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History of U.S. foreign policy


History of U.S. foreign policy

History of U.S. foreign policy is a brief overview of major trends regarding the foreign policy of the United States from the American Revolution to the present. The major themes are becoming an "Empire of Liberty", promoting democracy, expanding across the continent, supporting liberal internationalism, contesting World Wars and the Cold War, fighting international terrorism, developing the Third World, and building a strong world economy.


  • 1776–1789 1
  • Early National Era: 1789–1800 2
  • Jeffersonian Era: 1801–1848 3
    • War of 1812 3.1
    • Latin America 3.2
  • Civil War 4
    • Postwar adjustments 4.1
  • James G. Blaine 5
  • 1893–1914 6
  • World War I (1914–1919) 7
  • World War II (1941–1945) 8
  • Cold War (1947–1991) 9
  • Post-Cold War (1992–present) 10
  • See also 11
  • Footnotes 12
  • Bibliography 13
    • Surveys 13.1
    • Historiography 13.2
    • Primary sources 13.3
    • Pre 1945 13.4
    • Cold War 13.5
    • Asia 13.6
    • Since 1990 13.7
  • External links 14


The Jay Treaty of 1795 aligned the U.S. more with Britain and less with France, leading to political polarization at home

From the establishment of the United States after the American Revolution until the Spanish–American War, U.S. foreign policy reflected a regional, not global, focus, but with the long-term ideal of creating an "Empire of Liberty."

Morocco was the first Muslim country to formally deal with the United States, as represented by the Moroccan–American Treaty of Friendship in 1786.

The military and financial alliance with France in 1778, which brought in Spain and the Netherlands to fight the British, turned the American Revolutionary War into a world war in which the British naval and military supremacy was neutralized. The diplomats—especially Franklin, Adams and Jefferson—secured recognition of American independence and large loans to the new national government. The Treaty of Paris in 1783 was highly favorable to the United States which now could expand westward to the Mississippi River.

American foreign affairs from independence in 1776 to the new Constitution in 1789 were handled under the Articles of Confederation directly by Congress until the new government created a department of foreign affairs and the office of secretary for foreign affairs on January 10, 1781.[1]

Early National Era: 1789–1800

The cabinet-level Department of Foreign Affairs was created in 1789 by the First Congress. It was soon renamed the Department of State and changed the title of secretary for foreign affairs to Secretary of State; Thomas Jefferson returned from France to take the position.

When the French Revolution led to war in 1793 between Britain (America's leading trading partner), and France (the old ally, with a treaty still in effect), Washington and his cabinet decided on a policy of neutrality. In 1795 Washington supported the Jay Treaty, designed by Treasury Secretary Alexander Hamilton to avoid war with Britain and encourage commerce. The Jeffersonians vehemently opposed the treaty, but Washington's support proved decisive, and the U.S. and Britain were on friendly terms for a decade. However the foreign policy dispute polarized parties at home, leading to the First Party System.[2][3]

In a "Farewell Message" that became a foundation of policy President

  • The Beginning of U.S. Foreign Policy in the Levant Shapell Manuscript Foundation

External links

  • Brands, Hal. From Berlin to Baghdad: America's Search for Purpose in the Post-cold War World (2008), 440pp
  • Gardner, Lloyd C. The Long Road to Baghdad: A History of U.S. Foreign Policy from the 1970s to the Present (2008) 310 pp.
  • Hook, Steven W. and Christopher M. Jones, eds. Routledge Handbook of American Foreign Policy (2011), 480 pp; essays by scholars excerpt
  • Scott, James A. After the End: Making U.S. Foreign Policy in the Post-Cold War World. (1998) 434pp online edition

Since 1990

  • Cohen Warren I. America's Response to China: An Interpretative History of Sino-American Relations. (5th ed. 2009)
  • Van Sant, John; Mauch, Peter; and Sugita, Yoneyuki, Historical Dictionary of United States-Japanese Relations. (2007) online review


