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The Founding Fathers of the United States of America sought to establish a foreign policy that was compatible with the surge of nationalism that engulfed the new country during its first century of independence. The Monroe Doctrine, proposed by President James Monroe in 1823, contributed to the formation of such a policy.
Certain events in 1821 prompted the creation of the doctrine. An insurrection in the colonies under Spanish rule in Latin America resulted in freedom for the colonies, but several European nations threatened to intervene on Spain's behalf and restore the former colonies to Spanish domination. Both the United States and Great Britain saw the advantages of trade with the new Latin American nations and feared further European interference in future disputes. As a result, British Foreign Secretary George Canning approached the U.S. emissary in London, Richard Rush, with a proposal for the formation of a dual alliance to protect the interests of the two countries. According to Canning's plan, the United States and Great Britain would oppose any intervention in the Spanish colonies by any European country except Spain.
President Monroe was agreeable to the terms of Canning's proposition, as were Secretary of War john c. calhoun and former Presidents Thomas Jefferson and James Madison. Secretary of State John Quincy Adams, however, presented an alternative view. Adams believed that Britain's interests in Latin America were sufficiently strong to encourage Britain's defense of those nations whether or not the United States agreed to Canning's proposal. Adams favored the development of a U.S. policy without alliance with Britain.
On December 2, 1823, Monroe presented the terms of the Monroe Doctrine, which Adams had helped to develop. The doctrine contained four significant elements: the American continents were to be regarded as independent, with no further settlement by European nations; the nations of the Western Hemisphere were deemed republics, as opposed to the European system of monarchies; European intervention in the affairs of nations of the Western Hemisphere was prohibited and would be viewed as a threat to the security of the United States; and, conversely the United States promised to refrain from involvement in European affairs.
On December 23, 1823, in his annual message to Congress, President James Monroe made a statement on foreign policy that came to be known as the Monroe Doctrine. At that time the United States feared that Russia intended to establish colonies in Alaska and, more importantly, that the continental European states would intervene in Central and South America to help Spain recover its former colonies, which had won their independence in a series of wars in the early nineteenth century.
President Monroe announced that North and South America were closed to colonization, that the United States would not become involved in European wars or colonial wars in the Americas, and, most importantly, that any intervention by a European power in the independent states of the Western Hemisphere would be viewed by the United States as an unfriendly act against the United States.
Later presidents reiterated the Monroe Doctrine. In the early twentieth century, it was extended to justify U.S. intervention in the states of Latin America.
Fellow citizens of the Senate and House of Representatives:
Many important subjects will claim your attention during the present session, of which I shall endeavor to give, in aid of your deliberations, a just idea in this communication. I undertake this duty with diffidence, from the vast extent of the interests on which I have to treat and of their great importance to every portion of our Union. I enter on it with zeal from a thorough conviction that there never was a period since the establishment of our revolution when, regarding the condition of the civilized world and its bearing on us, there was greater necessity for devotion in the public servants to their respective duties, or for virtue, patriotism, and union in our constituents.
Source: James D. Richardson, ed., A Compilation of the Messages and Papers of the Presidents, vol. 2 (1897), pp. 207–219.
Meeting in you a new Congress, I deem it proper to present this view of public affairs in greater detail than might otherwise be necessary. I do it, however, with peculiar satisfaction, from a knowledge that in this respect I shall comply more fully with the sound principles of our government. The people being with us exclusively the sovereign, it is indispensable that full information be laid before them on all important subjects, to enable them to exercise that high power with complete effect. If kept in the dark, they must be incompetent to it. We are all liable to error, and those who are engaged in the management of public affairs are more subject to excitement and to be led astray by their particular interests and passions than the great body of our constituents, who, living at home in the pursuit of their ordinary avocations, are calm but deeply interested spectators of events and of the conduct of those who are parties to them. To the people every department of the government and every individual in each are responsible, and the more full their information the better they can judge of the wisdom of the policy pursued and of the conduct of each in regard to it. From their dispassionate judgment much aid may always be obtained, while their approbation will form the greatest incentive and most gratifying reward for virtuous actions and the dread of their censure the best security against the abuse of their confidence. Their interests in all vital questions are the same, and the bond, by sentiment as well as by interest, will be proportionably strengthened as they are better informed of the real state of public affairs, especially in difficult conjunctures. It is by such knowledge that local prejudices and jealousies are surmounted, and that a national policy, extending its fostering care and protection to all the great interests of our Union, is formed and steadily adhered to….
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 fellow men 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.