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America’s Exceptionalism’s Non-intervention Slide to Conquest, Empire - and Socialism

Politics / US Politics Nov 15, 2019 - 04:11 PM GMT

By: Raymond_Matison


When America established its new nation in 1776, its actions were guided by a Declaration of Independence and a Constitution which included a government subject to the consent of its people, liberty, and freedom of speech, religion, property, and assembly.  As a new nation narrowly escaping oppression from England, it originally would not conquer any other nation.  It was not going to follow the practice of colonialism and oppression that so many European nations embraced at that time.  But somehow, over decades, America abandoned its original principles of non-intervention and ultimately became an empire ruling most of the world.  It is the forces, causes and timing of this abandonment from its original exceptional principles of non-intervention to outward expansion, conquest, and its eventual consequences that is scrutinized in this article. 

Herein, the term “exceptionalism” is applied to America’s form of government, its Constitution, and original principles of non-intervention in the affairs of other countries.  However, the term “exceptionalism” was first used and popularized through Joseph Stalin in 1929 to portray America, which because of its capitalism and high standard of living was highly resistant to communist goals for advancing socialism in this country – and therefore was characterized as an exceptional nation.  As we will read in this article America easily and rather quickly gave up its exceptionalism to embrace conquest. 

Inflation adjusted wages stagnating since the early 1970s has created the largest income inequality in America’s history.  It is important to remember that it was the income inequality between nobles and serfs that originally energized communism’s violent revolution.  Today, although at a much higher overall standard of living, this record income inequality in America is enabling breathtaking socialist advances as corroborated by almost all Democratic primary presidential candidates espousing deeply socialist programs – with significant if not majority approbation of our citizens.  So decades later, after Stalin’s original characterization, it appears that America has also now lost its exceptionalism in this latter sense. 

Sources of information for this article include the masterful account by Barbara W. Tuchman in her book “The Proud Tower” published in 1966, which provides a detailed portrait of the world during the 1890-1914 period before WWI.  This period is pivotal in America’s transition towards conquest and outward expansion, and her account of events are liberally cited and quoted herein.  Wikipedia was extraordinarily useful in confirming facts, dates and events. Finally, several other books, as cited in the text directly were used to confirm historical events and viewpoints.

Spain’s dominion in the New World

During the 16-18th centuries, Spain was the significant world power as it colonized most of South America, Central America, Cuba, Puerto Rico, the territory of what is now Mexico, and vast western territories of the North American continent and the Philippines.  As America observed Spain’s weakening of its colonial powers, it saw an opportunity for this new nation to expand across the continent.  

Texas was considered by Mexico’s as one of its provinces.  President James Polk (1845-1849) and his administration were looking for a means to gaud Mexico into a war which it knew it would win, through which it would add huge territories to the original states.  As explained by the authors in their book “The Presidents” (2019) “The Mexican parliament doesn’t accept the boundary between The Republic of Texas and Mexico.  Mexico declares war on the United States because the United States is going to annex Texas.  The Mexican war starts in 1846.”  This war of expansion could still be rationalized not to be a conquest as Texas already had its mixed population of settlers and Mexicans, but it already shows the mindset of the nation’s leaders.

Constitutionalist moralism versus events of the 1890s

“Jefferson had said: “If there is one principle more deeply rooted in the mind of every American, it is that we should have nothing to do with conquest.  They took seriously the Declaration of Independence and its principles of just power deriving from the consent of the governed.  They regarded the extension of American rule over foreign soil and foreign peoples as a violation of this principle and a desecration of the American purpose.”

Speaker of the House “Thomas B. Reed (1889-1891, and 1895-1899) was unalterably opposed to expansion and all it implied.  He believed that American greatness lay at home and was to be achieved by improving living conditions and raising political intelligence among Americans rather that by extending American rule over half-civilized peoples difficult to assimilate.” 

The latter half of the 19th century was a period of dramatic global change and development.  Industrial revolution had expanded manufacturing that brought increased requirements for broader markets and the means to ship efficiently all over the globe.  As a consequence, building of the Panama Canal became an important commercial goal – as was the need to protect its operations from possible conquest.  The island of Cuba was seen as a near harbor to facilitate protecting the canal.

