The Monroe Doctrine - The Era Of Good Feelings
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The Growth of Latin-American Independence. James Monroe had watched with deep sympathy the struggle of the Latin-American countries for independence. It was a clear identification of Latin-American aspirations with those of his own nation. John Quincy Adams, his Secretary of State, viewed developments in Latin America differently. The restoration of peace in Europe posed the dire possibility of a collective European effort to restore Spain's control over her dwindling empire. Adams thought the best course open to the United States was one of neutrality. He sturdily supported his father's hope that "our Government will stand fast in its impregnable fortress, neutrality." Particularly uncertain were Britain's attitudes toward Latin America. The Monroe administration suspected that Britain's leading intention was to secure advantageous trade conditions in the Southern Hemisphere, but was uncertain whether she would join with the other European monarchs to restore the authority of Ferdinand VII of Spain over his rebellious subjects. Lord Castlereagh, the British foreign minister, did not propose to clarify the issue for the Americans until it suited Britain's purposes.
British Aims in the Americas. The British aimed to achieve two objectives: supremacy over the seas, and a stable power balance in Europe. The suicide of Castlereagh led to the accession of George Canning to the Foreign Office. Unlike his predecessor, who had sought to maintain a power balance in Europe through a system of European alliances, Canning thought Britain should remove herself from direct European entanglements while reducing, whenever possible, the power of her continental rivals. One such course he saw in Britain's acceptance of the freedom of Latin America. This meant not only that Spain should lose power but also that any other European power should be prevented from replacing her in the newly independent South American countries. Canning saw one impediment preventing a steady amelioration of British-American relations: the United States seemed to be developing an interest in the annexation of Cuba. As it was, neither Britain nor the United States wished to see a country stronger than Spain occupy the rich island. To eliminate this possibility, Monroe considered proposing to the British a joint renunciation of expansion into Cuba. The political future of the island came in doubt in the summer of 1823 when Spain, torn by civil war, was occupied by French armies. In reply to urgent American inquiries about British intentions, Lord Liverpool assured Washington that his government intended neither to seize the island nor to permit a change in the island's control.
British-American Rapprochement. It seemed to John Quincy Adams that this was the moment for a British-American rapprochement. He sounded out the British minister in Washington on whether the time had not come "for the United States and Great Britain to compare their ideas and purposes together, with a view to the accommodation of great interests upon which they have hitherto differed." George Canning promptly seized upon this proposal as the prelude to an unofficial understanding between the two countries concerning foreign intervention in Latin America. "The force of blood again prevails," he publicly announced, "and the daughter and the mother stand together against the world." To France, Canning sent the flat demand that she abjure "any design of acting against the [Latin-American] colonies by force of arms."
Monroe turned to Jefferson and Madison for guidance on the momentous proposal for a British-American concert. Jefferson promptly urged acceptance of the proposal, since it would make the United States sure of "keeping out of our land all foreign powers, of never permitting those of Europe to interfere with the affairs of our nations." Madison added his assent, contending that "With the British power and navy combined with our own we have nothing to fear from the rest of the nations. . . ." He added further that "in the great struggle of the Epoch between liberty and despotism, we owe it to ourselves to sustain the former in this hemisphere at least."
John Quincy Adams and the Monroe Doctrine. It remained for Adams to dissent. He argued for America taking an independent American stand, which would avow "our principles explicitly" to the world rather than coming in "as a cockboat in the wake of the British man-of-war." As the administration was guided toward an independent course of action by Adams, Canning, who had decided to interpose British power between Latin America and Europe with or without American support, viewed Washington developments philosophically.
Formulation of the Monroe Doctrine. In a series of cabinet meetings, the American position slowly emerged. The forceful Secretary of State, Adams, argued for a positive assertion of American principles derived from "those upon which our own Government is founded, and, while disclaiming all intention of attempting to propagate them by force, and all interference with the political affairs of Europe, to declare our expectation and hope that the European powers will equally abstain from the attempt to spread their principles in the American hemisphere, or to subjugate by force any part of these continents to their will." Adams stubbornly opposed any extension of the statement to include European conflicts, insisting it be made "an American cause. . . ." In the end his will prevailed. The final statement, which was included in President Monroe's annual message to the Congress of the United States on December 7, 1823, has come to be known as the Monroe Doctrine. It set forth the singular proposition "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 Power." Monroe, though pledging noninterference with existing European colonies and dependencies, pointedly observed: "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." It confirmed America's isolation from European entanglements, and its determination to achieve domination of the Western Hemisphere.
Britain and the Monroe Doctrine. At first Canning viewed the American assertion as presumptuous, but upon reflection saw it as a positive advantage to Britain. "The effect of the ultra-liberalism of our Yankee co-operators on the ultra-despotism of [the Holy Alliance]," he privately confessed, "gives me just the balance that I wanted." Some time later he proclaimed to Parliament, "I called the New World into existence to redress the balance of the Old." The independent American course had been confirmed. The United States could be sure that the power of the British navy would sustain the Monroe Doctrine even as the United States remained true to the "great rule of conduct" of Washington's Farewell Address: The political system of the United States is . . . extra-European. To stand in firm and cautious independence of all entanglement in the European system, has been a cardinal point of their policy. . . . It may be observed that for the repose of Europe, as well as of America, the European and American political systems should be kept as separate and distinct from each other as possible.
A century of isolation had been inaugurated; the United States had achieved the security within which it could pursue its continental destiny.