The Myth of American Isolationism: Commerce, Diplomacy, and Military Affairs in the Early Republic

From the Heritage Foundation:


America’s founding principles do not call for an isolationist grand strategy, and early U.S. statesmen did not adhere to a non-interventionist foreign policy as they sought to secure the nation’s interests. Regrettably, such misconceptions of America’s early statecraft have gained credence in a time of war-weariness and monumental federal budget constraints.

In an effort to set the record straight, this report focuses on the areas of diplomacy, trade, and military affairs in the early republic (1776–1860) to better understand the foundations of U.S. statecraft. America’s Founders and early statesmen believed and acted upon the idea that prosperity at home comes through active trade abroad and that peace is best secured through military strength and foreign respect for U.S. sovereignty.

American statecraft was grounded, both morally and practically, in the principles of equality and liberty articulated in the Declaration of Independence. Thus, early U.S. foreign policy sought to maintain independence and pursue American interests while standing for political, economic, and religious freedom across the globe.

America’s early statesmen occasionally sanctioned limited military and political intervention abroad as constitutional and sometimes prudent. They were also determined that America should become and remain a respectable military power in order to secure the blessings of liberty for the American people.

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