“The American appetite for new territory was making itself felt.  Senator Morgan of Alabama, Democratic chairman of the Committee, said the solution was clear: “Cuba should become an American colony.”  Senator Frye of Maine, agreed that “we certainly ought to have the island in order to round out our possessions” and added with simple candor, “If we cannot buy it, I for one, should like an opportunity to acquire it by conquest.”

The populace was divided among those who wanted nothing to do with conquest, and others who perceived that conquest was their Manifest Destiny.  America was a new principle and they saw the new militancy as its betrayal.  Henry Cabot Lodge repeated the argument that the Canal would make a Cuba a “necessity”.

“President Charles William Eliot of Harvard, laid down firmly the principles which he believed made America different from the old nations.  “The building of a navy and the presence of a large standing army mean the abandonment of what is characteristically American… The building of a navy and particularly of battleships is English and French policy.  It should never be ours.”  The American policy was reliance upon strength in peace, where Jingoes were a creation “of the combativeness that is in man.”  He denounced the doctrine of jingoism as “offensive”, and he specifically identified Lodge and Roosevelt as Jingoes.”

The ways the country puked up its ancient principles at the first touch of temptation was
sickening: wrote William James, Professor of Philosophy at Harvard. “We are now
openly engaged in crushing out the sacredest thing in this great human world – the
attempt of a people long enslaved” to attain freedom and work out its own destiny.  The
saddest thing for men such as James was the parting with the American dream.” 

Monroe Doctrine and Venezuela

According to Wikipedia, the Monroe Doctrine was a United States policy established in 1823 opposing European colonialism in the American continent. It stated that efforts by European nations to take control of any independent state in North or South America would be viewed as "the manifestation of an unfriendly disposition toward the United States."  At the same time, the doctrine noted that the U.S. would recognize and not interfere with existing European colonies nor meddle in the internal concerns of European countries.

“On July 20, 1895, Britain’s government was challenged concerning the long-disputed frontier between British Guiana and Venezuela, claiming that the British were expanding territorially at their expense in violation of the Monroe Doctrine.  Cleveland’s Secretary of State, Richard Olney, delivered a Note to Great Britain stating that disregard of the Monroe Doctrine would be deemed an act of unfriendliness toward the United States.  His emphatic assertion of the Monroe Doctrine over Venezuela, in defiance of Britain, marked the beginning of a new period in American life as vividly as if a signal flag had been run up to the top of the American flagpole. The surge of militancy evoked by the Venezuela message shocked people who still thought of the U.S. in the terms of its founders, as a nation opposed to militarism, conquest, standing armies and all the other bad habits associated with the monarchies of the old world.”

Harvard Professor Charles Elliot Norton writing about the Venezuela Message, thought it made a miserable end for this century and had done much to increase the “worst spirit in our democracy, barbaric spirit of arrogance and unreasonable self-assertion”.  “What disturbed him more bitterly was the deeper consideration that the rise of democracy was not proving, after all “a safeguard of peace and civilization: because it brought with it the rise of the uncivilized whom no school education can suffice to provide with intelligence and reason”.  “I fear that America is beginning a long course of error and wrong and is likely to become more and more a power of disturbance and barbarism.”  He spoke how bitter it was that now, at the end of a century which had seen the greatest advance in knowledge and the hope of peace, America should be turning against her ideals and “plunging into an unrighteous war.” America, Norton wrote, “has lost her unique position as a leader in the progress of civilization, and has taken up her place simply as one of the grasping and selfish nations of the present day.”  This great free land which for more than a century has offered a refuge to the oppressed of every land, has now turned to oppression.”

Principles of power

Captain Alfred Thayer Mahan, president of the Naval War College had discovered the controlling factor of war power, that whoever is master of the seas is master of the situation.  Mahan at once realized that “control of the sea was a historic factor which had never been systematically appreciated and expounded.”  The obvious corollary of Mahan‘s thesis was the peremptory need to develop the American navy.  We must without delay begin to build a navy which will at least equal that of England when the (Panama) Canal shall have become a fact.”

“In the U.S. the building of navies with more than coastal defense capacity was traditionally regarded as a sacrilege against the original idea of America as a nation which could live without aggression and demonstrate a new future to the world.  In Europe, however, the nations who had exercised power upon the seas for centuries were suddenly made aware by Mahan what they had.”

