Isolationists are Americans who are opposed to United States involvement in foreign affairs. People with these sentiments have existed since the founding of the nation. During the late nineteenth and the early twentieth centuries, their numbers grew, and they became increasingly more vocal.
Generally, isolationists oppose United States involvement in other countries' affairs because it supposedly weakens the United States. Isolationists want the United States to be self-sustaining, rather than dependent on other nations for food and other types of supplies. They contend that sending United States military forces overseas leaves the nation weaker and less able to defeat an attack on U.S. soil. To insure the United States' survival, isolationists contend that the government's focus must be on its citizens at home, rather than on other nations.
Isolationists have existed in every international war involving the United States. Some Americans opposed the War of 1812, fearing that U.S. economic ties to Great Britain would decline. Some Americans also objected to the Spanish-American War, believing that it was unpatriotic to force the United States' views and lifestyle on Cuba. Other people feared the continued export of U.S. jobs to this island, leaving fewer jobs available to U.S. citizens. Prior to World War I and World War II, many Americans believed that United States involvement in these conflicts would result in the deaths of thousands of U.S. soldiers and weaken the United States' ability to defend itself.
Isolationists existed across the United States, including in Ohio. One of the most famous Ohioans to endorse this policy was Norman Thomas. Thomas was the Socialist Party's candidate for the U.S. presidency on six different occasions. He believed that involvement in international affairs would result in the needless deaths of U.S. soldiers, the loss of jobs within the United States, and the weakening of U.S. military defenses and the U.S. economy. To spread these isolationist ideas, Thomas helped to establish the America First Committee, an organization that encouraged the United States government and U.S. businesses to focus their activities on the United States rather than on other countries. Thomas, himself, objected to United States involvement in World War I, but after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941, he did support U.S. entry into World War II. With the advent of the Cold War in the late 1940s, Thomas denounced communism, but he also encouraged the United States to return to isolationism.