Today is the 235th anniversary of that hot summer day in 1776 when the United States of America announced its independence to random Philadelphians as they passed Independence Hall. The declaration that formally separated the Kingdom of Great Britain from thirteen of its North American colonies had been adopted two days before by the Second Continental Congress. Congress acted as the political high command of an alliance that the established governments of the thirteen colonies had formed to protect themselves from the depredations of a revolutionary Tory Parliament. Those remote grandees, in their folly, had insisted on meddling in the ancient local governing traditions of the colonies.
Now it was time for them to stop.
Colonial initiatives had driven the British Army from the territory of fourteen colonies and attempted to liberate two more from British military occupation. However, efforts to liberate Nova Scotia and Quebec were frustrated and the island of Nassau had been reoccupied. The largest flotilla that ever crossed from Old World to New had reached Halifax, Nova Scotia. It would soon descend on the new state of New York and its capital city. But, during that one moment in July of 1776, the newly minted United States bathed in sunlight, hope, and the inspiring words of the lapsed corset maker Thomas Paine. It would be another dozen tumultuous years before the United States saw another summer like it.
Today is also the 190th anniversary of the second greatest Independence Day speech ever delivered by an American president (this being the first). On July 4, 1821, then
heir apparent Secretary of State John Quincy Adams gave a speech to U.S. House of Representatives. Later generations seized on one passage and elevated it to one of the core tenants of America’s supposed “realist” tradition:
Wherever the standard of freedom and Independence has been or shall be unfurled, there will her heart, her benedictions and her prayers be.
But she goes not abroad, in search of monsters to destroy.
She is the well-wisher to the freedom and independence of all.
She is the champion and vindicator only of her own.
Though The Dominion of War is a deeply flawed book that can’t hold a bonfire next to its co-author Fred Anderson’s definitive history of the French and Indian War, it did introduce me to three notions:
- American intervention in Europe from 1917 onwards was a continuation of its interventions in Latin America, only on a more massive and consequential scale.
- America was the vanguard of world revolution before 1917, a revolutionary tide that reached its apex when the Wilson Administration arbitrarily deposed the ancient crowns of central Europe in late 1918.
- The triumph of Bolshevism in Russia after 1921 left the United States in the curious position of being a status quo revolutionary power, a political and therefore strategic schizophrenia it suffers from to this day.
The U.S. Constitution of 1787-1788 helpfully divided the world that revolutionary American found itself in three, a division encapsulated in the third itemized power granted to the U.S. Congress:
To regulate Commerce with foreign Nations, and among the several States, and with the Indian Tribes;
Like the Palestinians, whose guiding strategic conceits can be cleanly divided into two competing schools of primordial enmity (Drive the Jews into the Mediterranean Today vs. Drive the Jews into the Mediterranean Tomorrow), America’s primal strategic conceits can be divided into two competing schools of good intentions:
- Liberate the Indian Tribes From Themselves Today
- Liberate the
Indian Tribesforeign Nations From Themselves Tomorrow
From his current position atop of the international food chain, the American do gooder looks up and sees fifteen centuries of English do-gooders looking down on him. The American thirst for liberating the Indian from himself is the continuation of the ancient English crusade to liberate the inner Englishman hidden within the savage Briton, Pict, Scotsman, or Irishman. The untamed Celt of the wilds just beyond the Pale will inevitably have his Englishness revealed, by persuasion if possible, by plantation if necessary, and by slaughter in extremis.
The English were not a warrior people. They had a hard time defeating real warriors. But they didn’t need to. The English mastered the art of organizing themselves into disciplined bands of men that could bypass enemy warriors and defeat their women and children.
Man for man, the Indian or Irish warrior towered over his English counterpart. John White admiringly painted Indian warriors from the tribes surrounding the first abortive English colony at Roanoke, North Carolina as a race of bronze supermen. However, like ten Sherman tanks could overwhelm one Tiger tank in World War II, ten English dwarves could overwhelm one Indian or Irish giant in the English wars of conquest and consolidation that raged around North America and across the Celtic Fringe during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Those ten dwarves were more than sufficient to wage war on women, children, property, and food supplies.
