In light of the probable future of Spanish military intervention in Central and South America to reclaim its newly emancipated colonies, Great Britain offered America an interesting proposition. British Foreign Minister George Canning recommended that the United States and Great Britain jointly issue a declaration forbidding any other powers in Europe from reinstating or expanding their influence in the Americas. On December 2nd of 1823, U.S. President James Monroe responded during his address to Congress with an emphatic rejection of such an alliance, and in what has since become known as the Monroe Doctrine, pledged that the United States would treat all attempts of any renewed European influence in the American continents with impartial hostility.
Indeed, Americans of the early 19th century were seeing two sides of the same coin. After all, Unites States had concluded the War of 1812 (1812-15) less than nine years previously (otherwise known as the American War for Independence: Part 2). The ideals of Thomas Paine which held in contempt British colonialism in America were still fresh in the minds of many Americans who now bore scares for this experiment in liberty. Liberty could not survive if it relied on political support from a mother country 3,000 miles away. George Washington had warned in his Farewell Address of 1796: "It is our true policy to steer clear of permanent alliances with any portion of the foreign world; so far, I mean, as we are now at liberty to do it." However, Washington was not prohibiting free trade with Europe; on the contrary "the great rule of conduct for us in regard to foreign nations is in extending our commercial relations, to have with them as little political connection as possible" (ibid). America's business with the world was business, or as President Coolidge put it, "the chief business of the American people is business. They are profoundly concerned with producing, buying, selling, investing and prospering in the world." What Washington feared was that tieing oneself to the political situations of Europe would drag the new United States into "primary interests" and "frequent controversies" which were "essentially foreign to our concerns." Colonialism, mercantilism, and growth of empire were three European ideals which ran opposite to early American systems of commerce and individual and state liberty. Military alliances with Europe would inevitably bring these three monsters to the surface of international agreements; just like it had done in 1815 throughout Europe with the Congress of Vienna's conclusion of the Napoleonic wars. In 1823, Monroe didn't have the luxury of risking British intentions for a complete expulsion of Spanish and Russian threats to the Americas. In keeping with Washington's vision for America, Monroe begins his bold declaration:
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 has 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...But why should the United States be the spokesman for two continents? Some would argue that this is in itself a demonstration of American imperialism. One must remember that the Monroe Doctrine was a response to international intervention, not an initiation of power. Europe, not America, was presently pushing into the continents, with Russia coming down from Alaska, Spain responding to South American emancipation, and Britain antagonistically offering to "save" liberty from the clutches of colonialism. Being so thrust in the international scene, Monroe responded in broad terms:
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 results have 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 to do so. 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 maintain 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.Monroe clearly indicated that the Doctrine was not about political gain for the United States, and declares that "with the existing colonies or dependencies of any European power we have not interfered and shall not interfere." Only those nations who have already rightfully secured liberty for themselves will be defended against foreign molestation. Why? Because they, having seen the United States as an example of rightful resistance against the shackles of Europe, endured such sacrifice to make men free. Monroe is willing to protect liberty in the immediate vicinity from the old grasp of European colonialism, but not to expand liberty. Long term expansion of liberty requires that a nation admires the principles of freedom, and as such, no superpower can force them into lasting freedom. Furthermore, Monroe seems to imply that left alone, the South American nations would not chose the European, colonial systems:
The late events in Spain and Portugal shew 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 of them 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.All told, the Monroe Doctrine is reminiscent of Washington's farewell address. It was an assessment of the European "political system," and how it ought not to be reinstated in the Americas where democratic republicanism existed (patterned after the U.S.). Monroe was speaking after two wars with Britain for U.S. liberty and to an entirely unstable Europe after the Napoleonic wars. Europe was the addressee; not Central and South America. Throughout the entire 19th century, Europe was extending imperialism, mercantilism, and colonialism, and it was time that the United States partitioned off itself and its neighbors from the doom of the rest of the world. The Monroe Doctrine ought to be understood as harkening back to Washington's principles and the old Common Sense ideals of anti-colonialism. Much like the constitution today, the Monroe Doctrine became subjected to new interpretations such as by Manifest Destiny and President Theodore Roosevelt's Corollary. Monroe himself must not be blamed for these problems. The Monroe Doctrine was a solution to a nagging problem from a particular time, and yet contained those ideal American truths of anti-colonialism, free trade, and a separate spheres of influence.
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 hope that other powers will pursue the same course...
Image of James Monroe from Wikipedia