In the early stages of the political United States, between 1789 and 1825, foreign policy was controversial with the popular demand of the American people. The foreign policy was primarily acts of neutrality and refusal to be involved with European affairs that came out of a defensive reaction to perceived threats from Europe. Two of these policies in include Washington’s Proclamation of Neutrality and the Monroe Doctrine.
Both of these policies expressed the neutrality of the United States in European affairs and helped the new country to develop without the constant threat of war. President George Washington issued the Proclamation of Neutrality in 1793 as a response to United States involvement in the French Revolution. Americans supported the revolutionaries in France rising up against the French monarchy, but the United States had an alliance with the French monarchy and not the revolutionary public at the time.
Americans, including members of Washington’s cabinet like Thomas Jefferson, clamored for Unites States intervention in the war on the side of the French against their common enemy, Britain, because British ships had been capturing and impressing American ships and sailors. Washington went against the popular demand and decided that a neutral position would be the best path for the young country to take because he did not believe that the United States was strong enough to take on a European war.
He wanted to defend the country against threats of overseas involvement in a war that could ruin it economically. Many were angry at Washington, including Jefferson, but Washington knew that in was most important to follow foreign policies that would provide peace for the developing nation against perceived European threats of war. Issued in 1823 by President James Monroe, the Monroe Doctrine was a statement of United States foreign policy towards European powers involving the Americas.
It was issued as a reaction to the ambitions of the restored European monarchies, such as Russia, after the defeat of Napoleon. Some monarchies were interested in restoring Spain back to power in recently independent South America and the Russians made the United States nervous by moving south from Alaska and establishing trading posts in San Francisco. The United States felt threatened by the possible aggression of European powers and decided to work together with Britain against a common enemy because Britain wanted to protect its colonies in Canada.
Monroe thought about entering an alliance with Britain and issuing a joint warning to protect the remaining American lands because of the power of the British navy. However, John Adams convinced Monroe that joint action with Britain would restrict United States expansion into the west. This would threaten the growth of the American economy and cause problems with expansionists and increasing populations. The Monroe Doctrine was issued only by the United States and was primarily defensive because it declared U. S. pposition to European intervention in affairs of independent countries in the Americas and any new attempts at colonization. The British became angry when they realized that the Monroe Doctrine also applied to them. The Doctrine was very nationalistic and was supported by Americans. It was essentially an act of neutrality because European powers were scared away from the Western Hemisphere because of it, so the United States did not have to fight any of them, and if even if they were challenged by a European monarchy, the British navy would fight off any enemies.
The United States was involved in wars, like the War of 1812, in between the issuing of the Proclamation of Neutrality and the Monroe Doctrine. It was clear that the country benefited most from times of peace instead of war because even though they won the War of 1812, the U. S. gained very little, but still lost many soldiers. Washington, in his farewell address, wrote about the foreign policies that he thought would best protect the United States against any European threat. These included not getting involved in European affairs, avoiding sectionalism, and not making permanent alliances, but temporary trading ones instead.
The reason early foreign policies were primarily defensive and promoted neutrality is because early presidents and government officials were more concerned with the protection of the United States than trying to assert its power and dominance in the world. The Napoleonic wars had distracted European countries from the growth of America but once Napoleon fell, the United States needed more defensive actions against European threat like the Monroe Doctrine. The people sometimes forgot that they did not defeat Britain on their own and that many European powers were no longer interested in the well-being of the new country.
Both the Proclamation of Neutrality and the Monroe Doctrine were issued as defensive reactions to perceived threats from Europe. Washington’s Proclamation was not favored by the American public, while the Monroe Doctrine was supported, but both dealt with a foreign policy of neutrality that protected and benefited the United States in the end. They would both impact later American life and politics. The Monroe Doctrine was forgotten at the time it was issued but still affected later presidents like Polk who would use it to defend their foreign policies.