the other side of the monroe doctrine -- 6/2/14

Today's selection -- from James Monroe by Gary Hart. The Monroe doctrine was a declaration by U.S. President James Monroe in 1823 that the Western hemisphere was now off-limits to European powers and that the 300 year era of colonization by Europe in North and South America was therefore officially over. It was a bold declaration, and well beyond America's ability to truly enforce, but it was one of the most important and consequential doctrines ever put forward by the U.S. Few remember, however, that it was also a reciprocal doctrine -- the U.S. simultaneously pledged not to meddle in the affairs of Europe and had no intention of imposing its political system on any who did not wish it:

"On December 2, 1823, James Monroe submitted his seventh annual national report to Congress, and it included what were first known as the Principles of 1823 and later as the Monroe Doctrine. His statements were simply a presidential declaration of national principles and never codified in any statute, treaty, or proclamation. ...

"James Monroe's message to Congress yield[ed] the following principles:

1. Neither North nor South America should any longer be considered subject to colonization by any European power.

2. Any effort by any European power to extend its monarchical system of government to any portion of the Western Hemisphere will be considered as a hostile act by the United States.

3. Although the United States will not interfere in existing South American colonial relations, any effort to reassert European power over those former colonies who have declared themselves to be independent republics, and have been recognized as such by the United States, will be seen as an unfriendly act by the United States.

4. The United States will remain neutral in any ongoing war between Spain and the new South American republics so long as new circumstances (presumably the intervention of the Holy Alliance) do not require additional steps by the United States to ensure their security.

5. The United States will continue to refrain from interference in the affairs of any European power and will seek to maintain cordial relations with all, but in turn will not itself accept being interfered with by them.

6. Allied European powers (that is, the Holy Alliance) should not seek to impose their monarchical system of government anywhere in the Western Hemisphere. Believing the new South American republics will never be subdued by Spain, the United States will leave those parties to themselves and expects other powers to do the same.

"Particular attention is due the fifth principle, which should be called the principle of reciprocity. The conventional, and traditional, understanding of the Monroe Doctrine has almost always been as a unilateralist declaration: Europe is no longer welcome in the Western Hemisphere. In fact, Monroe, and [his Secretary of State John Quincy] Adams, were stating that the United States also was declaring its policy of noninterference in European affairs, particularly its conflicts. 'In the wars of the European powers in matters relating to themselves we have never taken any part,' Monroe states, 'nor does it comport with our policy to do so.' This was consequential in that, as the United States gained maturity, influence, and power, one or another side in the endless European struggles would be seeking alliance with it to add to its side of the scale of influence.

Officials Creating Monroe Doctrine

"Monroe further declared that, aside from South America, 'with the existing colonies or dependencies of any European power we have not interfered and shall not interfere.' This might provide a degree of comfort to those in Europe who feared America as a militant firebrand with a self-appointed mission to stamp out colonialism, and monarchy, throughout the world. Monroe was saying, according to one historian, it was 'only when American rights were menaced that the United States made preparation for defense.' What made the difference between the American hemisphere and the rest of the world was the contrast of the two political systems: 'It is impossible that the allied powers [European] should extend their political system to any portion of either continent [in the Western Hemisphere] without endangering our peace and happiness,' Monroe stated. But he also made it clear the United States had no intention of imposing its political system on any who did not wish it."


Arthur M. Jr. Schlesinger


James Monroe: The American Presidents Series: The 5th President, 1817-1825


Times Books


Copyright 2005 by Gary Hart


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