Americans retained this primeval English crusading instinct because Americans preserved England as it was. As recognized by Edmund Burke and other Englishmen, the American Revolution was a reactionary revolution. Like the Dutch Revolt that led to the Eighty Years War and the Scottish Revolt that led to the English Civil War, the American Revolution sought to preserve the fading legacy of medieval-era institutions that gave local elites a say in their lord’s governing of whichever piece of property they resided in. The hip “new” thing in Continental fashions was centralized absolutism, a wave of divine-right monarchy that had swept away most of the deeply uncool medieval estates on the Continent in the name of administrative efficiency. The introduction of this Continental-style absolutism in Great Britain was delayed and diffused. However, absolutism’s Tory running-dog lackeys ganged up behind Georg, third elector of Hannover by that name, and sought to use electoral patronage networks to corrupt England’s ancient institutions.
However, some Englishmen resisted this, especially those blessed souls who were well insulated from the latest Continental fashion by the wide Atlantic. They rose up against distant Georg and his local third-rate place men and drove them into the sea. This preserved old England in its primeval purity from the immediate ravages of Continental fashion that corrupted and ultimately destroyed the First British Empire by giving birth to the Second British Empire.
However, old England was a revolutionary crusading power, dedicated to reshaping the world in the image of the New Israel rising behind the white cliffs of Dover. In a baffling contradiction, the more reactionary the Englishman was, the more revolutionary he was.
Since the first petty kingdoms of Angles, Saxons, and Jutes, English efficiency in collecting taxes through the effective co-option of local elites had allowed the tiny kingdom to punch above its weight and hold its own in fights with richer but less efficient Continental proto-hegemons like France or Spain. But the raw power of these Continental sovereignties restrained the English from forcibly evangelizing the Continent. Circumstance and the occasional visionary teenage girl forced England to deal with those foreign Nations as peers. But it had no such problems with its Celtic Periphery. Despite the occasional Auld Alliance that complicated things from time to time, the Celts were ripe for Anglicization.
The Indian Tribes were in the same boat as their Celtic brethren. As long as they had an Auld Alliance with the French or the British, their American neighbors had to exercise caution towards the Indian Tribes. After the French and Indian War removed the French from the Indian through war and the War of 1812 eliminated the British as the ally of the Tribes east of the Mississippi, the soft sovereignty of the Indian Tribes were left alone with the United States of America. They could now be civilized, expropriated, or killed at the whim or fancy of these United States. The American missionary would preach and teach, the American settler would appropriate and dislocate, and the American soldier would move and remove. This process would be applied with thick dollops of moralism and legalism in the best English tradition. If the Indian patient refused their medicine, their actions were not only unlawful but sinful.
Where others make war, you, happy Albion, send lawyers.
Adams was not an international relations realist as contemporaries understand it. He, like Washington, Morris, Morris, Jay, and occasionally Hamilton, was a member of the Liberate the
Indian Tribes foreign Nations From Themselves Tomorrow school. In the thought of the Indians Later school, while real Indian Tribes were conquered by American soldiers with the sword and by American settlers with the plow, America’s beacon upon a hill would be shine a light that could not be hid towards the Indian Tribes of Britain and the Dark Continent of Europe.
As Adams remarked in the same Independence Day speech:
America, with the same voice which spoke herself into existence as a nation, proclaimed to mankind the inextinguishable rights of human nature, and the only lawful foundations of government…
She will commend the general cause by the countenance of her voice, and the benignant sympathy of her example…
[America’s] glory is not dominion, but liberty. Her march is the march of the mind. She has a spear and a shield: but the motto upon her shield is, Freedom, Independence, Peace. This has been her Declaration: this has been, as far as her necessary intercourse with the rest of mankind would permit, her practice.
As a member of the Indians Later school, Adams, like Washington before him, believed that America would triumph through the osmosis of beaconing. America’s light, a standing rebuke to the tyranny of the Old World, would permanently cast a shadow across the heart of absolutist reaction everywhere. The example of a free people, wisely exercising the self-government granted to them by the Laws of Nature itself, would gradually free the Noble Savage within the European heart, whether that heart was found in chancellery, tenement, or hut. This savage, like his North American counterpart, would be as malleable as a babe and ready for American tutelage.
