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  • Greek-American Relations from Monroe to Truman by Angelo Repousis
  • Lawrence S. Kaplan
Angelo Repousis, Greek-American Relations from Monroe to Truman. Kent, OH: Kent State University Press, 2013. 255 pp.

Angelo Repousis’s well-written book fits comfortably into the current pattern of studies in U.S. foreign relations, going well beyond a history of diplomatic relations between the United States and Greece to emphasize cultural relations between elites in both countries. Non-governmental organizations (NGOs) figured more prominently than the State Department in dealings with Greece. This in large measure was because [End Page 287] Greece was a figment of America’s imagination. Americans in the nineteenth century saw Greece not as a product of the gradual collapse of the Ottoman Empire but as the embodiment of ancient Hellas, the source of America’s own democracy.

Evidence of America’s embrace of ancient Greece could be found everywhere in the early national years of the republic. Classical architecture, Greek and Roman, inspired the new state capital buildings; and names in upstate New York—Ithaca, Troy, and Syracuse—commemorate the Hellenic past. The Michigan city of Ypsilanti represents the present as well in the person of General Ypsilanti, one of the leaders of the Greek revolution against the Turks. Even more significant was the imposing array of U.S. leaders from Thomas Jefferson to Daniel Webster who urged recognition of Greece. They drew strength from the romantic images created by the poet Lord Byron, and from the erudite advocacy of the scholar Edward Everett. They argued that the Greek revolution mirrored their own values and gave the United States an opportunity to facilitate the rebirth of the civilization that had spawned American democracy.

The emotional identification of America with Greece, renewed in every generation in the nineteenth century, was never reflected in official relations between the two countries. Instead, the stronger pull of isolation from the troubles of the Old World, of which Greece was a part, precluded a breach of the spirit of non-entanglement that emerged from America’s colonial experience. Greece in this context was not ancient Hellas. The Greeks were a struggling Balkan people, ignorant of their past and prey to the traditional politics of Europe. The country had evolved into an insecure monarchy, not an independent republic. A U.S. alliance with Greece not only would risk war with Turkey but would also end the abstention from European affairs that was affirmed in the Monroe Doctrine. Such was the judgment of Secretary of State John Quincy Adams in 1823, and his view prevailed over the demands of philhellenes. Adams wished the Greeks success in their revolution but not at the expense of an American commitment to their cause. Less audible among those who resisted the appeal of solidarity with the Greeks was the belief that modern Greeks were not worthy inheritors of the Hellenic past. This was not Adams’s judgment, but the sentiment reinforced his stance against U.S. intervention.

Failure of the philhellenes to identify the United States with Greece in the 1820s did not lead to abandonment of the Greek cause. Committees throughout the country that sought to win American alignment with Greece continued to flourish. Influential leaders Edward Everett, Emma Willard, and Samuel Gridley Howe threw their considerable weight behind both the inculcation of the institutions of American democracy in Greece and serving as its agent in securing U.S. involvement in Greek politics. Yet they were no more successful in the generation after the Greek revolution in altering U.S. policy than they were in Adams’s times. Non-entanglement with the Old World remained in place even after the United States had become a world power equal to any of its European counterparts.

The Balkan wars in the early twentieth century invigorated the philhellenes. Religious communities joined them when it appeared that what they saw as the barbaric Turks were inflicting new sufferings on Balkan Christians. Significant religious backing, [End Page 288] abetted by pro-Greek U.S. diplomats in Turkey, fed the movement toward intervention into the twentieth century, particularly in the wake of the Greek-Turkish war in 1922. The expulsion of 1.5...


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pp. 287-289
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