█ ADRIENNE WILMOTH LERNER
The Monroe Doctrine defined the U.S. position on international affairs involving nations in the Americas and former colonial holdings of European powers. In his seventh annual message to Congress on December 2, 1823, President James Monroe unveiled his plan for United States foreign policy. The United States government acknowledged the sovereignty of independent nations in the Americas, and declared the Americas closed to future colonization. The policy further stated that the United States would not be a party to European conflicts. The policy took decades to come to full fruition, receiving the name "Monroe Doctrine" in 1853. During the nineteenth century, the policy was tested during the Mexican-American and the Spanish-American Wars, though it was only directly invoked in the latter.
The Napoleonic Wars in Europe in the first decades of the nineteenth century stirred nationalist sentiment in both the Old and the New World. As European nations devoted increasing resources to combating Napoleon's invading armies, they politically neglected their colonial holdings abroad. Nationalists in Latin America supported taking up arms against European colonial powers and establishing independent nations. Between 1815 and 1823, Argentina, Venezuela, Mexico, Peru, Colombia, and Chile gained their independence and established republics. These fledgling nations needed, and sought, political recognition from larger, more influential nations. Knowing that they could not rely on the monarchist nations of Europe to support break-away democracies, the new American republics sought recognition from the United States.
In the United States, the European Napoleonic Wars spawned the War of 1812. British troops burned the U.S. capitol, but U.S. forces succeeded in routing British troops long enough to force a cease-fire and peace treaty. This second defeat of British forces more firmly established the United States as a thriving, independent nation, able to compete with European rivals. However, most members of the United States government sought to keep the nation out of European rivalries. When the revolutions in South America yielded new republics, the United States was left in a precarious position, caught between European and American interests.
A rumor circulated in diplomatic circles that the Holy Alliance of Russia, Austria, and Prussia was set to intervene on behalf of Spain in the colonial rebellions. In 1823, France invited Spain to restore the Bourbon monarchy with a promise of further aid against insurgent republics in the Americas. The monarchist alliance angered Great Britain, who was politically torn between the need to defend the principles of monarchist government, and keep the French from regaining strongholds in the Americas and the Caribbean.
British foreign minister George Canning lobbied the United States government to form an Anglo-American alliance to oppose the intervention of France or the Holy Alliance in Latin America. Many in the United States government supported the diplomatic move, but President Monroe and his Secretary of State, John Quincy Adams, were suspicious of the British plan. Adams advocated issuing a unilateral declaration, warning all European powers to refrain from joining colonial wars in which they had no direct involvement.
Monroe heeded Adams counsel. In a yearly speech, Monroe issued a statement proclaiming that any efforts to extend European political power in the Americas would be considered a threat to the security of the United States. Though the doctrine stated that the United States would refrain from participation in European conflicts, it left open the possibility for U.S. involvement in the Americas. Monroe counted on Britain to receive the statement as compromise, and recognize its mutual benefit. Indeed, the doctrine eventually worked largely because of backing from Britain.
The Monroe Doctrine was formally invoked seventy-five years later at the outbreak of the Spanish-American War. The United States cited Spain's continued involvement in Cuba as a threat to U.S. property and interests. The United States won the conflict against Spain, and in the years following the war, the United States acted to prevent European nations from collecting debts from defaulting Latin American nations and former colonial holdings. When the Dominican Republic was bankrupt in 1904, United States President Theodore Roosevelt issued the Roosevelt Corollary to the Monroe Doctrine, stating that the United States could preemptively act to ward off European aggression in the Americas.
█ FURTHER READING:
The Avalon Project at Yale University. The Monroe Doctrine, 1823. < http://www.yale.edu/lawweb/Avalon/Monroe.htm > (April 2003).