Self-Determination - Nonintervention versus self-determination

But it must be noted that while Adams recognized that American history fostered a sympathy for self-determination, that same tradition also had established as a cardinal priority the doctrine of nonintervention so forcefully enunciated by Washington in his Farewell Address. For Adams, concerned with the limits of American power in this period, the doctrine of nonintervention took precedence over the principle of self-determination.

Yet throughout the nineteenth century the American public frequently expressed sympathy for the struggles of oppressed peoples in Europe. This feeling was most vigorously demonstrated in relation to the Hungarians upon the failure of their revolution of 1848–1849. After the revolution had been crushed by Russian troops, Lajos Kossuth, the eloquent Hungarian leader, arrived in New York City in 1851 to the greatest ovation given anyone since the visit of the Marquis de Lafayette twenty-five years earlier.

When the Austrian chargé d'affaires protested to the State Department against the overt public sympathy expressed in favor of Hungary's liberation, Daniel Webster, then secretary of state, responded in a note explaining America's sympathy for Hungary as a natural expression of the national character, and assuring the Austrian government that such popular outbursts constituted no desertion of the established American doctrine of noninterference in the internal affairs of other countries. Nevertheless, many persons in official positions demanded that the United States use its moral and physical power to support the freedom of Hungary. Furthermore, the government did not suppress the right of Congress to pass resolutions expressing the sympathy of the nation for struggling peoples, like the Hungarians, seeking freedom.

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