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Scientific Racism and the American System of International Relations

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Abstract:

Scholarship on the political thought of the American founding has usually emphasized how innovations in the design of domestic political institutions—federalism, the separation of powers, the bill of rights, and so on—distinguished the early American republic from the monarchies of Europe. Recently, though, a growing literature in American history has shown that the founders were as focused on advancing beyond European accomplishments in the organization of international relations as in constitutional design. Here, the most decisive American innovation was an effort not only to set the New World apart from the Old, but to actually bring it together under the auspices of an expansive and expandable union of formerly separate colonies. As Publius argued in the first eleven numbers of The Federalist, the “balance of powers” system that governed interactions amongst Europe’s sovereign states was incompatible with the prosperous republic Americans aimed to establish. An ever-present threat of invasion initiated a vicious cycle of spending, taxation, and tyranny which no republic could resist. Trans-Atlantic isolation afforded a temporary respite but ultimately, if the states emerging from European rule remained fully sovereign, they would either become entangled in conflicting European alliances, or replicate Europe’s destructive history of inter-state conflict and warfare on the North American continent. The union offered an alternative, joining states that would one day come into conflict under common governments that could discourage members’ acquisitive resort to arms in their interactions with other members.

The unionist ideal presided over the United States’ early approach to westward expansion, and, for a time, in its relations with the new states of Spanish America, where it was embodied in widely-cherished proposals to establish a hemisphere-wide “American System” of peaceful inter-state relations. But in Congressional debates surrounding the enunciation of the Monroe Doctrine, and in the years that followed, the idea of expanding the union to encompass the entire hemisphere receded, and was gradually replaced by a more traditionally European approach to international relations, in which the United States sought to consolidate authority over other sovereign states, without according their citizens any political rights or representation. After tracing its rise and fall, this paper argues that the abandonment of the unionist ideal in American international relations had its origins in the newly “scientific” accounts of racial diversity that Americans embraced, particularly through the second half of the nineteenth century. Scientific racism provided the opponents of the American system with a compelling language in which to defend the transformation of the world’s first state born of anti-imperial revolution into the world’s most imposing imperial power.
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Name: American Political Science Association Annual Meeting
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Simon, Joshua. "Scientific Racism and the American System of International Relations" Paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Political Science Association Annual Meeting, TBA, Philadelphia, PA, Sep 01, 2016 <Not Available>. 2017-11-28 <http://citation.allacademic.com/meta/p1124085_index.html>

APA Citation:

Simon, J. , 2016-09-01 "Scientific Racism and the American System of International Relations" Paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Political Science Association Annual Meeting, TBA, Philadelphia, PA Online <PDF>. 2017-11-28 from http://citation.allacademic.com/meta/p1124085_index.html

Publication Type: Conference Paper/Unpublished Manuscript
Review Method: Peer Reviewed
Abstract: Scholarship on the political thought of the American founding has usually emphasized how innovations in the design of domestic political institutions—federalism, the separation of powers, the bill of rights, and so on—distinguished the early American republic from the monarchies of Europe. Recently, though, a growing literature in American history has shown that the founders were as focused on advancing beyond European accomplishments in the organization of international relations as in constitutional design. Here, the most decisive American innovation was an effort not only to set the New World apart from the Old, but to actually bring it together under the auspices of an expansive and expandable union of formerly separate colonies. As Publius argued in the first eleven numbers of The Federalist, the “balance of powers” system that governed interactions amongst Europe’s sovereign states was incompatible with the prosperous republic Americans aimed to establish. An ever-present threat of invasion initiated a vicious cycle of spending, taxation, and tyranny which no republic could resist. Trans-Atlantic isolation afforded a temporary respite but ultimately, if the states emerging from European rule remained fully sovereign, they would either become entangled in conflicting European alliances, or replicate Europe’s destructive history of inter-state conflict and warfare on the North American continent. The union offered an alternative, joining states that would one day come into conflict under common governments that could discourage members’ acquisitive resort to arms in their interactions with other members.

The unionist ideal presided over the United States’ early approach to westward expansion, and, for a time, in its relations with the new states of Spanish America, where it was embodied in widely-cherished proposals to establish a hemisphere-wide “American System” of peaceful inter-state relations. But in Congressional debates surrounding the enunciation of the Monroe Doctrine, and in the years that followed, the idea of expanding the union to encompass the entire hemisphere receded, and was gradually replaced by a more traditionally European approach to international relations, in which the United States sought to consolidate authority over other sovereign states, without according their citizens any political rights or representation. After tracing its rise and fall, this paper argues that the abandonment of the unionist ideal in American international relations had its origins in the newly “scientific” accounts of racial diversity that Americans embraced, particularly through the second half of the nineteenth century. Scientific racism provided the opponents of the American system with a compelling language in which to defend the transformation of the world’s first state born of anti-imperial revolution into the world’s most imposing imperial power.


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