Jay Sexton opens his The Monroe Doctrine: Empire and Nation in Nineteenth-Century America by noting the “ambiguous and paradoxical” character of President Monroe’s 1823 message to Congress, the document that served as the basis for Monroe’s famous document: “The message proclaimed American opposition to European colonialism, but within it lurked the imperial ambitions of the expansionist United States. It sought to further America’s independence from Britain, yet its achievement resulted from the fact that Britain’s Royal Navy deterred the European powers from intervention in Latin America. Though it was part of the administration’s diplomatic strategy, Monroe addressed the message not to foreign governments, but to ‘Fellow-Citizens of the Senate and House of Representatives.’ . . . Most importantly, the Monroe cabinet stated what European powers could not do, but stopped short of announcing any specific policy for the United States.”

Borrowing a phrase from William Appleman Williams, Sexton describes the Doctrine as “imperial anticolonialism.”

More on: History

Articles by Peter J. Leithart

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