Standing together with his father as they watched the Battle of Bunker Hill in 1775, eight-year-old John Quincy Adams should have questioned in amazement at the bloody and brutal the Aristocracy of all of it. And, what should he have thought as he traveled from one European seat of presidency to a different as his father tried to persuade the French and the Dutch in the European courts to help the republican reason for the People? America appeared a utopian dream at greatest to Europeans, an abomination at worst. Although we’d take republics as a matter in fact, most politicos and governors of the late 18th century would have considered them as no higher than how most of us may consider a well-intentioned Seattle hipster anarchist at present. But, regardless of the opposition, the insults, and the slights, John Adams carried out his republican obligation, and his son witnessed all of it.
As with so lots of the “greats” of his era—Henry Clay, John C. Calhoun, Daniel Webster, and Andrew Jackson—John Quincy Adams requested with aching longing and bewilderment, precisely how he might probably reside as much as the requirements of the revolutionary era? If measured, certainly any of his era can be discovered wanting. For us in the second decade of the 21st century, the George Washingtons and the John Adamses and the Thomas Jeffersons reside in bronze statues and marble busts. On the proper, the left, or any the place above, under, between, and subsequent to, we People look to them for approval, however their approval is an abstraction, a distance immeasurable by the norms of the spirit if not by the notations on a calendar. For the period of John Quincy Adams, nevertheless, these founders weren’t simply demi-gods in a mythic previous, however the dwelling flesh of actuality. Once more, to ask it bluntly, how might a Quincy Adams, a Clay, a Calhoun, a Webster, or a Jackson ever reside as much as the requirements of a demi-god, a founding father of the American republic? No matter errors this second era of American republicans may need made—and they have been legion—we of the early 21st century wouldn’t be out of order to supply some charitable sympathy towards them, individually and collectively. In politics, artwork, tradition, and faith, they tried to navigate their inherited world with a republicanism that had not been tried on any critical scale for almost 2,000 years.
Sadly, this second era got here to consider that conflict and enlargement greatest expressed their filial piety to their republican fathers. One want look no additional than the 1812 Congressional report, advocating that the American individuals go to conflict towards the British for his or her depredations on sea and on the western frontier:
Your committee, believing that the free-born sons of America are worthy to take pleasure in the liberty which their fathers bought at the worth of a lot blood and treasure, and seeing in the measures adopted by Nice Britain, a course commenced and continued in, which should result in a lack of nationwide character and independence, really feel no hesitation in advising resistance by pressure; by which the People of the current day will show to the enemy and to the world, that we now have not solely inherited that liberty which our fathers gave us, but in addition the will and energy to take care of it. Counting on the patriotism of the nation, and confidently trusting that the Lord of Hosts will go together with us to battle in a righteous trigger, and crown our efforts with success, your committee advocate a direct attraction to arms.
Although the British authorities had adopted resolutions of apology to the People for any previous and current aggressions—perceived and actual—on June 16, 1812, sixteen days earlier, President Madison had already requested for a decision of struggle towards them and Congress complied with the president’s needs on June 18, a full six weeks earlier than the British apology arrived on American soil. By then, full-scale conflict had already begun and would proceed for almost three years, ending solely with Andrew Jackson’s smashing victory towards Sir Edward Pakenham’s misguided assault on New Orleans. Bolstered by their defeat of Napoleon, Pakenham’s large, battle-hardened English naval and marine forces assaulted New Orleans in the second week of 1815. Outnumbered however entrenched, Jackson’s ragtag forces didn’t simply defeat the British, they slaughtered them.
