Tag Archives: John Quincy Adams

America: The Dictatress of the World, by Jacob G. Hornberger

Dictatress might not be quite right. Wanna-be dictatress more acurately captures America’s rulers. From Jacob G. Hornberger at mises.org:

On July 21, 1821, John Quincy Adams, who would go on to become the sixth president of the United States, warned that if America were ever to abandon its founding principle of non-interventionism in foreign affairs, she might well become the dictatress of the world.

Adams issued his warning in a speech he delivered to Congress, a speech that has gone down in history with the title “In Search of Monsters to Destroy.”

Adams was referring to the fact that the United States was founded as a constitutional republic, one whose military forces did not go around the world helping people who were suffering the horrors of dictators, despots, civil wars, revolutions, famines, oppression, or anything else. That’s not to say that America didn’t sympathize with people struggling to experience lives of freedom, peace, and prosperity. It was simply that the US government would not go abroad to slay such monsters.

Here is how Adams expressed it:

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. She will recommend the general cause, by the countenance of her voice, and the benignant sympathy of her example.

Adams was summing up the founding foreign policy of the United States, a policy of non-interventionism in the affairs of other nations, specifically Europe and Asia.

And that’s the way the American people wanted it. If Americans had been told after the Constitutional Convention that the US government would be intervening around the world, there is no way that they would have ever approved the Constitution.

In fact, as a practical matter, throughout the 18th and 19th centuries, there is no way that US officials could have gone abroad in search of monsters to destroy. That’s because a nation needs a powerful military to go abroad and free people from dictators and despots or save people from famines or other bad things that happen in life.

To continue reading: America: The Dictatress of the World

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Republic, Not Empire, by Jacob G. Hornberger

The basic premise of this piece is the same as SLL’s “In Search of Monsters“: the US government should mind its own business, and when it does not do so abroad, it will not do so at home. The piece also cites the same famous speech by John Quincy Adams that SLL’s article did. From Jacob G. Hornberger at the Future of Freedom Foundation, fff.org:

The following is a modified version of the speech I delivered at the Ron Paul Institute’s “Peace and Prosperity” conference in Virginia on September 10, 2016.

On the Fourth of July in 1821, John Quincy Adams delivered one of the most remarkable speeches in American history. The speech is entitled, “In Search of Monsters to Destroy.” In his speech, Adams described America’s founding principles on foreign policy. He pointed out that there are lots of bad, monstrous things that go on in the world — dictatorships, tyranny, famines, starvation, wars, discord, corruption, and the like. America, however, does not go abroad in search of such monsters and attempt to save people from them. Instead, Adams said, Americans would strive to build a model society of freedom, peace, prosperity, and harmony here at home for the world to emulate and also to serve as a sanctuary for people who flee such monsters.

Adams was building on the ideas and the philosophy of people like George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, who had spoken against America’s ever entering into alliances with other countries or being part of blocs to serve as counterweights to other blocs and against bearing enmity against particular nations.

America’s founding governmental structure did not permit it to go abroad and intervene in the affairs of other nations. The Constitution had called into existence a limited-government republic, one that had a basic military force but nothing like the enormous military-intelligence establishment that we have today. That’s because of the deep antipathy that our American ancestors had toward standing armies, which, they believed, posed a giant threat to the citizens of a nation, directly as well as indirectly through the incessant wars in which standing armies inevitably embroil a nation. As James Madison, the father of the Constitution had pointed out, of all the enemies to liberty, war is the biggest because it encompasses all the other ones, including centralization of power and ever-increasing debts and taxes.

Adams added an admonition in his speech. He said that if America were ever to abandon its non-interventionism foreign policy, she would become like a “dictatress” — that is, a government that would wield and exercise dictatorial powers, both at home and abroad, and that would begin behaving like a dictator. The point was clear: To remain free, America would have to keep a constitutionally limited-government republic. Abandoning that governmental structure would mean abandoning a free society.

Let’s jump ahead 140 years to the year 1961, when President Dwight Eisenhower delivered another remarkable, even shocking, speech. It was his Farewell Address after serving eight years as president. Ike pointed out that America’s federal governmental structure had undergone a fundamental, almost revolutionary, change. The federal government had been converted into a national-security state, which he called the “military-industrial complex,” which consisted primarily of the Pentagon, the CIA, the NSA, and the ever-growing multitudes of weapons producers and “defense” contractors who were feeding at the public trough.

