Political History of America's Wars


Edited by: Alan Axelrod

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    Key Historic Documents

    Proclamation of 1763

    Virginia Resolves of 1765

    Resolutions of the Continental Congress (1765)

    Massachusetts Circular Letter (1768)

    Suffolk Resolves and Agreement by the Continental Congress (1774)

    Olive Branch Petition (1775)

    Introduction to Common Sense (1776)

    Articles of Confederation (1777)

    Treaty of Paris (1783)

    Proclamation (1794)

    Treaty of Greenville (1795)

    Treaty with the Six Nations (Treaty of Fort Stanwix) (1784)

    An Ordinance for the Regulation of Indian Affairs (1786)

    Report of Henry Knox on White Outrages (1788)

    Jay Treaty (1794)

    Kentucky Resolutions (1799)

    Convention between the French Republic and the United States of America (1800)

    Treaty of Peace and Amity with Algiers (1816)

    Cartel for the Exchange of Prisoners of War between Great Britain and the United States of America (1812)

    Treaty of Ghent (1814)

    Treaty of Fort Jackson (1814)

    Fredonian Declaration of Independence (1826)

    Webster-Ashburton Treaty (1842)

    Adams-Oñis Treaty (1819)

    Indian Removal Act (1830)

    Treaty of New Echota (1835)

    Worcester v. Georgia (1832)

    Treaty with the Sauk and Foxes (1804)

    Treaty of Fort Armstrong (1832)

    Travis’s Message from the Alamo (1836)

    Treaty of Velasco (1836)

    Protest of William Ellery Channing (1837)

    “Annexation” (1845)

    Polk’s Message to Congress (1845)

    Resolves on the War with Mexico (1847)

    “Against General Resolutions on Foreign Affairs” (1846)

    Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo (1848)

    Gadsden Treaty (1853)

    Dawes Severalty Act (1887)

    Indian Appropriation Act (1871)

    An Act to Establish the Home Department (1849)

    An Act Making Appropriations for the Current and Contingent Expenses of the Indian Department (1851)

    Annual Report of the Commissioner of Indian Affairs (1851)

    An Act to Provide for the Appointment of a Superintendent of Indian Affairs in California (1852)

    Annual Report of the Commissioner of Indian Affairs (1858)

    Annual Report of the Commissioner of Indian Affairs (1862)

    An Act Authorizing the Negotiation of Treaties with the Indian Tribes in the Territory of Oregon (1850)

    Condition of the Indian Tribes (1867)

    An Act to Establish Peace with Certain Hostile Indian Tribes (1867)

    Report of the Indian Peace Commission (1868)

    Kansas-Nebraska Act (1854)

    Arkansas Resolutions on the Kansas-Nebraska Act (1855)

    “An Appeal to Southerners to Settle Kansas” (1856)

    “The Crime against Kansas” (1856)

    Supreme Court Decision in Dred Scott v. Sandford (1857)

    Treaty of Fort Laramie (1851)

    Buchanan’s Final Message to Congress (1860)

    Party Platforms (1860)

    South Carolina Secession Declaration (1860)

    Crittenden Compromise (1860)

    Lincoln’s First Inaugural Address (1861)

    Emancipation Proclamation (1863)

    Second Confiscation Act (1862)

    Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address (1864)

    Exchange of Letters at Appomattox (1865)

    Proclamation of Amnesty and Pardon for the Confederate States (1865)

    Proclamation of Provisional Government for North Carolina (1865)

    Civil Rights Act of 1866

    Fourteenth Amendment (1866)

    “The Battle of Sand Creek” (1864)

    An Act to Establish Peace with Certain Hostile Indian Tribes (1867)

    Treaty of Medicine Lodge (1867)

    Treaty of Fort Laramie (1868)

    Annual Report of the Commissioner of Indian Affairs (1868)

    Annual Report of the Commissioner of Indian Affairs (1872)

    Annual Report of the Secretary of the Interior (1869)