Emboldened by this lopsided victory at the mouth of the Mississippi River, People proclaimed the completely weird and disjointed Struggle of 1812 nothing lower than a second Struggle of Independence. Even Madison, certainly one of the most reviled presidents of any age, turned a nationwide hero after Jackson’s victory. No matter the spin on the struggle, People of that age, by and giant, got here to consider in the energy of struggle as a profound and significant expression of republicanism. Although lots of the successes of the warfare got here from militias (from these on the western frontier, these preventing in the protection of Baltimore, and, particularly, from Jackson’s quite personal and typically uncontrollable military), the new nationalist narrative all of the sudden dismissed this mainstay of American republicanism as too decentralized, too archaic, and too unreliable. The military and navy not solely grew in measurement and stature, however the federal authorities started to construct a collection of coastal defenses (certainly one of which was Fort Sumter, the set off for the American Civil Conflict). Struggle turned extra skilled than it had been in the historical past of the People at that time.
As Professor of Historical past Emeritus Walter Nugent of the College of Notre Dame has argued in his wonderful 2008 research, Habits of Empire, our territorial enlargement “instilled in the American people the habit of empire-building.” Whether or not we justified such western motion as our future or not, Dr. Nugent claims, we’ve got all the time beloved empire, even we have now not liked the time period itself. “Still, how could a republic and an empire possibly reside together in harmony? ‘Republic’ and ‘empire’ have not always fit well together. Today there is a good chance that ‘empire’ might eclipse ‘republic.’ Old habits can become unthinking practices,” Dr. Nugent laments. “Thus we have always been an imperial nation, and remain so, but the shape of the American empire has shifted over time. Its present form is different from either our own past ones or historic ones like Rome or Britain. It is still developing.” Whereas Dr. Nugent arguably provides too early of a date for the rise of American empire—I might place the roots in the aftermath of the Struggle of 1812, he in the 1760s—he’s sadly right in his argument. People, no matter republican language they use, do certainly, by and giant, consider they’ve the proper to regulate a lot if not all of the world.
One can’t learn Dr. Nugent’s phrases and not consider the phrases of Alexis de Toqueville, whose work Dr. Nugent is aware of fairly nicely. De Tocqueville expressed his gut-wrenching response to seeing the Choctaw Indians being forcibly faraway from their southern homelands:
I discovered myself on the left financial institution of the Mississippi, at a spot named Memphis by the Europeans. Whereas I used to be on this place, a quite a few troop of Choctaws (the French of Louisiana name them Chactas) got here; these savages left their nation and tried to cross to the proper financial institution of the Mississippi the place they flattered themselves about discovering a refuge that the American authorities had promised them. It was then the coronary heart of winter, and the chilly gripped that yr with unaccustomed depth; snow had hardened on the floor, and the river swept alongside monumental chunks of ice. The Indians led their households with them; they dragged alongside behind them the wounded, the sick, the new child youngsters, the aged about to die. That they had neither tents nor wagons, however just a few provisions and weapons. I noticed them embark to cross the nice river, and this solemn spectacle won’t ever depart my reminiscence. You heard amongst this assembled crowd neither sobs nor complaints; they stored quiet. Their misfortunes have been previous and appeared to them with out treatment. All the Indians had already entered the vessel that was to hold them; their canine nonetheless remained on the financial institution; when these animals noticed lastly that their masters have been going away endlessly, they let loose dreadful howls, and throwing themselves at the similar time into the icy waters of the Mississippi, they swam after their masters.
Distraught by all that he noticed, de Tocqueville concluded with this rattling irony, “With a marvelous ease, calmly, legally, philanthropically, without shedding blood, without violating a single one of the great principles of morality,” the People disposed of their Indian drawback. “You cannot destroy men while better respecting the laws of humanity.” Lest any reader consider that de Tocqueville accredited of those actions, feast upon the notice he wrote in his manuscript: “This world is, it must be admitted, a sad and ridiculous theater.”
No matter one needs to label it, American enlargement has led to the behavior of empire, enlargement, and struggle. As People, we’d very nicely cowl our actions and deeds in truthful, liberal, and republican language, however these adornments can’t change the essence of imperialism, by no matter identify. The repeated authorities removing of American Indians is definitely one blatant instance of this imperialism in the 19th century, which frequently failed even to discriminate towards these Indian tribes hostile to American pursuits (corresponding to the Sioux) and these in admiration and alliance (the Nez Perce).
