For the United States of America, April is a eventful month, having witnessed some of the most important events in the history of the nation. Many of these events are tied to the American Revolutionary War, which established the United States as an independent nation. The famous ride of Paul Revere and William Dawes occurred on April 18th, 1775. The American Revolutionary War began a day later on April 19th, 1775 at Lexington and Concord. Additionally, George Washington was inaugurated as the first President of the United States after the American Revolutionary War on April 30. Another important, though not as well known, event that happened in the month of April is the birth of James Monroe, the fifth President of the United States. James Monroe was the last president of the Virginia Dynasty and provided a vital role in the founding of the United States. About 260 years after his death, Monroe is perhaps best remembered for his famous foreign policy – the Monroe Doctrine. Today, we can use this piece of policy to understand the origins of America’s foreign policy stances.
The Special Collections Department at Lehigh University holds various letters written by James Monroe himself. These letters are addressed to other historical figures such as Alexander Hamilton. Moreover, Fairchild-Martindale Library at Lehigh holds a copy of President Monroe’s 1823 annual address to Congress. This copy contains the portion of the speech that introduces the Monroe Doctrine as well as a letter from Thomas Jefferson to Monroe regarding foreign policy. These documents allow us to understand America’s first foreign policy position.
Essentially, the Monroe Doctrine opposed European intervention in the Americas. Early American leaders wished to remain independent from the numerous European conflicts. In his letter to Monroe, Jefferson says that “our first and fundamental maxim should be, never to entangle ourselves in the broils of Europe.” However, these leaders also wanted Europe to respect the independence of the American countries. Thus, as president, Monroe voiced the beliefs of American leaders when he stated that America would physically oppose European intervention in the Americas. Monroe vocalized this idea in his speach when he said that such intervention would “endanger our peace and happiness” and that it would be impossible for America to treat such intervention with “indifference.”
The Monroe Doctrine serves as the key legacy of President James Monroe because it shows the first time America developed a solid, physical stance with respect to foreign policy. Before this policy, America focused on internal affairs and did not have a concrete policy regarding foreign affairs. As America began to develop as a nation, it decided to vocalize its foreign policy. The Monroe Doctrine was the first step in that process. Today, America continues this tradition of articulating distinct foreign policies. Recently, America’s relationship with Russia, China, France, and Syria reflect such foreign policy decisions.
Although the complexity of foreign policy has increased over the last couple of centuries, it is important to note Monroe’s impact on this particular part of American government. He was the first United States president to put forth a concrete foreign policy agenda. Foreign policy has since evolved, but Monroe’s original stance on foreign policy set the groundwork. Monroe’s birthday is an ideal time to remember the impact and contributions of the fifth president of our country.
Monroe, James, University of Virginia. Library, and United States. National Historical Publications Commission. James Monroe Papers in Virginia Repositories. [Charlottesville: University of Virginia Library, 1969.