Birth of the Monroe Doctrine
Quincy January 18 1809
John Adams Predicts that the Countries of the Western Hemisphere
will set up Independent Governmentsand
England will Attempt to Ally with these New Governments and Surround the United States
" coop us up like the starling in his cage "; "surrounding us on every side "
Sir I have received with pleasure your favor of the Seventh and am very glad to find that my Letter of the 26th of December has not displeased. You express an opinion that a publication of its contents might be beneficial: if you continue in that Sentiment you are welcome to publish it, either with Names or with out as you choose. I the more readily consent to its publication as some surmise concerning it, have got into the Newspapers.
In that letter I observed that Impressment of Seamen had not been sufficiently reprobated. My Reasons for thinking so may be found in the enclosed Papers which if you judge they deserve any Consideration you are at Liberty to them in Confidence to whom you think worthy. They were written for private amusement soon after the appearance in public of the Text.
The Great events in Spain, Portugal, and South America so unforeseen and unexpected have made a mighty change in the State of the world and in the political situation of our Country. The French Emperor will conquer Spain and Portugal or he will not. If he succeeds and makes a complete Conquest of that Peninsula the American Possessions of Spain and Portugal, will not probably return under the Domination of those European Governments; but will set up things or some other Governments of their own, in Alliance with England. In this case we shall be surrounded by England her Colonies and Allies, on the East, the North, the West
and the South, and with the English Navy on the ocean We shall be in perilous and disagreeable circumstances.
On the other hand if Spain and Portugal should maintain this Independence, they would truly be, what the King of England calls them, his natural Friends and Allies. England, Spain, Portugal and all their American Possessions, in close and strict alliance with their three Navies united, surrounding us on every side, by Land & Sea will be able to coop us up like the Starling in his Cage, unless We can force our way out, which will be somewhat difficult. In either of these cases we could have no other Alliance against them but France.
The Cause of the Spaniards is founded in such Eternal Principle of Justice and Humanity, that I cannot think of engaging a War against them, though I cannot see that We have just and necessary Motives to take arms in their favor.
In these perplexing Circumstances I am against all Thoughts of Alliances with France or England. Keep ourselves clear of all Engagements and Embarrassments and wait for time events and opportunities. I would assert our right, repeal the Embargo and Non Intercourse and Non Importation. Arm our merchantmen, Authorize them to fight and make Prizes of all these and those only who should Attack them. I would grant no general Sellers of Mark and Reprisals, nor declare War against any Power. I would arm as fast as possible by Sea and fortify the most exposed and most important Places, and then, trust providence.
My present belief is that neither of the belligerent Powers will declare War against Us or very much molest our Commerce. If either of them should be so rash, We shall know very well what to do with them. England would be most to be dreaded at present: but I have no such trembling apprehensions of her omnipotence even at Sea. Her thousand ships of War exist only on paper, and one half of those she really has are not manned and cannot be manned. If We had Leave to fit our Privateers from France Holland Italy ( ) etc. we could soon diminish the Ferries of the British Navy, and take satisfaction for some of their depredations upon Us. Look at Lloyds List. You will see that scarce a Week passes without Captures of British Vessels on the coast of England itself by French Privateers.
In all events I would prohibit receiving Licenses from the King of G. B. and the Payment of the Export impositions commonly called Tribute, upon Penalties that should decisively prevent both.
I am Sir with Esteem and Respect, your most
obedient and humble Servant,
The Honorable Joseph B Varmon
Speaker of the House of Representatives
of the United States