February 13, 2009

Dixie Looks Abroad 1

The South is perhaps the most distinctive region in the United States two centuries' or so of history and has played a massive role in US foreign policy. This of course was most notably true when it helped start a war in sense made domestic policy foreign policy by seceding (or most of it ) as a unit in 1860 precipitating the civil war. However it has been a consistent force in US foreign policy. and generally been at least somewhat distinctive in its stance compared to the rest of the country (for example now) .

Dixie Looks Abroad (published in 2001) by Joseph A Fry is a full history of Southern Foreign Policy from the beginnings of the Republic to 1973. Fry elected to stop there-wisely given he had a monumental enough job as it was. Though chronological he shows many major themes and evolutions along the way.

Even just as a chronological account drawing the opinion ofs southern statesmen (and presumably to some degree voters) it would be enormously valuable to the interested and professional historian alike. He shows that southerners were more Anglophobic in the early republic and strongly supported the 1812 war with Britain (even as New England toyed with secession in protest) and in the 1830’s, 40’s and early 50’s tended to be stronger supporters of expansion southwards, (i.e. the taking of often quite sparsely populated land from Indians and Mexicans land which includes the areas that our now Texas and California). At the same time it was being closely divided for most of the period between pro expansion Democrats and anti-expansion Whigs who provided a powerful dissident voice. IN the late 1850’s after the collapse of the Whigs the south became more and more united on expansion to the South.

In 1860 came the United State’s Civil War (by far the worst war in terms of the human cost for Americans). The South tried it’s supposedly all powerful export of cotton to win the Civil War only to gain minimal substantive recognition and support outside the Vatican. After the South became a full part of the Untied States and (overwhelmingly Democratic) Whites had gained control of nearly all southern congressional representation in the mid 1870’s in the face of (even more Republican ) blacks it again adopted a distinctive foreign policy stance. It became a centre piece of opposition to territorial expansion, military build ups and “imperialism” more nebulously - even as its greatest Foreign policy statesman Senator John Tyler Morgan of Alabama was an enthusiastic supporter at least with respect to the American debates. At the same time it supported aid for Cuba in the Spanish-American war only to dramatically resist even temporary annexation of the Philippines.

This changed (in Fry’s telling) dramatically during World War 1. Woodrow Wilson (not just the Second Democratic president since 1860 but a southern born one) gained solid even monolithic southern support for his intervention in Mexican internal affairs, World War 1 and a proposed League of Nations . In the interwar years though there was hostility to republican intervention in Latin America. And foreign aid packages. The South shared in inter-war “isolationism” but left it faster than virtually any part of the United States. When Franklin D Rooselvet provided increasingly (and increasingly provocative) aid to Britain and Russia the South enthusiastically followed.- if “internationalists” were those who supported as much aid as possible to Britain the south not New England still less the Rockies was it’s stronghold. .

In the post war era the south embraced the cold war consensus and the cold war with greater enthusiasm than the US as a whole- whilst being increasingly relatively dubious about foreign aid and actively hostile to treaties that might bind US force or even more US policy internally. Even when after the late 1960’s many particularly in the Democratic Party turned against the Cold War tradition in the light of the Vietnam War the South remained at least relatively firm (the odd exception like Fulbright) in supporting Vietnam War, military expenditure and the Cold War generally supporting both Johnson and Nixon against dovish critics.

Thus Fry shows the south has often been exceptional in its views on Foreign policy-but this exceptionalism has not necessarily been from the same direction- the same area of American, endorsed annexation in the early 19th century and then opposed it in the late, the same area was “internationalist” in the 20th century. These stands are not necessarily inconsistent- but they certainly don’t fit some simple narrative. It’s from the complications in the South’s distinctive profile that a true understanding of both its stands on foreign policy issues and their import can be found. Nor does this reviewer necessarily agree with all Professor Fry’s conclusions powerful though his arguments are.

However this will have to wait till a future post. I hope I have shown something of why the subject is interesting, the book is excellent and how southern distinctiveness has taken many different forms on foreign policy- the south has agreed more with the Democratic party and less, been more pro military spending and (occasionally) less, massively support annexation and opposed it, massively supported foreign aid and opposed it- and all not just in absolute terms but compared to America as a whole.