By Elliott von Currer
December 3, 1823
President James Monroe 1816
George Washington left the President’s house after departing on the people of America a message of urgency. In his Farewell Address, Washington spoke of a nation “which indulges toward another an habitual hatred or an habitual fondness is in some degree a slave.”1 These words mark the beginning of the idea that this nation should be developed in its own character absent of the complications from the political system in Europe. From the founding of the American colonies it became clear that not only was a new country created, but a new social order.2 The American society became the birth of new conceptions and the realization of different destinies solidified by an independence from its mother country. In the late fall of 1775, Thomas Paine writes in his book, Common Sense, “I challenge the warmest advocate for reconciliation to show a single advantage which this Continent can reap by being connected with Great Britain….”3
Yesterday was the consequence of many events that lead up to Monroe’s declaration. The root cause of the Annual Message’s mindset of non entanglement goes deeper than many may realize starting back at the start of America’s path to independence.
John Adams drafted the treaty in July of 1776 that proposed commercial intercourse with France but the treaty went no further to pledge that the United States would not assist its former mother country in any war that might occur between the British and the French.4 Even after the battle of Long Island in August when the military situation was exponentially worsening, the same position retained.5 Only the Surrender of Fort Washington was able to bring Congress to seek military support of American Independence from France, and the Committee on Secret Correspondence, while emphasizing the importance of the French’s entry into the war, not once mentions the word “alliance.”6
When it came to the peace negotiations of 1782 even with the British negotiator, Oswald, John Adams was consumed with a suspicious and wary mentality, afraid “‘of being made the tools of the powers of Europe.’ ‘Indeed I am,’ says I. ‘It is obvious that all the powers of Europe will be continually manoeuvring with us, to work us into their real or imaginary balances of power. They will all wish to make of us a makeweight candle, while they are weighing out their pounds….’”7 Significant to the hardening stance on this point of view that Adams embraced, was the absolute rejection of the idea of a League of Neutral Nations put forward during the war and declared it to be “the fundamental policy” of the United States to remain “as little as possible entangled in the politics and controversies of European nations.”8
Thomas Jefferson’s own diplomatic notions had become increasingly more based on this wary attitude and told Monroe, should “war take place, and should it be general as it threatens to be, our neutrality must be attended by great advantages.”9 Alexander Hamilton who once proposed an alliance with Great Britain began to take a stance more harsh than Jefferson. Acting on advice from Hamilton and Jefferson, General Washington decided upon a policy of neutrality, one that conformed to his own stance as well. On April 22, 1793, Washington issued The Proclamation of Neutrality, declaring his nation to be neutral in the conflict between France and Great Britain.10 In his Farewell Address, President Washington warned the US that “our detached and distant situation invites and enables us to pursue a different course.”11
The general principle that George Washington laid down was strengthened by the events of the next few years. The arrogance of the government of republican France increased with time and the French treated American commerce with an increasing disregard of international law.12 The emissaries that were sent to negotiate with them were treated especially poorly and the correspondence of these messengers was published by the President, resulting in outrage and informal war with France.13 There were members of Adams’ own party in these years who would have wanted to ally with Great Britain, but the President himself did not want anything to do with Britain, which lead to the treaty of 1800 with France, re-establishing peace, thus also terminating the treaty of alliance of 1778.14 Thus, the United States was free from its only close political connection with any other state.15
The years that came before 1803 became a period of non entanglement until English arrogance and American ambition lead to the attempted conquest of the Canadas and Floridas.16 The Napoleonic invasion of Spain in 1810 provided the momentum for the outbreak of revolt in its American territories.17 In 1811, President Madison’s message to Congress was a vehicle of sympathy to the new states, and in the House of Representatives a resolution was passed expressing “a friendly solicitude in the welfare of these communities, and a readiness, when they should become nations by the exercise of their just rights, to unite with the Executive in establishing such relations with them as might be necessary.”18 Jefferson, having observed these events, wrote to his friend, Alexander von Humboldt, expressing the crystal clearness of the division of the two spheres;
