Potential readers of this volume should be warned that it really is not concerned with the origins of the Monroe Doctrine as a result of threats to the freedom of the newly independent Latin American nations; it is concerned with domestic politics in the United States.
Professor May wishes the acceptance of three hypotheses concerning the origins of the Monroe Doctrine: that American policymakers’ positions were determined by their ideas of national interest and by personal interplay among them; that international politics limited the outcome; and that the whole process was governed by domestic politics. In and of themselves, these hypotheses are neither new nor startling; but in this volume the first two serve only to set the scene for the third, which Mr. May sees as the real key to an understanding of the origins of the Monroe Doctrine. Although he acknowledges in the preface works by Dexter Perkins and Arthur P. Whitaker, among others, what is missing from this book is any consideration or acknowledgment of a continuum in relationships among the peoples of the hemisphere from colonial times through the traumas of revolutionary wars and independence movements.
What Mr. May finds significant, in support of his hypotheses, is a lengthy series of sketches—biographical, political, and psychological—of the major American policymakers who, with the exception of Monroe, were candidates for the presidency in 1824: James Monroe, John Quincy Adams, William H. Crawford, John C. Calhoun, Henry Clay, and Andrew Jackson. An even lengthier section examines foreign politics, emphasizing policies and policymakers in Russia, France, and Great Britain; Spain appears only peripherally. The main thrust of his argument is in sections on domestic politics and policy choices, where what emerges as the Monroe Doctrine is seen as simply the outcome of extremely intense domestic activity whose primary if not sole concern was the forthcoming presidential election of 1824. The Monroe Doctrine is no more than the end result of maneuvering by a group of politicians for positions and support almost a year in advance of the election.
The author notes the American public’s interest in and ultimate support for the Greek independence movement, but ignores and omits the many years of interest in and support for Latin American independence by the American public prior to 1823. Public and press had made clear their desire for a new world of republics to counterbalance the old world of monarchy, had shown a clear and unmistakable interest in trade and commercial relations with Latin America, and had openly hoped that an independent Latin America would prove receptive to American Protestantism.
The author states: “I would urge readers to review the evidence in their own minds before uncritically accepting my verdict” (p. x). Even if all the information, as carefully and selectively presented by Mr. May is accepted, it remains possible to find his conclusions unproven. But then this volume, probably overly illustrated, seems really to be concerned with the presidential election of 1824, as shown by charts and tables, rather than with the making of the Monroe Doctrine.