The Pillars of American Thinking – The “Father of the Constitution” and the “Father of Free Market Capitalism” – Both Warned Against Warmongers … 200 Hundred Years Ago

Warmongers Are Anti-American

Adam Smith – the father of free market capitalism – wrote a scathing critique on warmongers in the Wealth of Nations 235 years ago:

In great empires the people who live in the capital, and in the provinces remote from the scene of action, feel, many of them, scarce any inconveniency from the war; but enjoy, at their ease, the amusement of reading in the newspapers the exploits of their own fleets and armies. To them this amusement compensates the small difference between the taxes which they pay on account of the war, and those which they had been accustomed to pay in time of peace. They are commonly dissatisfied with the return of peace, which puts an end to their amusement, and to a thousand visionary hopes of conquest and national glory from a longer continuance of the war.

Numerous economists have documented that war is horrible for the economy.

The Father of the Constitution – James Madison – wrote:

Of all the enemies to public liberty war is, perhaps, the most to be dreaded, because it comprises and develops the germ of every other. War is the parent of armies; from these proceed debts and taxes; and armies, and debts, and taxes are the known instruments for bringing the many under the domination of the few. In war, too, the discretionary power of the Executive is extended; its influence in dealing out offices, honors, and emoluments is multiplied; and all the means of seducing the minds, are added to those of subduing the force, of the people. The same malignant aspect in republicanism may be traced in the inequality of fortunes, and the opportunities of fraud, growing out of a state of war, and in the degeneracy of manners and of morals engendered by both. No nation could preserve its freedom in the midst of continual warfare.

Many other Founding Fathers warned against warmongering, as well:

Thomas Paine is generally credited with instilling the first non-interventionist ideas into the American body politic; his work Common Sense contains many arguments in favor of avoiding alliances. These ideas introduced by Paine took such a firm foothold that the Second Continental Congress struggled against forming an alliance with France and only agreed to do so when it was apparent that the American Revolutionary War could be won in no other manner.

George Washington’s farewell address is often cited as laying the foundation for a tradition of American non-interventionism:

The great rule of conduct for us, in regard to foreign nations, is in extending our commercial relations, to have with them as little political connection as possible. Europe has a set of primary interests, which to us have none, or a very remote relation. Hence she must be engaged in frequent controversies the causes of which are essentially foreign to our concerns. Hence, therefore, it must be unwise in us to implicate ourselves, by artificial ties, in the ordinary vicissitudes of her politics, or the ordinary combinations and collisions of her friendships or enmities.

John Adams followed George Washington’s ideas about non-interventionism by avoiding a very realistic possibility of war with France.


President Thomas Jefferson extended Washington’s ideas in his March 4, 1801 inaugural address: “peace, commerce, and honest friendship with all nations, entangling alliances with none.” …

In 1823, President James Monroe articulated what would come to be known as the Monroe Doctrine, which some have interpreted as non-interventionist in intent: “In the wars of the European powers, in matters relating to themselves, we have never taken part, nor does it comport with our policy, so to do. It is only when our rights are invaded, or seriously menaced that we resent injuries, or make preparations for our defense.”

Adam Smith and Thomas Jefferson also said that – if we do need to fight a war for defensive purposes – it should be paid for now, and not placed on the shoulders of future generations.

Postscript: While many civilians believe the myth that conservatives are pro-war, the truth is that many of the most highly-decorated military men in history – including conservatives – became opposed to war after seeing what really goes on. See this, this and this.

Indeed, I have spoken with some very high-level former military and intelligence officers. They are true patriots, who dedicated their life to protecting our country. They are also very passionate about not starting unnecessary wars, because they reduce America’s national security and cause many more problems than they could possibly solve.

Those who call themselves “conservative” – but advocate military adventurism – are not really conservative at all.

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  • jadan

    George Washington and his trusty Treasury Secretary, the elitist Alexander Hamilton, were enthusiastic about going to war against recalcitrant American citizens who did not approve of the very regressive tax Hamilton imposed on whiskey. Washington raised an army of 12,000 to invade western Pennsylvania and the frontiers where westerners rebelled against this tax. It was a force larger than most he commanded during the Revolution. It was called the Whiskey Rebellion. There was no posse comitatis. Hamilton, with Washington’s support, wanted to send a message that the central government would brook no opposition. In case anyone gets dewey-eyed over the pacifist inclinations of our founders, look more carefully at all the founders, Hamilton in particular, who laid the financial groundwork for the great divide, 1% vs 99%, that we experience today. He would have been all too happy to murder those who opposed his monetary schemes. A great American.

    • tate matson

      That’s not quite true–Whisky was a major source of Income for the farmers/nation in its early days–and during the revolution the federalist helped a lot of the outlying farmers get their corn whiskey production up and running since the wealthy large farms near the Coast were being raided and burned by the British. After the war obviously everyone needed to pay some tax—and just like today–no one is ever excited to pay! I also want to point out–back then people were allowed to grow and mfg/distill and sell without government intervention–except for a tax to maintain the basic Laws, etc. Today our “government” forbids citizens from making their own whiskey–let alone make and sell it for money….that is reserved for the connected crony Business Friends who paid to get the crooks elected……so if I could pick 1 government past or present I would take past any day of the week……

      • jadan

        Sure, let’s all pay taxes, but let’s be fair. the whiskey tax was regressive because it hit the little guy the hardest. The connected crony distillers in the east did volume and it didn’t hurt. Why not tax land to fund the gov? That’s a no no because the founders and the wealthy elite owned the land, GW in particular. Hamilton was always working for the 1%. His law practise was an instant success because he defended the royalists. Benedict Arnold is the most notorious royalist. In those early days, the government represented white male land owners, the only voters, which was about 60% of the total number of men. Democracy was feared and disparaged. The founders hated democracy, with the exception of Jefferson and a few others. The democratic ideal of one person one vote took a long time to get established. We still don’t have democracy and our government does not represent the American people. We have the capability to have direct democracy. If we did and if the votes were actually counted fairly we’d have a different world….

  • ClubToTheHead

    “John Adams followed George Washington’s ideas about non-interventionism
    by avoiding a very realistic possibility of war with France.”

    Check ” America Aurora” by Richard N. Rosenfeld to disabuse yourself about Adams’ actions to prevent war with France. He acted to provoke war with France by initiating an undeclared war, strongly opposed by Benjamin Franklin’s grandson, Benjamin Bache.

  • “Those who call themselves “conservative” – but advocate military adventurism – are not really conservative at all.”

    I call them fake conservatives.

  • clarioncaller

    The central question must be asked when Americans are being asked to expose themselves to potential death. Is this action in our national interest, and who will benefit from its implementation? Our founding fathers knew that Europe was rife with political intrigue and didn’t want to be drawn into it as a fledgling Republic. The Atlantic Ocean acted as a buffer zone to shield us.