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1823 - Monroe Doctrine

The critical foreign policy issue facing the United States after the War of 1812 was the fate of Spain's crumbling New World empire. Many of Spain's New World colonies had taken advantage of turmoil in Europe during the Napoleonic Wars to fight for their independence. These revolutions aroused intense sympathy in the United States, but many Americans feared that European powers might restore monarchical order in Spain's New World.

During the opening decades of the 19th century, Central and South America turned to revolution. The idea of liberty had stirred the people of Latin America from the time the English colonies gained their freedom. Napoleon’s conquest of Spain and Portugal in 1808 provided the signal for Latin Americans to rise in revolt. By 1822, ably led by Simón Bolívar, Francisco Miranda, José de San Martín and Miguel de Hidalgo, most of Hispanic America — from Argentina and Chile in the south to Mexico in the north — had won independence.

The people of the United States took a deep interest in what seemed a repetition of their own experience in breaking away from European rule. The Latin American independence movements confirmed their own belief in self-government. In 1822 President James Monroe, under powerful public pressure, received authority to recognize the new countries of Latin America and soon exchanged ministers with them. He thereby confirmed their status as genuinely independent countries, entirely separated from their former European connections.

At just this point, Russia, Prussia, and Austria formed an association, the Holy Alliance, to protect themselves against revolution. By intervening in countries where popular movements threatened monarchies, the alliance — joined by post-Napoleonic France — hoped to prevent the spread of revolution. This policy was the antithesis of the American principle of self-determination.

In 1822 the allied sovereigns held their Congress at Verona. The subject of consideration was the condition of Spain; that country being then under the Cortes or representatives of the Revolutionists. The question was, whether or not Ferdinand should be re-instated in all his authority by the intervention of foreign powers. Russia, Prussia, France, and Austria, were inclined to that measure; England dissented and protested, but the course was agreed upon; and France, with the consent of these other continental powers, took the conduct of the operation into her own hands.

In the spring of 1823, a French army was sent into Spain. Its success was complete; the popular government was overthrown, and Ferdinand was re-instated and re-established in all his power. This invasion was determined on and undertaken precisely on the doctrines which the allied monarchs had proclaimed the year before at Laybach; that is, that they had the right to interfere in the concerns of another State, and reform its government, in order to prevent the effect of its bad example (this bad example, be it remembered, always being the example of free government by the people).

Having put down the example of the Cortes, in Spain, it was natural to inquire, with what eyes they should look on the Colonies of Spain, that were following still worse examples. Would King Ferdinand and his allies be content with what had been done in Spain itself:, or would he solicit their aid and would they grant it, to subdue his rebellious American colonies? Having reformed Spain herself to the true standard of a proud monarchy, it was more than probable that they might see fit to attempt the reformation and re-organization of the Central and South American Colonies, which were following the pernicious example of the United States, and declaring themselves free and independent, it being an historical fact, that as soon as the Spanish King was completely reestablished he invited the co-operation of his allies in regard to his provinces in South America, to assist him to readjust the affairs in such manner as should retain the sovereignty of Spain over them. The proposed meeting of the allies for that purpose, however, did not take place.

As long as the Holy Alliance confined its activities to the Old World, it aroused no anxiety in the United States. But when the alliance announced its intention of restoring to Spain its former colonies, Americans became very concerned. Britain, to which Latin American trade had become of great importance, resolved to block any such action. London urged joint Anglo-American guarantees to Latin America, but Secretary of State John Quincy Adams convinced Monroe to act unilaterally: “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 cock-boat in the wake of the British man-of-war.”

England had already taken a decided course, and stated distinctly, and expressly, that she should consider any foreign interference by force or by menace, in the dispute between Spain and the Colonies, as a motive for recognizing the latter without delay. For their part, the British also had a strong interest in ensuring the demise of Spanish colonialism, with all the trade restrictions mercantilism imposed. Earlier in 1823 British Foreign Minister George Canning suggested to Americans that two nations issue a joint declaration to deter any other power from intervening in Central and South America. Secretary of State John Quincy Adams, however, vigorously opposed cooperation with Great Britain, contending that a statement of bilateral nature could limit United States expansion in the future. He also argued that the British were not committed to recognizing the Latin American republics and must have had imperial motivations themselves.