Ambition, interest, land-hunger, pride in the mere joy of fighting, whatever it may be” acknowledged the Washington Post, “we are animated by a new sensation…. the taste of Empire is in the mouth of the people even as the taste of blood in the jungle.”
Captain A.T. Mahan, announced in the Atlantic Monthly, “Americans must now begin to look outward.”


The main impulse for annexation of the Hawaiian Islands came from American property
interests which were dominated by Judge Dole and the sugar trust.  Roosevelt
wrote to Mahan asking him how to solve the political problem of acquiring the island.
Hawaii had been a sovereign independent state from 1810 - 1893 when its monarchy was
overthrown by a conspiracy between local landowners and economically self-interested
capitalists, with support of the U.S. Marines in January, 1893.  By 1898 it had been
annexed as a territory of the United States, and became a state in 1959.

“Empire can wait” became a rallying cry of the opponents of Hawaii’s annexation.
America’s remote position and immense power, freed her from the burden of armaments crushing the European powers.  Her mission in the world was “to show the older peoples and states an example of abstention from the quarrels and wars and conquests that make up so large and lamentable a part of the annals of Europe.

The annexationists argued that if the United States did not take Hawaii Great Britain would, or alternatively Japan, who was already plotting to gain control by encouraging the influx of Japanese subjects subsidized by their government.  It is such reasoning which would justify America conquering its near neighboring islands.  Extending this faulty logic justifying conquest brings leaders to draconian conclusions such as “We need Hawaii just as much and a good deal more than we did California McKinley told his secretary – “It is Manifest Destiny”.


In her book “The Bully Pulpit” (published in 2013) author Doris Kearns Goodwin writes “For more than two years, Cuban freedom fighters had engaged in a guerilla war against their Spanish occupiers.  Spanish authorities had retaliated by imposing martial law throughout the island, incarcerating nearly a third of the Cuban population in unsanitary concentration camps without sufficient food, water, or medical treatment.”

“In January 1898, McKinley agreed to station the battleship USS Maine in Havana Harbor as “an act of friendly courtesy” to the Cuban people. Then on February 15, the Maine exploded, killing 262 Americans.  Roosevelt immediately labeled the sinking “an act of dirty treachery on the part of the Spaniards.”  On April 11, 1898 Congress authorized armed intervention in Cuba.  Two weeks later, the United States formally declared war against Spain.”

In the naval battle of Santiago the Spanish fleet, attempting to run the American blockade, was destroyed by the superior fire of the so-lately built battleships, Indiana, Oregon, Massachusetts, Iowa and Texas.  With the surrender of Santiago two weeks later, Spanish rule came to an end, defeated, not by the Cuban insurgents, but by the United States.

“To take Cuba as the fruit of conquest was impossible, however alluring its strategic and mercantile advantages, but a smaller island, Porto Rico, at least was available.  Required to renounce Cuba and cede the smaller neighbor, Spain was eliminated from the Western hemisphere.  The degree of Cuba’s independence and nature of her relations with the United States was left to be worked out in the presence of an American occupation force.  The result was the Platt Amendment of 1901, establishing a virtual American protectorate.”

Philippine Islands

Roosevelt sent Mahan a plan of campaign for action in the Philippines.  “Our Asiatic Squadron should blockade and, if possible, take Manila,” Roosevelt wrote to Lodge on September 21, 1897.  Commodore Dewey’s squadron steamed into Manila Bay and with a day’s bombardment, destroyed the Spanish squadron and shore batteries.  Never had the country felt such a thrill of pride.  Greatest naval engagement of Modern times was one headline.  McKinley confessed” he could not have told where those darned islands were within 2000 miles.”

Lodge wrote, “We must on no account let the islands go….The American flag is up and it must stay.” Since there had been a Filipino independence movement in existence for thirty years, for which many had fought and suffered prison, exile and death, Senator Lodge’s simple solution took little account of the consent of the governed.  Forthright as usual, Lodge said, “Manilla with its magnificent bay is the prize and pearl of the East; … it will keep us open to the markets of China.  Expansion and conquest were accepted and the break with the American past confirmed.  Still at war in the Philippines, America moved into the Twentieth Century.

