and Necessities of Taking Up Arms

Second Continental Congress

When the Second Continental Congress began its work in May of 1775, it was by no means clear that the American colonies were headed toward independence.Members of Congress were divided on the inevitability and desirability of of a separation from arguably the freest and most powerful nation in the world. To justify military action against British troops, the Congress required the drafting of the following "Declaration," passed a year before the Declaration of Independence. The work of a committee, it was written principally by John Dickinson and Thomas Jefferson, representing, respectively, the conciliatory and increasingly revolutionary camps.

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Federalist 23

Alexander Hamilton

Publius argues that the Constitution creates a government limited in the objects it can pursue, but largely free to choose the best means to achieve those ends.

George Washington

Farewell Address

George Washington

George Washington had first prepared a farewell address to be delivered in 1792, upon the colcusion of his first term as president. Having been convinced to stand for a second term, he was unanimously re-elected. When he finally issued this address in 1796, it was his last public work. After nearly forty-five years of service, he retired to Mount Vernon.

Albert Beveridge 

The March of the Flag

Albert Beveridge

The progressive Albert Beveridge delivered this speech to pressure the McKinley administration to annex the Philippines and move the Repulican party to adopt a pro-imperialist stance. The progressives wanted the United States to take its place in the world as a major power: to keep order, to expan the nation's economic interests, to proclaim liberty everywhere. The progressives began America's great foreign policy debate: Should the nation hold true to the principles of Washington's Farewell Address, retain its independence from foreign political alliances and limit its expansion to the contintental acquisitions of the nineteenth century, or should it assume a place among the great imperial powers of the world?

Platform of the American Anti-Imperialist League

Platform of the American Anti-Imperialist League

Opposition to the progressive position coalesced in the Anti-Imperialist League shortly after the United States went to war with Spain. Although the motives of the League's members varied, they had in common a primary concern for American independence and uniqueness—her moral and spiritual health, constitutional integrity, and prosperity. Together with Senator Beveridge's speech, this platform reveals what it was about the Filipino war and the question of overseas imperialism that so polarized Americans.

Woodrow Wilson 

War Message

Woodrow Wilson

Though Wilson declared in shortly after World War I began that Americans would be "neutral in thought as well as deed," the United States broke diplomatic relations with Berlin in 1917 after German U-boats attacked and sunk American trade vessels approaching Great Britain and France. The president's message not only made a forceful case for war, but unveiled many of the principles that would comprise "Wilsonian internationalism," a decidedly new understanding of the United States' role in the world.

Calvin Coolidge

Ordered Liberty and World Peace

Calvin Coolidge

Despite the natino's decisive part in World War I, the Republican administration of the 1920s mostly disengaged from Europe's internal power struggles. President Coolidge added to the earier arguments for American independence the image of the United States as a "Samaritan." Rather than attempt to "make over" Europe, he said, we should become the magnanimous republic. Foreign policy always reflects domestic policy; Coolidge's convictions about limited government applied to his international initiatives as well as to his strict constititionalism at home.

Winston Churchill

Iron Curtain Speech

Winston Churchill

This speech may be regarded as the most important Churchill delivered as Leader of the Opposition (1945-1951). It contains certain phrases- "the special relationship," "the sinews of peace " - which at once entered into general use, and which have survived. But it is the passage on "the iron curtain" which attracted immediate international attention, and had incalculable impact upon public opinion in the United States and in Western Europe.

Harry S. Truman 

The Truman Doctrine

Harry S. Truman

The “Truman Doctrine” emerged from a speech President Harry S. Truman delivered to the Congress and a nationwide radio audience on March 12, 1947. Ostensibly, President Truman was seeking legislative approval of $400 million in assistance for Greece and Turkey to help them maintain their resistance against Communism. Truman won approval of the aid package and in so doing established a new, comprehensive strategy for post-World War II American foreign policy, creating a more assertive posture for the United States on the world stage than at any earlier time in its history.

Ronald Reagan

Speech Before Commons

Ronald Reagan

In this speech, delivered before the British Parliament, Reagan spoke of communism in moral terms. The Soviet empire was, he concluded, "evil." Though the  American press found this humorous, repressed Eastern Europeans embraced it as a message of hope. Reagan's confidence extended not only to the American people, but it also to those under Soviet rule. When the Berlin Wall came down in 1989 and the Russian Communist party self-destructed in 1991, the average Eastern European gave credit to Reagan's rhetoric and strong posture.

 

FURTHER READING

 

Churchill's Trial: Winston Churchill and the Salvation of Free Government Why America Must Not Follow Europe  Willful Blindness

Churchill's Trial: Winston Churchill and the Salvation of Free Government

Larry P. Arnn

Why America Must Not Follow Europe

Daniel Hannan

Willful Blindness

Andrew McCarthy

 

Claremont Institute Statesmanship Political Philosophy

Savior Generals Commanders Ancient Greece  The savior generals 

No Victory, No Peace

Angelo Codevilla

 

The Savior Generals: How Five Great Commanders Saved Wars that Were Lost

Victor Davis Hanson

Carnage and Culture: Landmark Battles in the Rise to Western Power

Victor Davis Hanson

 

FOREIGN POLICY IN HISTORY

 

Battlefield Eagle art

Cornwallis Surrenders at Yorktown
1781

Completely encircled by the Continental Army on land and the French Navy at sea, and having been bombarded by heavy artillery for more than three weeks, General Cornwallis surrendered to Washington after a three-week siege. This marked the end of the Revolutionary War.

