Monroe Doctrine
Myth

James Monroe wrote the Monroe doctrine.

Who Wrote the Monroe Doctrine?

One might assume James Monroe wrote the 1823 Monroe Doctrine, but its primary author was future-President and then secretary-of-state John Quincy Adams.[1][2]

Adams’ authorship makes sense when the document and the events surrounding it are examined closely. The provisions and intention of the Monroe Doctrine are more in-line with the Federalist ideology of Adams than the Anti-Federalist mindset of Monroe.

Although Adams was in the Democratic-Republican party (the party of Jefferson) at the time, he was previously a Federalist and later a Whig, National Republican, and Republican (the pro-north factions of the First, Second, and Third Party Systems). Likewise, Monroe was also a Democratic-Republican, but he formerly an Anti-Federalist.

John Quincy Adams | 60-Second Presidents | PBS

Both major factions supported the Monroe Doctrine’s policies for the benefit of the Union and their goals. However, the Democratic-Republicans were typically less focused on “being an international superpower of trade, finance, and military in the future” and more focused on “retaining the spirit of agrarian Democracy at home.” The South needed to expand and not be at war with Russia, Spain, Portugal, or anyone else to retain its lush lands and keep up with the north.

The Doctrine suited both factions by avoiding conflict, ensuring against encroaching foreign powers, and allowing for a focus on free-trade with our newly independent “Southern Brethren” in Latin America. The Doctrine promised “free-trade,” as in we will protect you from the European oppressors that you are trying to shake off, and future Communists, and rebel factions, and will help you ensure you remain trading-republics like us. In exchange, we want to put American businesses in your country and trade with you, on our terms, or we are going to break out the “big stick.” The “big stick” was the Monroe Doctrine which was the original NAFTA or TPP in many ways. Its meaning has evolved over time with the ideology of Presidents and is a deep-rooted, complex American and international foreign policy issue that is part military policy and part trade policy.

Monroe Doctrine APUSH ReviewTIP: Learn about the economically-minded globalist Federalists and the protectionist and expansionist Anti-Federalists. See also, Neoliberal globalization and nativist protectionism. See also, why the founders chose a trading Republic.

It is impossible that the allied powers should extend their political system to any portion of either continent, without endangering our peace and happiness: nor can any one believe that our Southern Brethren, if left to themselves, would adopt it of their own accord. It is equally impossible, therefore, that we should behold such interposition, in any form, with indifference. If we look to the comparative strength and resources of Spain and those new governments, and their distance from each other, it must be obvious that she can never subdue them. It is still the policy of the United States to leave the parties to themselves, in the hope that other powers will pursue the same course. – The Monroe Doctrine

TIP: Read the Monroe Doctrine here. It specifically mentions Russia (who was encroaching from the North), Spain and Portugal (who were being pushed out of the South), and Britain (who we wanted as a trade partner, but not as a colonizing force in South America).

What is the Monroe Doctrine?

The Monroe Doctrine is a short document. It is a speech given by President James Monroe in his seventh annual message to Congress, December 2, 1823. He said, “no European powers can take land in the Americas, but on the same Token the U.S. will not take sides in European wars or try to take land owned by the Europeans [outside of the Americas] by force… instead, let’s all focus on free-trade.” A paraphrased summary might be, “don’t try to colonize us, or the newly free Latin republics, and we won’t try to colonize you.”

It was an early American trade agreement.

U.S. Imperialism Explained: US History Review.

The Original Intent: In-line With Hamilton and Adams

The Federalists had long had their eyes set on being a global superpower, and there were certain things necessary for this to happen. One was a document like the Monroe doctrine, especially given the recent events in Latin America which created many free-republics that were free from Spanish mercantilism and could participate in free-trade.

The Doctrine was issued in 1823 at a time when nearly all Latin American colonies of Spain and Portugal had achieved, or were at the point of gaining, independence from the Portuguese and Spanish Empires (who had controlled South America and parts of North America since ‘Fourteen Hundred and Ninety Two‘).

Latin American Revolutions: Crash Course World History #31. Just like America, Latin America went through its revolutions, with casting off the Old World colonizing powers (mainly Spain and Portugal). The Monroe Doctrine offers American support to those countries, but eventually, that comes at the price of Panama Canal and NAFTA politics. It isn’t colonization; it’s more like skipping past the part where Britain colonized India and moving ahead to the part where India embraces British policies and becomes an ally of Britain.

The main objective of the Doctrine was to free the newly independent colonies of Latin America from European intervention and avoid situations which could make the New World a battleground for the Old World powers. The United States wished to exert its influence undisturbed.

The Doctrine can partly be seen as saying, “look we have plans for the Americas in terms of trade and expansion, and we don’t want foreign powers getting in the way, and in return, we won’t go interfering in your neck of the woods [Europe].”

Some European powers scoffed at the idea since America was just out of the War of 1812 and not yet a superpower by any measure. However, Britain favored it as they were moving toward laissez-faire free-trade globalization policies themselves and were moving away from the government-controlled mercantilism (the old norm) favored by others including the Spanish and Portuguese.