“Filipinos rose in their own war of independence as their forces attacked the American lines outside Manila.  Its independence leader was Emilio Aguinaldo, a young man of twenty-eight.  Military operations in the Philippines swelled in size and savagery.  Against the stubborn guerrilla warfare of the Filipinos, the U.S. Army poured in regiments, brigades, division, until as many a 75,000 – more than four times as many as saw action in Cuba – were engaged in the islands at one time.  They were three thousand miles from home, exasperated by heat, malaria, tropical rains, mud and mosquitoes.  They won all the skirmishes against an enemy who constantly renewed himself.” 

“In America the outbreak of war to be carried to the enemy and posing no danger to the homeland did not silence its opponents but galvanized them. Suddenly they became an entity with a name; the Anti-Imperialists.  Three days after Aguinaldo in the Philippines issued a declaration of independence, the Anti-Imperialist League was founded.  At home the Anti-Imperialists – through meeting, protests, speeches, articles, petitions, and public conferences – were attempting to hold their country back from plucking the archipelago in the Pacific which seemed to glow with the fatal evil of the apple in the Garden of Eden.”

Anxious to end the war and placate the “new-caught sullen peoples: and govern creditably, the administration sent various committees to find out what the Filipinos really wanted - short of self-government, which they said they wanted – and to report of what form of civil government to give them.  In April, 1900, the shy, kindly, three-hundred pound Judge William Howard Taft was sent out to set up a civil government, which granted the Filipinos a liberal degree of internal autonomy.

Aguinaldo and his forces learned of the settlement in bitterness and anguish, many of them hardly able to believe that their liberators and allies had turned into a new set of conquerors.  Without an organized army or modern weapons, they prepared to fight again.  Retreating into the mountains, still fighting, Aguinaldo was captured and in captivity signed an oath of allegiance to the U.S. together with a proclamation to his people calling for an end to resistance.

The public was not happy about the Philippine adventure and confused as to its duty.  Democrats and Populists especially had felt that war in Cuba to be in the cause of freedom.  Now, through some sorcery of fate, the war in the Philippines had turned in a matter of imposing sovereignty over an unwilling people by right of conquest.  America had become the new Spain.

Loss of dual exceptionalism

Professor Norton voiced the elegy of the Anti-Imperialists. “ I reach one conclusion, that I have been too much of an idealist about America, had set my hopes too high, had formed too fair and image of what she might become; never had a nation such an opportunity; she was the hope of the world.  Never again will any nation have her chance to raise the standard of civilization.”

Our founders personally experienced oppression or persecution, and as a result would not impose it on others.  As later generations lost such direct personal experience, understanding and empathy against oppression, it became easier to visit it upon others.  As citizens veered away from our government’s exceptional concepts, and started to embrace unethical but common colonialism’s grasping attitudes - it rationalized foreign conquest and building of empire.  America’s great and intelligent leaders, abandoning exceptionalism’s founding principles with the passage of time can be now seen to have become glaringly unexceptional relative to the nation’s founders.

This concept of losing or abandoning important principles over generations has somber resonance to war-ravaged refugees of WWII.  It is safe to say that nearly 100% of the displaced persons fleeing the devastation of this war who ultimately settled in the United States and elsewhere were staunchly against communism and socialism.  As they grew up, the children of these refugees were reminded of their parent’s plight and the dreadful enemy which was communism and socialism.  However, the next generation’s children had no such experience, memories or sufficient caution, such that educated, indoctrinated and brainwashed in long standing, left-leaning universities, these emerging adults often now readily embraced socialism.  Long-lived parents and grand-parents are appalled by such an embrace of socialism, while those who have passed on would turn in their graves if they had been aware of this travesty.  The parallels to oppressed founders and their descendants increasingly abandoning our exceptional form of government and adopting conquest and tyranny to those being murdered and oppressed by then-expanding communism and socialism with their descendants forgetting the calamity and eventually embracing socialism and other forms of tyranny is striking.