    Report of the Board of Indian Commissioners (1869)

    An Act Making Appropriations for the Indian Department (1871)

    Sherman’s Letter to the Chairman of the House Subcommittee on Indian Affairs (1876)

    Annual Report of the Commissioner of Indian Affairs (1876)

    Annual Report of the Commissioner of Indian Affairs (1877)

    Decision in Standing Bear v. Crook (1870)

    Annual Report of the Secretary of the Interior (1880)

    Annual Report of the Commissioner of Indian Affairs (1881)

    Sherman’s Final Report (1883)

    Annual Report of the Secretary of the Interior (1883)

    Program of the Lake Mohonk Conference (1884)

    Act of February 28, 1877

    Supreme Court Decision in Elk v. Wilkins (1884)

    Indian Major Crimes Act of 1885

    Annual Report of the Commissioner of Indian Affairs (1887)

    An Act in Relation to Marriage between White Men and Indian Women (1888)

    A System of Education for Indians (1889)

    Indian Reorganization Act (1934)

    “The Significance of the Frontier in American History” (1893)

    Instructions to Peace Commissioners (1898)

    “Shall We Keep the Philippines?” (1898)

    Imperialism and Liberty (1899)

    Proclamation Ending the Philippine-American War (1902)

    Cleveland’s Final Address to Congress (1896)

    McKinley’s First Message to Congress (1897)

    “The Progress of the World” (1898)

    Instructions to Ambassador Stewart L. Woodward (1898)

    McKinley’s War Message (1898)

    Resolution on Cuban Independence (1898)

    “The Right of Our Might” (1898)

    “War with Spain, and After” (1898)

    Treaty of Paris (1898)

    Bates Treaty (1899)

    Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882

    Account of Fei Ch’i-Hao (1903)

    Boxer Protocol (1901)

    Taft-Katsura Memorandum (1905)

    Lansing-Ishii Agreement (1917)

    Hay-Bunau-Varilla Treaty (1903)

    Taft’s Message to Congress (1912)

    “War Is a Racket” Speech (1933)

    Wilson on the Tampico Affair (1914)

    Wilson’s “Peace without Victory” Speech (1917)

    The House-Grey Memorandum (1916)

    Zimmermann Telegram (1917)

    Wilson’s War Message to Congress (1917)

    Espionage Act of 1917

    Sedition Act of 1918

    Wilson’s “Fourteen Points” Speech (1918)

    Rationale for Military Intervention in Nicaragua (1927)

    “The United States and Other Republics” (1931)

    Good Neighbor Policy (1936)

    Lend-Lease Act (1941)

    Atlantic Charter (1941)

    Roosevelt’s War Message (1941)

    Roosevelt’s Fireside Chat (1942)

    Executive Order 9066 (1942)

    Kennan’s “Long Telegram” (1946)

    Security Council Resolution (1950)

    Statement by President Harry S. Truman (1950)

    Executive Order 9981 (1948)

    Joint Chiefs of Staff Communication and MacArthur’s Reply (1951)

    MacArthur’s Farewell Address (1951)

    Eisenhower’s News Conference (1954)

    Foreign Assistance Act of 1962

    Senate Debate on the Tonkin Gulf Resolution (1964)

    Tonkin Gulf Resolution (1964)

    Johnson’s Presidential Address (1968)

    Nixon’s Speech on Vietnamization (1969)

    Nixon’s Speech on Cambodia (1970)

    Announcement of the Paris Peace Accords (1973)

    Treaty of Portsmouth (1905)

    The Camp David Accords (1978)

    Egyptian-Israeli Peace Treaty (1979)

    Israel-PLO Recognition (1993)

    PLO-Israel Accord (1993)

    Israel-Jordan Common Agenda (1993)

    The Eisenhower Doctrine (1957)

    Reagan’s Address to the Nation on United States Policy for Peace in the Middle East (1982)

    Carter’s Address to the United Nations General Assembly (1977)