  • Anderson, David L., ed. The Columbia History of the Vietnam War (Columbia University Press, 2013)
  • Bacevich, Andrew J., ed. The Long War: A New History of U.S. National Security Policy Since World War II (2007)
  • Brands, H. W. The Wages of Globalism: Lyndon Johnson and the Limits of American Power (1997)
  • Cohen, Warren I., and Nancy Bernkopf Tucker, eds. Lyndon Johnson Confronts the World: American Foreign Policy 1963-1968 (Cambridge University Press, 1994)
  • Colman, Jonathan. The Foreign Policy of Lyndon B. Johnson: The United States and the World, 1963–1969 (Edinburgh University Press, 2010) 231 pp.
  • Dobson, Alan P., and Steve Marsh. U.S. Foreign Policy since 1945. 160pp (2001) online edition
  • Gaddis, John Lewis. Strategies of Containment: A Critical Appraisal of Postwar American National Security Policy (1982) online edition
  • Gavin, Francis J. and Mark Atwood Lawrence, eds. Beyond the Cold War: Lyndon Johnson and the New Global Challenges of the 1960s ((Oxford University Press, 2014) 301 pp.
  • Kolko, Gabriel, Confronting the Third World: United States Foreign Policy, 1945–1980 (1988)
  • Leffler, Melvyn P. For the Soul of Mankind: The United States, the Soviet Union, and the Cold War (2007)
  • Lewis, Adrian R. The American Culture of War: The History of U.S. Military Force from World War II to Operation Iraqi Freedom (2006)
  • Nixon, Richard. RN: the memoirs of Richard Nixon (1983)
  • Paterson, Thomas G. Meeting the Communist Threat: Truman to Reagan (1988), by leading liberal historian

Cold War

  • Ambrosius, Lloyd E. Woodrow Wilson and the American Diplomatic Tradition (1987).
  • Beale, Howard. Theodore Roosevelt and the Rise of America to World Power (1956).
  • Campbell, Charles S. From Revolution to Rapprochement: The United States and Great Britain, 1783–1900 (1974).
  • Cogliano, Francis D. Emperor of Liberty: Thomas Jefferson's Foreign Policy (2014)
  • Curti, Merle. American Philanthropy Abroad: A History (1963).
  • Dallek, Robert. Franklin D. Roosevelt and American Foreign Policy, 1932-1945 (2nd ed. 1995) standard scholarly survey
  • Doyle, Don H. The Cause of All Nations: An International History of the American Civil War (2014) Excerpt and text search
  • Eckes, Alfred E. Opening America’s Market: U.S. Foreign Trade Policy since 1776 (1995).
  • Ekbladh, David. The Great American Mission: Modernization and the Construction of an American World Order (2011)
  • Gilderhus, Mark T. The Second Century: U.S. Latin American Relations since 1889 (2000).
  • Hyman, Harold Melvin. Heard Round the World; the Impact Abroad of the Civil War. New York: Knopf, 1969.
  • Jones, Howard. Blue & Gray Diplomacy: A History of Union and Confederate Foreign Relations (2010) online
  • Kolko, Gabriel, The Politics of War: The World and United States Foreign Policy, 1943–1945 (1968)
  • LaFeber, Walter. The American Search for Opportunity, 1865–1913 Vol. 2 of The Cambridge History of American Foreign Relations. (1993).
  • Saul, Norman E. Distant Friends: The United States and Russia, 1763–1867 (1991).
  • Smith, Robert W. Amid a Warring World: American Foreign Relations, 1775-1815 (2012), 220pp; brief introduction
  • Tucker, Robert W. and David C. Hendrickson. Empire of Liberty: The Statecraft of Thomas Jefferson (1990)

Pre 1945

  • Engel, Jeffrey A. et al. eds. America in the World: A History in Documents from the War with Spain to the War on Terror (2014) 416pp with 200 primary sources, 1890s-2013

Primary sources

  • Crapol, Edward P. "Coming to Terms with Empire: The Historiography of Late-Nineteenth-Century American Foreign Relations." Diplomatic History 16.4 (1992): 573-598.
  • Dunne, Michael. "Exceptionalism of a kind: the political historiography of US foreign relations." International Affairs (2011) 87#1 pp: 153-171.
  • Fry, Joseph A. "From Open Door to World Systems: Economic Interpretations of Late Nineteenth Century American Foreign Relations," Pacific Historical Review (1996) 65#2 pp. 277-303 in JSTOR
  • Hogan, Michael J. America in the World: The Historiography of US Foreign Relations since 1941 (1996), scholarly articles reprinted from the journal Diplomatic History
  • Hogan, Michael J. ed. Paths to Power: The Historiography of American Foreign Relations to 1941 (2000) essays on main topics
  • Hogan, Michael J. and Thomas G. Paterson, eds. Explaining the History of American Foreign Relations (1991) essays on historiography
  • Makdisi, Ussama. "After Said: The Limits and Possibilities of a Critical Scholarship of US-Arab Relations." Diplomatic History (2014) 38#3 pp: 657-684.
  • Pederson, William D. ed. A Companion to Franklin D. Roosevelt (2011) online pp 480-689, covers historiography of American diplomacy worldwide in WW2
  • Schulzinger, Robert. A Companion to American Foreign Relations (Wiley Blackwell Companions to American History) (2006). 26 essays by scholars; emphasis on historiography


