The North Atlantic Treaty, creating the defense alliance of NATO, was signed in April 1949, but required Senate ratification. The vote for this came in July. Senator Robert A. Taft—the effective leader of the Republican Party in the Senate—announced his intention to oppose the treaty and, after it passed, made another speech criticizing it. One can read the speech as an example of the isolationist, “fortress America” approach to foreign policy that leaders like Taft and former President Hoover espoused. Many viewed Taft’s view as outmoded by the post-World War II reality of an expansionist Soviet Union, and the isolationist character of Taft’s thinking helped defeat his runs for the Republican presidential nomination in 1948 and 1952. However, Taft’s speech merits reading for the contrast he draws between the North Atlantic Treaty and the Monroe Doctrine, an earlier assertion of the US intent to defend its foreign interests against any attempt by a major power to expand its empire. Taft’s critique details how much further the United States would now go to protect allies, as well as how much firmer the commitment we were now willing to make.
In July of 1864, the Civil War was in its fourth summer, its end point uncertain but its enormous cost in human life painfully clear. The Union Army had not yet achieved the decisive victory that would insure the vindication of Lincoln’s understanding of the Union as unbreakable. And the people of the North were questioning the war’s human cost. Looking ahead to the fall presidential election, Lincoln thought it unlikely that voters would return him to office, and he expected that his Democratic opponent, if elected, would begin negotiating peace on Confederate terms–probably allowing slavery to continue and implicitly or explicitly acknowledging the right of individual states to nullify federal law or withdraw from the Union at will.
Hence we can infer that a bill pushed through Congress by radical Republicans just before it adjourned for summer recess seemed to Lincoln intemperate and impractical. The Wade-Davis bill tried to predetermine the policy for the reconstruction of the South that would follow a Union victory in the war. It would have stipulated that only those who could swear an oath that they had never given aid to the Confederacy be allowed to vote in the reconstructed states. It would also have required any state readmitted to the Union to have abolished slavery. Lincoln had shown through the Emancipation Proclamation that he now saw the abolition of slavery as a necessary outcome of the war, but he wanted that abolition to be made permanent by Constitutional amendment, and securing the two-thirds majority necessary to pass the Thirteenth Amendment through the House of Representatives was proving difficult. Lincoln pocket-vetoed the Wade-Davis bill, but he went on to issue on July 8 a proclamation explaining this action, in which he said he was
unprepared, by a formal approval of this Bill, to be inflexibly committed to any single plan of restoration; and . . . I am also unprepared to declare, that the free-state constitutions and governments, already adopted and installed in Arkansas and Louisiana, shall be set aside and held for nought, thereby repelling and discouraging the loyal citizens who have set up the same, as to further effort; or to declare a constitutional competency in Congress to abolish slavery in States, but am at the same sincerely hoping and expecting that a constitutional amendment, abolishing slavery throughout the nation, may be adopted . . . .
On July 18, Lincoln issued a letter evidently intended for the Confederate leadership but refraining from addressing them as such, lest he imply their political legitimacy. Instead, he advised those “To Whom It May Concern” that he would entertain and consider “Any proposition which embraces the restoration of peace, the integrity of the whole Union, and the abandonment of slavery, and which comes by and with an authority that can control the armies now at war against the United States.”
On Independence Day, several documents well worth reading come to mind. You may wish to read Jefferson’s original draft of the Declaration of Independence, which on our site shows the words that would be deleted from the final version in italics, and the words that would be added in brackets. You might also read Calvin Coolidge’s speech in observance of the 150th Anniversary of the Declaration—one of our collection of 50 Core Documents. But today your faithful blogger is returning from a month spent with her French goddaughter Camille, a young person born in America who feels love for our country along with her love for and loyalty to France. So let us instead consider one of several warm letters written by George Washington to the Marquis de Lafayette. This one, of June 25, 1785, shows Washington congratulating his friend on his safe return to France after a visit back to the young American republic whose independence he had helped to secure. It also shows Washington’s healthy priorities. Although America’s supreme leader in wartime, he writes to his friend that he will now speak of peace. This passage draws on language from the Sermon on the Mount while prefiguring that in Emma Lazarus‘s famous poem, which became the inscription on our State of Liberty—itself a gift from our friends in France. Vive les deux Républiques!
As the clouds which overspread your hemisphere are dispersing, and peace with all its concomitants is dawning upon your Land, I will banish the sound of War from my letter: I wish to see the sons and daughters of the world in Peace and busily employed in the more agreeable amusement of fulfilling the first and great commandment, Increase and Multiply: as an encouragement to which we have opened the fertile plains of the Ohio to the poor, the needy and the oppressed of the Earth; any one therefore who is heavy laden, or who wants land to cultivate, may repair thither and abound, as in the Land of promise, with milk and honey: the ways are preparing, and the roads will be made easy, thro— the channels of Potomac and James river . . . .