Chapter 1 - America's Freedom Faith and The Cold War

changes, upon the credit of mere hypothesis and opinion, exposes to perpetual change, from the endless variety of hypothesis and opinion; and remember, especially, that for the efficient management of your common interest, in a country so extensive as ours, a government of as much vigor as is consistent with the perfect security of liberty is indispensable. Liberty itself will find in such a government, with powers properly distributed and adjusted, its surest guardian. . . .
[Factions and Individual Despotism] The alternate domination of one faction over another, sharpened by the spirit of revenge, natural to party dissension, which in different ages and countries has perpetrated the most horrid enormities, is itself a frightful despotism. . . . The disorders and miseries which result gradually incline the minds of men to seek security and repose in the absolute power of an individual; and sooner or later the chief of some prevailing faction, more able or more fortunate than his competitors, turns this disposition to the purposes of his own elevation, on the ruins of public liberty. . . .
[Centralized Departments, State Despotism] It is important . . . that the habits of thinking in a free country should inspire caution in those entrusted with its administration, to confine themselves within their respective constitutional spheres, avoiding in the exercise of the powers of one department to encroach upon another. The spirit of encroachment tends to consolidate the powers of all the departments in one, and thus to create, whatever the form of government, a real despotism. A just estimate of that love of power, and proneness to abuse it, which predominates in the human heart, is sufficient to satisfy us of the truth of this position. The necessity of reciprocal checks in the exercise of political power, by dividing and distributing it into different depositaries, and constituting each the guardian of the public weal against invasions by the others, has been evinced by experiments ancient and modern; some of them in our country and under our own eyes. . . .
[Religion, Morality, Justice] Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports. In vain would that man claim the tribute of patriotism, who should labor to subvert these great pillars of human happiness, these firmest props of the duties of men and citizens. . . . It will be worthy of a free, enlightened, and at no distant period, a great nation, to give to mankind the magnanimous and too novel example of a people always guided by an exalted justice and benevolence. . . . Harmony, liberal intercourse with all nations, are recommended by policy, humanity, and interest. (headings added)10
Foreign Alliances and Washington’s Caveats. Isolationists and libertarians have at times mistakenly applied George Washington’s warning in this address against foreign “entangling” alliances in Europe and elsewhere as if he had spoken in the Cold War and later historical context of trans-oceanic, intercontinental-range missiles. It is important to note that Washington put his warning into a different eighteenth-century context of a “detached and distant situation”:
[Europe] must be engaged in frequent controversies, the causes of which are essentially foreign to our concerns. Hence, therefore, it must be unwise in us to implicate ourselves by artificial ties in the ordinary vicissitudes of her politics, or the ordinary combinations and collisions of her friendships or enmities. Our detached and distant situation invites and enables us to pursue a different course.11
Washington further seriously qualified the above counsel when he added that it was only feasible when “we may defy material injury from external annoyance” and “as we are now at liberty to do it.”12 The situation had clearly changed by the twentieth century and George Washington, a general and statesman, would likely have counseled a U.S. national security strategy close to Reagan’s policy of “peace through strength” in the face of existential threats, such as those posed by the Soviet Union, nuclear weapons, and global terrorism.
Thomas Jefferson. A chief author of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution as well as a future U.S. Secretary of State and President, Jefferson is considered with George Washington, James Madison (author of “The Federalist Papers”), and Alexander Hamilton (who argued for a strong national government and was an early Secretary of the Treasury) to be one of the key founders of U.S. constitutionalism. Jefferson’s Words Inscribed on the Jefferson Memorial, dedicated in Washington, D.C. in 1943, reflect important elements of America’s freedom faith.
Under the Jefferson Memorial’s dome is the inscription: “I have sworn upon the altar of god eternal hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind of man” (from Jefferson’s letter to Benjamin Rush, September 23, 1800). The Memorial’s first panel cites the following excerpts, cited earlier from the Declaration of Independence:
[Book pg. 10]