American Isolationism


Many politicians spout that they wish that America was as it was during the 1930s; isolated and away from the world stage. The question begs: Was America ever a true Isolationist country? In truth, at no time in our history were we truly isolated as many would believe.

Revolutionary War till 1865

Right from the start, American’s have always eyed expansion. At first, we tried to invade Canada, twice during the Revolutionary war and once more during the War of 1812. Also, let’s not forget that after the war, there were only 13 colonies. Quickly, we began to expand westward past the Appalachian Mountains, while dealing with Britain and France over the kidnapping of our sailors during the Napoleonic Wars. Between 1801 to 1815, America fought three separate wars, The First Barbary War (1801 – 1805), the War of 1812 (1812 – 1815) and the Second Barbary War (1815). The two Barbary Wars were fought both on the seas and on the land of North Africa against piracy in the Mediterranean.

Shortly after this, Mexico called for Americans to populate the northern region of their land, Texas. By the 1830s, this attitude was changed sharply as extremely large number of Americans (and other European) immigrants arrived, resulting in the Texas Revolution (October 1835 – April 1836). This Mexican defeat would be left simmering in the minds of Mexicans until America provoked them, igniting the Mexican-American War (1846 – 1848).

With the discovery of gold in California in 1848, Americans were left with two routes to reach California. One was a long and dangerous overland route, while the other was to head south to a railroad in Panama, that connected the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. Up until the turn of the century, this railroad was the most lucrative in the world as gold, materials, people and U.S. Mail would travel this course.

As the Civil War was winding down in 1865, the United States, with arguably the largest military in the world at the time, began moving troops to the Rio Grande River, in the anticipation of invading Mexico. This time, America wouldn’t be fighting Mexicans, but a French army. Napoleon III had taken over Mexico, hoping to expand his empire, especially while America was too busy fighting a war that might tear itself apart. Instead, Napoleon’s forces were face to face with a large, battle-harden American force. Napoleon III began to withdraw his troops as America began to downsize their forces.

1867 to The Great War

Known as Seward’s Folly, beginning shortly after the end of the Civil War, Secretary of State William Seward began negotiations with the Russians for the accusation of the land called Alaska. Many in the United States government though this deal was foolhardy, but in 1867, with the approval of the U.S. congress, Seward had successfully negotiated the deal with the Russian Ambassador to purchase the total of Alaska for only $7.2 million, or roughly 2 cents an acre.

During this time, America was still dealing with fighting and negotiating with the various Native American tribes. Several battles were fought between Native warriors and the United States military, including the ill-fated Battle of Little Bighorn in which General Custer and his men were overwhelmed by a superior tribal force. America would continue to negotiate with the various tribes up till even today. Also, America participated in stopping the Boxer Rebellion in China at the turn of the century, along with the other nations of Europe and Japan.

In 1898, with the explosion of the USS Maine in Havana Harbor, America falsely blamed Spanish agents for its destruction and declared war on Spain. By the time the smoked cleared, America was in command of a small Empire, with control over the Philippians, Guam and Puerto Rico, along with the establishment of the naval base at Guantanamo Bay. Until the beginning of the First World War, America would have constant conflict with native rebel groups in the Philippines.

During the 1880s, many Central and South American nations had asked for loans from Europe and America. Britain, wanting to make sure it kept American sympathy, asked the U.S. intervene in several issues it had with back loans. When the rest of the nations couldn’t pay their debt, the other mighty Empires of Europe sent ships and troops to deal with the problem. In 1904, President Theodore Roosevelt announced his Corollary to the long standing Monroe Doctrine, saying that America would protect the nations of the Western Hemisphere. Presidents Taft and Wilson would also put their own spin on this, namely Dollar Diplomacy.

In 1904, Panama won its independence from Colombia thanks to an American warship blocking Colombian reinforcements. That same month, Panama signed a treaty with American and work began on the Panama Canal, which would remain in American hands until 31 December 1999. The Canal would officially open days after the First World War began. President Wilson himself would invade Mexico at the port of Vera Cruz, as well as come into the Great European war on the side of Britain, even though he had been sending his most trusted advisor, Colonel House, to try and bring a peace since the first bullets were fired.

The Between War Years and Conclusion

This is the time when most history books proclaim that America was at their most isolated. In 1920, the last of the U.S. troops left Serbia, the last of the Great War soldiers to leave Europe. To try and stop a future war, the Washington Naval Conference of 1921 called for all nations to stop construction of capital ships for ten years as well as to limit the number of total ships in their respective navies. Several other naval treaties would follow through to 1922. In 1929, the Kellogg-Brand Act was signed by many nations of the world to, once again, try and stem the want of a future war like the First World War.

Through the 1920s and 1930s, Presidents Herbert Hoover and even Franklin Roosevelt talked with all the nations that America had granted loans to, asking that they be paid back, even with the world wide Depression going on. With the announcement of the Good Neighbor Policy in 1933, American began to withdraw into itself as it withdrew troops from Central and South America, but because of its several treaties, including the naval agreements, it would still be involved in world politics, though at a safe distance. As Hitler’s forces marched on through Europe, America opened its arms to Britain and Russia. Across the Pacific Ocean, America was sending vital aid to China and cutting off much needed oil and raw materials to a strong Japan military machine. It would be this act that would lead to Japan’s attack of Pearl Harbor on 7 December 1941 and America’s entry into the World War II.

America has been anything but isolated, despite what many textbooks may say. Though she spent a brief spell holed up behind her borders in the 1930s, her sights and attention were toward the world around her as America continued to talk, send aid or even money to fellow nations in need.