Even the a lot lauded Monroe Doctrine, whereas definitely defending the proper of South People to declare independence from Spain, additionally allowed the United States to say the complete western hemisphere as hers and hers alone when it got here to shaping its geopolitical current and the future.
As students from Marty Martin to Richard Gamble have ably proven, this American expansionism turned nothing lower than an American civic faith, ably and mischievously mixing with the evangelicalism of the Second Nice Awakening. But, even People wouldn’t be glad with the motion of peoples from Plymouth Rock to Rodeo Drive. They needed extra and extra. After which, some extra.
In the late 1830s, John L. O’Sullivan, the editor of the Democratic Celebration journal, The United States Journal and Democratic Evaluation, gave poetic voice to what most People had already taken as a right. America, he claimed, had been given to the world by God to show them precisely how you can reside the good life, via persuasion and pressure. In his understanding, O’Sullivan noticed the land of the United States as the new Church, a bodily and political entity to exchange the medieval Catholic Church. Dismissing the whole western custom from Heraclitus to Edmund Burke, he wrote sweepingly, “We have no interest in the scenes of antiquity, only as lessons of avoidance of nearly all their examples.” As People, he continued, we care just for “the expansive future” and solely “for our history. We are entering on its untrodden space, with the truths of God in our minds, beneficent objects in our hearts, and with a clear conscience unsullied by the past. We are the nation of human progress, and who will, what can, set limits to our onward march? Providence is with us, and no earthly power can.” If true, how might anybody ever argue with such a place? God is on our aspect. Settle for this or die is the radical implication. “We point to the everlasting truth on the first page of our national declaration, and we proclaim to the millions of other lands, that ‘the gates of hell’—the powers of aristocracy and monarchy—’shall not prevail against it.’” How so many deeply Christian evangelical 19th-century People couldn’t see O’Sullivan’s concepts as pure heresy is a thriller, in and of itself, however one nicely past the attain of this text. Nonetheless, it have to be remembered, Jesus spoke these phrases relating to the Church, not a individuals or a authorities. And, He meant Devil as the nice adversary, not European aristocrats or monarchy. But, it’s in the following that O’Sullivan reaches the heights of hyperbolic absurdity:
The far-reaching, the boundless future will probably be the period of American greatness. In its magnificent area of area and time, the nation of many countries is destined to manifest to mankind the excellence of divine rules; to determine on earth the noblest temple ever devoted to the worship of the Most Excessive—the Sacred and the True. Its flooring shall be a hemisphere—its roof the firmament of the star-studded heavens, and its congregation an Union of many Republics, comprising tons of of completely satisfied hundreds of thousands, calling, proudly owning no man grasp, however ruled by God’s pure and ethical regulation of equality, the regulation of brotherhood—of “peace and good will amongst men.”
By 1845, although, even O’Sullivan started to doubt his personal expansionist infatuations. What would America do, for instance, if it tried to include not simply Mexico however precise, honest-to-God Mexicans into the republic? “Beyond a quest the entire Mexican vote would be substantially below our national average both in purity and intelligence,” he nervous. Understandably, one may start to doubt the man’s sincerity about political beliefs, realizing that in his racist coronary heart, in all probability not all males are created equal, deserving of the securing of pure rights by governments so instituted.
Solely 5 years after O’Sullivan had proclaimed the supposed God-ordained glories of Manifest Destiny, the New England man of letters, Ralph Waldo Emerson, proclaimed America “the country of the future,” although he would additionally quickly place his personal private hopes in the messianic pretensions and insanities of John Brown.
Some voices. One a racist, the different an ideologue.
