In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

BOOK REVIEWS349 The Monroe Doctrine and American Expansionism, 1843-1849. By Frederick Merk. (New York: A. Knopf, 1966. Pp. xiv, 289. $6.95.) This is not the kind of original, careful, and dispassionate historical analysis that Professor Merk has given us in his splendid studies of the Oregon question (now happily collected). Instead the present volume follows well worn trails in reviewing the diplomacy of American expansionism in the 1840's. Only with regard to the Polk administration's interest in the Yucatán and Cuba does Professor Merk break some new ground. The purport of the book is to emphasize the American fears or pretended fears that European powers, especially Great Britain, would dominate adjacent areas desired by the expansionists—Texas, Oregon, California, the Yucatán, and finally Cuba. The arch-expansionist Polk elaborated the Monroe Doctrine into a justification for preemptive American domination of such threatened areas, converting the Doctrine from a peaceful instrument of protection for hemispheric neighbors into a belligerent instrument of territorial aggression against hemispheric neighbors. Because Professor Merk has cast his book in narrative rather than propositional form, the reader can only infer how he proposes to extend this familiar and widely accepted thesis. Perhaps his most persistent effort is to push even further the long documented proposition that American expansionists exaggerated the dangers of European interference in the New World. His proposed extensions of the proposition are not always convincing. An entire chapter is devoted to discounting the hue and cry that followed French Chief Minister Guizot's announcement of his desire to maintain "the equilibrium of forces" among the American, British, and Hispanic elements in the Western Hemisphere. This did not mean "balance of power," Professor Merk argues, because Guizot used the phrases "équilibre des forces" and "équilibre des divers Etats" instead of the more sinister phrase "équilibre américain." Without explaining what else Guizot could have meant, Professor Merk implies that the Americans were being stupid and/or demagogic in assuming that he meant "balance of power." The narrative form adopted by Professor Merk permits him to leave the impression—without ever working through the evidence for it, even, perhaps, in his own mind—that expansionists like Polk deliberately and hypocritically invented the European threat as a cover for their expansionist ambitions. This kind of argument by insinuation cannot be recommended as a mode of historical discourse. It crops up especially in the concluding pages, where Professor Merk ventures to revive the simplistic abolitionist interpretation of Polk and the expansionist forces as instruments of an aggressive slavocracy. Perhaps the author was not obliged to allude to the mass of evidence piled up against this view, notably by Chauncey Boucher; but certainly he should have taken account of certain inconvenient facts in the foreground of his own study: that Polk's overriding expansionist objective was California; that the alarm over Guizot's balance-of-power doctrine was most evident in Barnburner 350CIVIL WAR HISTORY circles; and that Calhoun opposed the Mexican War and most of the expansionist ventures. I would suggest that this book, like Glen W. Price's recent Origins of the War with Mexico, betrays the revulsion of morally sensitive historians against the unprincipled exercise of American power in Polk's day and our own. It is not surprising that these historians, like other decent men, should find comfort in believing the worst about Polk and his latter-day counterparts . But this kind of simplistic view will not help Americans understand the real roots of the enormities of which we are capable. Only if historians remain true to the first principles of their craft, resisting the easiest and most comfortable answers as they read the full complexity of human motives and actions from the tangled record, shall we at last understand how ordinarily decent men—how the most of us—can initiate, tolerate, and bear ultimate responsibility for our national indecencies. Charles Sellers University of California The Second American Party System: Party Formation in the Jacksonian Era. By Richard P. McCorrnick. (Chapel HiU: University of North Carolina Press, 1966. Pp. viii, 389. $7.50. ) This study is a deceptively simple account, state by state, of the formation of a two...

pdf

Additional Information

ISSN
1533-6271
Print ISSN
0009-8078
Pages
pp. 349-350
Launched on MUSE
2013-01-02
Open Access
No
Back To Top

This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website. Without cookies your experience may not be seamless.