The annual remembrance of the surprise
attacks on Pearl Harbor every December 7th, the catalyst that
propelled the United States into World War II, overshadow the decade before the
declarations of war in which the country was deeply divided on the question of
intervention. This same debate rages
today in conservative circles.
The first 150
years of the United States were marked by a resistance to intervene in European
affairs. Thomas Paine's Common Sense is credited with disseminated the first
non-interventionist ideas, and gained such popularity that the colonials were
wary of forming an alliance with France during the Revolutionary War, even
though victory depended on it.
eventually allied with them, defeated the English, and formed their own
republican government, under George Washington. Until the early 20th
century, Washington's Farewell Address was regarded as the final word on the
subject of interventionism.
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. Europe has a set of primary interests, which to us have none, or a
very remote relation. Hence she must be engaged in frequent controversies the
causes of which are essentially foreign to our concerns. Hence, therefore, it
must be unwise in us to implicate ourselves, by artificial ties, in the
ordinary vicissitudes of her politics, or the ordinary combinations and
collisions of her friendships or enmities.
He also warned
against the forming of political parties--at the time, anti-Federalists under
Thomas Jefferson clashed with the Federalists under Alexander Hamilton, and the
two sides also feuded on which European country to befriend. The Jeffersonians
preferred the ideals of the French Revolution, and the Hamiltonians identified
with the English government.
sentiments came to head during John Adams' administration. The country was
gripped by fear of war with France, embarrassing the Francophile Jefferson,
prompting Adams to dedicate his presidency to avoiding a fight. He did, and the
importance of keeping America out of European affairs are reflected in
lies John Adams, who took upon himself the responsibility of peace with France
in the year 1800."
ascended to the presidency, he extended Washington's Farewell Address in his
inaugural address in 1801. He pledged, "peace, commerce, and honest friendship
with all nations, entangling alliances with none."
The phrase "entangling
alliances with none" (often incorrectly attributed to Washington) is often
quoted today during discussions on whether the United States should intervene
in world affairs, which it has done regularly since the Spanish-American War of
1898. The occupation of the Philippines, the spoils of the war, was the first
time the U.S. occupied a non-contiguous territory where the inhabitants spoke a
language other than English, and is regarded as the first colonial act of the
their involvement in the world under the administrations of Teddy Roosevelt and
Woodrow Wilson. Roosevelt incited a Panamian Revolt in order to secure
construction rights for the Panama Canal, and Woodrow Wilson sent troops to
Europe to fight in World War I, possibly to guarantee the safety of U.S. interests
in the allied economies.
resisted being dragged into that war, in fact Wilson was reelected on the
strength of his slogan, "He kept us out of war." But after the Lusitania was
sunk by German U-Boats with 128 Americans on board, and after the Zimmerman
Telegram was made public, Wilson found popular support to throw his hat in the
ring on the allies' side. His secretary of state, William Jennings Bryan, resigned
conclusion of the war, French anger against the Central Powers produced the
infamous Versailles Treaty, which set the stage for World War II. In the United
States, war weariness and a stock market crash contributed to a spike in non-interventionist
sentiment, even as Germany and Japan ran roughshod over Europe and Asia,
passed the Neutrality Acts in 1936-1937 as it became obvious that Europe was on
the brink of war. This demonstrates the strength of the non-interventionist
movement as Franklin Roosevelt opposed the acts and had majorities in the House
and the Senate and failed to defeat them.
1, 1939, Hitler invaded Poland, prompting Britain and France to declare war.
Two days later, FDR addressed the nation and assured them he would do all he
could to keep it out of the war, but hid his true intentions of intervention. [continued in upcoming post]