    Boland Amendment to the War Powers Act of 1973 (1982)

    Reagan’s Press Conference (1986)

    Reagan’s Address on Beirut and Grenada (1983)

    Bush’s Address on the Panama Invasion (1989)

    Resolution 678 (1990)

    Bush’s Address on the Persian Gulf War (1991)

    Clinton’s Address on Bosnia and Herzegovina (1995)

    Bush’s Address on Somalia (1992)

    Call for Withdrawal of Troops (1993)

    NATO Statement on Kosovo (1999)

    Clinton’s Address on the End of the War (1999)

    Bush’s Address to a Joint Session of Congress (2001)

    Joint Resolution Authorizing Use of Military Force (2001)

    Bush’s Address to the United Nations General Assembly (2002)

    Bush’s State of the Union Address (2003)

    Case for the Existence of Weapons of Mass Destruction (2003)

    Bush’s Address to the Nation on Iraq (2003)

    Biographies of Notable Individuals

    Proclamation of 1763

    George Washington (1732–1799)

    Charles Cornwallis (1738–1805)

    George III (1738–1820)

    Daniel Shays (ca. 1747–1825)

    Alexander Hamilton (1755–1804)

    Thomas Jefferson (1743–1826)

    John Jay (1745–1829)

    Stephen Decatur (1779–1820)

    Tecumseh (ca. 1768–1813)

    Oliver Hazard Perry (1785–1819)

    Andrew Jackson (1767–1845)

    Hayden (or Haden) Edwards (1771–1849)

    Black Hawk (1767–1838)

    Osceola (1804–1838)

    Sam Houston (1793–1863)

    Antonio López de Santa Anna (1794–1876)

    Zachary Taylor (1784–1850)

    James K. Polk (1795–1849)

    Winfield Scott (1786–1866)

    Marcus Whitman (1802–1847)

    Isaac Stevens (1818–1862)

    Cochise (ca. 1812–1874)

    Mangas Coloradas (ca. 1795–1863)

    William Lloyd Garrison (1805–1879)

    John Brown (1800–1859)

    Little Crow (ca. 1810–1863)

    Ulysses S. Grant (1822–1885)

    Robert E. Lee (1807–1870)

    Abraham Lincoln (1809–1865)

    Andrew Johnson (1808–1875)

    Red Cloud (1822–1909)

    Philip H. Sheridan (1831–1888)

    Black Kettle (ca. 1803–1868)

    Edward R. S. Canby (1817–1873)

    Satanta (1830–1878)

    Ranald Slidell Mackenzie (1840–1889)

    Victorio (ca. 1825–1880)

    Geronimo (ca. 1823–1909)

    George Armstrong Custer (1839–1876)

    Sitting Bull (ca. 1831–1890)

    Chief Joseph (ca. 1840–1904)

    Nelson A. Miles (1839–1925)

    Wovoka (ca. 1856–1932)

    Big Foot (ca. 1825–1890)

    George Dewey (1837–1917)

    Theodore Roosevelt (1858–1919)

    John Hay (1838–1905)

    Philippe Jean Bunau-Varilla (1859–1940)

    Venustiano Carranza (1859–1920)

    Pancho Villa (1878–1923)

    John J. Pershing (1860–1948)

    Woodrow Wilson (1856–1924)

    Augusto César Sandino (1893–1934)

    Anastasio Somoza García (1896–1956)

    Douglas MacArthur (1880–1964)

    Dwight D. Eisenhower (1890–1969)

    Franklin D. Roosevelt (1882–1945)

    Harry S. Truman (1884–1972)

    Lyndon B. Johnson (1908–1973)

    Henry A. Kissinger (1923–)

    Jimmy Carter (1924–)

    Anwar al-Sadat (1918–1981)

    Menachem Begin (1913–1992)

    Ronald Reagan (1911–2004)

    Manuel Antonio Noriega Morena (1938–)