Louisiana Purchase Treaty
1803

The single largest expansion of the United States’ territory, the Louisiana Purchase transferred ownership of 828,000 acres of land from France to the United States, doubling the size of the country overnight. The territory cost the United States roughly $15 million.

Battlefield art Settlement

War of 1812 Commences
1812

Aggravated by the British Empire’s impressment of American sailors, their support of aggressive Indian tribes, and trade restrictions on American commerce, Congress declared war on the British Empire in 1812. Over the course of the war, the United States suffered numerous defeats, but the victory at the Battle of New Orleans restored some dignity to what was otherwise an unsuccessful war.

Monroe Doctrine
1823

In 1823, President James Monroe reaffirmed America’s status as a sovereign nation, with the right to impede any new efforts at colonization or interference in local governments’ affairs by foreign governments on the North or South American continents.

Art Art

The Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo
1848

Having defeated the Mexican Army and captured Mexico City during the Mexican-American War, the United States largely dictated the terms of the Treaty of Guadalupe-Hidalgo, which ended the war. Mexico ceded vast territory to the United States in exchange for the  cancellation of all Mexican debts to the U.S. and $15 million.

Spanish-American War Commences
1898

In February 1898, the USS Maine sailed into the Havana harbor to protect American citizens fleeing from the Cuban War for Independence. The ship's subsequent explosion led to a declaration of war against Spain, who was blamed for the act. The United States then captured both Cuba and the Philippines over a ten-week period.

USS Maine USS Main

America Enters World War I
1917

The United States declared war on the Central Powers, thereby bringing the nation into World War I. The American Expeditionary Force arrived in Europe the following year and proved decisive in the Allied victory.

Fourteen Points Speech
1918

In an address to Congress, Woodrow Wilson outlined his vision of the post-World War I world. His list of 14 points expressed many of his Progressive principles. He called for the creation of an “League of Nations” that would, he argued, ensure that war would never again plague the world.

Flag Wilson

Treaty of Versailles
1919

After Germany's surrender in 1918, the peace treaty forced Germany to accept responsibility for the war, demilitarize completely, and pay substantial reparations. The treaty also established the League of Nations. The United States Senate refused to ratify the treaty, primarily due to its unwillingness to join the League.

United States Declares War on Japan
1941

A day after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Franklin D. Roosevelt declared it a “day that will forever live in infamy.” Congress promptly voted in near unanimity to declare war on Japan. Declarations of war against Germany and Italy followed within the week.

FDR FDR

Yalta Conference
1945

Having met previously in Tehran, this second of three wartime conferences among the “Big Three” laid out the Allies' post-World War II strategy, including the divisions of Germany into occupied zones.

The United Nations
1945

The Charter of the United Nations, signed by 50 countries in June 1945, went into effect on October 24 of that year. The Charter established the United Nations and directed the new organization to promote human rights, equality, justice, and the principle of self-determination.

UN UN

Marshall Plan
1947

The Marshall Plan—an expansion of the Truman Doctrine—provided large-scale financial aid to European countries for the rebuilding of infrastructure, the modernization of industry, and the promotion of political and economic stability.

National Security Act
1947

The National Security Act reorganized the United States military and intelligence departments and established the National Security Council and the Central Intelligence Agency, America’s first peacetime intelligence agency.

CIA CIA

Eisenhower Doctrine
1957

Following in the footsteps of his predecessor Harry Truman, Eisenhower promised American economic and military aid to any nation threatened by an external foe. Eisenhower saw this promise as a means of checking the Soviet Union in the Middle East.

Cuban Missile Crisis
1962

After the Air Force captured photographic proof of Soviet missile bases under construction in Cuba, the United States instituted a military blockade of the island. The Soviet Union eventually agreed to dismantle its military bases in Cuba. In exchange, the U.S. did not invade Cuba and dismantled all ballistic nuclear missiles in Turkey and Italy.

cuban missle crisis cuban missle crisis

Gulf of Tonkin Resolution
1964

Following a North Vietnamese attack on a United States  destroyer, Congress passed the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, which authorized Lyndon B. Johnson to use military force to defend any member of the Southeast Asia Collective Defense Treaty without formally declaring war.

The Evil Empire Speech
1983

In a speech given to the National Association of Evangelicals, Ronald Reagan declared the Soviet Union to be an “evil empire,” fundamentally opposed to the principles of free government.

Wall fighter jets

Fall of the Berlin Wall
1989

Two years after Ronald Reagan called on Soviet General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev to “tear down this wall,” the East German government annulled the travel restrictions that prevented travel between East and West Berlin. German citizens promptly tore down the Berlin Wall.

Gulf War Commences
1990

In response to Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait, George H.W. Bush ordered the United States military to liberate Kuwait. Operation Desert Storm succeeded in driving Iraqi forces out of Kuwait. Although United States military involvement began in August 1990, Congress did not authorize the use of military force until January 1991.