  • Ambrose, Stephen E., and Douglas G. Brinkley, Rise to Globalism: American Foreign Policy Since 1938, 9th ed. (2012)
  • Bailey, Thomas A. Diplomatic History of the American People (1969), standard older textbook
  • Beisner, Robert L. ed, American Foreign Relations since 1600: A Guide to the Literature (2003), 2 vol. 16,300 annotated entries evaluate every major book and scholarly article.
  • Blume, Kenneth J. (2010). The A to Z of U.S. Diplomacy from the Civil War to World War I. Scarecrow Press. 
  • Brune, Lester H. Chronological History of U.S. Foreign Relations (2003), 1400 pages
  • Burns, Richard Dean, ed. Guide to American Foreign Relations since 1700 (1983) highly detailed annotated bibliography
  • DeConde, Alexander, Richard Dean Burns, Fredrik Logevall, and Louise B. Ketz, eds. Encyclopedia of American Foreign Policy 3 vol (2001), 2200 pages; 120 long articles by specialists.
  • DeConde, Alexander. A History of American Foreign Policy (1963) online edition
  • Findling, John E. ed. Dictionary of American Diplomatic History 2nd ed. 1989. 700pp; 1200 short articles.
  • Flanders, Stephen A, and Carl N. Flanders. Dictionary of American Foreign Affairs (1993) 835 pp, short articles
  • Herring, George C. From Colony to Superpower: U.S. Foreign Relations Since 1776 (Oxford History of the United States) (2008), 1056pp; the latest survey.
  • Jentleson, B.W. and Thomas G. Paterson, eds. Encyclopaedia of U.S. Foreign Relations, (4 vols., 1997)
  • Lafeber, Walter. The American Age: United States Foreign Policy at Home and Abroad, 1750 to Present (2nd ed 1994) New Left textbook; 884pp online edition
  • Paterson, Thomas G. et al. American Foreign Relations (7th ed. 2 vol. 2009), recent university textbook
  • Williams, William Appleman. The tragedy of American diplomacy (1959), highly influential criticism from the Left



