Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Anniversary: Monroe Doctrine and Manifest Destiny

On this day, two fundamental and related precepts of American autonomy and purpose were heralded by the President. James Monroe's speech in 1823 (the Monroe Doctrine) and James Polk's 1845 message to Congress (Manifest Destiny) helped define our country in essential ways and set the course of American history.

Monroe, in what later became known as the Monroe Doctrine, asserted that European powers could not colonize or otherwise interfere with the affairs of the United States in the Western hemisphere. The United States agreed not to interfere in Europe or with existing New World colonies. Monroe therefore prohibited any new Western colonization and asserted American preeminence in the hemisphere.

With war with Mexico looming over recently annexed Texas and pushing for control of California, Polk's message to Congress asserted Manifest Destiny - an amalgam of divine/natural mandate, nationalism, exceptionalism, racism, and political progress/destiny for Western expansion - as an outgrowth of the Monroe Doctrine (though he didn't use the phrase explicitly).

These tenets go a long way in explaining America's past and our future.

(image credit: John Gast's American Progress circa 1872)