The birthdays of Presidents Washington and Lincoln are celebrated today. It also means I have a very rare 3-day weekend, so thank you Mr. Presidents. I get to chillax, watch The Maury Show in my PJs and in bed. Those “You are Not the Father” shows are my guilty pleasure.
As a non-interventionist, I do think about them. George Washington is frequently invoked being the original non-interventionist. Of course, I believe a lot of his stance has to do with the fact we just won independence from the British Empire. We had a lot of work to do at home being a nation just born. Who cares about Europe? George Washington spoke of non-interventionism eloquently in his “it’s been real”/farewell speech:
Our detached and distant situation invites and enables us to pursue a different course. If we remain one people, under an efficient government, the period is not far off when we may defy material injury from external annoyance; when we may take such an attitude as will cause the neutrality we may at any time resolve upon to be scrupulously respected; when belligerent nations, under the impossibility of making acquisitions upon us, will not lightly hazard the giving us provocation; when we may choose peace or war, as our interest, guided by justice, shall counsel.
Why forego the advantages of so peculiar a situation? Why quit our own to stand upon foreign ground? Why, by interweaving our destiny with that of any part of Europe, entangle our peace and prosperity in the toils of European ambition, rivalship, interest, humor, or caprice?
It is our true policy to steer clear of permanent alliances with any portion of the foreign world, so far, I mean, as we are now at liberty to do it, for let me not be understood as capable of patronizing infidelity to existing engagements. I hold the maxim no less applicable to public than to private affairs that honesty is always the best policy. I repeat, therefore, let those engagements be observed in their genuine sense. But in my opinion it is unnecessary and would be unwise to extend them.
President Lincoln is interesting to observe from a non-interventionist standpoint. For me, he was more non-interventionist in a different way. He was dealing with the Civil War and preserving the Union. The last thing he wanted was foreign influence on our war. There was support but not official recognition of the Confederacy by England. It took all the skill and diplomacy of Lincoln’s Minister to England to keep them out of the war. After the Trent Affair, his Secretary of State wanted to go to war with England, hoping that the South would forget about fighting the North and join the fight against the British. Lincoln’s insistence on a “one war at a time” policy (a true sage) averted an international war.
Presidents Washington and Lincoln had the right idea when it came to non-interventionism. Keep out of their business (Washington) and make sure they keep out of ours (Lincoln).
I really wish future Presidents listened. I’m looking in your general direction, LBJ. For now, because it’s Presidents Day, I’ll just celebrate. Happy Birthday Mr. Presidents!