  1. ^ Jerald A. Combs (2008). The History of American Foreign Policy: To 1920. M.E. Sharpe. pp. 21–25. 
  2. ^ Samuel Flagg Bemis, Jay's Treaty: A Study in Commerce and Diplomacy (1923)
  3. ^ Bradford Perkins, The First Rapprochement: England and the United States, 1795–1805 (1955).
  4. ^ Samuel Flagg Bemis, "Washington's Farewell Address: A Foreign Policy of Independence", American Historical Review, Vol. 39, No. 2 (Jan., 1934), pp. 250–268 in JSTOR; quote from George Washington. "The Farewell Address – Transcript of the Final Manuscript", The Papers of George Washington in Accessed 2009-12-29
  5. ^ Alexander De Conde, The quasi-war: the politics and diplomacy of the undeclared war with France 1797–1801 (1996).
  6. ^ Robert W. Tucker, and David C. Hendrickson, Empire of Liberty: The Statecraft of Thomas Jefferson (1990)
  7. ^ The U.S. purchased Florida from Spain in 1819.
  8. ^ Norman K. Risjord, "1812: Conservatives, War Hawks, and the Nation's Honor," William and Mary Quarterly, (1961) 18#2 pp 196–210. in JSTOR
  9. ^ J. C. A. Stagg, The War of 1812: Conflict for a Continent (2012)
  10. ^ A.J. Langguth, Union 1812: The Americans Who Fought the Second War of Independence (2013)
  11. ^ Samuel Flagg Bemis, John Quincy Adams and the Foundations of American Foreign Policy (1950)
  12. ^ David M. Pletcher, The Diplomacy of Annexation: Texas, Oregon, and the Mexican War (1973).
  13. ^ Lynn M. Case, and Warren E. Spencer, The United States and France: Civil War Diplomacy (1970)
  14. ^ Kinley J. Brauer, "British Mediation and the American Civil War: A Reconsideration," Journal of Southern History, (1972) 38#1 pp. 49–64 in JSTOR
  15. ^ Don H. Doyle, The Cause of All Nations: And international history of the American Civil War (2014) pp 8 (quote), 69-70
  16. ^ Howard Jones, Abraham Lincoln and a New Birth of Freedom: the Union and Slavery in the Diplomacy of the Civil War, (1999)
  17. ^ Walter Stahr, Seward: Lincoln's Indispensable Man (2012) ch 11
  18. ^ Frank J. Merli, The Alabama, British Neutrality, and the American Civil War. (2004)
  19. ^ Martin B. Duberman, Charles Francis Adams, 1807-1886 (1961)
  20. ^ Don H. Doyle, The Cause of All Nations: An International History of the American Civil War (2014)
  21. ^ Fergus M. Bordewich, "The World Was Watching: America’s Civil War slowly came to be seen as part of a global struggle against oppressive privilege," (Feb. 7-8, 2015)Wall Street Journal
  22. ^ Garth Stevenson (1997). Ex Uno Plures: Federal-Provincial Relations in Canada, 1867-1896. McGill-Queen's Press. p. 10. 
  23. ^ Maureen M. Robson, "The Alabama Claims and the Anglo‐American Reconciliation, 1865–71." Canadian Historical Review (1961) 42#1 pp: 1-22.
  24. ^ Jeffrey W. Coker (2002). Presidents from Taylor Through Grant, 1849-1877: Debating the Issues in Pro and Con Primary Documents. Greenwood. pp. 205–6. 
  25. ^ David M. Pletcher, "Reciprocity and Latin America in the Early 1890s: A Foretaste of Dollar Diplomacy," Pacific Historical Review (1978) 47#1 pp 53–89. in JSTOR
  26. ^ David Healy, James G. Blaine and Latin America (2001). pp 40–60
  27. ^ Russell H. Bastert, "Diplomatic Reversal: Frelinghuysen's Opposition to Blaine's Pan-American Policy in 1882," Mississippi Valley Historical Review (1956) 42#4 pp. 653-671 in JSTOR
  28. ^ Lester D. Langley, "James Gillespie Blaine: The Ideologue as Diplomat" in Frank J. Merli and Theodore A. Wilson, eds., Makers of American Diplomacy: From Benjamin Franklin to Henry Kissinger (1974) pp. 253–278.
  29. ^ Herring, From Colony to Superpower (2008) ch 8
  30. ^ Herring, From Colony to Superpower (2008) ch 8-9
  31. ^ Herring, From Colony to Superpower (2008) ch 10-12
  32. ^ Robert W. Tucker, Woodrow Wilson and the Great War: Reconsidering America's Neutrality, 1914–1917 (2007)
  33. ^ John Milton Cooper, Woodrow Wilson (2009) ch 17-19
  34. ^ Manfred F. Boemeke et al, eds. The Treaty of Versailles: A Reassessment after Seventy-Five Years (1998)
  35. ^ John Milton Cooper, Woodrow Wilson (2009) ch 20-22; Erez Manela, The Wilsonian Moment: Self-Determination and the International Origins of Anticolonial Nationalism (2007)
  36. ^ Bin Laden comes home to roost,
  37. ^ 1992 Wolfowitz U.S. Strategy Plan Document
  38. ^ [2]


See also

An insight into recent thinking inside the State Department was provided in November 2010 and the following months through the Wikileaks United States diplomatic cables release.

But serious problems remain for the U.S. The Mideast continues to fester with religious hatred and Arab resentment of Israel. The U.S. position is that the danger of nuclear proliferation is more evident with nations such as Iran and North Korea openly flouting the international community by insisting on building nuclear weapons. Important issues such as climate change, which require many governments to work together in sometimes tough solutions, present tough diplomatic challenges.

In his first formal television interview as president, Barack Obama addressed the Muslim world through an Arabic-language satellite TV network and expressed a commitment to repair relations that have deteriorated under the previous administration.[38] Still under the Obama administration, American foreign policy has continued to irritate the Muslim world including one of its main allies, Pakistan.

The big change during these years was a transition from a bipolar world to a multipolar world. While the United States remains a strong power economically and militarily, rising nations such as China, India, Brazil, and Russia as well as a united Europe have challenged its dominance. Foreign policy analysts such as Nina Harchigian suggest that the six emerging big powers share common concerns: free trade, economic growth, prevention of terrorism, efforts to stymie nuclear proliferation. And if they can avoid war, the coming decades can be peaceful and productive provided there are no misunderstandings or dangerous rivalries.

A decade of economic prosperity ended with the September 11, 2001 attacks on the terrorism in the Middle East. The United States declared a War on Terrorism. This policy dominated U.S. foreign policy over the last decade as the nation embarked on two military campaigns in the Middle East, in Afghanistan and Iraq. Although both campaigns attracted international support, particularly the fighting in Afghanistan, the scale and duration of the war has lessened the motivation of American allies. Furthermore, when no WMDs were found after a military conquest of Iraq, there was worldwide skepticism that the war had been fought to prevent terrorism, and the continuing war in Iraq has had serious negative public relations consequences for the image of the United States.

