The U.S. government feared the victorious European powers that emerged from the Congress of Vienna (1814–1815) would revive monarchical government. France had already agreed to restore the Spanish monarchy in exchange for Cuba. As the revolutionary Napoleonic Wars (1803–1815) ended, Prussia, Austria, and Russia formed the Holy Alliance to defend monarchism. In particular, the Holy Alliance authorized military incursions to re-establish Bourbon rule over Spain and its colonies, which were establishing their independence.
The Monroe Doctrine was a United States policy that opposed European colonialism in the Americas. It argued that any intervention in the politics of the Americas by foreign powers was a potentially hostile act against the United States. It began in 1823; however, the term “Monroe Doctrine” itself was not coined until 1850.
The Doctrine was issued on December 2, at a time when nearly all Latin American colonies of Spain and Portugal had achieved, or were at the point of gaining, independence from the Portuguese and Spanish Empires. It stated that further efforts by various European states to take control of any independent state in the Americas would be viewed as “the manifestation of an unfriendly disposition toward the United States.” At the same time, the doctrine noted that the U.S. would recognize and not interfere with existing European colonies nor meddle in the internal affairs of European countries.
President James Monroe first stated the doctrine during his seventh annual State of the Union Address to the Congress. The doctrine asserted that the New World and the Old World were to remain distinctly separate spheres of influence. The separation intended to avoid situations that could make the New World a battleground for the Old World powers so that the U.S. could exert its influence undisturbed.
The full document of the Monroe Doctrine, written chiefly by future-President and then-Secretary of State John Quincy Adams, is long and couched in diplomatic language, but its essence is expressed in two key passages. The first is the introductory statement, which asserts that the New World is no longer subject to colonization by the European countries:
The occasion has been judged proper for asserting, as a principle in which the rights and interests of the United States are involved, that the American continents, by the free and independent condition which they have assumed and maintain, are henceforth not to be considered as subjects for future colonization by any European powers.
The second key passage, which contains a fuller statement of the Doctrine, is addressed to the “allied powers” of Europe; it clarifies that the U.S. remains neutral on existing European colonies in the Americas but is opposed to “interpositions” that would create new colonies among the newly independent Spanish American republics:
We owe it, therefore, to candor and to the amicable relations existing between the United States and those powers to declare that we should consider any attempt on their part to extend their system to any portion of this hemisphere as dangerous to our peace and safety. With the existing colonies or dependencies of any European power, we have not interfered and shall not interfere. But with the Governments who have declared their independence and maintained it, and whose independence we have, on great consideration and on just principles, acknowledged, we could not view any interposition for the purpose of oppressing them, or controlling in any other manner their destiny, by any European power in any other light than as the manifestation of an unfriendly disposition toward the United States.
By the end of the 19th century, Monroe’s declaration was seen as a defining moment in the foreign policy of the United States and one of its longest-standing tenets. The intent and impact of the doctrine persisted more than a century, with only small variations, and would be invoked by many U.S. statesmen and several U.S. presidents, including Ulysses S. Grant, Theodore Roosevelt, John F. Kennedy, and Ronald Reagan.
After 1898, the Monroe Doctrine was reinterpreted in terms of multilateralism and non-intervention by Latin American lawyers and intellectuals. In 1933, under President Franklin D. Roosevelt, the U.S. went along with this new reinterpretation, especially in terms of the Organization of American States.
Historians have observed that while the Doctrine contained a commitment to resist colonialism from Europe, it had some aggressive implications for American policy, since there were no limitations on the US’s own actions mentioned within it. Scholar Jay Sexton notes that the tactics used to implement the doctrine were “modeled after those employed by British imperialists” and their competition with the Spanish and French. Eminent historian William Appleman Williams described it as a form of “imperial anti-colonialism.” Noam Chomsky argues that in practice the Monroe Doctrine has been used as a declaration of hegemony and a right of unilateral intervention over the Americas.
The Monroe Doctrine Centennial half dollar was a fifty-cent piece struck by the United States Bureau of the Mint. Bearing portraits of former U.S. Presidents James Monroe and John Quincy Adams, the coin was issued in commemoration of the centennial of the Monroe Doctrine and was produced at the San Francisco Mint in 1923.
In 1922, the motion picture industry was faced with a number of scandals, motion picture executives sought ways of getting good publicity for Hollywood. One means was an exposition, to be held in Los Angeles in mid-1923. To induce Congress to issue a commemorative coin as a fundraiser for the fair, organizers associated the exposition with the 100th anniversary of the Monroe Doctrine, and legislation for a commemorative half dollar for the centennial was passed.
The exposition was a financial failure. The coins did not sell well, and the bulk of the mintage of over 270,000 was released into circulation. Many of the pieces that had been sold at a premium and saved were spent during the Depression; most surviving coins show evidence of wear.
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