How did the ideology that inspired the American Revolution and the U.S. Constitution translate into foreign policy? John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and Alexander Hamilton each struggled with this question during the nation's first four decades, in the face of the French Revolution, negotiations for the Louisiana Purchase, and the illegal seizure of U.S. ships and sailors. In the process, they refined the meaning of American republicanism. In Keeping the Republic, Robert W. Smith identifies three contending brands of republicanism - classical, whig, and yeoman - that shaped the founders' thinking. Jefferson and Madison pursued a yeoman republicanism with its faith in economic sanctions rather than military might as a means of diplomacy. Nations dependent upon American agricultural exports, they thought, would bow to American interests. Both Adams and Hamilton, originally admirers of classical republicanism and its belief in public virtue, came to adopt a whig republicanism that applied the balance-of-power principle, exemplified by the three branches of the federal government, to the international community.
In this view, the strength of a nation rests in its naval power. Ideology had real consequences, as Smith ably demonstrates. While Adams and Hamilton managed to avoid an outright war, Jefferson's insistence on imposing a trade embargo rather than seeking an alternative solution resulted in the War of 1812. Keeping the Republic is a significant contribution to our understanding of American foreign relations because the model provided by the founding generation continues to shape U.S. diplomacy in the twenty-first century.