Isolation was a long American tradition. Since the days of George Washington, Americans struggled to remain protected by the mighty oceans on its border. When European conflicts erupted, as they frequently did, many in the United States claimed exceptionalism. America was different. Why get involved in Europe's self-destruction? When the Archduke of Austria-Hungary was killed in cold blood, igniting the most destructive war in human history, the initial reaction in the United States was the expected will for neutrality. As a nation of immigrants, The United States would have difficulty picking a side. Despite the obvious ties to Britain based on history and language, there were many United States citizens who claimed Germany and Austria-Hungary as their parent lands. Support of either the Allies or the Central Powers might prove divisive.
With American trade becoming more and more lopsided toward the Allied cause, many feared that it was only a matter of time before the United States would be at war. The issue that propelled most American fencesitters to side with the British was German submarine warfare.
At the dawn of the '30s, foreign policy was not a burning issue for the average American. The stock market had just crashed and each passing month brought greater and greater hardships. American involvement with Europe had brought war in 1917 and unpaid debt throughout the 1920s. Having grown weary with the course of world events, citizens were convinced the most important issues to be tackled were domestic. Foreign policy leaders of the 1930s once again led the country down its well-traveled path of isolationism.
The United States experienced extensive economic and geographical expansion during the 1840s, as the spirit of Manifest Destiny drove Americans west across the North American continent to exert their influence over new places and peoples. Influenced by this expansionary philosophy, political leaders sought to expand American trade relationships worldwide. One of the first targets of this campaign was to open diplomatic and trade relations with isolationist Japan, which had been closed to western traders for centuries. In 1852, President Millard Fillmore ordered Commodore Matthew C. Perry to lead an expedition to secure Japanese trade and access to Japan’s ports for American ships.