The Sad History of U.S. Peace Negotiations

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Negotiating for peace to prevent war is not the forte of U.S. governments: 1861

Prior to The War for Southern Secession (what many mistakenly call The Civil War) confederate President Jefferson Davis appointed three commissioners to negotiate with the North. The commissioners reached Washington on Mar. 5, 1861, the day after Lincoln’s inauguration. Jefferson Davis wanted to make clear to the North that the Confederates did not constitute a threat to the government in Washington:

“We seek no conquest, no aggrandizement, no concession of any kind…all we ask is to be let alone.” Lincoln’s response? He outright refused to see the commissioners, and also refused to recognize the Confederate government. Whether the South wanted conquest or not made no difference. It was the economic policies of the South that enraged the North. You see, the Confederate Constitution created, in essence, a free trade zone with opposition to protectionism. It stated: “but no bounties shall be granted from the Treasury; nor shall any duties or taxes on importation from foreign nations be laid to promote or foster any branch of industry.” Davis, in his Inaugural Address stated that he was “anxious to cultivate peace and commerce with all nations,” and that “our policy is peace, and the freest trade our necessities will permit.” This was in stark contrast to the North’s high-taxes and protectionism. The North was in no way going to allow the South to become an attractive market for the rest of the world. On Apr. 2, 1861 The Newark Daily Advertiser, warned ominously that Southerners had apparently “taken to their bosoms the liberal and popular doctrine of free trade” and that they “might be willing to go…toward free trade with the European powers” which “must operate to the serious disadvantage of the North” as “commerce will be largely diverted to the Southern cities.” Free Markets had to be crushed, even if it meant 600,000 deaths. The Great Emancipator was just the man for the job:


Throughout the 1930’s, Japan waged war with China; a war in which the U.S. had no stake. However, Japan was almost totally reliant on oil from the U.S.

Keep in mind, that Japan was not at war with the U.S. at all.  FDR, in an attempt to find a “back door” into World War II, froze Japanese assets, and prohibited Americans from furnishing oil to the Japanese. In an unprecedented diplomatic move for the Japanese, they offered to send Prince Fumimaro Konoye, the Prime Minister and a member of the royal family, to the U.S. to negotiate personally with FDR in a desperate effort to preserve peace.  FDR’s response? He refused the meeting. The “back door to war” worked:


The Iranian story is yet to be written, but the press is now reporting that the U.S. and Iran have agreed for the first time to one-on-one negotiations over Iran’s nuclear program. Republican Senator Lindsay Graham wants none of it, stating that “The time for talking is over.” After all, just take a look at all the U.S. military bases surrounding Iran:

Sadly, the above graphic, combined with the U.S.’s history of not negotiating peace, it’s not looking so good for those of us who don’t want more foreign wars. If only they’d listen to Ron Paul …

Reprinted with permission from Economic Policy Journal.

2012 Economic Policy Journal

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