Study Guide

Monroe Doctrine Compare and Contrast

By James Monroe

  • John Quincy Adams, Speech to the U.S. House of Representatives on Foreign Policy (July 4th, 1821)

    Two years before Monroe's speech to Congress introduced the Monroe Doctrine to the nation, his secretary of state John Quincy Adams gave a short address to the House, in which he too worried about the relationship between America and Europe.

    It was the hot button issue on everyone's minds.

    Adams' general message in the speech is that the United States is the defender of freedom and liberty against the corruption of Europe, and therefore the U.S. shouldn't let itself fall under the influence of any of those old countries.

    Adams talks about how America's relationship to European countries, and how "she" has, "though often fruitlessly, held forth to them the hand of honest friendship, of equal freedom, of generous reciprocity." (Source)

    The speech was a reaction not only to rumors of possible European interference in the Americas, but also to the cultural influence countries like Britain and France still held in America. Adams declares that the U.S. "is the well-wisher to the freedom and independence of all," and must not be taken into Europe's corrupt sphere. (Source)

    Adams' speech shows us some of the concerns that people had about the influence and potential expansion of European power in the years leading up to the Monroe Doctrine. He also specifically points out, as Monroe does in his speech, the fact that America has stayed away from European affairs. Adams goes a step further, by talking about how the country also hasn't sought a larger "dominion," like Europe has:

    But she goes not abroad, in search of monsters to destroy. (Source)

    Now that's a good line.

  • James Monroe, Letter to Thomas Jefferson (October 17th, 1823)

    When George Canning made a proposal to the Monroe administration (that the U.S. ally with Britain against European interference in Latin America), Monroe turned to former presidents Thomas Jefferson and James Madison for foreign policy advice.

    It's pretty handy to have former presidents as buddies in times like this.

    Monroe's letter to Jefferson lays out Canning's proposal, and asks Jefferson his thoughts. Specifically, Monroe asks three questions about the situation and the potential significance of agreeing or not agreeing to the alliance. He's trying to figure out whether agreeing would get the U.S. involved in European affairs, and he wonders if Britain shouldn't make a firm decision about where they stand: with European monarchies or the freedom of the Americas. (Source)

    The letter shows us Monroe's internal debate when presented with the potential British alliance. In combination with Jefferson's response, you can see the seeds of ideas presented in the Monroe Doctrine being discussed. Ooh, foreshadowing…

  • Thomas Jefferson, Letter to James Monroe (October 24th, 1823)

    Like any good friend, Thomas Jefferson wrote back to James Monroe when asked his opinion on the proposed alliance with Britain to protect Latin America. Although he couches his thoughts by reminding Monroe that he has been so out of the political realm that he is "not qualified to offer opinions on them worthy of any attention," he still gives some pretty strong arguments in favor of accepting the proposed alliance. (Source)

    Yep, Jefferson supported Canning's proposal, and tells Monroe as much in this letter. One of his biggest arguments is that having Britain as an ally would empower America by giving the country the ability to protect the western hemisphere. He says:

    Great Britain is the nation which can do us the most harm of any one, or all on earth; and with her on our side we need not fear the whole world. (Source)

    Jefferson makes some other points, though, that can be seen in the text of the Monroe Doctrine and its legacy. He tells Monroe that the U.S. should never get mixed up in Europe's affairs, which is one of the main points of Monroe's speech.

    Jefferson also wonders, pretty casually, if the U.S. hadn't thought about taking some of Spain's former possessions for its own. He seems to have a special fondness for Cuba, although specifically points out that it's not worth going to war over.

    Just, you know, if it happens to go on sale, it's something to think about.

  • James K. Polk, First Annual Message to Congress (December 2nd, 1845)

    Like Monroe's speech to Congress in 1823, President Polk's 1845 speech is pretty long and talks about a lot of different topics. In one section, though, Polk reiterates the administration's commitment to the main principles of the Monroe Doctrine: nonintervention in Europe, and no more European colonies in the Americas.

    Polk leads into this section discussing the Oregon territory and proposals to split the land with Britain (hint: he's not a fan). He uses the opportunity to talk about U.S. expansion and "rising greatness as a nation," and how they're "attracting the attention of the powers of Europe."

    He continues on:

    It is well known to the American people and to all nations that this Government has never interfered with the relations subsisting between other governments… We may claim on this continent a like exemption from European interference. The nations of America are equally sovereign and independent with those of Europe… We must ever maintain the principle that the people of this continent alone have the right to decide their own destiny… The American continents, by the free and independent condition which they have assumed and maintain, are henceforth not to be considered as subjects for colonization by any European powers. (Source)

    Did you notice how he directly quoted Monroe in that last line (4)?

    Twenty years after the fact, Polk clearly aims to "reaffirm the principle avowed by Mr. Monroe." The speech shows the lasting impact that the Monroe Doctrine had American foreign policy, and how much its ideas were supported, at least by the government. Polk's wording also illustrates how the ideas of the Monroe Doctrine were presented, with a focus on freedom and protecting the American system of government—which are obviously better than stuffy old monarchies.

  • Theodore Roosevelt, Corollary to the Monroe Doctrine (December 6th, 1905)

    The Roosevelt Corollary, as this text is known, was—maybe you guessed it—contained within Teddy "Bear" Roosevelt's Annual Address to Congress in 1905. It's basically tradition to talk about foreign intervention in Latin America in these annual addresses.

    Roosevelt invokes the Monroe Doctrine in this speech; however, he also expands on its ideas. He was reacting to then-recent events, when Santo Domingo (present-day Dominican Republic) came to the U.S. for help when it was going to be invaded because of some serious debt. Side note: the U.S. sent in Marines to, uh, help with the situation.

    Roosevelt talks a lot about the responsibility of "civilized" nations to be armed and ready to play superhero, with justifications like this:

    There are kinds of peace which are highly undesirable, which are in the long run as destructive as any war. Tyrants and oppressors have many times made a wilderness and called it peace… The eternal vigilance which is the price of liberty must be exercised, sometimes to guard against outside foes; although of course far more often to guard against our own selfish or thoughtless shortcomings. (Source)

    More specifically, Roosevelt brings up the Monroe Doctrine when he states that "chronic wrongdoing" might require intervention by more "civilized" nations, "and in the Western Hemisphere the adherence of the United States to the Monroe Doctrine may force the United States, however reluctantly, in flagrant cases of such wrongdoing or impotence, to the exercise of an international police power." If only every country would show as much progress as Cuba, Teddy mourns, then the U.S. wouldn't have to get involved.

    Roosevelt closes the corollary by explaining that America's adherence to the Monroe Doctrine isn't just about protecting American interests: "we have acted in our own interest as well as in the interest of humanity at large."

    Becoming an "international police power" is now more than just preventing colonization (the colonization boom had mostly passed at this point), it's about going in to right wrongs and intervene when atrocity strikes. Although the U.S. has plenty of its own problems, it shouldn't just sit around and let things like the Armenian Genocide just happen.

    The Roosevelt Corollary took the ideas of the Monroe Doctrine and adapted them to the 20th century, when the threat of European colonization was pretty much gone, but there were plenty of other things for the U.S. to be concerned with. The corollary expands the scope of the doctrine to not only make the U.S. a protector of the Latin American republics, but a "civilized" policeman for the entire world.