Foreign Policy Research Institute A Nation Must Think Before it Acts Chapter 9: European Revolutions and American Civil War

Chapter 9: European Revolutions and American Civil War

The Tragedy of U.S. Foreign Policy:

How America’s Civil Religion Betrayed the National Interest


McDougall Book Jacket

The original draft of this book contained 172 pages of endnotes, which had to be shed in the name of economy. Thanks to the Internet, readers can access them here. Unfortunately, of course, the author had to substitute page and paragraph numbers for the original superscripts in the text, but in most cases it should be clear which sentences in a given paragraph match up with which sources.

Paragraphs appearing in their entirety on a single page are identified by the page number (e.g., p. 122). Paragraphs divided between two pages are identified by those pages (e.g., pp. 92-93). Paragraphs that share a page with another complete paragraph are identified by the page number and paragraph number (e.g., p. 103, ¶ 1).





Previous: Chapter 8   Next: Chapter 10


Chapter 9: European Revolutions and American Civil War:

80: Daniel Walker Howe, What Hath God Wrought: The Transformation of America 1815-1848 (New York: Oxford University, 2007), pp 705-6.

80-81: I gratefully crib all these quotations from David C. Hendrickson, Union, Nation, or Empire: The American Debate over International Relations, 1789-1941 (Lawrence: University of Kansas, 2009), pp. 173-84, whose footnotes provide the primary sources. Gallatin’s pamphlet Peace with Mexico was a phenomenon, with over 100,000 copies in circulation.

82, ¶ 1: Robert Kagan, Dangerous Nation (New York: Knopf, 2006), pp. 214, 245, and 246-58, among other passages.

82, ¶ 2: Donald S. Spencer, Louis Kossuth and Young America: A Study in Sectionalism and Foreign Policy (Columbia: University of Missouri, 1977), pp. 138-39; Hendrickson, Union, Nation, or Empire, pp. 185-91. Clay elaborated in phrases that show the great impression Adams had made on them, not the other way around: “If we should involve ourselves in the tangled web of European politics, in a war in which we could effect nothing, and in that struggle Hungary should go down, and we should go down with her, where then would the last hope of the friends of freedom throughout the world?”  He said we must “keep our lamp burning brightly on this Western shore as a light to all nations” and certainly not risk “its utter extinction amid the ruins of fallen and falling republics in Europe.” See H. W. Brands, What America Owes the World: The Struggle for the Soul of Foreign Policy (New York: Cambridge University, 1998), p. 13).

83, ¶ 1: The only military presence the United States had in that theater was the Mediterranean squadron dating from the days of the Barbary Pirates. Local commanders had some confused contretemps during the revolutionary upheavals in Italy, but did their best to adhere to the principle of non-intervention. The greatest scholar on the subject concludes: “As in the debate over intervention in Greece a generation earlier, so at mid-century: the United States would sympathize; it would not intervene.  Well-wisher to the liberty of all, America remained as John Quincy Adams had described her, vindicator only of her own.”  See James A. Field, Jr., America and the Mediterranean World 1776-1882 (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University, 1969), pp. 214-37 (quote, p. 234).

83, ¶ 3: “Call for a Kossuth Meeting” and “Resolutions in Behalf of Hungarian Freedom” January 1852: Roy P. Basler, ed., The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln (New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University, 1953), vol. II: 115-16.

83, ¶ 4: See Robert E. May, Manifest Destiny’s Underworld: Filibustering in Antebellum America (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina, 2002), and The Southern Dream of a Caribbean Empire, 2 ed. (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University, 2002).

83-84: Timothy Mason Roberts, Distant Revolutions: 1848 and the Challenge to American Exceptionalism (Charlottesville: University of Virginia, 2009).

84, ¶ 1: Sam W. Haynes, Unfinished Revolution: the Early American Republic in a British World (Charlottesville: University of Virginia, 2010), p. 296.

84, ¶ 2: Roy P. Basler, ed., The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln, 9 vols. (New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University, 1953), I: 109. See the definitive works by Norman E. Saul, Distant Friends: The United States and Russia, 1763-1867 (Lawrence: University of Kansas, 1991), and Concord and Conflict: The United States and Russia, 1867-1914 (Lawrence: University of Kansas, 1996). See also Walter A. McDougall, Throes of Democracy: The American Civil War Era, 1829-1877 (New York: HarperCollins, 2007), pp. 200-13.

85-86: Howard Jones, Abraham Lincoln and a New Birth of Freedom: The Union and Slavery in the Diplomacy of the Civil War (Lincoln: University of Nebraska, 1999); R. J. M. Blackett, Divided Hearts: Britain and the American Civil War (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University, 2001; William C. Davis, ed., Secret History of Confederate Diplomacy Abroad (Lawrence: University of Kansas, 2005); Howard Jones, Blue and Gray Diplomacy: A History of Union and Confederate Foreign Relations (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina, 2010); and Amanda Foreman, A World On Fire: An Epic History of Two Nations Divided (London: Alan Lane, 2010) are all good books, but do not revise the basic narrative of Civil War diplomacy.

