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2001 James Monroe Scholarship Award Winner

2nd Place

Megan Garner

Ferrum, Virginia


Our nation’s fifth president, James Monroe, once declared, “National honor is national property of the highest value.” This was an affirmation that Monroe firmly believed in and one that he strove to uphold throughout his presidency. The most effective step Monroe took toward this ideal was the drafting of the Monroe Doctrine. Not only was the doctrine a solid declaration of American views, but it was also an extremely farsighted and visionary measure that still is a fundamental part of our nation’s decision-making process. Monroe’s foresight in issuing this doctrine is a definite credit to his role as a leader and the longevity of the document is even more praise worthy. When assessing the value of the Monroe Doctrine, important points to consider are Monroe’s motivations for writing it, the adaptation of the doctrine through the years, and applications of the doctrine.

Monroe’s reasons for drafting the doctrine revolve mainly around the threat of unrelenting European colonization on the American continent. The memory of British control and the Revolutionary War was still fresh on America’s mind. Monroe’s need to protect this new found freedom was the first and foremost influence on all of his decisions. During his presidency, Russia had established fur trading posts down as far as Golden Gate. Also, a large part of the California coastline had been taken as Russian America (Bruce 132). The possibility of European intervention in Latin America spurred Monroe on, as well. When French troops were sent to Spain to restore the overthrown monarch, there seemed to be a very real chance that European powers would next cross the ocean to the Americas to restore Spain’s colonies (Magill 122). With these events taking place, Monroe saw the need for a document that would clearly state America’s stand on European interference in the Western hemisphere. His fears of European intervention and the action he took by writing the doctrine are a result of his desire to protect the United States’ honor and interests. Monroe’s ability to see the threat that Europe could pose to our national security led to one of the most important defensive proclamations in history.

Another significant factor to consider is the doctrine’s adaptability. Monroe’s edict was a revolutionary idea in its own time, but the fact that it has evolved and changed throughout the years without losing its main objective is a tribute to Monroe. One of the doctrine’s major expansions came with the idea of Manifest Destiny. The principle that said no territory in the Western hemisphere could be transferred from one European power to another came into effect. Moreover, the doctrine’s purposes were interpreted to mean that territories in the Americas that were off limits to European powers could become possible additions to the United States. A further notable addition to the original doctrine is the Roosevelt Corollary. This extension was added when occurrences of unrest and rebellion between countries in Latin America were reported. In essence, the corollary stated that if the unrest continued it would compel the United States to intervene in order to avert European intervention (Encyclopedia 1). Yet another example of the longevity of Monroe’s doctrine occurred in 1941. Congress met on April 11 and declared a joint resolution reaffirming the principles of the Monroe Doctrine (Avalon 1). This reaffirmation is evidence of how far reaching and vital the Monroe Doctrine has been in American foreign policy. The fact that the Monroe Doctrine has the flexibility to change as needed and still retain its intended purposes attests to Monroe’s role as a visionary.

The situations when the Monroe Doctrine has been applied are all important parts of American history. One of the earliest instances is in 1845 when Polk used it to revoke Britain’s claim on Oregon and California. Later in his administration, Polk also warned European nations that their designs on the Yucatan could force the United States to take control of the territory (Encarta 1). By far, the most important applications of the Monroe Doctrine have occurred in the 20th Century with the attempts to stop Communism from spreading into the Western hemisphere. John F. Kennedy’s presidency was filled with applications of the Monroe Doctrine. In the Cuban Missile Crisis, Kennedy applied the doctrine and demanded the removal of Russian nuclear warheads from Cuba. Not only was Kennedy successful in protecting America from nuclear war, but he also upheld the ideals of the Monroe Doctrine by forcing Russia’s withdrawal from a Western hemisphere territory. Later, the Reagan administration plainly promoted the doctrine as it opposed the spread of Communism in the 1980’s. The numerous applications of the Monroe Doctrine throughout history are evidence of the dramatic influence it has had. If Monroe had not had the diligence and determination to provide a preventative measure against further European intervention, then it would be hard to imagine what our lives would be like today. Britain or Russia could have control over much of the west coast of the United States and Spain might be ruling much of the south and southwest. The Soviet Union might have succeeded in her attempts to spread Communism and many of the Central and Latin American countries might still be European colonies. If not for Monroe and his planning, the United States would very likely not be the Super Power she is today.

Monroe’s vision is very much alive and well today. That is due in great part to his ability to see future problems and take measures to prevent them. This ability allowed Monroe to lead America well during his lifetime and it led to the drafting of the Monroe Doctrine. The Monroe Doctrine is a set of ideas that has allowed Monroe’s vision of a safe, prosperous, and honorable nation to continue long after his death. The doctrine has been a tool used by leaders of America to safeguard the interests of the American people and to maintain the freedom that was attained so long ago. Monroe’s vision of “national honor” is one that has been achieved through the years by using preventative measures he so wisely set down during his terms as president.

The Avalon Project. Ed. William C. Fray. 1997. 22 Mar. 2001.

Bruce, David K. E. Sixteen American Presidents: From Washington to Lincoln. Indianapolis: The Bobbs-Merrill Company, Inc., 1962. 22 Mar. 2001.

Magill, Frank N, ed. The American Presidents. vol 1.Englewood Cliffs: Salem Press, 1986.

“The Monroe Doctrine”. Encarta Online. 22 Mar. 2001.


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