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United States Expansion, The Monroe Doctrine

Jeffersonian Republicans, Onis Treaty, Monroe Doctrine, diplomatic recognition, Spanish territories

The American government in these years was expansionist. With the end of the second war between Britain and the United States, the heated foreign policy debate that had divided Federalists and Jeffersonian Republicans since the 1790s quieted down. In the years after 1815 most American politicians agreed on an aggressively nationalist and expansionist foreign policy. John Quincy Adams, who served as secretary of state under James Monroe, did the most to articulate that policy. In the Rush-Bagot Convention of 1817 he worked out agreements with Britain to reduce naval forces on the Great Lakes and establish the U.S.-Canadian border from Minnesota to the Rocky Mountains along the 49th parallel. For the first time in their history, Americans did not have to worry about an unfriendly Canada.

Americans turned their attention south and west, and to Spain’s crumbling empire in the New World. In the Adams–Onis Treaty of 1819, Spain ceded Florida to the United States. The treaty also established the border between Louisiana and Spanish Texas, a border that ran west along the Arkansas River, over the Rocky Mountains, and to the Pacific along the present southern borders of Idaho and Oregon. Thus the treaty gave the United States its first claim to land bordering the Pacific Ocean, although it shared that claim with Britain.

In part, the Spanish were willing to give up territory because they had bigger things to worry about: Their South American colonies were in revolt, establishing themselves as independent republics. Spain asked the European powers that had stopped Napoleon’s France to help it stop revolutionary republicanism in Spanish America. Britain, however, did not agree and instead proposed a joint British–United States statement, in which both nations would oppose European intervention in Latin America and would agree not to annex any of the former Spanish territories.

Secretary Adams answered with what became known as the Monroe Doctrine. In it, the United States independently declared that further European colonization in the Americas would be considered an unfriendly act (which agreed with the British proposal). The Monroe Doctrine did not, however, include the British clause that would have prevented annexation of former Spanish territory. Although he had no immediate plans to annex them, Adams believed that at least Texas and Cuba would eventually become American possessions. At the same time, the United States extended diplomatic recognition to the new Latin American republics. In short, the Monroe Doctrine declared the western hemisphere closed to European colonization while leaving open the possibility of United States expansion.

Article key phrases:

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