    H. Norman Schwarzkopf (1934–)

    Saddam (Takriti) Hussein (1937–)

    Slobodan Miloŝevíc (1941–2006)

    Mohamed Farrah Aidid (1934–1996)

    Osama bin Laden (1957–)

    George W. Bush (1946–)


    In the weeks leading up to D-Day, Lieutenant General George S. Patton Jr. delivered to different groups of American soldiers the same speech dozens of times. Although it was unwritten, for the dyslexic Patton never read a prepared speech in public, it was nevertheless virtually identical on each occasion. Actor George C. Scott delivered the same speech on film before a screen-filling American flag in the iconic opening scene of director Franklin Schaffner’s 1970 movie Patton.

    “Americans love to fight,” declaimed Patton (and Scott). “All real Americans love the sting of battle.”

    If it was a shocking thing to say in 1944, it was even more jolting in 1970 when the United States was mired in a long, heartbreaking conflict in Vietnam. And it remains provocative today. Even as American soldiers, air force personnel, sailors, and marines fight the twenty-first century’s war on terror, including actions in Afghanistan and Iraq, it is difficult for most Americans to think of the United States as a warlike country. Never mind that Americans chose for their national anthem not the pretty song about “spacious skies” and “amber waves of grain” but a British tavern tune that was adapted to praise “the rockets’ red glare” and “the bombs bursting in air”—verses written during the War of 1812, which was fought largely at the instigation of sectional and special interests over issues that had already been resolved or were well on their way to peaceful resolution.

    Before the age of intercontinental bombers and ballistic missiles, as well as nuclear-powered, nuclear-armed submarines capable of virtually limitless endurance and range, the United States was geographically isolated from most of its potential external enemies. (Hostile Indian tribes displaced by white settlement were effectively defined as internal enemies.)

    The United States came to birth in war, the American Revolution (1771–1783), but would not fight another revolutionary conflict until the Civil War (1861–1865), which was regional, economic, and ideological in nature. Shortly after the American Revolution, two insurrections—Shays’s Rebellion (1786–1787) and the Whiskey Rebellion (1794)—were quelled by the government. Though minor, they tested the effective authority of the new federal government.

    Early in its existence as an independent nation, the United States also fought three conflicts that served to defend its national sovereignty: the Franco-American Quasi-War (1798–1800), essentially over neutrality rights, and the Tripolitan War (1801–1805) and the Algerine War (1815), both against state-sanctioned piracy. The War of 1812 (1812–1815) with Britain was officially fought in defense of U.S. sovereignty, but another compelling motive was national expansion—the most important category of American wars during the nineteenth century. In addition to the War of 1812, all of the Indian Wars (spanning 1786–1891) may be classed as wars of expansion (albeit complicated by racial, cultural, and economic issues), as may the wars with Mexico, including the Fredonian Rebellion (1826–1827), the Texas War of Independence (1835–1836), and the U.S.-Mexican War (1846–1848). (The so-called Aroostook War of 1838–1839 was a border dispute with Canada and never came to actual blows.)

    The Indian Wars were contests for control of territory within the United States, and the wars with Mexico were fought for control of territory adjacent to the U.S. border. Other expansionist wars were imperialist in nature, fought over control of territory beyond the North American continent. These cannot be readily categorized as wars of conquest in the European and Asian sense, but aspects of some of them come close. The wars the United States has fought that are most often referred to as “imperialist” are the Spanish-American War (1898) and the associated suppression of the Philippine Insurrections (1896–1902) and the Moro Wars (1901–1913). The suppression of the Boxer Rebellion (1899–1901) in China and arguably every U.S. intervention in Latin American countries (even the Punitive Expedition against Pancho Villa in 1916–1917) were fought to suppress governments unfriendly to U.S. business interests and the U.S. government and to support more compliant governments; these conflicts are therefore also often considered imperialist.

