Cyclopædia of Political Science, Political Economy, and the Political History of the United States

Edited by: Lalor, John J.
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Includes articles by Frédéric Bastiat, Gustave de Molinari, Henry George, J. B. Say, Francis A. Walker, and more.
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MONROE DOCTRINE. Soon after the overthrow of the empire of the first Napoleon, the rulers of Russia, Austria, France and Prussia formed an alliance for mutual protection, not against aggression from foreign powers, but against revolutionary movements within their own states. At a congress held by the allied powers at Troppau (1820) it was agreed that the main purpose of the alliance should be to maintain the principle of the legitimacy of the existing dynasties; and that if this principle were threatened in any country in Europe the allied powers should preserve it by actual and armed interference. Popular risings having taken place in Piedmont and Naples, they were put down by the armed forces of Austria, in pursuance of measures taken at the congress at Laibach (1820), and the revolution in Spain against Ferdinand VII. was suppressed by French armies, in consequence of resolutions taken at the congress of Verona(1822).


—At the first two congresses the English government, then represented by Castlereagh, had, although not strictly one of the allied powers, participated in and sanctioned the proceedings. But at the point of starting for Verona Castlereagh committed suicide, and George Canning, becoming secretary of state, disapproved of the Spanish intervention. After the restoration of the Spanish king, Canning thought he had reason to believe that the principle of intervention would be also applied to the reduction of the American colonies of Spain, which ever since 1810 had been successively drifting into open revolt. These colonies had freed themselves from the colonial bondage which fettered their trade with the outside world, and England had largely profited by their independence. That independence had already been recognized by the United States, and both interest and sympathy made the latter strongly opposed to any effort toward reconquest on the part of Spain.


—In the summer of 1823 Mr. Canning mentioned his suspicions to Mr. Rush, the American minister in London. and expressed his great desire to have the United States join with him in endeavoring to thwart the object of the allied powers. Speaking of a cabinet meeting held in September, 1823, Mr. J. Q. Adams, then secretary of state to Mr. Monroe, says: "The subject for consideration was the confidential proposal of Canning, secretary of state, to R. Rush, and the correspondence between them relating to the project of the holy alliance upon South America. The object of Canning appears to have been to obtain some public pledge from the United States ostensibly against the forcible interference of the holy alliance between Spain and South America. but really or specially against the acquisition by the United States of any part of the Spanish possessions." ("Memoirs of John Q Adams," by Chas. F. Adams, vol. vi., p. 177.) For Mr. Rush's dispatches of Aug. 23, 1825, sec "The Court of London, 1819-1825," by R. Rush, republished by his son, London, 1873. Mr. Adams thought lightly of the matter, (see his diary of September, October, November, 1823, passim), but Mr. Monroe and other members of the cabinet, particularly Mr. Calhoun, were as Mr. Adams says, "very much in fear that the holy alliance would restore all South America to Spain." Upon long and careful consideration it was finally agreed to express some disapprobation of the scheme in the message; and the passage relating to this subject, and also another relating to the claim of Russia to part of the northern Pacific coast, was much debated, and also submitted as finally adopted by the cabinet to Mr. Jefferson and Mr. Madison. The annual message of 1823 contained the following sentences in regard to the first point: "We owe it to candor and to the amicable relations existing between the United States and the allied 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 which have declared their independence and maintained it, and whose independence we have, on great consideration and just principles, acknowledged, we could not view an interposition for oppressing them, or controlling in any other manner their destiny by any European power, in any other light than as a manifestation of an unfriendly disposition toward the United States." In another part, with reference to the Russian claim of occupation, and also, perhaps, as Mr. Adams suggests, with reference to a supposed cession by Spain of part of its colonies, in case of success, to other European powers, which might colonize some of the sparsely settled Spanish possessions, the following expression occurs: "The American continents should no longer be subjects for any new European colonial settlement." In these passages is found what has since been called the "Monroe doctrine." The Russian claim was soon amicably settled, as was also a similar controversy with Great Britain on the same Pacific coast by the treaty of Washington in 1846. It was afterward contended that the allied powers never had any such intention as Mr. Canning supposed, and France publicly disavowed any such purpose. Mr. Adams also disbelieved it. There can be no doubt, however, that something like an interference was suggested by the new ministry of the restored king of Spain. It appears from the "Memoirs of Prince Metternich," but recently published, that as lately even as in the summer of 1824, and several months after Mr. Monroe's message became known in Europe, a note was addressed to the allied powers, by the Spanish minister of foreign affairs, proposing a conference to be held at Paris, to take into consideration the regulation of Spanish American affairs, and to which England should be invited. France, Austria, Russia and Prussia adhered to the plan, but the invitation was met by Canning with an "almost brutal" refusal. (Memoires de Metternich, vol. iv., p. 97, and note, Paris, 1881.) Considering the great power then exercised over the whole of Europe by the allied powers, and the submission everywhere yielded to them, even in many instances by England herself, this declaration on the part of the United States, then comparatively a weak power physically, by Mr. Monroe, was a bold patriotic manifestation, and the spirit which dictated it will ever be highly appreciated, as it was at the time, even in Europe, by all the liberal classes. It strengthened England in her opposition to European intervention, and hastened her recognition of the independence of the Spanish American colonies.


