the boldness of the monroe doctrine -- 10/15/18

Today's selection -- from Waking Giant by David S. Reynolds. In the early 1800s, Spanish and French colonies in Latin America fought and gained their independence. But those European powers had designs to retake their former colonies. By the 1820s, the United States, under President James Monroe, resisted this, asserting that it wanted no European country, including England, exercising any power or dominion in the Western Hemisphere. It became known as the Monroe Doctrine, and it was a bold statement for such a young and economically minor country:

"John Quincy Adams, comparing the limited map of the nation in the 1780s to the expansive one of the 1820s, declared that 'the change, more than any other man, living or dead, was the work of James Mon­roe.' This was an exaggeration, but not by much. There was justifica­tion for Monroe's boast in 1821, 'The United States now enjoy the complete and uninterrupted sovereignty over the whole territory from St. Croix to the Sabine.'

"Given Monroe's interest in expanding the nation and defining its borders, it is understandable that he took advantage of an international incident to introduce a principle that would become a cornerstone of U.S. foreign policy.

"What came to be known as the Monroe Doctrine, demanding noninterference of foreign nations in the affairs of the two American continents, arose from the issue of how to deal with plans by several European nations -- France and Spain, backed by others -- to retake South American countries that had rebelled and declared indepen­dence from Europe. England wanted to launch a joint operation with the United States to prevent the European incursion. President Monroe, following the advice of Secretary of State Adams, responded by insisting that if any action were to be taken, the United States would take it alone. Neither England nor any other foreign power had any business meddling in the West.

Political cartoon depicting the Monroe Doctrine

"As the president announced to Congress in 1823, 'The American continents ... are henceforth not to be considered as subjects for future colonization by any European powers.' Although the United States would remain neutral on Europe's existing colonies in the Western Hemisphere, any further European intrusion would be regarded as 'the manifestation of an unfriendly spirit toward the United States.'

"The Monroe Doctrine later became an important component of the nation's self-image, contributing both to isolationism and expansion­ism. It was affirmed at moments when the United States wanted to flex its muscles in disputes with other nations over territory or influence. Theodore Roosevelt expanded on it to justify U.S. intervention in Latin America. John F. Kennedy cited it during the Cuban Missile Crisis. It was variously reapplied in the war on communism, the Iran-Contra Affair, and the post-9/11 campaign against terrorism."



David S. Reynolds


Waking Giant: America in the Age of Jackson


Harper Perennial


Copyright 2008 by David S. Reynolds


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