    The twentieth century saw the ascension of the United States as a world power, which meant, in part, engaging in “foreign wars.” The United States entered World War I (U.S. participation, 1917–1918) largely for ideological reasons, although economics also played a major role. America’s entry into World War II (U.S. participation, 1941–1945) was triggered by an actual attack on U.S. territory but is quite reasonably seen as a contest in which democracy itself was at stake.

    World War II saw the triumph of democracy over fascism and Nazism, but it also saw the rise and expansion of Soviet and Chinese communism. Almost all of the wars in which the United States became involved after World War II (including Korea and Vietnam) and through the Grenada Invasion of 1983 may be seen as aspects of the Cold War between the United States (allied, in varying degrees, with other democratic powers) and the Soviet Union (and to a lesser extent, the People’s Republic of China). These great powers did not fight one another directly but instead attempted to face each other down through proxy wars fought on far-flung battlefields. These confrontations mostly occurred in Asia and Latin America, wherever there was a conflict between a pro-Western democratic government and a pro-Soviet (or pro-Chinese) Communist government.

    By the mid-1970s Chinese-American relations had dramatically improved, and a major trading relationship between China and the West largely displaced the enmity of the Cold War era. After a precipitous decline during the 1980s, Soviet communism collapsed entirely in 1991. The Cold War ended, but new regional instabilities developed. Some of these—the War in Bosnia and Herzegovina (1992–1995) and the U.S. Intervention in the Kosovo Crisis (1996–1999)—resulted directly from the sudden removal of Soviet influence from parts of Eastern Europe; others sprang from a complex array of causes, in which culture, religion, and economics played key roles. One can place the U.S. Intervention in the Somali Civil War (1988–1994) and the conflicts in the Middle East and Afghanistan in this latter category. The Persian Gulf War (1991) was fought in part to curb the aggression of Iraq’s dictatorial president Saddam Hussein, who had invaded neighboring Kuwait. Beyond issues of stability and sovereignty, however, many saw an imperative to protect sources of oil vital to Western economic interests. The second war in Iraq, Operation Iraqi Freedom, began in 2003 and was most directly a response to the devastating attack on the United States by Muslim (albeit not Iraqi) extremists on September 11, 2001. The same motive—what President George W. Bush called a “war on terror”—lay behind the War in Afghanistan, which began in 2001. The Bush administration also hoped to expand democracy and thereby bring stability to the Middle East region.

    Arguably, of all of America’s wars, only three were of indisputably urgent necessity to the survival of the nation as a nation: the American Revolution, the Civil War, and World War II. The rest may be seen in varying degrees as wars of perceived necessity. The War of 1812, which occasioned “The Star-Spangled Banner,” was almost certainly unnecessary (the issues involved were essentially resolved when the fighting began). U.S. entry into World War I was portrayed by the administration of Woodrow Wilson as necessary to protect the sovereign rights of the United States as neutral (a cause also cited for the War of 1812) and to “make the world safe for democracy.” Yet in April 1917 a significant number of Americans did not accept Wilson’s rationale. Today many historians also reject Wilson’s justification, condemning America’s entry into the war as unnecessary, a military success but an ideological failure: by ensuring that the British and French succeeded in defeating and humiliating Germany, the United States helped set the stage for a second world war. Other historians interpret America’s role in World War I as a triumph against tyranny, a noble effort even if the war failed to be the “war to end all wars” that Wilson had hoped it would be.

    The wars of the Cold War era—most notably Korea and Vietnam—were initially seen as vital to stopping the march of communism. They were fought pursuant to the policy of the military, economic, and diplomatic “containment” of communism promulgated by President Harry S. Truman almost immediately after World War II and adopted, in varying degree, by every president who followed, through the administration of George H.W. Bush. The idea was to use every available means, including war (but short of nuclear war), to check any attempt to force Communist control on any free country. Containment stopped being the dominant American postwar policy after the collapse of the Soviet Union.

