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Monroe Doctrine

The Monroe Doctrine, expressed in 1823, proclaimed the Americas should be free from future European colonization and free from European interference in sovereign countries' affairs. It further stated United States's intention to stay neutral in European wars and wars between European powers and their colonies but to consider any new colonies or interference with independent countries in the Americas as hostile acts toward the United States. It was issued by President James Monroe during his seventh annual address to Congress.

Background

The end of the Napoleonic Wars in 1815 marked the breakup of the Spanish empire in the New World. Between 1815 and 1822 Jose de San Martin[?] led Argentina to independence, while Bernardo O'Higgins[?] in Chile and Simon Bolivar in Venezuela guided their countries out of colonialism. The new republics sought -- and expected -- recognition by the United States, and many Americans endorsed that idea.

But President James Monroe and his secretary of state, John Quincy Adams, were not willing to risk war for nations they did not know would survive. From their point of view, as long as the other European powers did not intervene, the government of the United States could just let Spain and her rebellious colonies fight it out.

Great Britain was torn between monarchical principle and a desire for new markets; South America as a whole constituted, at the time, a much larger market for English goods than the United States. When Russia and France proposed that England join in helping Spain regain her New World colonies, Great Britain vetoed the idea.

The United States was also negotiating with Spain to purchase the Floridas, and once that treaty was ratified, the Monroe administration began to extend recognition to the new Latin American republics -- Argentina, Chile, Peru, Colombia and Mexico were all recognized in 1822.

In 1823, France invited Spain to restore the Bourbon power[?], and there was talk of France and Spain warring upon the new republics with the backing of the Holy Alliance[?] (Russia, Prussia and Austria). This news appalled the British government -- all the work of Wolfe, Chatham and other eighteenth-century British statesmen to get France out of the New World would be undone, and France would again be a power in the Americas.

George Canning, the British foreign minister, proposed that the United States and Great Britain join to warn off France and Spain from intervention. Both Thomas Jefferson and James Madison urged Monroe to accept the offer, but John Quincy Adams was more suspicious. Adams also was quite concerned about Russia's efforts to extend its influence down the Pacific coast from Alaska south to California, then owned by Mexico.

At the Cabinet meeting of November 7, 1823, Adams argued against Canning's offer, and declared, "It would be more candid, as well as more dignified, to avow our principles explicitly to Russia and France, than to come in as a cockboat in the wake of the British man-of-war."

He argued and finally won over the Cabinet to an independent policy. In Monroe's message to Congress on December 2, 1823, he delivered what we have always called the Monroe Doctrine, although in truth it should have been called the Adams Doctrine. Essentially, the United States was informing the powers of the Old World that the American continents were no longer open to European colonization, and that any effort to extend European political influence into the New World would be considered by the United States "as dangerous to our peace and safety." The United States would not interfere in European wars or internal affairs, and expected Europe to stay out of American affairs.

Although it would take decades to coalesce into an identifiable policy, John Quincy Adams did raise a standard of an independent American foreign policy so strongly that future administrations could not ignore it. One should note, however, that the policy succeeded because it met British interests as well as American, and for the next 100 years was secured by the backing of the British fleet.

For further reading: Dexter Perkins, The Monroe Doctrine, 1823-1826 (1927); Samuel Flagg Bemis, John Quincy Adams and the Foundations of American Foreign Policy (1949); Ernest R. May, The Making of the Monroe Doctrine (1975).

Source:

For relevant text: http://www.law.ou.edu/hist/monrodoc



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