With the breakup of the Soviet Union into separate nations, and with the re-emergence of the nation of Russia, the world of pro-U.S. and pro-Soviet alliances broke down. Different challenges presented themselves, such as Gulf War, many scholars, such as Zbigniew Brzezinski, claimed the lack of a new strategic vision for U.S. foreign policy resulted in many missed opportunities for its foreign policy. During the 1990s, the United States mostly scaled back its foreign policy budget as well as its cold war defense budget which amounted to 6.5% of GDP while focusing on domestic economic prosperity under President Clinton, who succeeded in achieving a budget surplus for 1999 and 2000. The United States also served as a peace-keeper in the warring ethnic disputes in the former Yugoslavia by cooperating as a U.N. peacekeeper.

Post-Cold War (1992–present)

By the time of the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, the U.S. had military and economic interests in every region of the globe. In March 1992, the New York Times received leaked parts of a "Defense Policy Guidance" document prepared by two principal authors at the U.S. Defense Department, Paul Wolfowitz and I. Lewis Libby. The policy document laid bare the post–Cold War framework through which U.S. foreign policy would henceforth be guided.[37]

During the Cold War, U.S. foreign policy objectives, seeking to limit Soviet influence, involved the United States and its allies in the People's Republic of China and Détente. There were some successes for the U.S. during this period as well as some failures. In the 1980s under a program of extensive military spending led by President Reagan, as well as by diplomatic overtures between Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, a thaw resulted, which eventually led to the disintegration of the Soviet Union under an intelligent Soviet policy of glasnost.

German Chancellor George W. Bush

The Cold War was characterized by a lack of global wars but a persistence of regional proxy wars, often fought between client states and proxies of the United States and Soviet Union. The US also intervened in the affairs of other countries through a number of secret operations.

From the late 1940s until 1991, world affairs were dominated by the Soviet Union as an aggressive, anti-Western power that necessitated containment, a characterization which would shape US foreign policy for decades to come. The idea of containment was to match Soviet aggression with force wherever it occurred while not using nuclear weapons. The policy of containment created a bipolar, zero-sum world where the ideological conflicts between the Soviet Union and the United States dominated geopolitics. Due to the antagonism on both sides and each countries' search for security, a tense worldwide contest developed between the two states as the two nations' governments vied for global supremacy militarily, culturally, and influentially.

Picture of men wearing suits in a meeting.
President Kennedy meeting with Soviet foreign minister Gromyko in 1962. Kennedy knew about Soviet missiles in Cuba but had not revealed this information yet. The Cuban Missile crisis brought the world close to the brink of World War III but luckily cooler heads prevailed.

Cold War (1947–1991)

The United States was a major force in establishing the United Nations in 1945, hosting a meeting of fifty nations in San Francisco. Avoiding the rancorous debates of 1919, where there was no veto, the US and the Soviet Union, as well as Britain, France and China, became permanent members of the Security Council with veto power. The idea of the U.N. was to promote world peace through consensus among nations, with boycotts, sanctions and even military power exercised by the Security Council. It depended on member governments for funds and had difficulty funding its budget. In 2009, its $5 billion budget was funded using a complex formula based on GDP; the U.S. contributed 20% in 2009. However, the United Nations' vision of peace soon became jeopardized as the international structure was rebalanced with the development and testing of nuclear weapons by major powers.

Picture of UN building in New York
After World War II, the Rockefellers donated prime real estate in New York for the United Nations headquarters

The same pattern which emerged with the first world war continued with the second: warring European powers, blockades, official U.S. neutrality but this time President Roosevelt tried to avoid all of Wilson's mistakes. American policy substantially favored Britain and its allies, and the U.S. getting caught up in the war. Unlike the loans in World War I, the United States made large-scale grants of military and economic aid to the Allies through Lend-Lease. Industries greatly expanded to produce war materials. The United States officially entered World War II against Germany, Japan and Italy in December 1941, following the Japanese surprise attack on Pearl Harbor. This time the U.S. was a full-fledged member of the Allies of World War II, not just an "associate" as in the first war. During the war, the U.S. conducted military operations on both the Atlantic and Pacific fronts. After the war and devastation of its European and Asian rivals, the United States found itself in a uniquely powerful position due to the lack of damage to its domestic industries. Furthermore, it found itself in direct competition with a growing power, the Soviet Union. In the aftermath of the European campaign, the United States enacted the Marshall Plan, which supplied its European allies with $13 billion USD in reconstruction aid. After 1945, the isolationist pattern characterizing the inter-war period had ended for good.

