The Growth of American Thought

By Merle Curti | Go to book overview

CHAPTER XXVI America Recrosses the Oceans

With how much more glory and advantage to itself does a nation act when it exerts its powers to rescue the world from bondage and to create to itself friends than when it employs these powers to increase ruin and misery!

-- THOMAS PAINE, 1791

Expansion and imperialism are at war with the best traditions, principles, and interests of the American people, and . . . they will plunge us into a network of difficult problems and political perils, which we might have avoided, while they offer us no corresponding advantage in return.

-- WILLIAM GRAHAM SUMNER, 1899

This is a war of high principle, debased by no selfish ambition of conquest or spoliation. . . . We know, and all the world knows, that we have been forced into it to save the very institutions we live under from corruption and destruction. . . . From the first the thought of the people of the United States turned toward something more than winning this war. It turned to the establishment of the eternal principles of right and justice.

-- WOODROW WILSON, 1917, 1919

Once the young United States had set its course independently of England there was little reason for the great majority of Americans to be concerned about foreign matters. Living in a vast and expanding country far from Europe's border quarrels and rivalries, they had less reason than their European cousins for thinking and talking about their "neighbors." Throughout the great part of the nation's history a majority of Americans entertained no well-formulated set of ideas regarding their country's destiny in the larger world. But there has been a general assumption that the United States is superior to all other lands and is to enjoy a glorious future. And this belief gradually became explicitly crystallized on the Fourth of July, during

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