Words and Deeds in American History: Selected Documents Celebrating the Manuscript Division's First 100 Years

Letter, James Monroe to Thomas Jefferson seeking foreign policy advice, 17 October 1823.
(Thomas Jefferson Papers)


Responding to a series of proposals from British Foreign Minister George Canning (1770-1827) for a joint Anglo-American condemnation of Spanish efforts to regain sovereignty in South America, President James Monroe (1758-1831) conferred with former presidents Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826) and James Madison (1751-1836). Both men urged President Monroe to cooperate with Great Britain, but Jefferson also reminded him that the two cornerstones of American foreign policy had been the country's non-involvement in European affairs and intolerance of European meddling in America. Monroe, however, was also concerned with Russian encroachments on the west coast of North America, and his secretary of state John Quincy Adams (1767-1848), suspicious of Canning, suggested that Russia was more dangerous than Spain, since the latter would be intimidated by the British fleet which controlled the Atlantic Ocean. Thus, Adams cautioned against an alliance with Britain, arguing instead for an independent denunciation of any further European colonization of America. Monroe chose to take no action on the Canning proposal and instead laid down the principle that European countries could establish no new colonies in the New World and their interference would not be tolerated in the affairs of nations in either North or South America. As stated in the president's annual message to Congress on 2 December 1823, the "Monroe Doctrine" became and still remains one of the foundations of American foreign policy.

Gerard W. Gawalt and Janice E. Ruth, Manuscript Division

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Reproduction Number:
A117 (color slide; page 1); A118 (color slide; page 2)

Related Terms:
Adams, John Quincy (1767-1848) | Canning, George (1770-1827) | Diplomacy | Great Britain | Jefferson, Thomas (1743-1826) | Madison, James (1751-1836) | Monroe, James (1758-1831) | Monroe doctrine (1823) | Presidents | Russia | Spain

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