Study Guide

Monroe Doctrine Quotes

By James Monroe

  • Power

    […] 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 […] (4)

    Monroe's using the United States' revolutionary history as a reason for why there shouldn't be more colonies. Correction: why there can't be more colonies. He's pretty clear new colonies are no longer an option.

    In the wars of the European powers in matters relating to themselves we have never taken any part, nor does it comport with our policy to do so. It is only when our rights are invaded or seriously menaced that we resent injuries or make preparation for our defense. (9-10)

    Although the Monroe Doctrine is a strong statement asserting American influence, the president also knows not to ignore the reality of European power, or present the U.S. as just another version of those Old World imperialists. They're just defending themselves, guys.

    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 maintain 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. (15-16)

    The heart of the Monroe Doctrine both takes away power from Europe, but also declares America as a new force to be reckoned with. The statement is both paternalistic (treating Latin America like a child) and defensive. Now the whole western hemisphere is connected to the U.S.

    Our policy in regard to Europe, which was adopted at an early stage of the wars which have so long agitated that quarter of the globe, nevertheless remains the same, which is, not to interfere in the internal concerns of any of its powers; to consider the government de facto as the legitimate government for us; to cultivate friendly relations with it, and to preserve those relations by a frank, firm, and manly policy, meeting in all instances the just claims of every power, submitting to injuries from none. (21)

    Monroe includes a kind of a sly insult here. It's like saying, "Hey, we've been nice this whole time. We've been happy to deal with whoever's in power during your unending warfare." He uses the power struggles that have been happening over many decades in Europe to boost the image of the U.S.

    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. (24-25)

    At the end of the Monroe Doctrine, the president makes the argument that re-taking the Latin American colonies would just be logistically difficult. Spain shouldn't even bother, because they're no longer powerful enough to do it. Seriously Spain: it's not worth the trouble.

  • American Exceptionalism

    Of events in that quarter of the globe, with which we have so much intercourse and from which we derive our origin, we have always been anxious and interested spectators. The citizens of the United States cherish sentiments the most friendly in favor of the liberty and happiness of their fellow-men on that side of the Atlantic. (7-8)

    At first, these words look like a message of solidarity. However, although Monroe recognizes the fact that America was a product of Europe, he subtly separates the two. Yeah, they may have started out together, but now the U.S. is over here just watching their old bros and hoping for the best.

    With the movements in this hemisphere we are of necessity more immediately connected, and by causes which must be obvious to all enlightened and impartial observers. (11)

    Obviously the U.S. is more concerned about what's going on in Latin America than Europe—it's so much closer. Clearly there's a connection. Europe wouldn't understand.

    The political system of the allied powers is essentially different in this respect from that of America. This difference proceeds from that which exists in their respective Governments; and to the defense of our own, which has been achieved by the loss of so much blood and treasure, and matured by the wisdom of their most enlightened citizens, and under which we have enjoyed unexampled felicity, this whole nation is devoted. (12-13)

    Here's a gem for you. Monroe brings up the Old World vs. New World systems of government, and really drives home how important the American system is to its citizens. He references the American Revolution (although not by name, because we all know what he's talking about), as way to remind the audience of how important their democracy is. Just saying, everyone in America is super happy living in this republic we fought and died for. How's that monarchy going over there?

    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 maintain 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. (15-16)

    Monroe continues to distinguish the U.S. as the protector of the independent from the evils of European power. The Latin American republics are clearly seen as an extension of—or at least connected to—the U.S., otherwise their takeover wouldn't be seen as a threat to the United States.

    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 anyone believe that our southern brethren, if left to themselves, would adopt it of their own accord. (23)

    The Latin American independent countries all became republics, just like their friendly neighbor the United States. The fact that they chose republicanism over monarchy proves the American system is preferable, and that no one would choose monarchy over republicanism. The Latin American republics got the idea from the American Revolution, which clearly ties these independence movements together in such a way that if you threaten one, you threaten them all.

  • Imperialism

    In the discussions to which this interest has given […] 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…(4)

    Monroe is very clearly and directly trying to put a stop to European colonization across the entire New World; at least, in all the areas that have achieved independence. Why does he think the U.S. has the right or authority to make such a declaration?

    It was stated at the commencement of the last session that a great effort was then making in Spain and Portugal to improve the condition of the people of those countries, and that it appeared to be conducted with extraordinary moderation. It need scarcely be remarked that the results have been so far very different from what was then anticipated. (5-6)

    Part of Monroe's strategy is to discredit European authority by proving their, well, incompetence. Spain's attempts at liberal reform did not go well, which doesn't speak highly of that country's right to govern more colonies. Remember, at this point lots of people thought Spain was plotting to re-take some of its former territories.

    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 maintain it, and whose independence we have […] 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. (15-16)

    Monroe's anti-imperialist statements are strong, but not aggressive. Just because the U.S. is against further colonization doesn't mean they're going to kick the Europeans out (probably because they knew they physically couldn't). Why do you think Monroe links interference with former Latin American colonies with hostility towards the U.S.?

    To what extent such interposition may be carried, on the same principle, is a question in which all independent powers whose governments differ from theirs are interested, even those most remote, and surely none of them more so than the United States. (20)

    Here Monroe's responding to the fact that France had recently invaded Spain and forcibly put the king back on the throne (the "interposition"). The president uses the event to muse on whether such a thing could happen in other countries that dare to be different. Is he trying to imply that a European country might try to invade the United States? Or is it only an issue of the balance of power?

    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. (24-25)

    It's almost like Monroe is just trying to discourage Spain. In the increasingly modern world, the structure of colonies and their relationship to the ruling country had to change. Spain in particular couldn't hold on, losing most of their colonies in the early 19th century. The text also implies that once independent, a former colony couldn't really be taken again. (If they were, Liam Neeson would just be a phone call away.)