World War II (1941–1945)

At the peace conference at Versailles, Wilson tried with mixed success to enact his Fourteen Points. He was forced to accept British, French and Italian demands for financial revenge: Germany would be made to pay reparations that amounted to the total cost of the war for the Allies and admit guilt in humiliating fashion. It was a humiliating punishment for Germany which subsequent commentators thought was too harsh and unfair. Wilson succeeded in obtaining his main goal, a League of Nations that would hopefully resolve all future conflicts before they caused another major war.[34] Wilson, however, refused to consult with Republicans, who took control of Congress after the 1918 elections and which demanded revisions protecting the right of Congress to declare war. With a two thirds vote needed, the Senate did not ratify either the original Treaty or its Republican version, so the U.S. never joined Wilson's League of Nations; the U.S. made separate peace treaties with the different European nations. Nevertheless, Wilson's idealism and call for self-determination of all nations had an effect on nationalism across the globe, while at home his idealistic vision, called "Wilsonianism" of spreading democracy and peace under American auspices had a profound influence on much of American foreign policy ever since.[35] In essence, Wilson's vision came to fruition after the next war.

Four men with suits outdoors talking.
British prime minister Woodrow Wilson at the Treaty of Versailles in 1919. The settlement failed to secure a lasting peace since it punished Germany with brutal financial penalties.

American foreign policy was largely determined by President Woodrow Wilson, who had shown little interest in foreign affairs before entering the White House in 1913. His chief advisor was not the Secretary of State but "Colonel" Edward House, who was sent on many top-level missions. With the outbreak of war in 1914, the United States declared neutrality and worked to broker a peace. It insisted on its neutral rights, which included allowing private corporations and banks to sell or loan money to either side. With the British blockade, there were almost no sales or loans to Germany, only to the Allies. President Wilson vehemently denounced German violations of American neutrality that involved loss of life, most famously in the torpedo attack on the RMS Lusitania in 1915 that killed 128 American civilians but which may have been carrying war munitions. Germany repeatedly promised to stop attacks by its U-boats, but reversed course in early 1917 when it saw the opportunity to strangle Britain by unrestricted submarine warfare.[32] Following the sinking of American merchant ships, Wilson asked and obtained a declaration of war in April 1917. During the war the U.S. was not officially tied to the Allies by treaty, but military cooperation meant that the American contribution became significant in mid-1918. After the failure of the German spring offensive, as fresh American troops arrived in France at 10,000 a day, the Germans were in a hopeless position, and surrendered. Coupled with Wilson's Fourteen Points in January 1918, the U.S. now had the initiative on the military, diplomatic and public relations fronts.[33]

World War I (1914–1919)

The outbreak of the Mexican Revolution in 1910 ended a half century of peaceful borders and brought escalating tensions, as revolutionaries threatened American business interests and hundreds of thousands of refugees fled north. President Woodrow Wilson tried using military intervention to stabilize Mexico but that failed. After Mexico in 1917 rejected Germany's invitation in the Zimmermann Telegram to join in war against the U.S., relations stabilized and there were no more interventions in Mexico. Military interventions did occur in other small countries like Nicaragua, but were ended by the Good Neighbor policy announced by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1933, which allowed for American recognition of and friendship with dictatorships.[31]

In the late 19th century, the U.S. began investment in new naval technology including steam-powered battleships with powerful armaments and steel decking. When its battleship the Roosevelt Administration along modern lines and no longer focused on scattered forts in the West. The Philippine–American War was a short operation to suppress insurgents and ensure U.S. control of the islands; by 1907, however, interest in the Philippines as an entry to Asia faded in favor of the Panama Canal, and American foreign policy centered on the Caribbean. The 1904 Roosevelt Corollary to the Monroe Doctrine, which proclaimed a right for the United States to intervene to stabilize weak states in the Americas, further weakened European influence in Latin America and further established U.S. regional hegemony.[30]

Pictures of a room showing holes.
Fierce fighting between U.S. and Spanish warships off the coast of Cuba in the Battle of Santiago led to the sinking and grounding of several Spanish battleships. The USS Iowa was hit (pictured) but did not sink.

