Empire of Liberty

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The Empire of Liberty as conceived by Thomas Jefferson refers to America's role of spreading freedom throughout the world.

America was founded, settled and fashioned by the British Empire, but then broke away in the American Revolution, declaring independence in 1776 in the name of republicanism.

Thomas Jefferson saw America's mission as creating a global "Empire of Liberty" -- that is promoting freedom and liberty around the globe by example, by expansion, and by intervention. Major exponents included Abraham Lincoln (in the Gettysburg Address (1863), Woodrow Wilson and "Wilsonianism", and George W. Bush in the drive for liberty and democracy around the world.

In American diplomatic history the Empire of Liberty has meant opposition to tyranny and totalitarianism, especially in the Spanish American War (1898), World War I, World War II, the Cold War and the War on terrorism.
Columbia (the American people) reaches out to help oppressed Cuba in 1897 while Uncle Sam (the US Government) is blind. Judge magazine, Feb. 6, 1897

The somewhat derogatory term American Empire, meaning the United States and territories which it controls or influences, is often used to criticize the global influence of the United States and its political principles by implying that America has been engaged in a self-centered type of Imperialism.

Conservative Internationalism

Conservative Henry Nau has argued that conservative internationalism is the foreign policy of Thomas Jefferson, James K. Polk, Harry Truman, and Ronald Reagan. They did more to expand freedom abroad through the assertive use of military force than any others.[1]. They expanded freedom on behalf of self-government, local or national, not on behalf of central or international government, as liberal internationalists advocate, and they used force to seize related opportunities to spread freedom, not to maintain the status quo, as realists recommend.

Bacevich (2004) argues that America has been committed to building an empire by design, not accident. He argues that the recent foreign policy has accepted an American mission as the guardian of history, responsible for changing the world by making it more open and more integrated. American global leadership means maintaining preeminence in the world's strategically significant regions, together with permanent global military supremacy.

President Barack Obama in his 2009 Nobel Prize Address specifically rejected the liberal nonviolence policies of Martin Luther King, and proclaimed America has a duty to lead the fight against evil in the world, starting with the Afghanistan War. His conservative arguments stunned his liberal supporters.

Other dimensions

Economic dimensions include the spread of American management, as for example in the Marshall Plan in the 1940s. Poor management was a major factor in the slow recovery of Europe after World War II, and American management principles were often implemented as an essential part of Marshall Plan aid.

Cultural dimensions of the American Empire include the spread of American music and movies--and even more important the spread of Christian values by missionaries.

Leftist bashing of American Empire

Anti-American forces in the Third World often capitalized on local hatred of oppressive empires by using the label in a negative sense. On the far left in the U.S. it is also a hostile theme, as represented by Noam Chomsky and Chalmers Johnson. Their argument is that America represents the evils of capitalism and religion and should be stopped from influencing the people of the world.

See also

Further reading

  • Bacevich, Andrew J. American Empire: The Realities and Consequences of U.S. Diplomacy (2004) by a conservative political scientist excerpt and text search
  • Ferguson, Niall. Colossus: The Rise and Fall of the American Empire (2005), by an eminent conservative historian except and text search
  • Gordon, John Steele . Empire of Wealth: The Epic History of American Economic Power (2005) by a conservative popular historian excerpt and text search
  • Kagan, Robert. Dangerous Nation: America's Place in the World from Its Earliest Days to the Dawn of the Twentieth Century (2006), by a conservative
  • Nau, Henry R. "Conservative Internationalism," Policy Review #150. 2008. pp 3+. by a conservativeonline at Questia
  • Tucker, Robert W., and David C. Hendrickson. Empire of Liberty: The Statecraft of Thomas Jefferson (1990).
  • Wood, Gordon. Empire of Liberty: A History of the Early Republic, 1789-1815 (2009) by conservative historian excerpt and text search


  1. At home, Abraham Lincoln sis even more more to expand freedom by force.