American Foreign Policy: a Progressive View

Robert M. La Follette, the progressive candidate. Library of Congress

It is historically characteristic of governments devoted to conservative measures and the maintenance of the status quo in domestic matters to develop an aggressive policy in foreign affairs, and similarly for governments whose chief outlook is toward the progressive improvement of existing conditions to seek to disembarrass themselves from the complications of foreign policy. Whether or not much weight should be attached to the popular interpretation of conservative policy as seeking to allay discontent at home by feeding national pride with triumphs abroad, there is an apparent relation between the amount of attention in a democracy which is directed to internal development and reform, and that which can be released to sustain an active interest in external relations. Thus the two great periods of internal development in the United States, one beginning with the administration of Jefferson and the other after the Civil War, were characterized by an indifference toward foreign affairs which yielded only to the aggressions of others. In England the liberal statesmen, Lord John Russell, Cobden, and Gladstone, minimized the interest in external relations, while the conservatives, Disraeli, Palmerston, and Salisbury, emphasized it.

It is natural therefore that the Progressive movement in the United States should be regarded as so deeply concerned with the domestic situation as to be comparatively indifferent to foreign policy, and that its leaders, partly, it is true, through their own utterances, should be considered the most pronounced of isolationists. As a matter of fact the platform of the Third Party devotes its final and longest plank to foreign policy, advocating a program which challenges the attention and thought of the public to an extent immeasurably greater than the conventional pronouncements of the older parties--a plank which, should the Progressives have an opportunity to carry it out in practice, would involve a complete break with the principles upon which the two preceding administrations have acted.

The plank headed Foreign Policy in the Progressive Platform is as follows:

We denounce the mercenary system of foreign

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