Eisenhower, who had served as Supreme Allied Commander in World War II and, therefore, had a good understanding of militaries and military establishments, issued a stunning warning to the American people in his Farewell Address. He told them that the military-industrial complex posed a grave threat to the democratic processes and liberties of the American people.

How had this remarkable change in governmental structure come about?

To continue reading: Republic, Not Empire

 

He Said That? 3/30/16

Looking for a sane immigration policy? From John Quincy Adams, (1767–1848), American statesman who served as the sixth President of the United States from 1825 to 1829 and also served as Secretary of State, a Senator and member of the House of Representatives, from a letter written as Secretary of State under President James Monroe:

There is one principle which pervades all the institutions of this country, and which must always operate as an obstacle to the granting of favors to new comers. This is a land, not of privileges, but of equal rights. Privileges are granted by European sovereigns to particular classes of individuals, for purposes of general policy; but the general impression here is that privileges granted to one denomination of people, can very seldom be discriminated from erosions of the rights of others. [Immigrants], coming here, are not to expect favors from the governments. They are to expect, if they choose to become citizens, equal rights with those of the natives of the country. They are to expect, if affluent, to possess the means of making their property productive, with moderation, and with safety;—if indigent, but industrious, honest and frugal, the means of obtaining easy and comfortable subsistence for themselves and their families. They come to a life of independence, but to a life of labor—and, if they cannot accommodate themselves to the character, moral, political, and physical, of this country, with all its compensating balances of good and evil, the Atlantic is always open to them, to return to the land of their nativity and their fathers.
Letter written as Secretary of State under President James Monroe (1819)

A Blood-Drenched Monster, by Robert Gore

On July 4, 1821 Secretary of State John Quincy Adams, after reading the full text of the Declaration of Independence, delivered a remarkable speech on America’s foreign policy that is now remembered by a single sentence: “But she goes not abroad in search of monsters to destroy.

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. She will recommend the general cause, by the countenance of her voice, and the benignant sympathy of her example. She well knows that by once enlisting under other banners than her own, were they even the banners of foreign independence, she would involve herself, beyond the power of extrication, in all the wars of interest and intrigue, of individual avarice, envy, and ambition, which assume the colors and usurp the standard of freedom. The fundamental maxims of her policy would insensibly change from liberty to force. The frontlet upon her brows would no longer beam with the ineffable splendor of freedom and independence; but in its stead would soon be substituted an imperial diadem, flashing in false and tarnished lustre the murky radiance of dominion and power. She might become the dictatress of the world: she would be no longer the ruler of her own spirit.

On March 7, 2016 the US government dropped bombs and missiles from drones and manned aircraft on a gathering in Somalia—supposedly a graduation ceremony for a terrorist training school—killing at least 150 people. Many of the individuals killed have not been identified, but the Obama administration claimed they were all “terrorists.”

Note the logical contradiction. If an individual cannot be identified, it is impossible to identify, absent a sighting of an actual commission of an act by that unidentified individual, the acts that individual has committed. Nevertheless, the administration affixed the label “terrorist”—which indicts, tries, convicts, and punishes, often lethally, anyone so labelled—to people whose identities and acts remain unknown. It’s the thumb up or down of Roman emperors.

If 10 percent or more of the 150 killed in Somalia were innocent civilians (perhaps proud relatives of the terrorist “graduates”), the death toll of such innocents is greater than the fourteen killed in San Bernardino last December. However, America operates under a reverse formulation of the Golden Rule: do unto others what would be intolerable if done unto us. Since World War II that formulation has been the guiding principle of US foreign policy. The Golden Rule implies coexistence and cooperation among equals. The US government has divided the world into friends and enemies. Those not “with us” are enemies. Those “with us” must accept US “leadership,” that is, domination. The US government helpfully exempts itself and chosen friends from the standards to which it holds everyone else.

The government has orchestrated or had a hand in regime change or attempted regime change in Syria (1949, 2012), Iran (1953), Guatemala (1954), Indonesia (1957), Congo (1960), the Dominican Republic (1960), Cuba (repeatedly, most notably the Bay of Pigs fiasco in 1961), South Vietnam (1963), Nicaragua (1981-1986), Afghanistan (2001), Iraq (2003, 2014), Libya (2011), and Ukraine (2014). This list is not exhaustive of the known efforts, and there may be others that are unknown.The “force for good,” as those involved like to call themselves, has helped depose some truly heinous characters. It has also gotten rid of democratically elected governments and has replaced both “good” and “bad” governments with repressive or downright tyrannical ones that are supposedly aligned with US interests. The US government’s regime changing has been cynically opportunistic and bloody, the noxious stench of hypocrisy wafting from the carnage.

