Skip to comments.George Washington Didn't Say That!
Posted on 05/14/2006 11:36:36 AM PDT by Mobile Vulgus
George Washington Didnt Say That
Some of you who follow American History might have heard at one time or another that George Washington warned his countrymen of entangling foreign alliances in his farewell address given as he prepared to retire from his second presidential term. You may have heard that he issued a neo-isolationist concept about how the USA should treat its foreign policy ideas.
Here is a relevant section of Washingtons farewell address:
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. So far as we have already formed engagements let them be fulfilled with perfect good faith. Here let us stop.Unfortunately, too many view Washingtons warning of foreign entanglements incorrectly. Though it is a very common misconception, Washington was absolutely not saying we should never have anything to do with other nations or that we should forever steer clear of foreign entanglements. Washington was not proposing an isolationist policy.
Instead, Washington was worried about the pervasive split between Americans backing England and those standing up for France that had appeared in the US during Washingtons last term in office. This split was causing heavy fractionalization on the American political scene, and faction was one of the chief bugaboos in American political philosophy at the time. It should be remembered that during Washingtons terms the Party system had yet to be created and it was hoped by the Founders that a political system free of Parties could be sustained as a permanent American convention.
Washington meant only to steer clear of European alliances and entanglements only for as long as it took to get the USA consolidated and strong and to strengthen the Federal Union in the face of superior European power.
In a letter to Gouverneur Morris on Dec. 22, 1795, Washington mentioned how he envisioned that the USA would be strong enough to hold its own about 20 years after the countrys birth, that, until that time, he wanted his country to be left alone and clear of European meddling so that the USAs position would be unassailable.
So, while much of the advice about foreign policy is sound, Washingtons warning was one of the immediate future not one of a permanent nature.
It should also be remembered that the US was fully involved in trade negotiations with every European nation at the time Washington issued his farewell address, so even as he was warning about foreign entanglements, the country was already so entangled.
A clear and concise monograph on this subject can be seen in the book, To the Farewell Address, by Felix Gilbert. (1961 Princeton Press)
Lastly, just on a point of clarification, the Farewell Address was initially drafted by Madison, with revisions by both Washington and Hamilton.
-By Warner Todd Huston
Hamilton wrote most of the Farewell Address.
Great! Bookmarking this page.
He didn't want to build a wall completely around the US -- few Americans have ever wanted that -- but by 20th century standards Washington's advice certainly was "isolationist" in urging us to avoid foreign wars and alliances.
" the Farewell Address was initially drafted by Madison...?"
Washington was very much involved with his speeches--he didn't just read whatever the speechwriter put together.
Oh--and thanks for the ping, friend.
One of the side effects of FR is that even silly superficial ideologues get to post as uch as possible as do the any here who really contribute actual inforation, analysis and knowledge.
"Last week I appeared on a national television news show to discuss recent events in the Middle East. During the show I merely suggested that there are two sides to the dispute, and that the focus of American foreign policy should be the best interests of America not Palestine or Israel. I argued that American interests are best served by not taking either side in this ancient and deadly conflict, as Washington and Jefferson counseled when they warned against entangling alliances. I argued against our crazy policy of giving hundred of billions of dollars in unconstitutional foreign aid and military weapons to both sides, which only intensifies the conflict and never buys peace. My point was simple: we should follow the Constitution and stay out of foreign wars.
I was immediately attacked for offering such heresy. We've reached the point where virtually everyone in Congress, the administration, and the media blindly accepts that America must become involved (financially and militarily) in every conflict around the globe. To even suggest otherwise in today's political climate is to be accused of "aiding terrorists." It's particularly ironic that so many conservatives in America, who normally adopt an "America first" position, cannot see the obvious harm that results from our being dragged time and time again into an intractable and endless Middle East war. The empty justification is always that America is the global superpower, and thus has no choice but to police the world.
