The American Age: United States Foreign Policy at Home and Abroad

By Walter Lafeber | Go to book overview

2
A Second Struggle for Independence
and Union (1789-1815)

LIBERTY AND EMPIRES

Americans were doubly blessed at the time of their independence. They had before them a vast, fertile territory that strained even the pioneers' wild imagination. A Pennsylvanian proudly wrote that the trees were taller, the soil richer than anywhere else in the world, while the Mississippi was "the prince of rivers, in comparison of whom the Nile is but a rivulet, and the Danube a mere ditch." 1 But Americans were also given a unique federal form of government by founders who were unique. The generation that gave Americans their independence and Constitution was the only generation in U.S. history that combined the nation's political leaders and its intellectual leaders in the same people. 2 The theoretical and the practical met, fortunately for Americans, at the moment their Constitution was written.

But even James Madison, the "father of the Constitution," as he later became known, was unsure whether the first government under the new laws could survive. "We are in a wilderness without a single footstep to guide us," he wrote to Jefferson in 1789. Madison quickly learned that the survival of individual freedom at home was related to the course of policy abroad. As he observed in the late 1790s, "The management of foreign relations appears to be the most susceptible of abuse of all the trusts committed to government." 3 Between 1789 and 1814, the United States struggled both to survive within the world of

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