The government has not been fastidious about whom it embraces as friends. During the Cold War, whether repressive autocrats were deemed dictators or authoritarians depended on whether they were aligned with the USSR or the US. In 1953, the US and Great Britain deposed Iran’s democratically elected prime minister Mohammad Mosaddegh for nationalizing Iran’s oil industry and tilting towards the Soviet Union, and installed the “authoritarian” Shah, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi. The opposition he crushed; the victims of SAVAK, his US-trained secret police; the average Iranian living in constant fear of the repressive state, and the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, who the Shah imprisoned for 18 months and then exiled for denouncing the Iranian and US governments, did not appreciate the authoritarian-dictator distinction. It is a mark of ignorance, stupidity, disingenuousness, or all of the above—take your pick—that many within the US intelligence and foreign policy communities publicly expressed surprise at the 1979 Khomeini-led revolution and shock at the depths of the revolutionaries’ anti-Americanism.

Islamic fanatics spreading terrorism and tyranny are the new communists. So why is the US joined at the hip with Sunni Saudi Arabia, a fanatic Islamic, tyrannical state repeatedly implicated in spreading terrorism, including the 9/11 attacks that launched the war on terrorism? The obvious answers: it sits on top of the world’s largest pool of oil, buys a lot of US arms, and spouts the US anti-terrorist line (as long as the terrorists in question are Shiite rather than Sunni), quashing any moral misgivings. The Somali drone strike is emblematic of how ethically unmoored the government has become. It claims the right to conduct such strikes anywhere on the planet against anyone it deems to be a terrorist, often without the permission of or notice to the government of the country droned. A foreign nation’s unauthorized drone strike on the US would be regarded as an outrageous act of war.

Perhaps if the US wore an “imperial diadem,” even one “flashing in false and tarnished lustre the murky radiance of dominion and power,” it would provide some perverse justification for its reverse Golden Rule, but as history repeatedly demonstrates, the US government’s crimson campaigns have diminished, not increased, its power. Supporting tyranny, authoritarian or dictatorial, has shattered the reverence in which the US and its stated ideals were once held by millions of people throughout the world. Much blood has been spilled, treasure wasted, and debt incurred in a five-decade string of inconclusive or losing wars that have devastated the countries in which they were fought. Governments have been upended, chaos and violence unleashed, terrorism fomented, and victims displaced and forced to flee as a direct result—blowback—of US sponsored wars and insurrections in the Middle East and Northern Africa.

There is no more hated institution in the world than the US government. Drenched in blood, it has become the monster it purportedly sought to destroy. Drama, rather than politics or history, provides the archetypes for a once exceptional nation that is now neither “the dictatress of the world” nor “the ruler of her own spirit.” During a somnambulant soliloquy Lady Macbeth asks: “What need we fear who knows it, when none can call our power to account?” Yet she can’t wash the blood from her hands: “Here’s the smell of the blood still: all the perfumes of Arabia will not sweeten this little hand.” Sleep allowed no escape from perdition, her soul was irretrievably lost. So too was Michael Corleone’s, at the end of Godfather II, as the capo dei capi sits alone in his boathouse, contemplating the lake where the brother he had just had murdered lies submerged. One cannot love what America once was and love what it has become. A revolution, peaceful or otherwise, that does not put America’s redemption at the forefront of its aspirations is a revolution not worth fighting.

WHAT AMERICA ONCE WAS

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A TOWERING NOVEL OF THE INDUSTRIAL REVOLUTION

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Liberty, Sovereignty, and US Foreign Policy, by Justin Raimondo

A good article for July 4, from Justin Raimondo at antiwar.org:

As we celebrate Independence Day, honoring the American colonists’ successful fight to be free of the British crown and establish their own sovereign state, it is instructive to note that the US is, today, the greatest enemy of sovereignty on earth. When the British surrendered at Yorktown, the redcoat band played “The World Turned Upside Down,” in recognition of the overthrow of the Old Order and the inauguration of the New. As we enter the Bizarro World of the twenty-first century, however, one notes with a mixture of sadness and outrage that things have been turned on their heads once again, and the Old Order is back with a vengeance.

This historical inversion began in the wake of World War II, when the US emerged as the preeminent world power, taking the title from the British, who were in no position to fulfill its manifold duties. In placing the burden of empire on our shoulders we put history into reverse.