  • Contrasting Regions

    Of events in that quarter of the globe, with which we have so much intercourse and from which we derive our origin, we have always been anxious and interested spectators. The citizens of the United States cherish sentiments the most friendly in favor of the liberty and happiness of their fellow-men on that side of the Atlantic. In the wars of the European powers in matters relating to themselves we have never taken any part, nor does it comport with our policy to do so. (7-9)

    Monroe keeps it civil and respectful, but makes it clear that there's a distance between the U.S. and Europe. Referring to Americans as "spectators" towards Europe, and reminding everyone that the U.S. has "never taken any part" in European affairs sets the stage for a situation where the two regions have different interests.

    With the movements in this hemisphere we are of necessity more immediately connected, and by causes which must be obvious to all enlightened and impartial observers. The political system of the allied powers is essentially different in this respect from that of America. (11-12)

    America's relationship to Latin America is "different" from Europe's because of, as realtors say, location, location, location. The implication is that relationship must always be different, unless the European continent moves considerably west. How valid is Monroe's argument? Does the presence of European colonies over the past few centuries impact that validity?

    This difference proceeds from that which exists in their respective Governments; and to the defense of our own, which has been achieved by the loss of so much blood and treasure, and matured by the wisdom of their most enlightened citizens, and under which we have enjoyed unexampled felicity, this whole nation is devoted. (13)

    The gap between Europe and America isn't just about being in different hemispheres. This is Monroe's most vivid depiction of feelings towards the American republican system. He paints a picture of loss and struggle to evoke an emotional attachment based on the fact that the Americans—like their neighbors down south—fought for their independence.

    Our policy in regard to Europe, which was adopted at an early stage of the wars which have so long agitated that quarter of the globe, nevertheless remains the same, which is, not to interfere in the internal concerns of any of its powers; to consider the government de facto as the legitimate government for us; to cultivate friendly relations with it, and to preserve those relations by a frank, firm, and manly policy, meeting in all instances the just claims of every power...But in regard to those continents circumstances are eminently and conspicuously different. (21-22)

    Monroe brings up the decades of conflict in Europe to show the difference between the regions. America has remained united and diplomatically dealt with the chaos of European governmental upheaval. The U.S. managed to maintain their "frank, firm, and manly policy" towards the various rotations in leadership across the Atlantic. What do you think Monroe is trying to say about America versus Europe?

    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 anyone believe that our southern brethren, if left to themselves, would adopt it of their own accord […] It is still the true policy of the United States to leave the parties to themselves, in hope that other powers will pursue the same course…(23, 26)

    Maybe Europe is all about the monarchy, but over in the Americas that's not going to fly. No one would choose absolutism. Like communism in the 20th century, absolutism supposedly presents a threat to the way of life in the New World. Looking at the world in the 1820s, how real would that threat be?

  • Politics

    At the proposal of the Russian Imperial Government […]instructions have been transmitted to the minister of the United States at St. Petersburg to arrange by amicable negotiation the respective rights and interests of the two nations on the northwest coast of this continent […] A similar proposal has been made by His Imperial Majesty to the Government of Great Britain […] The Government of the United States has been desirous by this friendly proceeding of manifesting the great value which they have invariably attached to the friendship of the Emperor and their solicitude to cultivate the best understanding with his Government. (1-3)

    The first major point of the Monroe Doctrine (no more colonization) is the culmination of this discussion about recent negotiations with European countries about North American territory. These types of political dealings helped lead to the policies of the Monroe Doctrine; they gave Americans something tangible to hold up as an example of both American strength but also potential vulnerability. Oh, what a tangled web the Pacific Northwest weaves.

    In the wars of the European powers in matters relating to themselves we have never taken any part, nor does it comport with our policy to do so. (9)

    Non-entanglement with Europe wasn't just happenstance, it was a deliberate "policy." Does that fact change the effect of the main points of the Monroe Doctrine? How?

    The political system of the allied powers is essentially different in this respect from that of America. This difference proceeds from that which exists in their respective Governments… (12-13)

    Republicanism replacing monarchy is a big deal for the Americas—it's kind of their forte. The balance of power and the potential spread of a different political system was a concern for both sides. For some weird reason, different types of governments often don't get along.

    Tomato, to-mah-to, right? Apparently not.

    Here, Monroe implies that expansionist concerns are different depending on which system you have. What would each side be worried about, if the other system spread further? What was at stake?

    In the war between those new Governments and Spain we declared our neutrality at the time of their recognition, and to this we have adhered, and shall continue to adhere, provided no change shall occur which, in the judgement of the competent authorities of this Government, shall make a corresponding change on the part of the United States indispensable to their security. (17)

    Monroe's consistent in his message that the U.S. has had a definite stance with regards to Europe, even staying away from getting mixed up in the recent civil war to bring liberal reforms to Spain. That is right up America's alley, but nope: they stayed out of it. Monroe seems to be trying to support his larger arguments by reminding everyone that the U.S. has earned the right to have power through its good political behavior.

    Our policy in regard to Europe, which was adopted at an early stage of the wars which have so long agitated that quarter of the globe, nevertheless remains the same, which is, not to interfere in the internal concerns of any of its powers; to consider the government de facto as the legitimate government for us…(21)

    Europe had been through decades of power struggles at this point, from the French Revolution through the Napoleonic wars and so on. It can get super-messy for people trying to maintain alliances as rulers get appointed, deposed, beheaded, etc. Instead of throwing in its admittedly small political clout with anyone, the U.S. just played nice with everyone. How does this support the declarations of the Monroe Doctrine?