On October 17, 1823, President James Monroe wrote a letter to his friend and Virginia neighbor Thomas Jefferson seeking advice on foreign policy. The issue at hand was whether to accept an offer from Great Britain to issue a joint declaration warning other powers such as Spain and France not to intervene in the affairs of Central and South America.
…shall we entangle ourselves at all, in European politicks, & wars, on the side of any power, against others…?
Letter, James Monroe to Thomas Jefferson Seeking Foreign Policy Advice, October 17, 1823. (Thomas Jefferson Papers). Manuscript Division
Both Jefferson and former president James Madison, whom Monroe also had consulted, recommended cooperation with Britain. However, Monroe’s Secretary of State, John Quincy Adams, was more cautious, arguing instead for an independent denunciation of any further European colonization in the Western Hemisphere. In addition to the potential threat from Spain and France, Adams was also concerned about Russian encroachments on the west coast of North America. “It would be more candid,” Adams warned Monroe at a November 7, 1823, cabinet meeting, “as well as more dignified, to avow our principles explicitly to Russia and France, than to come in as a cockboat in the wake of the British man-of-war.”
Heeding Adams’s advice, Monroe chose to pursue a course independent of Great Britain. He outlined his policy, later known as the Monroe Doctrine, in an address to Congress on December 2, 1823. “We should consider any attempt [on the part of European nations],” Monroe declared, “to extend their system to any portion of this hemisphere as dangerous to our peace and safety.” Monroe also stated, “that the American continents…are henceforth not to be considered as subjects for future colonization by any European powers.” Although the United States initially lacked the power or influence to uphold the Monroe Doctrine, it remained in force largely because it was consistent with Great Britain’s interest in maintaining access to Latin American markets.
As the United States gained military and economic strength, American leaders began to interpret the Monroe Doctrine as justification for U.S. involvement in Latin America. In 1904, President Theodore Roosevelt, who had been an enthusiastic supporter of the Spanish-American War, added the “Roosevelt Corollary” to the Monroe Doctrine. In order to prevent European nations from involving themselves in the affairs of the Western Hemisphere, the Roosevelt Corollary proclaimed that if a Latin American country failed to maintain internal order or pay its international debts, the United States had the exclusive right to intervene with military force to rectify the situation.
- The James Monroe Papers in the Manuscript Division of the Library of Congress consist of approximately 5,200 items dating from 1758 to 1839. Access to the James Monroe Papers is primarily by name of correspondent or by date. Subject access is limited. Consult the guide to using the James Monroe Papers before beginning your search.
- Search for additional letters written to and from James Monroe in the papers of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and James Madison.
- James Monroe: A Resource Guide compiles links to digital materials related to Monroe such as manuscripts, letters, broadsides, government documents, and images that are available throughout the Library of Congress website. In addition, it provides links to external websites focusing on Monroe and a selected bibliography.
- A Century of Lawmaking for a New Nation: U.S. Congressional Documents and Debates, 1774-1875 contains legislative and executive documents concerning foreign policy from the time of the Monroe administration in the American State Papers.
- Theodore Roosevelt was the first U.S. president to have his career and life chronicled on a large scale by motion picture companies. Theodore Roosevelt: His Life and Times on Film features 104 films that record events in Roosevelt’s life from the Spanish-American War in 1898 to his death in 1919.