    Like Wilson in 1917, President George W. Bush saw as urgently necessary the war in Iraq, which began in 2003. The war was approved by a substantial majority of Congress, which authorized funding and gave the president wide latitude in conducting military operations. Within months of the war’s commencement, however, the chief reasons given for invading Iraq came under intense scrutiny. As of this writing in 2006, public opinion polls show waning support for the ongoing struggle. Yet the government remains deeply divided on whether to continue prosecuting the conflict. Some argue that it has actually heightened America’s peril in a world increasingly torn by religious and cultural conflict. But a significant number of decision makers, including the president, assert that the war is necessary to protect the United States: In the short term it is better to fight militant extremists in Iraq than to be forced to fight them in the United States. In the long term, the argument continues, the goal of democratizing Iraq will make the United States and the rest of the world safer, because democracies do not attack democracies.

    Whether fighting extremists abroad will prevent other radicals from attacking the United States is subject to much dispute. How most historians—and ordinary Americans—will perceive the war in Iraq in the future is a matter of speculation. Some believe that history will strongly condemn the war and, with it, the president. Others, including the president, have expressed confidence that history will bring vindication. If the majority of the wars in this volume are any indication, the writers of history will bring neither definitive condemnation nor definitive vindication; rather, they will perpetuate the current debate.

    American history is by no means simply a history of war, but it is a history defined by war. This book provides a survey of the most significant American wars, less from the point of view of the military course of these conflicts than from that of the politics associated with them. It is a political history of America’s armed conflicts, including wars, rebellions, and insurrections.

    Except for minor variations necessitated by thematic coherence, the forty-eight chapters in this book are arranged chronologically. Each chapter treats a particular conflict or, in some cases, a group of related conflicts. With the exception of three chapters—“Introduction to the Indian Wars,” “Reconstruction (1865–1877),” and “The United States as Peacemaker”—each chapter begins with a concise statement of the issues involved in the conflict under discussion, followed by a narrative overview of the military course of the conflict, which includes a tabular chronological summary.

    After discussing military action, each chapter addresses the political background and antecedents of the conflict, relevant political issues and events during the conflict, and the conflict’s political consequences. Included, as necessary, are discussions of legislation; court decisions; congressional resolutions; executive orders, proclamations, and speeches; actions by cabinet members and other officials; public opinion; propaganda efforts; media coverage; diplomacy; and pre- and postwar treaties and agreements. Although the emphasis here is on interpretive narrative, relevant original documents are excerpted in boxes throughout each chapter. Editorial policy with regard to these documents has been to reproduce excerpted sections as faithfully to the original as possible, including anomalies of spelling, capitalization, and grammar. Also included in each chapter are brief biographies of notable individuals. Each chapter concludes with a bibliography of works with which readers can embark upon further study.

    I cannot claim that Political History of America’s Wars definitively separates the nation’s wars of unambiguous necessity from those of perceived necessity or choice, let alone definitively identifies those of dubious choice. Almost certainly there are very few instances in which such absolute distinctions are possible. Possibly there are none at all.

    Even less can I claim that this book explains why Americans fight or perhaps (as General Patton asserted) even love to fight. My intention has been neither to propose nor advance any particular political or moral thesis, although I do present the theses of others where they are both relevant and prevalent. After all, it is important to know what American people, politicians, and historians think and have thought about the nation’s conflicts. It is even more important that students, teachers, and others interested in American history, politics, and culture have ready, reliable, and readable access to the historical tools—the facts, the documents, and the discussions—necessary to make informed assessments about America’s wars and what those wars may suggest concerning the American character. It is to stimulate and aid such thought that I have written this book.

    Political History of America’s Wars was an ambitious undertaking not only for me, but also for the extraordinarily talented staff of CQ Press. I owe a special debt of gratitude to acquisitions editor Mary Carpenter, development editor David Arthur, and project editor Jennifer Campi. Their guidance has been invariably valuable, their judgment never less than acute, their encouragement always timely, and their patience simply breathtaking.

    Alan Axelrod

    Atlanta, Georgia

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