‘s rights and interests without alliances.
Isolationism was present in many different places before the United States adopted this policy. Japan, before its pact with Great Britain in 1902, lived without allies for a thousand years, during the last half of the century in which it grew to world power. Great Britain lived from 1822 to 1902 in isolation with only temporary allies, except for a dormant traditional alliance with Portugal. The United States stayed successfully in isolationism from 1796 to 1917 or even until 1941.
Isolationism was first introduced to the colonies by Thomas Paine a liberal English isolationist and recent immigrant to the colonies at this time. In his famous pamphlet Common Sense, written in 1776, he said, “Any submission to or dependence upon Great Britain tends directly to involve this country in European wars and quarrels and sets us at variance with nations who would otherwise seek our friendship and against whom we have neither anger nor complaint.” At the outset of the Revolutionary war the Continental Congress resisted any commitment with France that would bind the two nations. Nevertheless the need for military assistance during the revolution caused the alliance. The Franco-American alliance of 1778 tied the United States in France’s commitments with other allies like Spain during both the peace negotiations of 1782 and the wars of the French Revolution. These alliances caused some statesmen to become unfriendly after independence was declared. President George Washington was a chief supporter of isolationism.
In his famous Farewell Address of 1796 he said, “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.” In this he is suggesting that in the future the United States should avoid political relations with other countries but remain trading and other economic relations with these countries. Washington went on to say, “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 or collisions of her friendships or enmities.” Washington has been said to lay the ground for the isolationist foreign pol! icy of America.
Many presidents after him used this policy. President Thomas Jefferson agreed with Washington’s policy of isolationism when in his inaugural address he said, ” . . . peace, commerce, and honest friendship with all nations, entangling alliances with none.” In this he expresses how he wants to keep peace with as many nations as possible and not creating alliances that may cause entanglements with other countries.
President James Monroe also agreed with Washington’s policy in his famous message to Congress of Dec. 2, 1823, known since 1852 as the Monroe doctrine. In this message (doctrine) he declared, “In the wars of the European powers, in matters relating to themselves, we have never taken part, nor does it comport with our policy, so to do.
It is only when our rights are invaded, or seriously menaced that we resent injuries, or make preparations for our defense.” In this he explained that the United States would not interfere with any wars occurring in Europe unless our own security was threatened. The United States considered its rights to neutrality invaded by France in 1796 through 1798 and had set up defenses to the extent of being ready to go to war with France. Even at this time both Congress and President John Adams refused to make an alliance with France’s enemy Great Britain. From 1806 to 1812 the United States had considered these same rights invaded by Great Britain when they began their impressing seamen, and had gone to war finally in the hope of conquering Canada, and also Florida which belonged to Britain’s ally Spain. Again the United States would not form an alliance with Great Britain’s enemy France. The isolationist foreign policy of the United States had been very successful through the 19th century and well into the 20th century.
Its success was based on three things: (1) the country occupied a detached and distant position; (2) Europe’s distresses were America’s advantage, leaving the Continental powers little energy for adventures in North America; and (3) Canada was in effect a hostage for good relations with Great Britain, the only power that was in position to make war with the United States. At this point the state of isolationism began to be tested. At the beginning of the 20th century the rise of Germany and Japan as world powers had begun.
Both began to form first-class armies and navies but unlike France there were no possible hostages like Canada. On the other hand the United States had given Japan a possible hostage in the acquisition of the Philippine Islands in 1898. The United States continued its isolationist policy until Germany challenged President Woodrow Wilson’s defense of neutral rights by proclaiming unrestricted submarine warfare on Jan.
31, 1917. Isolationism broke down during the joint war effort of 1917 to1918, but even the United States did not make alliances with Germany’s enemies. President Wilson referred to the partners of the United States as associates and not allies.
After the war the United States’ rights were not in danger any longer therefore the isolationism began to grow stronger once again. The United States began reinforcing their isolationist rights when they rejected the Treaty of Versailles and the Covenant of the League of Nations, in the neutrality legislation of 1935 to 1937. In the year of 1940 the American rights were again threatened by the conquests of Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini and their Tripartite Alliance of 1940 along with Japan. The United States again prepared themselves for war. Now is when the United States had almost deserted their isolationist policy.
Because of the power that was possessed by these dictators made it impossible to enter war without allies. When the Soviet Union and Eurasian allies entered the scene it became even more dangerous. At this time different isolationist groups had been formed. The most famous was the America First Committee. Founded in Sept.
1940, it was the most powerful isolationist group in America before the United States entered World War II. It had over 800,000 members, who wanted to keep America neutral. It tried to influence public influence public opinion through publications and speeches.
America First disagreed with another powerful group, the Committee to defend America by aiding the allies. Both groups wanted to build up American defenses and America out of the war. But the Committee to Defend argued that the best way to remain neutral was to aid Great Britain. America First thought it was more important to stay out of the war than to assure the British victory. America First was dissolved four days after the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor on Dec.
7, 1941. “We have pinned our hopes to the banner of the United Nations,” President Harry S. Truman declared to Congress on Jan. 14, 1964, after the defeat of Germany and Japan. From 1947 to 1955 a revolution in American foreign policy resulted in alliances with 44 nations within the view of Article 51 of the United Nations Charter. At this point American foreign policy went from totally resisting allies to making 44 allies. These 44 alliances, full of escape clauses, had projected the United States foreign policy so far away from isolation.
The length of the Vietnam war and the world wide reactions as to raise the question of the ability of the United States and its major allies to support and implement such a group of commitments when challenged by aggression in distant areas of the world. The war in Southeast Asia strained the whole system, and threatened against the reaction against the entire structure of alliances, including the United Nations. Now a return to isolationism is impossible in the Atomic Age. The old era of “free security” and “free land” that so happily characterized the history of the 19th century has vanished in the revolutionary turmoil of the 20th century. Isolationism was influenced by foreign cultures. The United States learned much from other cultures. Now the United States is the influence to many other countries.
As shown American foreign policy had remained isolationist from about 1796, Washington’s Farewell Address, to 1940, the Beginning of World War II.