The sentiment of the liberty-loving people of the American Union was strongly in favor of the independence of the Colonies, which the US government had already recognized; and it was at this crisis, just as the attitude of England was made known, that President Monroes's declaration was made.

In December 1823, with the knowledge that the British navy would defend Latin America from the Holy Alliance and France, President Monroe took the occasion of his annual message to Congress to pronounce what would become known as the Monroe Doctrine — the refusal to tolerate any further extension of European domination in the Americas.

The Monroe Doctrine was expressed during President Monroe's seventh annual message to Congress, 02 December 1823: " ... 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 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."

The statement, known as the Monroe Doctrine, was little noted by the Great Powers of Europe, but eventually became a longstanding tenet of U.S. foreign policy. Monroe and his Secretary of State John Quincy Adams drew upon a foundation of American diplomatic ideals such as disentanglement from European affairs and defense of neutral rights as expressed in Washington's Farewell Address and Madison's stated rationale for waging the War of 1812. The three main concepts of the doctrine--separate spheres of influence for the Americas and Europe, non-colonization, and non-intervention--were designed to signify a clear break between the New World and the autocratic realm of Europe.

Monroe outlined two separate spheres of influence: the Americas and Europe. The independent lands of the Western Hemisphere would be solely the United States' domain. In exchange, the United States pledged to avoid involvement in the political affairs of Europe, such as the ongoing Greek struggle for independence from the Ottoman Empire, and not to interfere in the existing European colonies already in the Americas.

The Monroe Doctrine expressed a spirit of solidarity with the newly independent republics of Latin America. These nations in turn recognized their political affinity with the United States by basing their new constitutions, in many instances, on the North American model.

In 1826 Simon Bolivar honored Panama when he chose it as the site for a congress of the recently liberated Spanish colonies. Many leaders of the revolutions in Latin America considered the establishment of a single government for the former Spanish colonies the natural follow-up to driving out the peninsulares. Both Jose de San Martin and Miranda proposed creating a single vast monarchy ruled by an emperor descended from the Incas. Bolivar, however, was the one who made the most serious attempt to unite the Spanish American republics.

Although the league or confederation envisioned by Bolivar was to foster the blessings of liberty and justice, a primary purpose was to secure the independence of the former colonies from renewed attacks by Spain and its allies. In this endeavor Bolivar sought Britain's protection. He was reluctant to invite representatives of the United States, even as observers, to the congress of plenipotentiaries lest their collaboration compromise the league's position with the British. Furthermore, Bolivar felt that the neutrality of the United States in the war between Spain and its former colonies would make its representation inappropriate. In addition, slavery in the United States would be an obstacle in discussing the abolition of the African slave trade. Bolivar nevertheless acquiesced when the governments of Colombia, Mexico, and Central America invited the United States to send observers.

Despite the sweeping implications of the Monroe Doctrine, President John Quincy Adams — in deciding to send delegates to the Panama conference — was not disposed to obligate the United States to defend its southern neighbors. Adams instructed his delegates to refrain from participating in deliberations concerning regional security and to emphasize discussions of maritime neutrality and commerce. Nevertheless, many members of the United States Congress opposed participation under any conditions. By the time participation was approved, the delegation had no time to reach the conference. The British and Dutch sent unofficial representatives.

Bolivar, having made several futile attempts to establish lesser federations, declared shortly before his death in 1830 that "America is ungovernable; those who served the revolution have plowed the sea." Despite his disillusion, however, he did not see United States protection as a substitute for collective security arrangements among the Spanish-speaking states. In fact, he is credited with having said, "The United States seems destined by Providence to plague America with misery in the name of Liberty."

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