In early 1893 the business community in Kingdom of Hawaii overthrew the Queen and sought annexation by President Harrison, who forwarded the proposal to the Senate for approval. But the next President Cleveland withdrew the proposed annexation; nevertheless, revolutionaries in Hawaii formed an independent Republic of Hawaii. It voluntarily joined the U.S. in 1898 with full U.S. citizenship for its residents.[29]


Serving again as Secretary of State under Pan-American Union.[28]

James G. Blaine, a leading Republican (and its losing candidate for president in 1884) was a highly innovative Secretary of State in the 1880s. By 1881, Blaine had completely abandoned his high-tariff Protectionism and used his position as Secretary of State to promote freer trade, especially within the western hemisphere.[25] His reasons were twofold: firstly, Blaine's wariness of British interference in the Americas was undiminished, and he saw increased trade with Latin America as the best way to keep Britain from dominating the region. Secondly, he believed that by encouraging exports, he could increase American prosperity. President Garfield agreed with his Secretary of State's vision and Blaine called for a Pan-American conference in 1882 to mediate disputes among the Latin American nations and to serve as a forum for talks on increasing trade. At the same time, Blaine hoped to negotiate a peace in the War of the Pacific then being fought by Bolivia, Chile, and Peru. Blaine sought to expand American influence in other areas, calling for renegotiation of the Clayton-Bulwer Treaty to allow the United States to construct a canal through Panama without British involvement, as well as attempting to reduce British involvement in the strategically located Kingdom of Hawaii.[26] His plans for the United States' involvement in the world stretched even beyond the Western Hemisphere, as he sought commercial treaties with Korea and Madagascar. By 1882, however, a new Secretary was reversing Blaine's Latin American initiatives.[27]

James G. Blaine

The U.S. looked the other way when Irish activists known as Fenians tried and failed badly in an invasion of Canada in 1871. The arbitration of the Alabama Claims in 1872 provided a satisfactory reconciliation; The British paid the United States $15.5 million for the economic damage caused by Confederate warships purchased from it.[23] Congress did pay Russia for the Alaska Purchase in 1867, but otherwise rejected proposals for any major expansions, such as the proposal by President Ulysses Grant to acquire Santo Domingo.[24]

Relations with Britain (and Canada) were tense; Canada was negligent in allowing Confederates to raid Vermont. Confederation came in 1867, in part as a way to meet the American challenge without depending on British armed forces.[22]

Postwar adjustments

The North's victory decisively proved the durability of democratic government. Confederate independence, on the other hand, would have established An American model for reactionary politics and race-based repression that would likely have cast an international shadow into the twentieth century and perhaps beyond."[21]

Historian Don Doyle has argued that the Union victory had a major impact on the course of world history.[20] The Union victory energized popular democratic forces. A Confederate victory, on the other hand, would have meant a new birth of slavery, not freedom. Historian Fergus Bordewich, following Doyle, argues that:

In the end, these instances of British involvement neither shifted the outcome of the war nor provoked either side into war. The U.S. diplomatic mission headed by Minister Charles Francis Adams, Sr. proved much more successful than the Confederate missions, which were never officially recognized.[19]

A long-term issue was the British shipyard (John Laird and Sons) building two warships for the Confederacy, including the CSS Alabama, over vehement protests from the United States. The controversy was resolved after the Civil War in the form of the Alabama Claims, in which the United States finally was given $15.5 million in arbitration by an international tribunal for damages caused by British-built warships.[18]

British financiers built and operated most of the blockade runners, spending hundreds of millions of pounds on them; but that was legal and not the cause of serious tension. They were staffed by sailors and officers on leave from the Royal Navy. When the U.S. Navy captured one of the fast blockade runners, it sold the ship and cargo as prize money for the American sailors, then released the crew.

A serious diplomatic dispute with the United States erupted over the "Trent Affair" in late 1861. Public opinion in the Union called for war against Britain, but Lincoln gave in and sent back the diplomats his Navy had illegally seized.[17]

Elite opinion in Britain tended to favor the Confederacy, while public opinion tended to favor the United States. Large scale trade continued in both directions with the United States, with the Americans shipping grain to Britain while Britain sent manufactured items and munitions. Immigration continued into the United States. British trade with the Confederacy was limited, with a trickle of cotton going to Britain and some munitions slipped in by numerous small blockade runners. The Confederate strategy for securing independence was largely based on the hope of military intervention by Britain and France, but Confederate diplomacy proved inept. With the announcement of the Emancipation Proclamation in September 1862, it became a war against slavery that most British supported.[16]

Lincoln's foreign policy was deficient in 1861 in terms of appealing to European public opinion. Diplomats had to explain that United States was not committed to the ending of slavery, but instead they repeated legalistic arguments about the unconstitutionality of secession. Confederate spokesman, on the other hand, were much more successful by ignoring slavery and instead focusing on their struggle for liberty, their commitment to free trade, and the essential role of cotton in the European economy. In addition, the European aristocracy (the dominant factor in every major country) was "absolutely gleeful in pronouncing the and American debacle as proof that the entire experiment in popular government had failed. European government leaders welcomed the fragmentation of the ascendant American Republic."[15]