This is in contrast to early members of the Indian Now school. The most vigorous proponent of this school, the Virginia political boss Thomas Jefferson, enthusiastically meddled in the internal affairs of the U.S. French ally. Jefferson’s efforts were vigorously countered by Gouverneur Morris of the Indian Later school, who observed acidly of Jefferson’s French collaborators in a 1789 letter:
I have steadily combated the violence and excess of those persons, who, either inspired with an enthusiastic love of freedom, or prompted by sinister designs, are disposed to drive everything to extremity. Our American example has done them good; but like all novelties, liberty runs away with their discretion, if they have any. They want an American Constitution, with the exception of a King instead of a President, without reflecting, that they have not American citizens to support that constitution…
Different constitutions of government are necessary to the different societies on the face of this planet. Their difference of position is, in itself, a powerful cause, as also their manners their habits. The scientific tailor, who should cut after Grecian or Chinese models, would not have many customers, either in London or Paris; and those who look to America for their political forms are not unlike those tailors in the island of Laputa, who, as Gulliver tells us, always take measure with a quadrant. He tells us, indeed, what we should naturally expect from such a process, that the people are seldom fitted…
Such, then, is the state of this country, in which I think the crisis is past without having been perceived; and now a free constitution will be the certain result. If they have the good sense to give the nobles, as such, some share in the national authority, that constitution will probably endure; but otherwise, it will degenerate into a pure monarchy, or become a vast republic, a democracy. Can that last? I think not. I am sure not; unless the whole people are changed. In any event, however, of the business, it bids fair to change the political face of Europe.
However, such tolerance of Indian Tribes abroad grew more rare as the United States became more powerful. America’s first taste of global came during the first Era of Intervention. The overseas activism of John Tyler, our first Pacific president, coupled with James K. Polk’s liberation of Northern Mexico and its gold, triggered an outburst of intervention in both New World and Old. Tyler intervened for the first time, ominously for the future, in China. The interventionist Milliard Fillmore dispatched Commodore Perry and his “Black Fleet” to decisively intervene in Japan. James Buchanan’s futile attempt to intervene in totalitarian Paraguay was probably the most extreme intervention.
This era, the largely forgotten (but not in China and Japan) was the precursor of the later and more well-known Second Era of Intervention and the Great Intervention itself. The first era ended when the War of the Rebellion came along and snuffed it out. It seems that the whites of the southeastern United States suddenly revealed themselves as Indian Tribes, prompting a massive internal intervention inside the United States itself. In the immediate aftermath of the War of the Rebellion, American energies remained inwardly focused. Only in the 1890s, after a lack of naval muscle revealed by an American face-off with Chile, did America turn its attention outwards again.
America was the world’s largest economy with the world’s largest industrial base. It was powerful and full of vigor. It looked outside itself and saw a world full of Indians intermingled with a bumper crop of monsters to destroy. The schoolmarmish Thomas Woodrow Wilson was elected president in 1912 and soon found plenty of unruly Indians to discipline with his professorial Princeton curricula. Starting with a strong resolution to teach Latin American Indian Tribes to elect good men, the outbreak of war in Europe gave Wilson an opportunity unprecedented in American history: Wilson could teach the Europeans to elect good men. If their chiefs lived up to their treaty obligations, they could bath in the radiant warmth of approval emanating from the Great White Father in Washington City.
Thus began the American colonization of Europe. Like earlier English and American interventions, American domination in Europe was sometimes exercised through suasion, such as the financial management of the Harding, Coolidge, and Hoover Administrations, through plantation such as the long occupation of Western Europe by American forces after 1945, and through the raw violence of American victories like Meuse-Argonne, Normandy, and the Bulge.
That’s how you keep Indians quiet.
America has been on revolutionary offense since 1776 and revolutionary defense since 1921. Its long sought status quo has been the reduction of its foreign neighbors to eager children ready to learn from the Great White Father. Anything that deviates from that status quo volunteers itself for American revolutionary intervention, whether through Adams’ Liberty in Being that attacks the latest flavor of Old World autocracy from over the horizon without leaving its American harbors or Wilson’s direct application of the liberal interventionist schoolmarm’s birch of corrective defense to the bottoms recalcitrant foreigners.
American history up to this point teaches that when the United States can, it will intervene and not abstain. Whether that remains the pattern into the future is a question for another Independence Day. The only constant is that, if you want to find them, there will always be monsters abroad, ripe for destruction. The realist contribution is recognizing that the same primal principle of power that allows the United States to cruise abroad in search of the latest monster to destroy is the same principle that restrains Andorran imperial expansion: the strong do what they can while the weak do what they must.
More power enables both the dramatic highs of tragedy and the lower order pratfalls of farce. Less power just makes you prey for the hungry. Such is the law of the jungle, red, as it is, in tooth and claw.