The American Revolution was a war fought for liberty against a distant and tyrannical authority, but it was also a battle for independence – that is, for the right of a people to assert their natural sovereignty against a colonial despot. After the success of the Revolution, the young American republic had to contend with the intrusions of the European powers on North American shores: we were encircled by the British revanchists up in Canada, the French imperialists in Louisiana, and the Spanish testing our boundaries in Florida. Yet we survived by staying out of the intrigues of Europe, and standing aside from the power politics that obsessed the Old World.

While abjuring intervention in the internal affairs of other nations, the Founders gave rhetorical support to the battles of oppressed nations against monarchical aggressors: but there they drew the line. When the Greeks revolted against their Ottoman overlords, in 1821, they sent out an international S.O.S. addressed to the Americans. Secretary of State John Quincy Adams answered their call in a speech delivered on July 4 of that year:

“Let our answer be this – America… in the assembly of nations, has invariably, though often fruitlessly, held forth to them the hand of honest friendship, of equal freedom, of generous reciprocity. She has… without a single exception, respected the independence of other nations, while asserting and maintaining her own. She has abstained from interference in the concerns of others, even when the conflict has been for principles to which she clings.

“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. She will recommend the general cause, by the countenance of her voice, and the benignant sympathy of her example.

“She well knows that by once enlisting under other banners than her own, were they even the banners of foreign independence, she would involve herself, beyond the power of extrication, in all the wars of interest and intrigue, of individual avarice, envy, and ambition, which assume the colors and usurp the standard of freedom. The fundamental maxims of her policy would insensibly change from liberty to force. The frontlet upon her brows would no longer beam with the ineffable splendor of freedom and independence; but in its stead would soon be substituted an imperial diadem, flashing in false and tarnished lustre the murky radiance of dominion and power. She might become the dictatress of the world: but she would be no longer the ruler of her own soul…”

We managed to follow Adams’s advice – interrupted only by a few abortive adventures in imperialism, from which we soon retreated – right up until the nineteenth century gave way to the bloody twentieth. And there we diverged from the Founders’ path and strayed into a “war to end all wars.” Abandoning the “isolationism” of Adams for the millenarian “progressivism” of Woodrow Wilson, American charged headlong into the European maelstrom – and in doing so paved the way for the rise of Nazism, of Bolshevism, of fascism, and the unprecedented slaughter of yet another world war that would put us on a course set for Empire. And there was no turning back. As Garet Garrett, that Cassandra who warned us and was never even heard, prophesied in 1952:

“We have crossed the boundary that lies between Republic and Empire. If you ask when, the answer is that you cannot make a single stroke between day and night. The precise moment does not matter. There was no painted sign to say, ‘You now are entering Imperium.’ Yet it was a very old road and the voice of history was saying: ‘Whether you know it or not, the act of crossing may be irreversible.’ And now, not far ahead, is a sign that reads: ‘No U Turns.’”

To continue reading: Liberty, Sovereignty, and US Foreign Policy

In Search of Monsters, by Robert Gore

Since antiquity, philosophers have posited some form of government as the endpoint of man’s political evolution. Plato thought a state run by philosopher-kings was the ideal. Karl Marx said communism was the final stop. Frances Fukuyama has argued that Western liberal democracy is optimal. However, these and other formulations amount to bets against the historical record, a wager that a player batting .000 will hit a home run in his next at bat. The very idea that mankind will march to some sort of static culmination ignores the immutably dynamic relationship between government and the governed, occasionally beneficial but usually destructive. All governments fail, because humans are human.

Bad governments are overthrown by internal or external forces. A prosperous, free, and peaceful polity living under a relatively good government—a historical rarity—contains the seeds of its own destruction. There will be those who have more by dint of honest achievement, and they will be envied by those who have less. There are always more of the latter than the former, consequently, government officials can garner political advantage, not to mention divert wealth to themselves, by validating and enforcing the latter’s spurious claims. Such larceny puts a good government on the road to becoming a bad, and ultimately, a failed government.

The spreading pools of welfare-state red ink portend widespread bankruptcy. Even as their fiscal foundations rot, the US and European model of redistributionist, increasingly indebted, democracy-driven, central-bank aided, unsustainable profligacy and vote-buying is held out as a model for the rest of the world. When regimes are changed at the behest of the US-European axis, it imposes most of its own creaky apparatus of governance on the countries suffering under its beneficence. Constitutions are drafted, representative legislative and executive branches established, a court system erected to protect newly won “rights,” and elections conducted in nations that have been ruled by autocrats and dictators for centuries. Oddly, it is deemed a matter of some urgency that client states adopt one of the axis’s signal failures: central banking.

