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The Monroe Doctrine Declared

1823

The Monroe Doctrine was an American diplomatic decision which greatly influenced the world and the way it has developed to present day. It was a policy initiated by President James Monroe which aimed to limit European expansion into the Western Hemisphere. Monroe proclaimed, "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." [1] The US accepted the responsibility of being the protector of independent Western nations and affirmed that it would steer clear of European affairs.

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Many scholars have attempted to critically analyze the Monroe administration's decision to produce this document; a large number of these scholars have come away empty-handed and dumbfounded. "Trying to [write a conclusion regarding the Monroe Doctrine], I found that I could not explain even to myself why the Monroe administration had acted as it did." [2] These are the bewildered comments of Ernest R. May, a scholar who has attempted to take a closer look at the background and principles of the doctrine.

Though the foreign policy of the United States has undergone the necessary modifications of time and circumstance, it is not too much to say that it has been dominated by, if not always directed by, a singular principle that the Old World and New represent separate areas of international action, and that the less political contact there is between them the better. [3]

All of this came in response to the belief that Europe may take steps to restore certain colonies to Spain. Britain was also opposed to the idea of Spanish intervention; its foreign secretary, George Canning, proposed an ad hoc alliance with US minister Richard Rush.

The idea of separation of colonies and the motherland began in the seventeenth century concerning Britain and the American colonies. American colonists felt that their interests were far different from those in Britain; therefore, policies should differ. This became especially apparent in the Seven Years' War with France.

In the case of the Monroe Doctrine, however, the outcomes are best explained in terms of domestic politics. [4] 1824 was a presidential election year, and Monroe was planning to retire. This played a key role in determining the events of 1823. John Quincy Adams was planning to run for President; he hoped to run under a Republican ticket. However, he had traditionally been linked to the opposing Federalist party, which was usually acknowledged as being more pro-British. Adams knew that being linked to this stance would ultimately hurt him in his chance for an election. As Monroe's Secretary of State, these factors greatly contributed to the decisions of the administration. On the other hand, John C. Calhoun and former presidents Thomas Jefferson and James Madison all advised Monroe to form the alliance with Britain. Monroe, however, eventually agreed with Adams. As a result, the Monroe Doctrine actually more accurately portrays the ideas of John Quincy Adams.

The Monroe Doctrine left lasting impressions in the Western world, as well as America's reputation. Although the US did emerge as a world protector, it also deteriorated its relations with Europe. Ironically, many Americans have blindly adhered to the principles that the Monroe Doctrine sets forth. In the field of politics, there are few more unqualified faiths than the faith of the American people in the Monroe Doctrine. Few can define it; but that does not matter. [5] The actual reasons the Doctrine came about leave many to question if it was meant to protect the Western world or just one man running for President in 1824.


Notes:

[1] Perkins, Dexter. The Monroe Doctrine. p.43

[2] May, Ernest R. The Making of the Monroe Doctrine. p. vii.

[3] Perkins, Dexter. A History of the Monroe Doctrine. p. ix

[4] May, Ernest R. p. x

[5] Perkins, Dexter. A History of the Monroe Doctrine. p. ix


Edited by: Timothy R. Dykes
Researched by: Timothy R. Dykes
Written by: Timothy R. Dykes
October 14, 1997

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