—The meaning of this declaration was very plain. Some of the colonies founded by Spain on this continent had declared themselves independent, and had thus far successfully sustained that independence. The United States having recognized their independence, there is reason to believe that the allied powers contemplated interference between those independent governments and Spain according to the system of intervention which they had proclaimed in Europe, and just carried out with so much success. Against this intervention the government of the United States might feel bound also to intervene. Nothing was said about the United States abandoning the neutrality which it had hitherto observed between Spain and her rebellious colonies. If Spain would reconquer them she might try, but the United States would not permit that to be done with the assistance of the allied powers, who were bent not only on sustaining and propagating absolute monarchical government in Europe, but also on introducing that form of government into the new world by their system of intervention.


—This was the view Mr. Jefferson took in his reply to Mr. Monroe, when the message had been submitted to him. He expressed himself as follows: "I could honestly, therefore, join in the declaration proposed that we aim not at the acquisition of any of those Spanish American possessions; that we will not stand in the way of any amicable arrangement between them and the mother country; that we will oppose with all our means the forcible interposition of any other power, as auxiliary, stipendiary, or under any other form or pretext, and most especially their transfer to any power by conquest, cession or acquisition in any other way."


—To leave no doubt upon the true construction of the Monroe declaration, and to do away with false impressions, which had even then begun to prevail with some, the house of representatives in 1825 passed the following resolution: "That the United States ought not to become a party with the Spanish American republics, or either of them, to any joint declaration for the purpose of preventing interference by any of the European powers with their independence or form of government, or to any compact for the purpose of preventing colonization upon the continents of America; but that the people of the United States should be left free to act in any crisis in such a manner as their feelings of friendship toward those republics, and as their own honor and policy may, at the time, dictate." In other words, the United States should not be fettered by any doctrine or programme, but left free to act as occasion might require. Mr. Calhoun, one of the advisers of Mr. Monroe, and who took most interest in the declaration, (see Adams' "Memoirs and Diary" of September-December, 1823, passim), speaking of the Monroe doctrine, in the debate in the senate on the question of the acquisition of Yucatan, asserted most emphatically that "the United States was under no pledge to intervene against intervention, but was to act in each case as policy and justice required." (See note 36 to p.97, Wheaton's "International Law," by Dana.) A resolution introduced by Mr. Clay. January, 1824, in the house of representatives, "deprecating European combinations to resubjugate the independent American states of Spanish origin," and thus giving support and emphasis to the declaration in the message of December, 1823, seems never to have been acted upon, and was not referred to any committee.


—Mr. Benton, in his "Abridgment of the Debates of Congress, 1789- 1856."vol. vii., p. 470, accompanies the paragraph of Mr. Monroe's message given above, with an extensive note in which he says: "This paragraph contains the doctrine so much quoted then and since as the 'Monroe doctrine'; and the extent and nature of which have been so greatly misunderstood. It has been generally regarded as promising a sort of political protection or guardianship of the two Americas—the United States to stand guard over the new world and repulse all intrusive colonists from its shores. Nothing could be more erroneous or more at war with our established principles of non-interference with other nations. The declaration itself did not import any such high mission and responsible attitude for the United States; it went no further than to declare that any European interference to control the destinies of the new American states would be construed as the manifestation of an unfriendly spirit toward the United States. This was very far from being a pledge to take up arms in the defense of the invaded American states; and the person of all others, after Mr. Monroe himself, and hardly less authoritative on this point—Mr. Adams, his successor in the presidency—has given the exact and whole extent of what was in tended by the declaration." Mr. Benton concludes this note as follows: "The occasion for the Monroe declaration was this: Four of the powers which overthrew the great emperor, Napoleon I.


—Russia, Austria, Prussia and France—having constituted themselves a 'holy alliance' for the maintenance of the order of things which they had established in Europe, took it under advisement to extend their care to the young American republics of Spanish origin, and to convert them into monarchies, to be governed by sovereigns of European stock, such as the holy alliance should put upon them. It was against the extension of this European system to the two Americas that Mr. Monroe protested, and being joined in that protest by England, the project of the allies was given up."


—Since that time there never was any real occasion to press the Monroe doctrine into service. It went into the domain of past history. The only time, perhaps, when apparently there was a similar concatenation of circumstances to those of 1823, was when an auxiliary army of French and Belgians invaded Mexico, to assist Maximilian, of Austria, in securing to himself the imperial throne offered to him by a powerful faction of the Mexican people. But even then, Mr. Seward repudiated the "Monroe doctrine" as not applicable to the circumstances.


—In a dispatch to Mr. Motley, the American minister at Vienna (Oct. 9. 1863), who had expressed great alarm at the expedition of Maximilian, and sought instructions as to asking the emperor of Austria for explanations, and had also referred Mr. Seward 'o the Monroe doctrine, Mr. Seward instructed the minister not to interfere, using these remarkable words: "France has invaded Mexico, and war exists between the two countries. The United States hold in regard to those two states and their conflict the same principles that they hold in relation to all other nations and their mutual wars. They have neither a right nor any disposition to intervene by force in the internal affairs of Mexico, whether to establish or maintain a republican or even a domestic government there, or to overthrow an imperial or foreign one, if Mexico shall choose to establish or accept it."


—In a popular and much wider but indefinable sense, the Monroe doctrine means what Mr. Benton said was a misconstruction of it, that is, a sort of political protection or guardianship of the two Americas, to be exercised by the United States.


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