By Carlos Alberto Montaner
It is nothing new. A high percentage of American society has invariably been in favor of isolationism. Perhaps that is what George Washington, the first president of the United States, defended when he said in his long letter of farewell from power, written on September 17, 1796 in Philadelphia, where the seat of the government was back then: “Europe has a set of primary interests which to us have none; or a very remote relation. Hence she 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.”
Perhaps George Washington was right. The United States was then a nation that occupied only a fragment of the Atlantic region, divided into 13 more or less independent states, on the survival of which no one in their right mind bet a penny.
They were not united by love for the newly created Republic, but by fright at the redcoats of the British army, the “mameyes,” as the Cubans called them when Havana, in 1762, was occupied by the English for a few months. It was the time of the mameyes.
However, social inertia, the natural evolution of societies for more than two centuries and, above all, immigration, have led the country in the opposite direction, towards globalization, international alliances, miscegenation, and multiculturalism.
The first surprise was that of Thomas Jefferson, the third president of the United States. He had to face two violent shocks: he sent James Monroe and Robert Livingston to negotiate the acquisition of the city of New Orleans, from which the Mississippi River was controlled, but Napoleon, faced with the probable defenselessness of the territory against the English, offered through Talleyrand, his Chancellor, to sell all of Louisiana for $15 million, including, of course, New Orleans.
It was a bargain. Louisiana had an area of more than 820,000 square miles (nothing to do with the current size of the State of Louisiana.) It doubled the US territory by $18 per square mile. But what would be done with the thousands of French expats? White settlers and their descendants were given all rights, including speaking French and controlling their property in accordance with French law. Multiculturalism, although it was not called that back then, had been born.
The second was not exactly a surprise, but it tested the ability to operate a US naval force far away from the national territory against a common enemy, the Berber states of Northern Africa, dedicated to piracy and the collection of ransom from sailors, especially Americans. In front of the common enemy, the differences between Virginians and Georgians disappeared. The first hero of the Marine Corps emerged: Stephen Decatur, born in Maryland.
It is true that Thomas Jefferson was a peaceful, constitutionalist ruler who disliked acting against other nations. However, his responsibilities as president placed him in a difficult juncture: doubling the Union’s territory, something that was not in his plans or was part of his republican powers, which he was often bitterly reminded of by his political opponents in Congress, and act thousands of kilometers from its shores, in a war that today we would qualify as “imperial.”
A few years later the nucleus of friction (today it is called the “axis of confrontation”) was the annexation of Texas. The vast territory, with just 5,000 settlers, was part of Mexico in the 1820s, but they began to invite Americans to settle in the neighboring country where they would receive a good endowment of land. One of them was Sam Houston. After a brief war, in which the Mexicans, led by the colorful General Santa Anna, were defeated, the Americans announced the birth of the Republic of Texas.
The first president was Sam Houston and he soon asked for annexation to the United States. This was granted in 1845 after a fierce national debate that lasted almost a decade. As always, there was a great moral battle over what was, without a doubt, an imperial act of conquest far removed from the principles that sustained the creation of the first modern republic, only that there was already a theory to support it.
In fact, that theory was called Manifest Destiny, and it proposed that God had ordained the United States to be the great civilizing factor in the New World. The one who knew how to rule and do things. The country that had dazzled Alexis de Tocqueville and, in its own way and for other reasons, Karl Marx, was called to become the first power on the planet. ©Firmas PressCarlos Alberto Montaner is a journalist and writer. Born in 1943 in Cuba and exiled, Montaner is known for his more than 25 books and thousands of articles. PODER magazine estimates that more than six million readers have access to his weekly columns throughout Latin America. He is also a political analyst for CNN en Espanol. In 2012, Foreign Policy magazine named Montaner as one of the fifty most influential intellectuals in the Ibero-American world. His latest novel is A Time for Scoundrels. His latest essay is "The President: A Handbook for Voters and the Elected." His latest book is Sin ir más lejos (Memories), published by Debate, a label of Penguin-Random House.