Compounding this almost natural generational sliding away from our exceptional governing principles is the activism of today’s large population of left-leaning socialists who are altering the original interpretation of our Constitution, and attempting to tear
down its most sacred freedoms of speech, religion, property, and self-defense, and substitute socialism for our nation’s generator of economic wellbeing and bounty - capitalism.  Aiding these socialists unwittingly are capitalists who do not understand that for capitalism to do well, a large prosperous and well-to-do middle class is necessary to support a successful capitalist system.  Accordingly putting profit above the welfare of workers is self-destructive. See: Capitalism Works, Ravenous Capitalism Doesn’t .  If one is to believe national polls and the media on such issues, one would be compelled to acknowledge that socialists are gaining momentum or even gaining majority opinion in some parts of the country.
Gaping income inequality breeds the increased radicalization of our populace, which feeds into socialism’s demand for improved income and welfare programs.  Increasing income disparity most often comes from elite business interests in seeking higher margins of profit which are not shared at all with workers.  It also comes from our installing autocratic governments in other countries which impose austerity on its citizens soon promoting rebellious socialist reaction.  Over the last century, increased income inequality regardless where in the world it has taken place has promoted leftist, socialist agitation leading to conflict, and their election into democratic government.  Capitalists must understand that successful capitalism requires living wages within the context of a given economy, and narrow wage inequality for the system to persist without social agitation, unrest and insurrection.

Necessary acknowledgments

America has long been known as an exceptional nation with allegedly comparable citizens.  However, we must finally understand and acknowledge that America as a nation was exceptional due to its unique constitutional enabling freedoms and form of government.  The distribution of highly intelligent people around the world is fairly uniform, and therefore we have little valid claim on being a country of exceptional people from an intelligence perspective.  Our citizens, when they have accomplished extraordinary things has been partly due to the freedoms enshrined in our exceptional form of government rather than the exceptionalism of its people – even as such freedoms engendered confidence which fostered more extraordinary independently-minded, risk-taking, achieving people.  Our exceptional form of government allowed and encouraged ordinary people to attain extraordinary results.

America has achieved glorious success and has built an empire unmatched in the history of the world.  In that process it has freed countries and peoples, as it also has conquered.  It has basked in the admiring approbation of nations as that bright and glowing castle of liberty and democracy on the hill.  Over decades, however, with changing national goals and a new generation of elites - that former image didn’t fully comport with the experiences of nations dealing with America, and eventually intervention and conquest has created a less endearing image.

So we come to understand, that to be opposed to oppression one must experience it personally, as did our country’s founders.  It becomes increasingly possible for people to become tyrants with every passing generation distanced from their own experience of being oppressed.  Jefferson understood this and observed that “the tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants”.  Even today’s common folk wisdom acknowledges the important lesson first stated by philosopher George Santayana: those who do not learn from history are condemned to repeat it.

From the foregoing we can see that America abandoned its original principles of non-conquest and non-intervention over a century ago, and accelerated intervention and conquest throughout the 20th century and beyond. Consequently serial conquests and persistent waging of war has brought America its global empire.  The abandonment of these important principles many decades later can now be seen as very costly, for this nation is at risk of losing its former way of life.  Empire has coalesced global resistance against America’s foreign policies sharply reducing its number of voluntary allies.  In addition, its aggressive foreign policy and frequent call of our troops to war in foreign lands has promoted internal strife in this nation which has brought us to the precipice of a new internal civil war. 

The people of the country have not and do not want wars, conquests and acquisitions, but our unexceptional leaders over many generations have been all for it – because it is profitable for themselves or their elite business oligarchs.  Since they have not experienced war or oppression up close personally, they simply do not and cannot understand.  They do not share this personal humbling experience to make them embrace exceptional the non-interventionist principles of our nation’s founders. 

It is noteworthy that none of the wars fought by the United States in the last two centuries has been a result of aggressors amassing their conquering military forces on our borders, but rather our military forces fighting or invading other countries.  The increased frequency of such overt military and financial aggression as well as covert regime changes over decades, rationalized by falsehoods in its basis such as “they are developing weapons of mass destruction” has alienated domestic citizens disrespecting our governance, and coalesced external countries to stand up to what they now often see as a global bully.  

The direction and military/geopolitical events in the world today leads one to foresee a time when the shortsightedness of our leading elite totally destroys our exceptional form of government both from challenges and conflicts from without, and socialist challengers from within – such that our nation will have abandoned its Constitution and its way of life, with our leaders ultimately gaining the experience of personal oppression.  If other nations can learn from our lengthy, varied experience and rise to practice non-intervention themselves, perhaps our nation can be renewed again.

Raymond Matison
Mr. Matison was an Institutional Investor magazine top ten financial analyst of the insurance industry, founded Kidder Peabody’s investment banking activities in the insurance industry, and was a Director, Investment Banking in Merrill Lynch Capital Markets.   He can be e-mailed at
Copyright © 2019 Raymond Matison - All Rights Reserved

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