The Monroe Doctrine
In his State of the Union speech before Congress, President James Monroe outlined his view on American foreign policy. This statement, later to be called the Monroe doctrine, has echoed down for nearly two centuries.
Both the story leading up to this policy, as well as the boldness of the policy itself, are epic in scale.
The birth of a nation
In 1783 the long fight for the 13 states to become independent nations was over with the signing of the Treaty of Paris. So indignant were the British that the painting of the signing of the treaty is incomplete; the British ambassador refused to sit for it.
Treaty of Paris, Benjamin West
So the United States was now independent and lived happily ever after.
Well, … no.
As of yet, the United States had not been completely formed as a nation. Rather, they were thirteen independent nations that did not always cooperate. Plus, there were war debts owed to European allies to be repaid. Yet the Congress of the Confederation, the central "government," could not impose taxes or raise money to pay anything.
And if that wasn't bad enough, the British did not fully treat the United States as being truly independent.
Americans were still being “impressed into service.” In other words, they were being kidnapped and made into British sailors.
In the western frontier, the British still maintained forts and soldiers, even though this territory was now part of the United States.
The fact is, the smart money in Europe was saying that the United States was doomed, and different parties wanted to be ready to get their slice of this American pie.
Our Constitution Rocks is an informative book, written by home-schooled youth Juliette Turner, that goes over the ins and outs of our Constitution. Certainly suitable for all ages.
The birth of a nation 2.0
Prospects began to look up when the states agreed to federate under a new constitution.
The new government had the power to tax and raise money. Debts would get paid.
The states could unite to provide for mutual defense.
The new constitution stabilized the United States.
And they lived happily ever after, … The End.
Well, … not quite yet. There was still the British.
School House Rock should, in my view, be a standard staple in the teaching of children. These short cartoons and music teach a wide range of subjects government, math, science and more. In fact, it has often been our go-to school material on days when more formal schooling just doesn't seem to be happening.
The student becomes the teacher
And so it came to pass, in 1812, that President James Madison asked Congress for, and got, a declaration of war with England. The War of 1812.
During this war, the United States would gain two parts of American culture. The first is the national song "The Star-Spangled Banner." The second, the term "Uncle Sam" representing the United States.
The story has it that there was a meat packer by the name of Samuel Wilson who provided meat for the soldiers. On each barrel of meat he stamped the new initials of the United States, U.S. But these initials were new to people, so some began to think they stood for "Uncle Sam," the meatpackers nickname. And the name stuck.
The war did not go perfectly for the U.S.; the British did burn down the capital. But on the whole, the new nation acquitted itself pretty well, and the British withdrew their forts.
The United States had shown it had indeed entered the family of nations.
Liberty's kids is a cartoon miniseries produced for PBS. This series places four main characters in most of the events of the revolution, from the Boston tea party to the signing of the Constitution. Very well done.
A bold position
Now fast forward to 1823.
The United States was growing and prosperous. To the south, Mexico had recently won its independence from Spain.
In fact, during the previous decade or so Spain had lost all of its American territories as they became independent.
This is not to say the Spanish were happy about this. And this is not to say that other European nations weren't wanting to expand their interests into the Americas.
With this background, President James Monroe addressed Congress in a state of the Union speech.
During this occasion, he shared his view of American foreign policy as it applies to the Americas. In his own words:
“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.”
The policy of the United States was simple and clear. We were not going to be busybodies – meddling in the internal goings-on inside European colonies. That was their business.
But, should any European nation try to expand their interests into, or try to reclaim, any country in the Americas, then they would have to deal with the U.S.
What boldness! A short 50 years after American colonists were dumping tea into a harbor, and a short 40 years after fighting for independence, an American President was looking the great powers in the eyes and saying “hands off!”
Later, this policy would be called the “Monroe Doctrine,” but through the years the idea remained the same.
The Monroe Doctrine spread America's protective wing over the fledgling nations of the Americas. But it was also a sign; a sign to the nations of the Earth that the United States had come of age enough to exert its influence for good in the world.
On the web
Madison and the War of 1812
This video outlines James Madison and gives an overview of the War of 1812.
War of 1812 - Old Ironsides
During the War of 1812 an American frigate, the USS Constitution, acquired the nickname "Old Ironsides" due to its ability to withstand cannon fire. This video tells the story of an American icon, almost as famous as the Liberty Bell.
When the British burned the White House
This short piece talks about when the British army burned down Washington D.C. and includes mentioning the heroics of people like Dolly Madison who saved national treasures belonging to the new republic.
A short biography of the life of James Monroe.
Monroe Doctrine APUSH Review
This is an entertaining look at the Monroe Doctrine; what it is, and why it was put forth.
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