Monroe Doctrine: Definition, Purpose & Summary

Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Amy Troolin

Amy has MA degrees in History, English, and Theology. She has taught college English and religious education classes and currently works as a freelance writer.

The Monroe Doctrine established limits on the reach or influence of the United States and European nations. Explore this document through a definition and summary, understand its purpose, and learn about instances when it has been invoked. Updated: 09/10/2021

What Is the Monroe Doctrine?

The Monroe Doctrine is a foreign policy statement that created separate spheres of European and American influence. It was written by President James Monroe and Secretary of State John Quincy Adams, and Monroe delivered it to Congress in his seventh annual congressional speech on December 2, 1823.

The Monroe Doctrine consists of four main points:

1. The United States would remain neutral in European affairs and not get involved in European conflicts.
2. The United States would not interfere with current European colonies in the Western Hemisphere.
3. No European nation would be allowed to establish a new colony in the Western Hemisphere.
4. If a European nation would try to interfere with a nation in the Western Hemisphere, the United States would view that as a hostile act and respond accordingly.

Basically, then, the Monroe Doctrine decreed that the United States would handle the affairs of the Western Hemisphere. Essentially, Monroe was telling Europe, 'You keep your nose out of our business, and we'll keep our nose outta yours.'

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Why Was the Monroe Doctrine Necessary?

The Napoleonic Wars, which had torn apart Europe and led to the War of 1812 between the United States and Great Britain, had ended a few years before. Monroe could see, however, that some European countries were getting rather restless.

In fact, Prussia, Austria, and Russia had formed the Holy Alliance with the goal of defending the monarchical style of government. Already, the trio had interfered in a conflict in Spain, trying to put an old ruling family back on the throne in spite of the Spanish people's wishes. The United States was concerned that the Alliance might try to extend its influence into the West, a step that would be anything but welcome.

Monroe hesitated about what to do, even asking the advice of former presidents Thomas Jefferson and James Madison. In the end, he decided that, at the very least, he needed to make a strong statement on United States foreign policy, namely, the Monroe Doctrine.

How Was the Monroe Doctrine Applied?

For all practical purposes, the United States didn't have a good way to enforce the Monroe Doctrine. It had a very limited army and navy, and the European countries knew it. In fact, Europe pretty much disregarded the Doctrine. The British Navy helped a bit with enforcement but only when it suited Britain's purposes. Britain also felt free to violate the Monroe Doctrine, as it did in 1829 when it tried to make Texas a British colony.

The Monroe Doctrine got its first real workout in 1845 when President James Polk used it to legitimize America's westward expansion and enter into a territorial war with Mexico. When the French interfered in Mexico in 1862, trying to set up a puppet government controlled by France, the United States protested loudly. Embroiled in the Civil War, however, the U.S. could do nothing but protest until 1865, when it was finally able to send troops to help the Mexicans regain their independence.

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