Every nation was officially neutral throughout the American Civil War, and none recognized the Confederacy. That marked a major diplomatic achievement for Secretary Seward and the Lincoln Administration. France, under Napoleon III, had invaded Mexico and installed a puppet regime; it hoped to negate American influence. France therefore encouraged Britain in a policy of mediation suggesting that both would recognize the Confederacy.[13] Washington repeatedly warned that meant war. The British textile industry depended on cotton from the South, but it had stocks to keep the mills operating for a year and in any case the industrialists and workers carried little weight in British politics. Knowing a war would cut off vital shipments of American food, wreak havoc on the British merchant fleet, and cause the immediate loss of Canada, Britain, with its powerful Royal Navy, refused to go along with French schemes.[14]

Civil War

In 1846 after an intense political debate in which the expansionist Democrats prevailed over the Whigs, the U.S. annexed the Republic of Texas. Mexico never recognized that Texas had achieved independence and promised war should the U.S. annex it. President James K. Polk peacefully resolved a border dispute with Britain regarding Oregon, then sent U.S. Army patrols into the disputed area of Texas. That triggered the Mexican-American War, which the Americans won easily.[12] As a result of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo in 1848 the U.S. acquired territory that included California, Arizona and New Mexico, and the Hispanic residents there were given full U.S. citizenship.

In response to the new independence of Spanish colonies in Latin America in the early 19th century, the United States established the Monroe Doctrine in 1823. This policy declared opposition to European interference in the Americas and left a lasting imprint on the psyche of later American leaders. The failure of Spain to colonize or police Florida led to its purchase by the U.S. in 1821. John Quincy Adams was the leading American diplomat of the era.[11]

Latin America

In 1812 diplomacy had broken down and the U.S. declared war on Britain. The War of 1812 was marked by very bad planning and military fiascoes on both sides. It ended with the Treaty of Ghent in 1815. Militarily it was a stalemate as both sides failed in their invasion attempts, but the Royal Navy blockaded the coastline and shut down American trade (except for smuggling supplies into British Canada). However the British achieved their main goal of defeating Napoleon, while the American armies defeated the Indian alliance that the British had supported, ending the British war goal of establishing a pro-British Indian boundary nation in the Midwest. The British stopped impressing American sailors and trade with France (now an ally of Britain) resumed, so the causes of the war had been cleared away. Especially after the great American victory at the Battle of New Orleans, Americans felt proud and triumphant for having won their "second war of independence."[10] Successful generals Andrew Jackson and William Henry Harrison became political heroes as well. After 1815 tensions de-escalated along the U.S.-Canada border, with peaceful trade and generally good relations. Boundary disputes were settled amicably. Both the U.S. and Canada saw a surge in nationalism and national pride after 1815, with the U.S. moving toward greater democracy and the British postponing democracy in Canada.

In the west, Indians supported by Britain (but not under their control) used ambushes and raids to kill settlers, thus delayed the expansion of frontier settlements into the Midwest (Ohio, Indiana, and Michigan, especially).[9]

The Jeffersonians deeply distrusted the British in the first place, but the British shut down most American trade with France, and impressed into the Royal Navy about 6000 sailors on American ships who claimed American citizenship. American honor was humiliated by the British attack on the American warship the Chesapeake in 1807.[8]

Picture of a sail-powered warship with guns ablaze.
The USS Constitution surprised analysts with an important victory over the HMS Guerriere in 1812.

War of 1812

President Jefferson in the Embargo Act of 1807 forbid trade with both France and Britain, but his policy, largely seen as partisan in favor of agrarian interests instead of commercial interests, was highly unpopular in New England and ineffective in stopping bad treatment from British warships.

Thomas Jefferson envisioned America as the force behind a great "Empire of Liberty",[6] that would promote republicanism and counter the imperialism of the British Empire. The Louisiana Purchase of 1803, made by Jefferson in a $15 million deal with Napoleon Bonaparte, doubled the size of the growing nation by adding a huge swath of territory west of the Mississippi River, opening up millions of new farm sites for the yeomen farmers idealized by Jeffersonian Democracy.[7]

Jeffersonian Era: 1801–1848

By 1797 the French were openly seizing American ships, leading to an undeclared war known as the Alien and Sedition Acts as a wartime measure. Adams broke with the Hamiltonian wing of his Federalist Party and made peace with France in 1800.[5]

Europe has a set of primary interests, which to us have none, or a very remote relation. Hence she must be engaged in frequent controversies, the causes of which are essentially foreign to our concerns. Hence therefore it must be unwise in us to implicate ourselves, by artificial ties, in the ordinary vicissitudes of her politics, or the ordinary combinations & collisions of her friendships, or enmities. Our detached & distant situation invites and enables us to pursue a different course.


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