In a thousand methods, People from 1839 ahead used the language of Manifest Destiny as a justification to take this or that reservation, this or that hacienda, in addition to California, Texas, Arizona, Nevada, Kansas, Nebraska, Colorado, the Dakotas, Montana, Wyoming, New Mexico, Oregon, Washington, and Idaho. Innumerable voices spoke the similar language, justified the taking of all of Mexico, Cuba, and a lot of Central America. People, it appeared, might righteously justify itself in claiming the entire world if it so desired.
No the place, nevertheless, was this extra clear than in the Americas. The very “law of nature,” Consultant Frederick Stanton of Tennessee argued in 1846, “has separated the continents by interposing vast abysses” between them. God, subsequently—or some semblance of God—“forbids that nations on one continent shall have rights on another by implication, extension, contiguity, or by any other invisible, intangible, metaphysical principle.”
Presumably, neither Cicero nor Aquinas would acknowledge Stanton’s employment of the pure regulation. Then once more, neither of the nice western thinkers had ever had the grand privilege of visiting Tennessee.
In that very same martial yr of 1846, Consultant Lewis Levin of Pennsylvania argued that any nation that possessed fact not solely had the proper to say each inch of soil, right here and overseas, to increase the righteousness of that fact, however that such a nation truly possessed the obligation to pursue such a course of world conquest.
One may rightly guess that Levin had not studied—or at the very least had forgotten—Plato’s “ring of Gyges.”
A yr later, Senator Lewis Cass of Michigan preached to Congress the finish of the American experiment. “It is no longer an experiment, but experience,” he assured the Senate, “no longer a promise, but performance.” America, he continued, had not solely confirmed herself, however she “had grown with our growth and strengthened with our strength.”
Although the opposition to such blatant enlargement failed, it did, thank the good Lord, exist. New York’s Consultant Charles Goodyear rightly noticed Manifest Destiny as a illness, trying to cowl a mess of sins whereas being “at defiance with all reason.” It might simply and readily flip us into Alexander’s empire or Rome’s decadence, he feared. One other Whig, Thomas Corwin of Ohio, noticed Manifest Destiny as merely the latest time period of the exact same excuse given by any emperor or thief anyplace, the proper to say what isn’t one’s personal. “You say you want room for your people. This has been the plea of every robber chief from Nimrod to the present,” he famous. We as People, Corwin lamented, have turn into nothing lower than unreasonable fanatics, “hunting a market for blood, selling the lives” of the younger to “be slaughtered and paid for like oxen.” How dare, he requested, any righteous individuals proclaim such horrific lusts in the identify of God? Certainly one of the final of the founding era, Albert Gallatin, nonetheless alive throughout the Mexican Warfare, noticed the republic’s decline as considered one of the biggest of recent travesties, not only for the American individuals, however for the very reason for Justice itself. American claims to Manifest Destiny had, like all different perversions in historical past, taken the the Aristocracy of patriotism and corrupted it, making a false idol. In so doing, we had inspired man to “hate man, to awaken his worst passions.” Even when one might show the Mexicans as racially inferior to the Anglo-Saxon People (which Gallatin rejected), “no one man is born with the right of governing another.”
As American conservatives and libertarians, we obsess over a easy psychological recreation: when did all of it go mistaken? For the Jaffaites, it was Woodrow Wilson. For the southern traditionalists, it was Abraham Lincoln. For the Kirkians, it was Andrew Jackson. Nonetheless others may look again with remorse to Thomas Jefferson’s Louisiana Buy or to the lack of the Articles of Confederation.
From my perspective, the rigidity between the patriots and the nationalists was a wholesome one throughout the first three presidential administrations. By the finish of the Warfare of 1812, nevertheless, the patriots had suffered a critical blow. From then till the Mexican Struggle, the trajectory of American politicos and public intellectuals towards nationalism and imperialism reigned supreme, the latter profitable in the 20th century as American know-how matched American attain. Or, extra correctly, in the 21st century, overreach.
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Editor’s Notice: The featured picture above is “A Little Nimrod” (circa 1882), by James Tissot, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.