Liberty Park, USA


Monroe Doctrine


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
Jefferson and 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

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

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).


... 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....

Source: J.D. Richardson, ed., Compilation of the Messages and Papers of the
Presidents, vol. 2 (1907), 287.


Promoting the Freedom, Sovereignty, & Independence of America