Our “Globalist” Founders

Americans today would be surprised, if not aghast, at how cosmopolitan and “globalist” our founding fathers were.

Benjamin Franklin was an avid Francophile, using his connections and popularity in France (where he would live for some years) to secure the French alliance that proved pivotal to the Revolutionary War.

Fellow Francophile Thomas Jefferson supported the French Revolution and viewed the French as natural ideological allies. Indeed, he regarded France’s more radical revolution as preferable to the gradual, reformist approach of pro-British founders like John Adams, who for his part, believed the squabbling, loosely-aligned American states needed to be brought to heel by Congress so that the country could obey “diplomatic conventions” and be taken seriously.

Likewise James Madison, the primary architect of the Constitution, believed Congress should stop states from passing laws that would defraud foreigners – including British loyalists whose properties were allowed to be appropriated in violation of the peace treaty with Great Britain. He subsequently drafted the Constitution in such a way as to insulate foreign affairs from the ignorance and demagoguery of politicians, as well as from the “impulses” and “violent passions” of the masses, who are “liable to be deceived by … patriotism”. Hence why the more populist House of Representatives is excluded from the treaty process. There is also the little known “Offenses Clause” in Arricle 1, Section 8, which allowed Congress to “define and punish” violations of the “law of nations”.

Alexander Hamilton represented a Briton in just such a case, Rutgers v. Waddington, arguing that New York’s anti-loyalist law was “inhumane” to the civil rights of loyalists, and that the states should be forced to abide by the peace treaty; the court concurred, ruling that the U.S. had an obligation to abide by the “law of nations” – i.e. international law – in the name of the “tranquility of mankind”. As secretary of state at the time, Jefferson happily pointed to the results of the case as proof that America was abiding by its peace treaty with the British.

John Jay, one of our first diplomats, actually agreed with Britain’s criticisms of American states violating the rights of their subjects – a concession to a foreign power, much less a recently-hostile one, that would be unthinkable today. Jay also believed that nations, like individuals, must “behave to [other nations] with civility and good manners,” and that “insolence and rudeness” would “degrade and disgrace” the U.S. and expose it to “hostility and insult”.

Nearly all the Founders took into account the global — namely European — order when drafting the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution. They believed recognition by the world was foundational for any “civilized” and respectable nation. They enshrined a stronger federal government than the Articles of Confederation so that the the U.S. could better conduct itself abroad. They even took the then-radical step of incorporating treaties into federal law, via the “self executing treaty doctrine”, overruling many popular and state-based opponents.

On a practical level, they recognized that three-quarters of all U.S. trade and commerce depended on foreign economic ties, including the Britain. And they cared very much about what the rest of the world thought about America, since they recognized that the experimental nation they were building, if it were to have a lasting positive impact, needed to be a responsible member of the international community.

In other words, an “internationalist” mindset and values were and are indelibly tied to the foundation and character of the U.S. By today’s standards, the founders would be scorned as “globalists”, especially by the political factions that revere them the most.

Source: A Civilized Nation: The Early American Constitution, The Law Of Nations, And The Pursuit Of International Recognition, NYU Law Review, David M. Golove and Daniel J. Hulsebosch, October 2010.

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