On Foreign Policy, Our Founders vs. Ron Paul

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It has been asserted that Ron Paul’s foreign policy is consistent with that of our Founders.  Let me list some of the actual foreign policies of the early American government so that supporters of Paul can reconsider whether he is actually consistent with them.

•     As an ambassador overseas, John Adams undermined foreign governments by giving aid to revolutionaries; further, he sought to promote American constitutional republicanism as superior to the monarchies of Europe and democratic proposals of French intellectuals.

•     As Minister to France, both Thomas Jefferson and James Monroe sought to increase American trade with France in part to weaken Britain. Jefferson offered detailed reforms to French laws that were necessary to rollback intrusive economic regulation.

•     American governments consistently made it a matter of policy to obstruct sovereign native tribes’ relations with European powers; manifestations of this policy include:  the War of 1812, Jackson’s invasion of Spanish Florida during the Monroe Administration, and a policy of pushing Indians west of the Mississippi that began in the Washington Administration.

•     A key policy plank of the Democratic – Republican Party before 1801 was a strong alliance with and preference for post-revolutionary France as part of a policy to expand republican governments in the world.

•     As President, Jefferson secured the purchase of Louisiana by advising the French that their failure to transfer New Orleans and navigation of the Mississippi to the Americans would result in war.

•     During the Jefferson, Madison, and Monroe Administrations, Spain was under threat of war with America over Spanish West Florida; during the Napoleonic wars, an American invasion of Spanish Florida was considered so as to prevent it from falling into British hands.  As President, Monroe invaded Florida twice to suppress piracy and the Seminoles.

•     During the Jefferson Administration, the United States engaged in regime change in Tripoli.

•     The Monroe Doctrine opposed further colonization by Europeans in the Americas.

•     Madison and Monroe both championed colonization in Liberia by freed American slaves.

•     During the Jefferson and Madison Administrations, American trade with Britain and France was subject to a series of federal restrictions to prevent such commerce.  The stated object of these policies was to compel Britain and France to change their own policies.

I do not find such early American foreign policies to be consistent with an evaluation of a non-interventionist American government that “didn’t pretend to know all the answers” while staying out of other people’s business.

For a study of early American foreign policy, I recommend the following definitive biographers:  Douglas Southall Freeman on Washington, C. Bradley Thompson on John Adams, Dumas Malone on Jefferson, Ralph Ketcham on Madison, and Harry Ammon on Monroe.  I am looking forward to reading Samuel Flagg Bemis’ volume John Quincy Adams and the Foundations of American Foreign Policy; while it is out of print, it can be found and I have it.

On Jefferson in particular, Malone’s account of his time as Minister to France, Secretary of State, and President demonstrates that Jefferson established principles for American foreign policy that have been consistent to the present.

Foreign policy is just another area in which Ron Paul is anti-Jeffersonian.

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