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History. The Monroe Doctrine and Its Controversy

In American history, there are ambivalent decisions that still cause debates among historians, and the Monroe Doctrine is one of such controversies. This declaration was issued to define the foreign policy of the U.S.; however, in the situation of the increasing external threat, other actions could be more appropriate. People still argue about the origins of the Doctrine, namely if it was motivated by democratic ideals or based on self-interest. Another issue is whether America needed to follow its strategy or join the alliance with Britain. To answer these questions, it would be appropriate to discuss both sides of the controversy.

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The issue of the Monroe Doctrine began at the time when the U.S. experienced significant national strength and political and economic success. However, the overall situation was influenced by the threats of the Russian intrusion in the Oregon Country and the fear of New World colonies’ reclamation by Spain. Britain, being economically dependent on Spain, also intended to combat recolonization; therefore, it offered a joint alliance to the U.S. Instead, President James Monroe decided to take “an independent stance” and delivered a speech on December 2, 1823, defining American foreign policy (Evans, 2006). The principles of the Monroe Doctrine included “non-colonization, unilateralism, and nonintervention.” (Evans, 2006) The issue of the declaration was followed by debates among American leaders and citizens about the motives behind the Doctrine and the effectiveness of the possible alliance with Britain.

The supporters of the Monroe Doctrine insisted that this policy is based on democratic ideals. They claimed that Britain’s goal, instead, was to “project its influence in the markets of Latin America,” and the alliance could “limit U.S. autonomy.” (Evans, 2006) The secretary of state, John Adams, who was the most prominent supporter of America’s independent actions, wanted to eliminate British influence. Moreover, the supporters of this point of view reacted to the “firm stance” against Russia in the Pacific Northwest (Evans, 2006). They argued that the U.S. had no territorial claims and simply wanted to enter the region’s trade sector.

The reluctance of America to endorse Latin American republics is explained by the importance of the balance between being democratic and politically pragmatic. According to the supporters, this pause allowed the U.S. to avoid war or economic sanctions from the European powers. They, however, confirmed the lack of military power and considered it another reason for the country’s cautiousness. Adams also saw the elements of imperialism and despotism present in the idea of involvement in European affairs.

Critics, on the contrary, considered the motives of the Monroe Doctrine non-democratic. They explained that at first, the Monroe administration did not support Latin America in colonial issues but did so when the independence of the country was secured. Besides, the U.S. refused to support the Greeks in their conflict against the Ottoman Empire, which showed the inconsistency of the government towards democracy. Even inside the country, the government showed little concern about the slavery issue and allowed the oppression of Indians (Evans, 2006). Critics also suggested that the Doctrine was a means to protect governmental power and influence.

At the same time, they agreed with supporters of the Monroe Doctrine about possible non-democratic motives of Britain. However, the crucial problem was the weakness of the American army, and the British navy would have significantly improved the country’s performance. They also emphasize that Canning’s offer was rejected because it would place limits on the U.S. expansion to Texas and Cuba (Evans, 2006). Critics argued that the indifference towards Cuban colonialism proves the ambivalence of the country’s position.

When it comes to alliances between countries, it is necessary to understand the strengths and weaknesses of the potential partner. In the case of America, the alliance with Britain would have been a better solution in times of turmoil. First, the performance of the two countries with similar interests in preventing recolonization would have been more effective. Secondly, one of the major reasons why the U.S. should have accepted Britain’s offer was the lack of necessary military forces. As it was proved later, the Doctrine itself was not very powerful or threatening since America had insufficient military resources to enforce it.

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Indeed, the reluctance of the U.S. government concerning Latin American republics and ignoring European conflicts can be explained by the government’s cautiousness. However, its indifference towards slaves and Indians demonstrated the ambivalence of its motives. Therefore, I consider the Monroe Doctrine to be based on self-interest rather than democracy. The administration obviously understood that there was no risk in establishing the Doctrine, given Britain’s intentions. Besides, the alliance could have placed limitations on the U.S. territorial expansion. Consequently, the rejection of the offer proved the non-democratic motives of the U.S. administration.

To conclude, the controversy of the Monroe Doctrine remains an issue causing debates. Luckily for the country, it did not suffer from the external threat; however, the Monroe Doctrine still did not affect European countries, as the government was not able to implement it. Moreover, the actions of the administration and the democratic ideals expressed in the document did not fully correlate. At the same time, it would be fair to say that the inspiring speech of President Monroe became a symbol of the country’s unity and resistance, and it takes a special place in American history.


Evans, Stephen. “Monroe Doctrine: The U.S. Closes the Western Hemisphere to European Influence.” 2006. Issues & Controversies in American History. Infobase Learning. Web.

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