Americans Would Do Well To Heed President John Quincy Adams’ 1821 Speech To The House Of Representatives On Foreign Policy
Our forefathers who framed the Constitution after fighting off the tyranny of Britain probably had a better understanding of foreign policy than many at the time and still many more today. Among some of the gold nuggets that they left us, I recall George Washington and John Quincy Adams as having some of the most profound words on foreign policy that we could hear today.
First, George Washington was a man who trembled at the thought of being president, fearing it was like being led to his execution. He wrote:
“…for in confidence I tell you, (with the world it w[oul]d. obtain little credit) that my movements to the chair of [text is crossed out] government will be accompanied by feelings not unlike those of a culprit who is going to the place of his execution; so unwilling am I, in the evening of a life [text is crossed out] nearly consumed in public cares, to quit a peaceful abode for [text is crossed out] an Ocean of difficulties, without that competency of political skill, abilities & inclination which is necessary to manage the helm. _ I am sensible, that I am [text is crossed out] embarking the voice of the people, and a good name of my own, on this voyage [text is crossed out]; but what returns will be made for them _ Heaven alone can foretell. _ Integrity and firmness is all I can promise these shall never forsake [text is crossed out] me although I may be deserted by all men; for of the [text is crossed out] consolations which will be derived from these under any circumstance’s [sic], the world cannot deprive me.”
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Because he was a humble man, he admitted what he lacked and would later write in his farewell address about that which he learned concerning foreign policy, namely becoming entangled.
The alternate domination of one faction over another, sharpened by the spirit of revenge, natural to party dissension, which in different ages and countries has perpetrated the most horrid enormities, is itself a frightful despotism. But this leads at length to a more formal and permanent despotism. The disorders and miseries, which result, gradually incline the minds of men to seek security and repose in the absolute power of an individual; and sooner or later the chief of some prevailing faction, more able or more fortunate than his competitors, turns this disposition to the purposes of his own elevation, on the ruins of Public Liberty.
Without looking forward to an extremity of this kind, (which nevertheless ought not to be entirely out of sight,) the common and continual mischiefs of the spirit of party are sufficient to make it the interest and duty of a wise people to discourage and restrain it.
It serves always to distract the Public Councils, and enfeeble the Public Administration. It agitates the Community with ill-founded jealousies and false alarms; kindles the animosity of one part against another, foments occasionally riot and insurrection. It opens the door to foreign influence and corruption, which find a facilitated access to the government itself through the channels of party passions. Thus the policy and the will of one country are subjected to the policy and will of another.
There is an opinion, that parties in free countries are useful checks upon the administration of the Government, and serve to keep alive the spirit of Liberty. This within certain limits is probably true; and in Governments of a Monarchical cast, Patriotism may look with indulgence, if not with favor, upon the spirit of party. But in those of the popular character, in Governments purely elective, it is a spirit not to be encouraged. From their natural tendency, it is certain there will always be enough of that spirit for every salutary purpose. And, there being constant danger of excess, the effort ought to be, by force of public opinion, to mitigate and assuage it. A fire not to be quenched, it demands a uniform vigilance to prevent its bursting into a flame, lest, instead of warming, it should consume.
Our sixth president of the united States of America and son to our second president, John Quincy Adams followed up years later in a speech to the House of Representatives in 1821. There, as a man who had served as secretary and translator to St. Petersburg emissary Francis Dana at just 14-years-old, he passed on some wisdom in dealing with foreign policy.
AND NOW, FRIENDS AND COUNTRYMEN, if the wise and learned philosophers of the elder world, the first observers of nutation and aberration, the discoverers of maddening ether and invisible planets, the inventors of Congreve rockets and Shrapnel shells, should find their hearts disposed to enquire 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, of equal justice, and of 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 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 of 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 commend 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….
She might become the dictatress of the world. She would be no longer the ruler of her own spirit….
[America’s] glory is not dominion, but liberty. Her march is the march of the mind. She has a spear and a shield: but the motto upon her shield is, Freedom, Independence, Peace. This has been her Declaration: this has been, as far as her necessary intercourse with the rest of mankind would permit, her practice.
The people running the show and committing crimes against us, as well as the people of the world, are acting foolishly and we are acting foolishly by letting them get away with it. Isn’t it time we simply brought all Americans home and minded our own business and get back to actually making America great again by honoring the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ and His commands, statutes and judgments rather than following foolish men into created wars? I think so.
Article posted with permission from Sons of Liberty Media