Was early US foreign policy primarily a defensive reaction to perceived or actual threats from Europe?
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Yes, I would agree that this was generally the basis for US foreign policy during this time. This can be seen in a number of instances.
One example of this would be US policy with regard to the Napoleonic Wars. During this time, the US felt that France and Great Britain were threatening its economic security and its sovereignty. The US felt those countries' blockades of one another were major threats to its economy. It felt that British impressment was a threat to US sovereignty. Because of these perceived threats, the US did such things as imposing an embargo under Jefferson and eventually going to war with Britain.
We can also see this in the issuance of the Monroe Doctrine. This doctrine can be seen as a reaction to a fear that European countries would gain a foothold in the Americas from which they could threaten the US.
In these ways, US foreign policy can certainly be seen as defensive in nature during this time.
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