The Founders Weren't Isolationists Nor Libertarians

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    Came across this smear piece the other day. It presumes to present historical “facts” about why Ron Paul is wrong on his foreign policy and that the Founders would not agree with his “isolationist” views.

    It’s somewhat lengthy but I wanted to see if anyone wanted to weigh in on this. It appears to have been written last year during the primaries so maybe this has already been addressed, in which case, I would appreciate a link to any articles that have been written in response to it. Thanks!



    This is a very good topic and I think one that needs to be addressed.

    First, the Founders were not isolationists. Ron Paul as said this. They were anti-intervention, which is different from isolation, and that is the position Dr. Paul has adopted. They preferred to be peaceful trading partners with the world and opposed intervention in Europe and elsewhere. Washington did warn against alliances–and the U.S. for years attempted to get out of the one they singed with France during the American War for Independence–precisely because he, and other members of the founding generation, understood the potential danger for American sovereignty. They did not want to close down the borders and simply reject foreign intercourse. They did demand that other powers play by the same rules, and of course when the British and French became rather obnoxious, the United States took action, at first through diplomacy, non-importation and an embargo, then later through military action. Both John Adams and James Madison attempted to pull the reins on a headlong rush to war. Adams was more successful than Madison, obviously. And, the Monroe Doctrine did not advance an interventionist swing by the Monroe administration. That would be T. Roosevelt’s Corollary almost one hundred years later.

    Second, as for the the founding generation as libertarians, they were not in the modern sense, but they had a firm grasp of the principles of liberty and fear of central authority. Even the “big government” bunch among them would be appalled by the current destruction of civil liberty in the United States. Remember, each State had a bill of rights, as did the federal government, all in an attempt to safeguard the liberty of the people. They were men of their time and yes many owned slaves, but so did the Greeks and Romans, the progenitors of classical republican principles. The founding generation were republicans, not democrats, and that is a key distinction to make.

    The piece is also littered with mistakes:

    There is a “founders'” view of the Constitution. It is the Constitution as ratified in 1787 and 1788. That is the Constitution the Jeffersonians continually tried to force the opposition to accept.

    The Second Bank of the United States was chartered during Madison’s administration, but not the first, and the idea was rejected outright at the Philadelphia convention. The Bank was only made “constitutional” by John Marshall in 1819, but even Hamilton conceded that the power had to be implied and was not an enumerated power in Article 1, Section 8. Madison, in signing the Second Bank bill, recognized that nothing had changed, but precedent forced him to agree to another bank.

    The American War for Independence was not a “democratic revolution” and nothing like the French variety.

    Ok, enough for now. Hope that helped.


    These neocons know perfectly well that Ron Paul has never claimed to be an isolationist. He’s a non-interventionist.

    The idea that Ron Paul is arguing that America shouldn’t have accepted French help in the Revolution is just doltish. It’s clearly a lie, akin to “Vote for me, and I’ll give you a telephone.” This is how stupid people think we are nowadays.

    The column to which you pointed is full of inanities, so I don’t want to waste time replying to every point. Let me just tackle one more: the response to Ron Paul’s claim that the Founders were non-interventionist by saying that Hamilton didn’t agree with Jefferson and Madison. This is a non sequitur: if I say, “Joe and Jim like Toyotas,” and you respond, “But one’s a Democrat and one’s a Republican,” what does that contribute to our mutual enlightenment? Yes, the Founders had disagreements. Yet, none of them wanted to go invade Portugal.


    Haha, 2 professor replies! Awesome!

    No, I’m certainly aware of Ron Paul’s foreign policy principles and know that these neocons are (deliberately) misconstruing his words and ideas about isolationism vs. non-interventionism. I was asking for clarification on some of the finer points that the article talked about that were masquerading as “facts”.

    As there were many such “facts”, I know it’s challenging to refute all of them in a concise manner. I’m working my way through a bevy of books and obviously the courses here but there’s only so much I can do at once, so sometimes I need to rely on the quick and well-informed responses of the Liberty Professors instead! Thanks!


    I’m not a professor, but I’ll try to chip in and address some of the fallacies/errors as I see them.

    Firstly, the assertion that isolationism resulted in WWII. This is patently false. There was not one standalone cause of the war; however, if it was absolutely necessary to boil the entire war down to one cause, it would be the 1919 Treaty of Versailles. The treaty so deeply crippled Germany, thus leaving it ripe for a demagogue such as Hitler. Woodrow Wilson realized this (as pointed out in the beginnings of William Henry Chamberlin’s excellent America’s Second Crusade. Wilson knew that the only thing that would prevent an imminent second war was what he called a peace without victory, or a peace that was not punitive.

