Entangling Alliances

As a nation-state, in their international relations, Americans warn against becoming involved in complexity. Thomas Paine (1737-1809) – an English-American political theorist-activist, author, and revolutionary – instilled non-interventionist ideas into the politics of the American colonies.

His work Common Sense (1776) argued in favor of avoiding alliances with foreign powers and influenced the Second Continental Congress to avoid forming an alliance with France.

George Washington’s farewell address restated Paine’s maxim: “The great rule of conduct for us, in regard to foreign nations, is in extending our commercial relations, to have with them as little political connection as possible. 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 and collisions of her friendships or enmities.“

Thomas Jefferson extended Paine’s ideas in his inaugural address on March 4, 1801: “peace, commerce, and honest friendship with all nations, entangling alliances with none.”

In 1823, President James Monroe articulated what would become the Monroe Doctrine: “In the wars of the European powers, in matters relating to themselves, we have never taken part, nor does it comport with our policy, so to do. It is only when our rights are invaded, or seriously menaced that we resent injuries, or make preparations for our defense.“