John Quincy Adams on Values vs. Interests

I don’t agree with Judah’s specific sentiment below that the Bush administration has seen the “worst erosion of our own democratic traditions” (WWII was much worse, for example), but I do agree with the general sentiment that liberty at home can be endangered by crusading abroad. John Quincy Adams, the first son of a president to himself become president, did too. His oft-cited July 4, 1821, speech to the U.S. House of Representatives, when he was serving as Secretary of State, is worth revisiting in this context. Here’s an excerpt:

Wherever the standard of freedom and Independence has been or shall be unfurled, there will [America’s] heart, her benedictions and her prayers be. But she goes not abroad, in search of monsters to destroy. She is the well-wisher to the freedom and independence of all. She is the champion and vindicator only of her own. She will commend the general cause by the countenance of her voice, and the benignant sympathy of her example. She well knows that by once enlisting under other banners than her own, were they even the banners of foreign independence, she would involve herself beyond the power of extrication, in all the wars of interest and intrigue, of individual avarice, envy, and ambition, which assume the colors and usurp the standard of freedom. The fundamental maxims of her policy would insensibly change from liberty to force. . . . She might become the dictatress of the world. She would be no longer the ruler of her own spirit. . . .

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