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Home > History > Growth of a Nation - Monroe Doctrine

Growth of a Nation - Monroe Doctrine

This article describes the Monroe Doctrine, which amounted to America's first statement of Foreign Policy. It warned other nation's to stay out of America's domestic affairs.

John Quincy Adams

John Quincy Adams

Diplomatic Dilemmas Following the War of 1812

After the War of 1812, and the Napoleonic Wars in Europe, America sought to build itself and a platform of neutrality in regards to the struggles in Europe. The once powerful Spanish Empire was beginning to crumble - especially in South America. Argentina, Chile and Venezuela had all won independence from Spain between 1815 and 1822. The new countries expected the United States to recognize them as independent nations, but recognizing the independence of the breakaway republics could result in war.

America Remains Neutral; Recognizes New Nations

President James Monroe, and Secretary of State John Quincy Adams were not willing to risk war and were content to let Spain and its former colonies fight out the struggles on their own. However, pressure from other European nations - especially England, would soon follow. England viewed the former Spanish South American colonies as new markets for potential profit. As a result, they vetoed a plan to join up with France and Russia to help Spain regain its colonies. Meanwhile, America had successfully pressured Spain into negotiations for the Annexation of Florida. Once America has acquired Florida, it gave formal recognition to Chile, Argentina, Venezuela, Colombia and Mexico in 1822.

The First American Foreign Policy

Without the help of the British, France and Spain joined Russia in a plan to take back the newly formed republics. The plan was a major threat to Great Britain, who had just succeeded in ousting France from the New World. Great Britain tried to convince American powers to join them in defense of the New World. Although the plan was supported by Thomas Jefferson and James Madison, John Quincy Adams opposed it. Adams was concerned about Russia's influence in the Pacific and their potential to invade the Pacific coast of North America and California - then part of Mexico. Adams successfully urged Congress to maintain an independent policy. Through the Monroe Doctrine, Adams articulated America's neutral policy in European affairs, and warned European nations that tried to influence or interfere with American foreign policy. The Monroe Doctrine was the first articulation of American foreign policy and still influences it today. See the text of the actual document below.

Monroe Doctrine

At the proposal of the Russian Imperial Government, made through the minister of the Emperor residing here, a full power and instructions have been transmitted to the minister of the United States at St. Petersburg to arrange by amicable negotiation the respective rights and interests of the two nations on the northwest coast of this continent. A similar proposal had been made by His Imperial Majesty to the Government of Great Britain, which has likewise been acceded to. The Government of the United States has been desirous by this friendly proceeding of manifesting the great value which they have invariably attached to the friendship of the Emperor and their solicitude to cultivate the best understanding with his Government. In the discussions to which this interest has given rise and in the arrangements by which they may terminate the occasion has been judged proper for asserting, as a principle in which the rights and interests of the United States are involved, that the American continents, by the free and independent condition which they have assumed and maintain, are henceforth not to be considered as subjects for future colonization by any European powers....

It was stated at the commencement of the last session that a great effort was then making in Spain and Portugal to improve the condition of the people of those countries, and that it appeared to be conducted with extraordinary moderation. It need scarcely be remarked that the result has been so far very different from what was then anticipated. Of events in that quarter of the globe, with which we have so much intercourse and from which we derive our origin, we have always been anxious and interested spectators. The citizens of the United States cherish sentiments the most friendly in favor of the liberty and happiness of their fellowmen on that side of the Atlantic. In the wars of the European powers in matters relating to themselves we have never taken any part, nor does it comport with our policy so to do. It is only when our rights are invaded or seriously menaced that we resent injuries or make preparation for our defense. With the movements in this hemisphere we are of necessity more immediately connected, and by causes which must be obvious to all enlightened and impartial observers. The political system of the allied powers is essentially different in this respect from that of America. This difference proceeds from that which exists in their respective Governments; and to the defense of our own, which has been achieved by the loss of so much blood and treasure, and matured by the wisdom of their most enlightened citizens, and under which we have enjoyed unexampled felicity, this whole nation is devoted. We owe it, therefore, to candor and to the amicable relations existing between the United States and those powers to declare that we should consider any attempt on their part to extend their system to any portion of this hemisphere as dangerous to our peace and safety. With the existing colonies or dependencies of any European power we have not interfered and shall not interfere. But with the Governments who have declared their independence and maintained it, and whose independence we have, on great consideration and on just principles, acknowledged, we could not view any interposition for the purpose of oppressing them, or controlling in any other manner their destiny, by any European power in any other light than as the manifestation of an unfriendly disposition toward the United States. In the war between those new Governments and Spain we declared our neutrality at the time of their recognition, and to this we have adhered, and shall continue to adhere, provided no change shall occur which, in the judgment of the competent authorities of this Government, shall make a corresponding change on the part of the United States indispensable to their security.

The late events in Spain and Portugal show that Europe is still unsettled. Of this important fact no stronger proof can be adduced than that the allied powers should have thought it proper, on any principle satisfactory to themselves, to have interposed by force in the internal concerns of Spain. To what extent such interposition may be carried, on the same principle, is a question in which all independent powers whose governments differ from theirs are interested, even those most remote, and surely none more so than the United States. Our policy in regard to Europe, which was adopted at an early stage of the wars which have so long agitated that quarter of the globe, nevertheless remains the same, which is, not to interfere in the internal concerns of any of its powers; to consider the government de facto as the legitimate government for us; to cultivate friendly relations with it, and to preserve those relations by a frank, firm, and manly policy, meeting in all instances the just claims of every power, submitting to injuries from none. But in regard to those continents circumstances are eminently and conspicuously different. It is impossible that the allied powers should extend their political system to any portion of either continent without endangering our peace and happiness; nor can anyone believe that our southern brethren, if left to themselves, would adopt it of their own accord. It is equally impossible, therefore, that we should behold such interposition in any form with indifference. If we look to the comparative strength and resources of Spain and those new Governments, and their distance from each other, it must be obvious that she can never subdue them. It is still the true policy of the United States to leave the parties to themselves, in the hope that other powers will pursue the same course.

The Story of a Growing Nation

Original Colonies
Colonial Territory (Northwest Territory)
Land Ordinances of 1784 and 1785
The Louisiana Purchase
The Establishment of the 49th Parallel
The Monroe Doctrine
The Adams-Onis Treaty and the Annexation of Florida
The Building of the Erie Canal
The Battle of the Alamo
Oregon Territory
Manifest Destiny
California Gold Rush
Mexican-American War
The Alaska Purchase
The Annexation of Hawaii
The Gadsden Purchase

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