Academic journal article The Historian

The Cambridge History of American Foreign Relations, 4 Vols

Academic journal article The Historian

The Cambridge History of American Foreign Relations, 4 Vols

Article excerpt

Drawing upon recent scholarship and using new as traditional approaches, four distinguished historians provide in The Cambridge History of American Foreign Relation's excellent of the summaries of the United States from its emergence as a nation to its global involvement as a great power. Each author gives a distinctive interpretation to the period covered, yet together the four volumes furnish a cohesive overview of de history of US. foreign relations.

Three different, yet interconnected, approaches, characterize recent scholarship in this field, with various emphases -- power, wealth, and culture. Making power the central focus, traditional diplomatic historians have concentrated on the political and military aspects of relations among nation-states. Other historians, shifting the focus from power to wealth, have emphasized the social and economic context for diplomacy and warfare. imperatives of the marketplace, they have argued, shaped US. involvement in world affairs. Still others have stressed cultural dimensions of U.S. foreign relations, including such factors as race, ethinicity, and religion. Although the emphasis varies, the four authors of the Cambridge series recognize the importance of power, wealth, arid culture in shaping U.S. foreign relations and they combine the three approaches.

General editor Warren I. Cohen emphasizes that three common themes run throughout the four volumes. He notes, first, "the relentless national pursuit of wealth and power" from the American Revolution to the Cold War (I:x). He further observes that in this global pursuit, the United States experienced an internal constitutional conflict between the president and Congress over the conduct of U.S. foreign policy, which is the second theme. Finally, Cohen stresses U.S. values and behavior or what constitutes American identity on the world scene" (I:x). These common themes encompass the various dimensions of power, wealth, and culture in U.S. foreign relations.

In the first volume, Bradford Perkins describes the creation of a republican empire from the American Revolution through the Civil War. In agreement with William Appleman Williams, he argues that the United States was steadfastly expansionist. Acquiring territory across North America and fostering foreign commerce, the new nation of subsistence farmers developed a market economy, or capitalism. With republicanism and individualism as core beliefs, Americans combined their material interests and cultural values into a distinctive nationalism that oriented them toward the outside world.

Perkins uses the image of a prism to explain why historians should avoid the false dichotomy between ideals and self-interest. He argues, "mingling is the norm; conflict between national interest and national culture is the exception" (15). Perkins' prism concept enables him to offer a more subtle interpretation than Henry Kissinger's Diplomacy (1994), which reiterates the stereotypical contrast between geopoltical realism and Wilsonian idealism. Unlike Kissinger, Perkins is well aware of the American national consensus that he himself embraces.

Preferring the Federalist diplomacy of George Washington and John Adams, Perkins criticizes the Republicans Thomas Jefferson and James Madison. In his judgment, the Chesapeake affair was "a characteristically inept piece of Jeffersonian diplomacy (126). The new nation, he suggests, was fortunate in escacaping "the consequences of mismanagement by Jefferson and Madison" (230). John Quincy Adams appears in a much more favorable light; according to the author, James Monroe asserted U.S. nationalism in "a declaration of diplomatic independence" (159).

Perkins appreciates the paradoxical nature of U.S. exceptionalism. In his treatment of the birth of US. diplomacy, the framing of the Constitutionalism Federalist and Republican diplomacy, the Monroe Doctrine, Manifest Destiny, and relationships with Great Britain and Canada through the Civil War, he indicates that Americans were not as unique as they thought they were Like European empires the United States practiced imperialism. …

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