What reasons were used by Monroe to justify this foreign policy pronouncement, and how do they relate to arguments made during the revolutionary and early republic periods?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

President Monroe justified his foreign policy pronouncement in 1823 by arguing that the young American nation would not tolerate foreign interference in our hemisphere, and that any possible encroachment by a European power would be considered as endangering our peace and happiness. The country, although only about 50 years old...

Unlock
This Answer Now

Start your 48-hour free trial to unlock this answer and thousands more. Enjoy eNotes ad-free and cancel anytime.

Start your 48-Hour Free Trial

President Monroe justified his foreign policy pronouncement in 1823 by arguing that the young American nation would not tolerate foreign interference in our hemisphere, and that any possible encroachment by a European power would be considered as endangering our peace and happiness. The country, although only about 50 years old at that point, had already developed an independent culture and identity of its own that was different from European cultures, and the nation wanted to maintain its self-rule. Essentially, what he was saying was that the New World and the Old World were different, and the Old World should not interfere with the New World.

Monroe indicated that the US would consider any interference as a potentially hostile act. To understand the rationale for the Monroe Doctrine, it is important to remember the historical backdrop in the early 1820s: many Latin American countries recently had won independence from Spain or Portugal, leaving many in the US to question what the governments of those new countries would do next. At the same time, Russia was also making noise about expanding its territories.

Monroe’s thesis relates to arguments made during the Revolutionary War and early in the country’s life, when the country asserted its right to self-government not long before President Monroe’s speech. He was saying that the US would not cede the independence that was won at a very dear cost and would consider any incursions in the western hemisphere as a hostile act. In this assertion, he essentially said that he viewed the US as the protector of the western hemisphere. In return for being left alone, the United States would agree not to interfere in Europe or even with European colonies that already existed in the western hemisphere.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

The Monroe Doctrine established an enduring policy position of the United States by which it committed to view any attempt by European powers to negate the sovereignty of a western hemispheric state as an act of aggression.

The reasons Monroe gave for his pronouncement included, first, the idea that a distinct American culture had developed and that this culture was inextricably linked with the existing interests of the United States. The United States alone, he argued, should engage in the settlement of the remaining areas of the Americas.

Second, Monroe observed that European intervention in the Americas to negate the sovereignty of an independent state was beyond its capacity (noting specifically that "it must be obvious that she can never subdue them") and would lead only to prolonged war which would threaten the security of the United States.

The Monroe Doctrine dovetailed with a sentiment popular in the revolutionary and early republic periods that viewed with skepticism continuing European involvement in western hemispheric affairs. It was a natural outgrowth of Washington's farewell address in which the president observed with respect to Europe, that "she must be engaged in frequent controversies, the causes of which are essentially foreign to our concerns."

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

The Monroe Doctrine was a warning by the United States to European powers that any further attempt at establishing colonies in the Americas would be interpreted as a hostile act, with all the grave consequences that would follow. As with all major foreign policy pronouncements, it combined elements of self-interest and genuine idealism. In relation to the former, the Monroe Administration regarded the Americas as part of the United States' sphere of influence. The last thing the US government wanted was for its own backyard to become destabilized by wars between European powers. The continent of Europe had, for centuries, been riven by numerous conflicts, and no one in the United States wanted to see them exported to the New World.

At the same time, Monroe also used the language of idealism in announcing his doctrine. The United States itself had managed to overthrow the yoke of colonial oppression after years of armed struggle and bloodshed against the British. So there was a natural sympathy with other oppressed peoples throughout the world, especially with those in the Americas, who yearned for independence from the Spanish. The Monroe Doctrine acted as an inspiration to Latin American resistance movements in their continuing struggle against Spanish colonial rule. But it soon became clear to anti-colonialists that the doctrine was more a tool of national policy than a full-throated clarion call for the poor, benighted masses of Latin America to rise up against their colonial overlords.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

The main reason given by Monroe for the foreign policy measure bearing his name, the Monroe Doctrine (which was actually authored by Secretary of State John Quincy Adams), is that the United States was "intimately connected" with "movements in this hemisphere." The revolutions that had occurred in South America concerned the United States because some feared that foreign powers would attempt to exploit the vacuum created by Spain's loss of power in the region. This concerned the United States, which was essentially asserting that the entire hemisphere was its sphere of influence. The second reason was one, essentially, of justice. The Monroe Doctrine observed that the United States had always taken a policy of refusing to get involved in European internal affairs (i.e., wars and other conflicts between European powers). Now the still-new nation was asserting its right to stop European intervention in its own affairs. This line of argument was also made during the early Republic by President George Washington, who proclaimed the nation's neutrality in the face of war between France and Great Britain. Washington urged Americans to continue to remain neutral in his Farewell Address a few years later, emphasizing the fact that there was literally an ocean separating American interests from those of Europe. So the ideas contained in the Monroe Doctrine were closely related to those articulated by earlier political leaders in the United States.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team