86, ¶ 2: See Richard Gamble, “Gettysburg Gospel,” The American Conservative 12:6 (2013): 28-31; David Carlyon, “The Gettysburg Address: Overlooked Influence, Unique Perspective,” unpublished lecture; Douglas L. Wilson, Lincoln’s Sword: The Presidency and the Power of Words (New York: Knopf, 2006); Gabor Boritt, The Gettysburg Gospel: The Speech That Nobody Knows (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2006); and the classics by Garry Wills, Lincoln at Gettysburg: The Words That Made American History (New York: Doubleday, 1992) and Pauline Maier, American Scripture: Making the Declaration of Independence (New York: Knopf, 1997). Emerson quote from John Diggins, On Hallowed Ground: Abraham Lincoln and the Foundations of American History (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University, 2000), pp. 37-40. Kagan, Dangerous Nation, pp. 263-70, simply asserts with no evidence that Lincoln believed that “a nation founded on the principle of universal human equality had a responsibility for ‘spreading and deepening’ its influence for ‘all people of colors’ everywhere’”; that “Lincoln’s political doctrine seemed to go a step beyond even this broad ideological definition of interest”; that other Republicans “openly avowed” what Lincoln implied; that like Lincoln, “some northern soldiers saw the war as necessary not only to keep the flame burning in the Union but also to advance the universal, abstract principles of the Declaration for all men everywhere.”  Lincoln doubtless wished the human race well, and his abolitionist, republican stance doubtless inspired liberal movements in Europe, but that is a far different thing than implying Lincoln meant to change U.S. foreign policy.  See Don H. Doyle, The Cause of All Nations: An International History of the American Civil War (New York: Basic Books, 2015).

87: Joseph R. Fornieri, Abraham Lincoln’s Political Faith (DeKalb: Northern Illinois University, 2003), brilliantly refutes the notion of a disembodied Lincoln pronouncing universals outside of history. See especially “Lincoln and American Civil Theology,” pp. 3-34, and “The Development of Lincoln’s Political Faith,” pp. 92-132, with its rebuttals of the Freudian (e.g., Edmund Wilson), Straussian (e.g., Harry Jaffa), and Conservative (e.g., M.E. Bradford) interpretations of Lincoln. See also the articles by William Lee Miller, Michael P. Zuckert, and Bruce P. Frohnen in the section called “Lincoln’s Religion and Politics” in Kenneth L. Deutsch and Joseph R. Fornieri, eds., Lincoln’s American Dream: Clashing Political Perspectives (Washington, D.C.: Potomac Books, 2005), pp. 333-77.  Lincoln’s understanding of human nature was thoroughly Biblical (Fornieri, pp. 133-41) and his civil religion reflected “the peculiarities of a certain moment in American history when the resonances of inherited Christianity were powerful enough to mobilize for public purposes, but not so powerful as to resist such adaptation” (Zuckert, p. 366).

87-88: Of all the great Lincoln scholars the ones I rely on the most are Michael Burlingame, whose most recent books include Abraham Lincoln: A Life (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University, 2008), 2 vols, and Lincoln and the Civil War (Carbondale: Southern Illinois University, 2011), and Allen Guelzo, whose most recent books include Abraham Lincoln as a Man of Ideas (Carbondale: Southern Illinois University, 2009), and Fateful Lightning: A New History of the Civil War and Reconstruction (New York: Oxford University Press, 2012). Ronald C. White, Jr., A. Lincoln: A Biography (New York: Random House, 2009) contrasts the Lincoln we posthumously created with the man who walked the earth. As Sean Wilentz eloquently put it, “In sum, White shows that Lincoln was not … the inventor of national civil religion that he built out of his torments and the nation’s, and that became symbolized by his lofty words and, finally, by his murder.  He was, rather, a Victorian doubter (and self-doubter) who found some comfort – and perhaps ways to question and at least partially to comprehend the incomprehensible – in the preaching of a Presbyterian minister” (“Who Lincoln Was,” The New Republic <July 15, 2009>, pp.24-47, quote pp. 29-30).

88-89: Grant’s Second Inaugural Address (March 4, 1873):

In so imagining, these Americans echoed the Liberal vision of a utopian future expressed by British poet Alfred Tennyson in his 1835 poem “Locksley Hall”:

For I dipt into the future, far as human eye could see,

Saw the Vision of the world, and all the wonder that would be;

Saw the heavens fill with commerce, argosies of magic sails,

Pilots of the purple twilight dropping down with costly bales;

Heard the heavens fill with shouting, and there rain’d a ghastly dew

From the nations’ airy navies grappling in the central blue;

Far along the world-wide whisper of the south-wind rushing warm,

With the standards of the peoples plunging thro’ the thunder-storm;

Till the war-drum throbb’d no longer, and the battle-flags were furl’d

In the Parliament of man, the Federation of the world.

There the common sense of most shall hold a fretful realm in awe,

And the kindly earth shall slumber, lapt in universal law.

But Tennyson’s vision was only the fond dream of a bitter young soldier of which the poet himself would bitterly despair in an 1886 sequel.

88-89 cont.: Charles Sumner, Prophetic Voices Concerning America: A Monograph (Boston: Lee and Shepard, 1874); Jason Emerson, Giant in the Shadows: The Life of Robert T. Lincoln (Carbondale: Southern Illinois University, 2012).

89, ¶ 1: On the “second American revolution” see Heather Cox Richardson, The Greatest Nation on Earth: Republican Economic Policies during the Civil War (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University, 1997); Phillip S. Paludan, The Presidency of Abraham Lincoln (Lawrence: University of Kansas, 1994); and Mark E. Neely, Jr., The Last Best Hope of Earth: Abraham Lincoln and the Promise of America (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University, 1993), “carefully crafted,” p. 158. The theme of the Civil War as a schism in the civil religion is developed in McDougall, Throes of Democracy, pp. 458-61, 504-5, 545-52. Mark A. Noll, America’s God: From Jonathan Edwards to Abraham Lincoln (New York: Oxford University, 2003) comes to a similar conclusion when he calls the Civil War a contest between the northern and southern versions of godly republicanism.  Kagan, Dangerous Nation, pp. 269-70, is rebutted by Hendrickson, Union, Nation, or Empire, pp. 240-41.



Previous: Chapter 8   Next: Chapter 10