Empire for Liberty

Empire for Liberty: A History of American Imperialism from Benjamin Franklin to Paul Wolfowitz

Richard H. Immerman
Copyright Date: 2010
Pages: 286
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    Empire for Liberty
    Book Description:

    How could the United States, a nation founded on the principles of liberty and equality, have produced Abu Ghraib, torture memos, Plamegate, and warrantless wiretaps? Did America set out to become an empire? And if so, how has it reconciled its imperialism--and in some cases, its crimes--with the idea of liberty so forcefully expressed in the Declaration of Independence?Empire for Libertytells the story of men who used the rhetoric of liberty to further their imperial ambitions, and reveals that the quest for empire has guided the nation's architects from the very beginning--and continues to do so today.

    Historian Richard Immerman paints nuanced portraits of six exceptional public figures who manifestly influenced the course of American empire: Benjamin Franklin, John Quincy Adams, William Henry Seward, Henry Cabot Lodge, John Foster Dulles, and Paul Wolfowitz. Each played a pivotal role as empire builder and, with the exception of Adams, did so without occupying the presidency. Taking readers from the founding of the republic to the Global War on Terror, Immerman shows how each individual's influence arose from a keen sensitivity to the concerns of his times; how the trajectory of American empire was relentless if not straight; and how these shrewd and powerful individuals shaped their rhetoric about liberty to suit their needs.

    But as Immerman demonstrates in this timely and provocative book, liberty and empire were on a collision course. And in the Global War on Terror and the occupation of Iraq, they violently collided.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-3428-0
    Subjects: History, Political Science

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-xiv)
  4. INTRODUCTION Contending with the American Empire
    (pp. 1-19)

    In 1783, the year the United States formally gained its independence from Great Britain, George Washington described the newborn republic as a “rising empire.” He elaborated a few years later, as the fledgling nation struggled for viability under the restraints imposed by the Articles of Confederation and the constraints imposed by the European powers. America was but an “infant empire,” Washington conceded to his former comrade-in-arms, the Marquis de Lafayette. “However unimportant America may be considered at present,” he nevertheless predicted, “there will assuredly come a day, when this country will have some weight in the scale of Empires.”¹


  5. CHAPTER 1 Benjamin Franklin and America’s Imperial Vision
    (pp. 20-58)

    By the time that Benjamin Franklin left for Paris in 1776 to represent the cause of liberty and independence, he was “the greatest man whom the new world yet produced, and he was, with the possible exception of Voltaire, the best-known person in the world.” He was also the New World’s foremost expert on and advocate for empire—first for that of the British, then for that of the Americans. While Franklin’s boundless ambitions for territorial expansion may not have been predictable, his preoccupation with empire and liberty was.¹

    Franklin’s life spanned a century during which the frequency and intensity...

  6. CHAPTER 2 John Quincy Adams and America’s Tortured Empire
    (pp. 59-97)

    During the last months of his life Benjamin Franklin, like most Americans, cheered the onset of the French Revolution. Also like most Americans, the name Napoleon Bonaparte meant nothing to him. Within the next decade, however, the twists and turns of the French Revolution and Napoleon’s ascendancy gravely upset the balance of empires, precipitating another face-off between Britain and France. As the new empire on the global block, albeit a struggling one, the United States became a pawn caught in game played by two grand masters. With the unity and even survival of America increasingly at risk, by 1800 this...

  7. CHAPTER 3 William Henry Seward Reimagines the American Empire
    (pp. 98-127)

    John Quincy Adams was the most resolute and celebrated opponent of “Mr. Polk’s War” of conquest against Mexico. Yet in contrast to most of the domestic battles he waged as secretary of state, in this case he had staunch allies. Recognizing that he would probably not live long enough to witness the climax of America’s current conflicts, particularly that over slavery, Adams encouraged a select cohort of young disciples to carry on the cause. In addition to his son Charles Frances, chief among them were Charles Sumner, the senator from his home state of Massachusetts, and a junior congressman from...

  8. CHAPTER 4 Henry Cabot Lodge and the New American Empire
    (pp. 128-162)

    Seward never wrote down a blueprint for his successors. Notwithstanding the imperial vision that pervaded so many of his public addresses, those who followed in his wake had to infer from his behavior the specifics of the American empire that he imagined—with its isthmian canal and strategically situated island outposts facilitating the spread of American products, ideas, and ideals to Asia and elsewhere. There were exceptions, successors who had more direct knowledge of Seward’s vision. In addition to his son Frederick, who served as his father’s assistant secretary of state, and Charles Francis Adams, his longtime friend and blood-disciple...

  9. CHAPTER 5 John Foster Dulles and the Conflicted Empire
    (pp. 163-195)

    In campaigning for the presidency in 1920, GOP candidate Warren G. Harding pledged to return the United States to “normalcy.” What that meant was evident to no one. More important, while Harding won, the 1920s turned out not to be normal by any definition. For most Americans, the decade roared—then went bust. A decade later they went back to war.

    From the point of view of those who guided America’s international policies and conduct, the 1920s and beyond would have challenged any sense of “normalcy” even had Babe Ruth, bathtub gin, and the rampaging stock market not dominated the...

  10. CHAPTER 6 Paul Wolfowitz and the Lonely Empire
    (pp. 196-231)

    A new chapter in the history of the American empire began the year Dulles died, although at the time no one perceived it as such. While policymakers and the attentive public fixed their eyes on the Berlin Crisis, which threatened to ignite the nuclear confrontation that everyone feared and some believed Dulles would welcome, almost unnoticed developments in Vietnam generated a challenge to American power fraught with implications for the present day.

    Dulles succumbed to cancer on May 24, 1959. Three days later, Soviet premier Nikita Khrushchev allowed to expire his ultimatum that the Western powers either agree to withdraw...

  11. POSTSCRIPT The Dark Side
    (pp. 232-238)

    The six men whose story this book tells believed fervently in the America that they helped to build, shape, and expand.¹ The America they believed in was the America that Thomas Jefferson and his colleagues wrote about in the Declaration of Independence and risked their lives to create against seemingly insuperable odds. At the core of this America was the sanctity of the inalienable rights of all men, chief among which was liberty. Franklin, Adams, Seward, Lodge, Dulles, and Wolfowitz were not unique. In each of their lifetimes, which collectively span America’s history, there were other policymakers, opinion makers, decision...

  12. NOTES
    (pp. 239-258)
  13. INDEX
    (pp. 259-271)