Axis politicians and opinion-makers maintain the superiority of their model even for nations outside the ambit of the axis, arguing with no evidence that the oppressed people in such jurisdictions would adopt the axis model root and branch…if only they had a chance. Protests that the oppressed might like iPhones, Hollywood, social media, and western lifestyles, but not buy into western-style governance, are brushed aside. Millions of Chinese regularly demonstrate their rabidly nationalistic fervor for the Chinese regime on the internet and other media. They all can’t be government-sponsored trolls, so westerners dismiss them as brainwashed. Vladimir Putin has the support of 85 percent of Russians, but, it is asserted, that will fade quickly when NATO arms the Ukrainian government and body bags are shipped back to the Russia. (The USSR lost 18 million in WW II and Stalin’s popular support never cratered, but committed regime changers never let the historical record stand in the way of their rhetoric.) Under Lee Kuan Yew, Singapore transformed itself from colonial backwater to a prosperous, gleaming, modern city. He was an autocrat who ran a one party state and never fully embraced civil liberties, but Singaporeans recently gave him a hero’s funeral and send off.

The logic of the superior political system—the supposed utopian end point of political progress—parallels the logic of the superior religion. Adherents of either hold that because their belief is superior, they have every right to impose it, by force if necessary, on those who believe in the inferior, for their own good. There is actually no need to distinguish between the political and religious; today’s unshakeable belief—call it faith—in salvation through the former matches any found in the latter, and is just as impervious to logic or empirical contradiction.

And empirical contradiction is rife. Imposing democracy on Iraq had two foreseeable consequences: the majority Shiites would dominate the government, to the detriment of the minority Sunnis and Kurds, and the government would move closer to the Shiite theocracy in next-door Iran. Beyond dispute both have happened, which should not bother true believers in Western liberal democracy. After all, these are the consequences of enfranchising Iraqis and allowing them to vote in fair and free elections; they are determining their own course. That course does bother the US government, which exposes the hypocrisy of the export democracy movement. The government did not build one of its largest and most fortified embassies in the world in Baghdad to promote superior governance and the protection of civil liberties and minority rights. That embassy is an anchor of US interests, not just in Iraq, but for the entire Middle East.

The important test for a government is not how well or fairly it governs, but how well it toes the US line. The former is only relevant if it impinges on the latter. The Obama administration backed the replacement of democratically elected Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki when he proved unable to stem the Islamic State advance last year. Nobody has raised an official objection for decades concerning the repressive, undemocratic practices of the governments of our Sunni Arab allies in the region, but our government constantly carps about the same practices by our enemy, Shiite Iran, and has imposed sanctions since the 1979 revolution.

Regime change in the name of democratic nation building has proven a costly farce, but regime change because our government doesn’t like the leader of the regime in question has been even more tragic. It can be argued that it started with unsuccessful efforts to get rid of Fidel Castro. (Indeed, there are suspicions of an ultimate backfire; Castro may have had a hand in the Kennedy assassination.) There was an element of the personal in the second Iraqi invasion; Saddam Hussein had tried to assassinate George W. Bush’s father. The US joined a successful disposal of Libyan henchman Muammar Gaddafi, but Libya was ripped apart and civil war, terrorism, and anarchy now plague the once stable, if repressively governed, country.

President Obama, clearly overmatched, does not like Vladimir Putin, and that may be behind US maneuvers in Ukraine. The US backed the overthrow of Ukraine’s democratically elected president, but the costs, in blood and treasure, of any full-scale US military incursion would dwarf those of our Middle Eastern follies and probably end in disaster. Cooler heads have prevailed, so far, but there is widespread antipathy towards Putin, and a not insubstantial element of our government that would like to “take him out.” This is a pipe dream of the same magnitude as “reordering” the Middle East.

Back on Independence Day, 1821, Secretary of State John Quincy Adams gave a long speech to the House of Representatives, made even longer because he read the entire text of the Declaration of Independence. The representatives were privileged to hear one of the most important speeches in history.

Adams had his own vision of the perfect government: the one proclaimed by the Declaration of Independence.

It was the first solemn declaration by a nation of the only legitimate foundation of civil government. It was the corner stone of a new fabric, destined to cover the surface of the globe. It demolished at a stroke the lawfulness of all governments founded upon conquest. It swept away all the rubbish of accumulated centuries of servitude. It announced in practical form to the world the transcendent truth of the unalienable sovereignty of the people. It proved that the social compact was no figment of the imagination; but a real, solid, and sacred bond of the social union. From the day of this declaration, the people of North America were no longer the fragment of a distant empire, imploring justice and mercy from an inexorable master in another hemisphere. They were no longer children appealing in vain to the sympathies of a heartless mother; no longer subjects leaning upon the shattered columns of royal promises, and invoking the faith of parchment to secure their rights. They were a nation, asserting as of right, and maintaining by war, its own existence. A nation was born in a day.