“But in whatever governments they will end, they will be American governments, no longer to be involved in the never ceasing broils of Europe. The European nations constitute a separate division of the globe; their localities make them a part of a distinct system; they have a set of interests of their own in which it is our business never to engage ourselves. America has a hemisphere to itself. It must have its separate system of interests; which must not be subordinated to those of Europe. The insulated state in which nature has placed the American continent, should so far avail that no spark of war kindled in the other quarters of the globe should be wafted across the wide oceans which separate us from them and it will be so.”19
It was not just the revolt of the colonies in the first years of Monroe’s administration that solidified the division of the continents. There was nothing surprising about the peace settlements that came after the Napoleonic Wars which meant the union of Great Britain, Austria, Prussia, and Russia to prevent a new outbreak of violence on the part of France.20 They bound themselves to a treaty in November of 1815 that required meetings at fixed intervals for “the examination of such measures as shall be judged most salutary for the peace and prosperity of Europe.”21 The famous treaty of the Holy Alliance under the leadership of Tsar Alexander of September in the same year called for an observation in their policies for “the duties which the Divine Saviour has taught to mankind” was in principle, justified.22
However, this alliance of European powers held foreboding possibilities and in 1819, when John Quincy Adams poked at the prospect of the United States joining the alliance, Mr. Poletica, a Russian Minister, responded to this acquisition, cold and indifferently, providing no encouragement whatsoever for this annexation.23 Soon after three Eastern courts, Russia, Prussia, and Austria, committed themselves to the doctrine that it was the sacred duty of the great states of Europe to put down internal movements of conflict and discontent by the force of arms.24 Such were the actions of which demonstrated best the difference of America’s point of view and violated this country’s faith in the principal states of the Old World.
The United States has finally recognized the revolted colonies of the New World as independent nations and in March of last year, President Monroe sent to Congress a message asking that provision be made for the sending of ministers.25 In his Annual Message yesterday, President James Monroe put the final nail in the coffin that already had many nails in it. He made two distinct formal declarations: that the United States has “not interfered and shall not interfere” with European affairs, and secondly, that this nation will consider any attempt on Europe’s “part to extend their system to any portion of this hemisphere as dangerous to our peace and safety.”26 President Monroe put into words and a formal declaration of a national policy what had been floating in the minds of the Americans. Could it be that America is finally liberating itself from the Old World? What the policy means for the future of this country is uncertain at the moment, however, for the first time this action was taken purely on an American basis and purely from this country’s own point of view without any consultation with other countries. The realization that to truly thrive as a younger nation, the New World must be separated from the Old, appears one step closer. President Monroe’s declaration was a solemn warning to the European states to keep their hands off America.
1. Washington, George. “Farewell Address.” The Avalon Project. 1796. http://avalon.law.yale.edu/18th_century/washing.asp.
2. Perkins, Dexter. A History of the Monroe Doctrine. Boston, MA: Brown Little, 1955. https://www.questiaschool.com/read/105266406/ a-history-of-the-monroe-doctrine, 4-20.
9. Showman, Richard K., and Lyman S. Judson. The Monroe Doctrine and the Growth of Western Hemisphere Solidarity. New York: H.W. Wilson Company, 1941. https://www.questiaschool.com/library/7328794/the-monroe-doctrine-and-the-growth-of-western-hemisphere.
12. Tatum, Edward Howland, Jr. The United States and Europe, 1815-1823: A Study in the Background of the Monroe Doctrine. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1936.
16. Monroe Doctrine. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1936. https://www.questiaschool.com/read/18116403/the-united-states-and-europe-1815-1823-a-study-in.
19. Alvarez, Alejandro. The Monroe Doctrine, Its Importance in the International Life of the States of the New World. New York: Oxford University Press, 1924. https://www.questiaschool.com/read/94237666/the-monroe-doctrine-its-importance-in-the-international.
20. Showman and Lyman, The Monroe Doctrine and the Growth of Western Hemisphere Solidarity.
25. Monroe, James. “State of the Union Address.” Nolo. December 2, 1823. http://www.nolo.com/legal-encyclopedia/content/monroe-doctrine-speech.html.