Documents of American Diplomacy: From the American Revolution to the Present

By Michael D. Gambone | Go to book overview
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Part One

The Colonial Era

From the very beginning, the United States struggled to define its role in the world. In the earliest years of colonization, those who arrived first fashioned the country to suit their own preferences. Some sought sanctuary from the Old World so they could recreate society and polity in a new, utopian form. John Winthrop's observation that civilization in the new colonies could serve as a beacon, “a city upon a hill, for what had been left behind introduced a degree of moral certainty that has been present in American public policy ever since. 1

Others came to the New World looking for an opportunity for expansion. Settlement was the product of it. After first landfall, expansion would reflect the larger pursuit of dominion over a continent whose boundaries were undefined but broad in the seventeenth century. 2 The lure of wealth and opportunities that lay to the west would define Americans for the next three centuries. 3

The juxtaposition of the two was apparent in the clumsy unity provoked by the contingencies of war during the Colonial Era. The individual settlements had proven adequate for the initial construction of enclaves scattered along the eastern seaboard, but were poorly prepared to cooperate in times of crisis. During the course of King Philip's War in 1675, troubles between New York and the New England colonies regarding mutual defense and the treatment of Native American tribes resulted in considerable suffering on the part of the latter. 4 Nearly three-quarters of a century later, similar problems bedeviled colonial efforts to defend the Americas against the French and Spanish incursions. In 1747, after raids by privateers from both nations, Benjamin Franklin would urge Pennsylvanians to consider that: “At present we are like the separate Filaments of Flax before the Thread is form'd, without Strength, because without Connection; but UNION would make us strong, and even formidable.” 5 Franklin would promote the same idea seven years later, when the much greater threat of the French and Indian War embroiled the colonies. His 1754 Plan of Union was an attempt to extend cooperation beyond war into the normal civil relations

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