    Circling back to an earlier assertion, Hitler most definitely would not have attacked the US. He did not want to fight us and took pains to avoid antagonizing us. He knew that once we were in the war (Just like WWI), it would not end well for him.

    It states “The isolationists state that the founders were in agreement”. Any “isolationist” who would claim that doesn’t know their history, pure and simple.

    Also, I would question the assertion that the founders wanted to spread freedom and “democracy” throughout the world. Any time, every time that you see it implied that the Founders had a positive opinion of democracy, you see someone who is either lying or has been lied to. The founders, even Jefferson, did not support democracy and were very wary of mob rule. They would not have supported democracy at home, and most certainly would not want it to spread throughout the world. This is another sad case of neocons confusing democracy with liberty.

    I would point to John Quincy Adams (he who yearned for a national university and federally-funded canals, among many other budget-busters), who once wrote that America “is the well-wisher to the freedom and independence of all. She is the champion and vindicator only of her own.” While he was not a member of the founding generation and by no means had the views of a Jefferson, he clearly believed that America was a shining light to the liberty of the world, and no more.

    The author goes on to state “The Constitution was the result of team work and many compromises. Almost no one agreed with the whole document. There is no “Founder’s view” of the Constitution. The Jeffersonian’s were always at odds with the Adams/Hamilton Federalists. “ I would recommend reading Brion McClanahan’s The Founding Fathers’ Guide to the Constitution. I am currently working my way through it, so I can’t totally deal with their assertion, but signatures to a document were taken very seriously back then, and I doubt many of the signers would’ve signed a document they did not agree with totally. I believe it was George Mason who refused to sign because the passage requiring Congress to obtain a 2/3 majority to enact tariffs was changed to only require a simple majority. He then ends by saying that the Jeffersonians were always at odds with the Federalists. This is also common knowledge, and should not be disputed by anyone with a knowledge of history.

    Next, he goes on to chastise Ron Paul for being uncompromising. I’m also upset that we have one politician who has principles. Yes. This is a bad thing. Ahem…

    I quote: “Dr. Paul wants to return numerous powers to the states, but that is what existed under the Articles of Confederation. The states then had unlimited powers and were almost totally sovereign. The system was a complete failure and America was not truly a nation.” No, this is what existed when the 10th Amendment was ratified. That is what the 10th Amendment does – return unenumerated powers to the states and to the people.

    “Madison is referred to as “the father of the Constitution,” but the Bank of the United States was chartered during his administration.” Not totally false, but definitely misleading. See here, where it is clearly mentioned that Jefferson and Madison were among the original opponents of the First BUS, which they believed to be unconstitutional. Hamilton’s arguments prevailed on Washington, and he signed the bill into law. Dr. McClanahan explains above why Madison signed the charter of the 2nd BUS even though he objected to the charter of the first.

    He then goes on to cite Washington’s ‘peace through strength’ plan as perfect for modern foreign policy, even though his advice to avoid foreign entanglements is anchronistic. This guy is indecisive. Or a hypocrite…

    His “conclusion” stumbles around and repeats a lot. He references George Washington a lot as if he was some perfect figure. Among other doozies that I won’t even dignify with a response:
    –The Electoral College isn’t mentioned in the Constitution
    –The strict constructionists of the founding era were flexible
    –Libertarians claim to represent the united founders

    We should also not forget that, just like Lincoln, FDR maneuvered and provoked the Japanese into attacking us at Pearl Harbor. Had he behaved differently, many lives that were lost could have been spared. The provocation of the Japanese leading up to Pearl Harbor is excellently documented in two books, freely available from the Mises Institute:

    Pearl Harbor: The Seeds and Fruits of Infamy by Percy L. Greaves, Jr


    Back Door to War: The Roosevelt Foreign Policy 1933-1941 by Charles Callan Tansill.

    America wasn’t innocently attacked because “isolationists” didn’t join the war. We reaped the fruits of diplomatic provocation.

    I apologize if this post was overly long and unwieldy, but I hope it helped address some of the “facts” you were still questioning.


    No, not overly long at all, a great point-by-point refutation. Thanks so much!


    Funny, I’ve also been reading articles about the Founding Fathers overseas abroad action.

    This one claims that we intervened in 60 times between 1783-1860:

    This one states that non-interventionist is not what the Founding Fathers meant by their policy:

    This one discusses the Barbary Pirate episode:

    About the use of force abroad:

    This one has to be the worst though. Right out deceptive charts in the beginning show apparently, how ‘little’ we’re spending on defense spending now compared to the first 70 years of the Republic. Ridiculous.

    Thankfully, even some the comments call the article out on its BS.

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