Britain thus enforced the Doctrine tactically as part of the wider Pax Britannica (which included enforcement of the neutrality of the seas).

How America became a superpower. The story of America’s rise to a superpower is not unrelated to Monroe Doctrine politics, Britain, and many of America’s most famous wars.

COMMUNISM AND THE MONROE DOCTRINE: Later, when socialism came to the Latin countries, the spirit of the Doctrine was invoked. At this point, things became much more complex than just “protecting the spirit of trading Republics.” That statement appears to be pretty innocuous until you come to grips with the fact that this time “the shirtless Spanish Descamisados” aren’t fighting against Spain with the support of their Northern Brethren (AKA the United States), but are working against Western capitalism. A Communist government partnering with Russia, who isn’t free to trade with the U.S., goes against both the spirit of the Doctrine and general Western interests. Refusing to pay debts, or refusing to allow American businesses in your country goes against later interpretations of the Doctrine as well. You can see how enforcing the Doctrine, which is painted with good intentions, becomes a very gray area over time regarding world-wide politics and the spirit of not just “free” but “fair” trade.

The Spanish American War for Dummies: US History Review.

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.

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 maintained 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.

– John Quincy Adams, the Monroe Doctrine

The Polk Version of the Monroe Doctrine

Later, on December 2, 1845, U.S. President James Polk announced that the principle of the Monroe Doctrine should be strictly enforced, reinterpreting it to argue that no European nation should interfere with the American western expansion (“Manifest Destiny“). The policy of expansion might have continued south into Mexico if it weren’t for popular sovereignty and the differing views on if new states should be slave states (which led to Bleeding Kansas and the Civil War).

War & Expansion: Crash Course US History #17.

The Roosevelt Corollary – Coolidge Version of the Monroe Doctrine

The Doctrine came into its own when the otherwise domestically social liberal Republican Theodore Roosevelt expanded the reach of the Document yet again. He used the Roosevelt Corollary to cast a preemptive strike against Latin Americans not paying their debts. From here forward, the Doctrine was used to secure U.S. business interests by “speaking low and carrying a big stick.” Perhaps the post-Polk Monroe Doctrine is best thought of as “a Big Stick,” especially in the era of Communists, from the early 1900’s to JFK’s time, where its not just about trade, but about worldwide political ideology. However, Communism being an economic policy does involve the process of trade.

The Roosevelt Corollary Explained in 3 Minutes: US History Review.

Modern Monroe Doctrine Policy

Today things are partly the same, and partly changed. There are aspects of trade, hegemony, and struggles with Latin America and Socialism for sure, but in this modern Post Obama/Kerry/Clinton age, the general goal is peace and communication rather than making use of the big stick.

It is important to remember President Kennedy’s words referring to the events around the Cuban Missile Crisis, that perhaps explain the sometimes dark story well:

“The Monroe Doctrine means what it has meant since President Monroe and John Quincy Adams enunciated it, and that is that we would oppose a foreign power extending its power to the Western Hemisphere [sic], and that is why we oppose what is happening in Cuba today. That is why we have cut off our trade. That is why we worked in the OAS and in other ways to isolate the Communist menace in Cuba. That is why we will continue to give a good deal of our effort and attention to it.”

The times have changed, but the general concept of the Doctrine and the vision of early Americans like Hamilton, Adams, Jefferson, and Monroe hasn’t changed, especially when one notes that they didn’t agree in the first place.

Globalization I – The Upside: Crash Course World History #41.

Why Does it Matter?

Aside it being a clever “did you know” factoid that “not James Monroe, but John Quincy Adams wrote the Monroe Doctrine,” the document itself is one of the most important in modern history. It set the tone for America’s foreign policy, helped to build our post-1812 relationship with Britain, and set America on the path toward economic and military hegemonic superpower.

Many Presidents have relied on the principles of the Monroe Doctrine to expand the reach of the United States. It has been used to attempt to ensure world-wide economic stability and to avoid European conflict. This occurred during the Spanish–American War and Puerto Rico, the Philippines, and Guam, Cuba, Hawaii, the Panama Canal, Alaska, WWI, WWII, etc.

The Untold History of the United States Season 1 Episode 1. Oliver Stone’s views tend to lean to the left of the left, but he also created a Monroe Doctrine-centered series called “The Untold History of the United States.” This is, bias aside, THE best series on American history ever created because it tells all the parts that give you an idea of who and what America is. It is not the heartwarming nationalist story or the anger provoking story of British oppression, slavery, anti-native policy, and anti-immigrant sentiment. With the series’ bias, merit, and the lack of others speaking openly and honestly about the pros and cons of America’s foreign policy history, let’s end here.



Conclusion

Most people would assume upon hearing the name “Monroe Doctrine” that James Monroe wrote it, but taking a deeper look at the document shows its true author John Quincy Adams and a much more interesting story at the heart of American history.


Citations

  1. Monroe Doctrine, 1823
  2. Monroe Doctrine


"James Monroe Wrote the Monroe Doctrine" is tagged with: American Politics, Left–right Politics, Liberty, United States Armed Forces, United States of America


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