The implosion of the Soviet idea over the course of 1989 to 1991, culminating in the collapse of the Soviet Union itself, promises to reshape the region along lines of historic ethnic, and even religious division. That development requires those interested in American-Russian relations to take a more historical approach to analysis than might have been the case hitherto. The past is, of course, not necessarily a guide to events in the present or future. None the less, current debates about how deeply the United States should be involved in Russian affairs should benefit from better familiarity with the historical record, in particular of that period before the relationship between the two countries suffered from mutual ideological and geopolitical animus. It is sometimes forgotten, or else too briefly remembered, that relations between the United States and Russia extend back to the dawn of an independent American diplomacy. Similarly, it is not always recalled that for much of the nineteenth century, especially prior to the Civil War, those relations were relatively amicable, although also distant and detached. An overview of the period may therefore be useful today, for the degree to which the United States can afford o t detach itself from Russia is again of main concern. A related area of interest and debate is the role of public opinion in possibly forcing confrontation on issues where national elites might prefer to maintain cordial relations. This essay seeks to cast light on these areas of current interest, by focusing on the interplay between public enthusiasms in the United States for diplomatic intervention in Russia, and official political calculations in American diplomacy prior to 1865. It argues that the resulting policy had mostly to do with a detachment from Russian despotism, born of the physical isolation of the United States, its lack of truly significant contacts with Russia, but also its own deeply flawed republicanism.