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THE MONROE DOCTRINE IN THE WAR
Fears that Our Participation in the War Might Compromise the Monroe Doctrine - Talk about Abandonment of Our “Policy of Isolation" - What the Monroe Doctrine Is, and What It Means - How It was Interpreted by Those Who Made It - No “Policy of Isolation” to be found in It or Elsewhere — The United States a Full-sized Nation, “Able to Do All Things that Free and Independent States May of Right Do."
IS THE Monroe Doctrine abrogated by our entry into the war? The question is still asked, seriously if not wisely. So it was asked, years ago, if our conquest of Spain in the Philippines had not violated and abrogated that doctrine. Perhaps we might, Yankee fashion, answer the question by asking another. Did the Monroe Doctrine abrogate or forfeit our rights as a sovereign nation?
Beyond doubt, a certain fear that we should thus destroy that doctrine was conspicuous among the forces which so long restrained our government from declaring the war to which it had so abundant provocation. Even the President of the United States was troubled with such forebodings, when he intimated that we should perhaps have to abandon our traditional policy of isolation in order to take part in the affairs of the world for the sake of our own rights and of world-wide humanity.
NO ISOLATION POLICY The fact is, however, that the United States has no "policy of isolation.” It never had one. It never consistently practiced one. No trace of one is to be found, in either the public pronouncements or the acts of the nation. Let us begin with the Declaration of Independence. It specifically asserts that the United States, “as free and independent States, have full power to levy war, conclude peace, contract alliances, establish commerce and to do all other acts and things which independent States may of right do.” Certainly there is no hint of isolation there, but rather an assertion of our equal status as a nation among the nations of the world, competent to participate in any and all international affairs.
"NO ENTANGLING ALLIANCES” Washington and Jefferson are named as sponsors for an isolation policy; but they were not. Washington warned the nation against permanent alliances with European powers, but he made it clear that his advice was intended merely for that time, while we were comparatively small and weak, and in the same breath he cordially sanctioned temporary alliances for special purposes. Jefferson also spoke epigrammatically against "entangling alliances,” but in almost the next breath he advocated a hard and fast offensive and defensive alliance with Great Britain, and twenty years later, in the ripeness of his retirement as the "Sage of Monticello," he again recommended a permanent alliance with that country in order to detach it from the Continental system and to oppose the Holy Alliance with an Anglo-American alliance. His notable declarations of policy were thus at least two to one against "isolation.”
THE MONROE DOCTRINE If we come on down to the Monroe Doctrine, which is perhaps most frequently referred to as the basis of our
"isolation” policy, what do we find? Not a hint nor a suggestion of “isolation," either in the doctrine itself or in the authoritative comments upon it which were made at that time. In his message Monroe expressed ardent sympathy with Greece in her struggle for independence, and a deep interest in the unhappy condition of Spain and Portugal. There was no hint at isolation, or even at neutrality. Then he proceeded with the doctrine:
"In the wars of the European Powers, in matters relating to themselves, we have never taken any part, nor does it comport with our policy so to do. It is only when our rights are invaded or seriously menaced that we resent injuries or make preparations for our defense. ... With the existing colonies or dependencies of any European Power we have not interfered, and shall not interfere. ... Our policy in regard to Europe ... remains the same, which is not to interfere in the internal concerns of any of its Powers, ... and to preserve those relations by a frank, firm and manly policy, meeting in all instances the just claims of every power, submitting to injuries from none."
NEITHER ISOLATION NOR MEDDLING There is no "policy of isolation" there, unless indeed it be isolation for a nation to refrain from being a busybody and a meddler in matters which are none of its business. It does not comport with our policy to take part in matters relating solely to other powers. Our policy is not to interfere “in the internal concerns” of other powers. All that is quite true. But how about matters which do not relate solely to European powers, and concerns which are not internal but external? The doctrine leaves us perfectly free to take any action which may be dictated by our own interest and welfare.
JEFFERSON'S VIEW OF THE DOCTRINE So much for the doctrine itself, in letter and in spirit. In the Rush-Canning and Rush-Adams correspondence, which preceded and led to it, there was not the remotest hint at "isolation,” but, rather, some very direct intimations of prospective alliance between America and Great Britain. Before issuing the doctrine Monroe sought the advice of Jefferson and Madison, and they both gave it, voluminously, but neither hinted at isolation. Instead, both directly and emphatically recommended and anticipated the contrary, and approved the proposed doctrine, because they regarded it as a step toward if not a practical achievement of a permanent alliance between America and Great Britain. It is true that Jefferson said that “our first and fundamental maxim should be never to entangle ourselves in the broils of Europe. ... America has a set of interests distinct from those of Europe, and particularly her own. She should therefore have a system of her own, separate and apart from that of Europe." But that does not mean isolation, any more than it means isolation for one family not to meddle in the wrangles of another family, but to have its own domestic system, separate from that of any other household. To refrain from being a meddler one need not be a hermit.
A VIGOROUS POLICY But note, further, what Jefferson said in the very next paragraph: “One nation, most of all, could disturb us in this pursuit; she now offers to lead, aid, and accompany us in it. ... Great Britain is the nation which can do us the most harm of any or all on earth; and with her on our side we need not fear the whole world. With her, then, we should most sedulously cherish a cordial friendship; and nothing would tend more to knit our affections than to be fighting once more, side by side, in the same cause. ... If we can effect a division in the body of the European powers, and draw over to our side its most powerful member, surely we should do it." In other words, we were to seek an Anglo-American alliance with which to oppose the Holy Alliance.
MADISON ON ALLIANCES That was Jefferson's policy. Madison's was the same.. "It is particularly fortunate,” he said, "that the policy of Great Britain has presented a co-operation for an object the same with ours. With that co-operation we have nothing to fear from the rest of Europe. There ought not, therefore, to be any backwardness in meeting her in the way she has proposed ... Will it not be honorable to our country to invite the British Government to extend the 'avowed disapprobation of the project against the Spanish colonies to the enterprise of France againstSpain herself, and even to join in some declaratory act in behalf of the Greeks?”
Thus while Jefferson was advocating an alliance with Great Britain, Madison, the most scholarly and thoughtful of men, was suggesting that we should utilize that alliance not merely for the protection of the new republics in Spanish America, but also for intervention-Anglo-American intervention-between France and Spain, and between Turkey and Greece. For while he spoke primarily of mere words of "disapprobation" of France's aggressions upon Spain, and of a mere “declaratory act” in favor of Greece, he recognized the fact that such declarations might imply a pledge to follow them up with war; in which case, he said, "we ought to compare the good to be done with the little injury to be apprehended to the United States,