Wednesday September 14, 2016
On the Fourth of July in 1821, John Quincy Adams delivered one of the most remarkable speeches in American history. The speech is entitled, “In Search of Monsters to Destroy.” In his speech, Adams described America’s founding principles on foreign policy. He pointed out that there are lots of bad, monstrous things that go on in the world — dictatorships, tyranny, famines, starvation, wars, discord, corruption, and the like. America, however, does not go abroad in search of such monsters and attempt to save people from them. Instead, Adams said, Americans would strive to build a model society of freedom, peace, prosperity, and harmony here at home for the world to emulate and also to serve as a sanctuary for people who flee such monsters.
Adams was building on the ideas and the philosophy of people like George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, who had spoken against America’s ever entering into alliances with other countries or being part of blocs to serve as counterweights to other blocs and against bearing enmity against particular nations.
America’s founding governmental structure did not permit it to go abroad and intervene in the affairs of other nations. The Constitution had called into existence a limited-government republic, one that had a basic military force but nothing like the enormous military-intelligence establishment that we have today. That’s because of the deep antipathy that our American ancestors had toward standing armies, which, they believed, posed a giant threat to the citizens of a nation, directly as well as indirectly through the incessant wars in which standing armies inevitably embroil a nation. As James Madison, the father of the Constitution had pointed out, of all the enemies to liberty, war is the biggest because it encompasses all the other ones, including centralization of power and ever-increasing debts and taxes.
Adams added an admonition in his speech. He said that if America were ever to abandon its non-interventionism foreign policy, she would become like a “dictatress” — that is, a government that would wield and exercise dictatorial powers, both at home and abroad, and that would begin behaving like a dictator. The point was clear: To remain free, America would have to keep a constitutionally limited-government republic. Abandoning that governmental structure would mean abandoning a free society.