James Monroe (1758-1831) delivered this speech to a joint session of Congress in which he outlined his foreign policy objectives. This speech can be seen as the part of the United States’ response to the Napoleonic Wars and to the revolution in Latin America.
Washington, December 2, 1823
Meeting in you a new Congress, I deem it proper to present this view of public affairs in greater detail than might otherwise be necessary. A precise knowledge of our relations with foreign powers as respects our negotiations and transactions with each is thought to be particularly necessary . . .
At the commencement of the recent war between France and Spain it was declared by the French Government that it would grant no commissions to privateers, and that neither the commerce of Spain herself nor of neutral nations should be molested by the naval force of France, except in the breach of a lawful blockade. This declaration, which appears to have been faithfully carried into effect, concurring with principles proclaimed and cherished by the United States from the first establishment of their independence, suggested the hope that the time had arrived when the proposal for adopting it as a permanent and invariable rule in all future maritime wars might meet the favorable consideration of the great European powers. Instructions have accordingly been given to our ministers with France, Russia, and Great Britain to make those proposals to their respective Governments, and when the friends of humanity reflect on the essential amelioration to the condition of the human race which would result from the abolition of private war on the sea and on the great facility by which it might be accomplished, requiring only the consent of a few sovereigns, an earnest hope is indulged that these overtures will meet with an attention animated by the spirit in which they were made, and
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 so to do. It is only when our rights are invaded or seriously menaced that we resent injuries or make preparation for our defense. 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.
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. 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 judgment of the competent authorities of this Government, shall make a corresponding change on the part of the United States indispensable to their security.
A cartoon from 1914 depicting the Monroe Doctrine as a wall keeping out the fires of war that were raging in Europe. The Monroe Doctrine of 1823 stated that the European powers should no longer engage in colonization of the Americas, effectively declaring the western hemisphere to be a part of the United States realm of influence. In exchange the United States pledged not to get involved in the wars and political intrigue of Europe.
DBQ – Discuss the effectiveness of the Monroe Doctrine as foreign policy in the early 1800s. Why did the U.S. feel the need to develop this doctrine?