An ardent abolitionist, Adams knew the Declaration was a statement of an ideal, not realized fact, but the ideal was the one for which mankind had to strive.

It will be acted o’er, fellow-citizens, but it can never be repeated. It stands, and must forever stand alone, a beacon on the summit of the mountain, to which all the inhabitants of the earth may turn their eyes for a genial and saving light, till time shall be lost in eternity, and this globe itself dissolve, nor leave a wreck behind. It stands forever, a light of admonition to the rulers of men; a light of salvation and redemption to the oppressed. So long as this planet shall be inhabited by human beings, so long as man shall be of social nature, so long as government shall be necessary to the great moral purposes of society, and so long as it shall be abused to the purposes of oppression, so long shall this declaration hold out to the sovereign and to the subject the extent and the boundaries of their respective rights and duties; founded in the laws of nature and of nature’s God. Five and forty years have passed away since this Declaration was issued by our fathers; and here are we, fellow-citizens, assembled in the full enjoyment of its fruits, to bless the Author of our being for the bounties of his providence, in casting our lot in this favored land; to remember with effusions of gratitude the sages who put forth, and the heroes who bled for the establishment of this Declaration; and, by the communion of soul in the reperusal and hearing of this instrument, to renew the genuine Holy Alliance of its principles, to recognize them as eternal truths, and to pledge ourselves and bind our posterity to a faithful and undeviating adherence to them.

The Declaration announced the principles of just government, for time and all eternity. A later paragraph is the most philosophically substantial: an elucidation of the Declaration’s foundational premises and an exposition of the policies towards other nations that necessarily follow from those premises.

And now, friends and countrymen, if the wise and learned philosophers of the older world, the first observers of mutation and aberration, the discoverers of maddening ether and invisible planets, the inventors of Congreve rockets and shrapnel shells, should find their hearts disposed to inquire, what has America done for the benefit of mankind? let our answer be this–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. America, in the assembly of nations, since her admission among them, has invariably, though often fruitlessly, held forth to them the hand of honest friendship, of equal freedom, of generous reciprocity. She has uniformly spoken among them, though often to heedless and often to disdainful ears, the language of equal liberty, equal justice, and equal rights. She has, in the lapse of nearly half a century, without a single exception, respected the independence of other nations, while asserting and maintaining her own. She has abstained from interference in the concerns of others, even when the conflict has been for principles to which she clings, as to the last vital drop that visits the heart. She has seen that probably for centuries to come, all the contests of that Aceldama, the European World, will be contests between inveterate power, and emerging right. 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. She will recommend the general cause, by the countenance of her voice, and the benignant sympathy of her example. She well knows that by once enlisting under other banners than her own, were they even the banners of foreign independence, she would involve herself, beyond the power of extrication, in all the wars of interest and intrigue, of individual avarice, envy, and ambition, which assume the colors and usurp the standard of freedom. The fundamental maxims of her policy would insensibly change from liberty to force. The frontlet upon her brows would no longer beam with the ineffable splendor of freedom and independence; but in its stead would soon be substituted an imperial diadem, flashing in false and tarnished lustre the murky radiance of dominion and power. She might become the dictatress of the world: she would be no longer the ruler of her own spirit.

Humans have rights because they are human. They are not gifts begrudgingly and only partially wrested from reluctant sovereigns—the British precedent—nor are they a matter of divine favor; they are “inextinguishable rights of human nature,” and they are “the only lawful foundations of government.” Among other nations, America has spoken “the language of equal liberty, equal justice, and equal rights.” But America can only remain America, “But she goes not abroad in search of monsters to destroy,” today the best known sentence from this speech. It is the quintessentially “realist” foreign policy resting on an unassailably idealistic rationale. America must lead by example, not force, for upon becoming the “dictatress of the world: she would be no longer the ruler of her own spirit.” The Declaration’s light would be extinguished in the land of its birth.

And so it has been. Surveying the wreckage, both home and abroad, of the government’s quest “in search of monsters to destroy,” can anyone doubt the wisdom and prescience of Adam’s words?

WHEN AMERICA WAS “THE RULER OF HER OWN SPIRIT’

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