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This Week in History:
November 28 - December 4, 1823
The Monroe Doctrine

December 2010

President James Monroe.

John Quincy Adams.

The document most clearly representing the thrust of American foreign policy, up until the time of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, is the Monroe Doctrine, promulgated by President James Monroe on Dec. 2, 1823. Despite the forceful and successful measures by President Teddy Roosevelt, and, more recently, the Reagan Administration, to vitiate the republican principles of that document (the latter explicitly during the British war against Argentina), the Monroe Doctrine remains a bedrock of the American political system, to which our nation must return.

While the Monroe Doctrine was promulgated as an integral part of the President's message to Congress, and was ultimately composed by Monroe, the content of the lion's share of the policy—which followed on the principles set forward almost 30 years earlier by President George Washington—owes its origins to Monroe's Secretary of State John Quincy Adams. It was Adams who insisted that the United States alone, despite its military weakness, declare the policy that insisted upon no foreign interference, or colonization, by European powers in the Western Hemisphere.*

Adams' policy of the U.S. standing in defense of the South American republics, almost didn't happen. British Foreign Minister George Canning had had a different idea. Canning had offered to the U.S. the idea that the United States would join with Great Britain in declaring no tolerance of colonization and interference in the Americas. Secretary of State Adams, through the U.S. envoy in London, immediately responded with a challenge: Would Great Britain agree to recognize the independence of those South American nations which had broken with "mother" Spain?

When Canning refused, John Quincy Adams had the evidence he needed, to show that "Britain and America ... would not be bound by an permanent community of principle," if they issued such a joint statement. He convinced President Monroe, who had received contrary advice from former Presidents Jefferson and Madison, that he should not accept Canning's offer, and should, rather, make a unilateral statement.

Secretary of State Adams was not a romantic, in making such a statement. He knew as well as his fellow Cabinet members, that there was no way in which the United States had the military strength to prevent Spain, or France, or England, from coming into the Americas, and retaking these recently declared republics. However, Adams was determined to enunciate the principle upon which U.S. foreign policy should stand. And he would not agree to making a joint statement with Britain, which would turn the United States into a "cockboat in the wake of a British man o' war."

At the same time, Adams was determined to remove whatever colonial powers remained, and their future claims, from the American continent.

Historical frauds, like prominent American journalist Walter Lippmann, insisted that the Monroe Doctrine did reflect an Anglo-American agreement. This is an outright lie, born of the attempt to submerge the irreconcilable differences between the republican American System, and the imperial system of Great Britain.

We include here the excerpt from Monroe's address to Congress, covering this foreign policy pronouncement. (Spelling as in original. Emphasis has been added.)

"At the proposal of the Russian Imperial Government, made through the Minister of the Emperor, residing here, a full power and 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 North West Coast of this Continent. A similar proposal has been made by His Imperial Majesty, to the Government of Great Britain, which has likewise been acceded to. 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. In the discussions to which this interest has given rise, and in the arrangements by which they may terminate, 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 power."

After proceeding with a long section on domestic matters, Monroe continued:

"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 result has been, so far, very different from what was then anticipated. 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 fellowmen 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, 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. 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 defence 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. 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 portions 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 towards 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 charge, on the part of the United States, indispensable to their security.

"The late events in Spain and Portugal, show that Europe is still unsettled. Of this important fact, no stronger proof can be adduced, than that the allied powers should have thought it proper, on any principle satisfactory to themselves, to have interposed by force, in the internal concerns of Spain. 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 more so than the United States. 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 legitimate 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. But, in regard to these continents, circumstances are eminently and conspicuously different. It is impossible that the allied powers, should extend their political systems, 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 equally impossible therefore, that we should behold such interposition with any form of 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. It is still the true policy of the United States, to leave the parties to themselves, in the hope, that other powers will pursue the same course."

*For a full conceptual treatment of Adams' Community of Principle, and the Monroe Doctrine, see "In the Footsteps of John Quincy Adams: My Strategy for the Americas," by Lyndon H. LaRouche, Jr., EIR Dec. 15, 2000. Available at


The original article was published in the EIR Online’s Electronic Intelligence Weekly, as part of an ongoing series on history, with a special emphasis on American history. We are reprinting and updating these articles now to assist our readers in understanding of the American System of Economy.

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