THE HISTORY OF UNILATERALISM in the United States is often traced to a speech given by future president John Quincy Adams on July 4, 1821, in which he announced that “America goes not abroad in search of monsters to destroy.” Adams was echoing the policy established by first president George Washington who insisted that the United States remain neutral in the face of European wars. Even Thomas Jefferson, the founder of the Democratic party, advocated avoiding excessive entanglements with other nations.

American unilateralism remained entrenched, and formed the basis for American neutrality in World War I. However, after the United States entered the war as an “associated power” with the Allies, Woodrow Wilson became an advocate of an international League of Nations to enforce peace. The ...

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