The Founding Fathers saw it otherwise. Jefferson summed up the noninterventionist foreign policy position perfectly in his 1801 inaugural address: "Peace, commerce, and honest friendship with all nations entangling alliances with none." How many times have we all heard these wise words without taking them to heart? How many champion Jefferson and the Constitution, but conveniently ignore both when it comes to American foreign policy? Washington similarly urged that the US must "Act for ourselves and not for others," by forming an "American character wholly free of foreign attachments." Since so many on Capitol Hill apparently now believe Washington was wrong, they should at least have the intellectual honesty to admit it next time his name is being celebrated.
In fact, when I mentioned Washington the other guest on the show quickly repeated the tired cliche that "We don't live in George Washington's times." Yet if we accept this argument, what other principles from that era should we discard? Should we give up the First amendment because times have changed? How about the rest of the Bill of Rights? It's hypocritical and childish to dismiss certain founding principles simply because a convenient rationale is needed to justify foolish policies today. The principles enshrined in the Constitution do not change. If anything, today's more complex world cries out for the moral clarity provided by a noninterventionist foreign policy.
It's easy to dismiss the noninterventionist view as the quaint aspiration of men who lived in a less complicated world, but it's not so easy to demonstrate how our current policies serve any national interest at all. Perhaps an honest examination of the history of American interventionism in the 20th century, from Korea to Vietnam to Kosovo to the Middle East, would reveal that the Founding Fathers foresaw more than we think."
-Rep. Ron Paul, M.D., R-Tex
For a demographically small and militarily weak nation without a Navy and separated from Europe by the Atlantic Ocean, it was very practical advice at the time just as is a father's admonition to his 4 year old child not to cross the street alone.
However, when we grow up, we quit our childish ways and make our mark upon the world.
I guess that's why Washington said, "Here let us stop"
And wasn't it the whole idea of this that we should distance ourselves from the affairs of Europe? How do you spoz George would look upon the United Nations and NATO in the context of permanent and temporary alliances?
"Of all the dispositions and habits, which lead to political prosperity, Religion and Morality are indispensable supports. In vain would that man claim the tribute of Patriotism, who should labor to subvert these great pillars of human happiness, these firmest props of the duties of Men and Citizens. The mere Politician, equally with the pious man, ought to respect and to cherish them. A volume could not trace all their connexions with private and public felicity. Let it simply be asked, Where is the security for property, for reputation, for life, if the sense of religious obligation desert the oaths, which are the instruments of investigation in Courts of Justice? And let us with caution indulge the supposition, that morality can be maintained without religion. Whatever may be conceded to the influence of refined education on minds of peculiar structure, reason and experience both forbid us to expect, that national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle." - Washington, Farewell Address
"Why, by interweaving our destiny with that of any part of Europe, entangle our peace and prosperity in the toils of European ambition, rivalship, interest, humor, or caprice?"
"It is our true policy to steer clear of permanent alliances with any portion of the foreign world; so far, I mean, as we are now at liberty to do it; for let me not be understood as capable of patronizing infidelity to existing engagements. I hold the maxim no less applicable to public than to private affairs, that honesty is always the best policy. I repeat it, therefore, let those engagements be observed in their genuine sense. But, in my opinion, it is unnecessary and would be unwise to extend them.
"Excessive partiality for one foreign nation, and excessive dislike of another, cause those whom they actuate to see danger only on one side, and serve to veil and even second the arts of influence on the other. Real patriots, who may resist the intrigues of the favorite, are liable to become suspected and odious; while its tools and dupes usurp the applause and confidence of the people, to surrender their interests."
How nice of you to leave out the very next line after your quote: "Taking care always to keep ourselves, by suitable establishments, on a respectable defensive posture, we may safely trust to temporary alliances for extraordinary emergencies."
Yes--I left out the part about "temporary" when it comes to "extraordinary emergencies."
Fortunately without foreign entanglements, "extraordinary emergencies" would be few and far between.
Yep, thats why Jefferson sent the US Marines "to the shores of Tripoli", and intervened.
Folks should be careful when quoting the Founders. A recent biography I read about Washington made me realize just how little I knew about the man.