The Unseen Hand - Ralph Epperson

The Monroe Doctrine

On December 2, 1823, President James Monroe issued what has been called The Monroe Doctrine. His statement was blunt and to the point, declaring "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."

President Monroe added an explanation, declaring that the political systems in European countries were different from those in the Americas: "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."

Monroe's action came as the result of a treaty, called the Treaty of Verona, signed by the government leaders of Austria, France, Prussia, and Russia who, according to a then current observer, American Senator Robert Owen, had:

"well-laid plans also to destroy popular government in the American colonies which had revolted from Spain and Portugal in Central and South America under the influence of the successful example of the United States.

"It was because of this conspiracy against the American republics by the European monarchies that the great English statesman. Canning, called the attention of our government to it, and our statesmen then, including Thomas Jefferson, took an active part to bring about the declaration by President Monroe in his next annual message to the Congress of the United States that the United States would regard it as an act of hostility to the Government of the United States and an unfriendly act if this coalition or if any power of Europe ever undertook to establish upon the American Continent any control of any American republic or to acquire any territorial rights."

Senator Owen entered the Treaty in the Congressional Record in 1916. It reads, in part:

"The undersigned . . . have agreed as follows:

"Article 1: The high contracting powers being convinced that the system of representative government is equally as incompatible with the monarchial principles as the maxim of the sovereignty of the people with the divine right, engage mutually . . . to sue all their efforts to put an end to the system of representative governments, in whatever country it may exist in Europe, and to prevent its being introduced in those countries where it is not yet known.

"Article 2: As it can not be doubted that the liberty of the press is the most powerful means used by the pretended supporters of the rights of nations to the detriment of those of the princes, the high contracting parties promise reciprocally to adopt all proper measures to suppress it, not only in their own states but also in the rest of Europe.

"Article 3: Convinced that the principles of religion contribute most powerfully to keep nations in the state of passive obedience they owe to their princes, the high contracting parties declare it to be their intention to sustain in their respective states those measures which the clergy may adopt. . . so intimately connected with the preservation of the authority of the princes. . . ."

Monroe's bold declaration struck the European governments a rather severe blow. Many European diplomats spoke out against it, but it was popular with the citizens of the South American nations it protected.

Monroe's Secretary of State was John Quincy Adams, and he was largely responsible for writing the Doctrine. The American people, pleased with what he had written, responded by electing him President of the United States in 1824.

But more importantly, another move by the European powers into the affairs of the American people had been repulsed.