Hemispheric Imaginings: The Monroe Doctrine and Narratives of U. S. Empire

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Overview

In 1823, President James Monroe announced that the Western Hemisphere was closed to any future European colonization and that the United States would protect the Americas as a space destined for democracy. Over the next century, these ideas—which came to be known as the Monroe Doctrine—provided the framework through which Americans understood and articulated their military and diplomatic role in the world. Hemispheric Imaginings demonstrates that North Americans conceived and developed the Monroe Doctrine in relation to transatlantic literary narratives. Gretchen Murphy argues that fiction and journalism were crucial to popularizing and making sense of the Doctrine’s contradictions, including the fact that it both drove and concealed U.S. imperialism. Presenting fiction and popular journalism as key arenas in which such inconsistencies were challenged or obscured, Murphy highlights the major role writers played in shaping conceptions of the U.S. empire.

Murphy juxtaposes close readings of novels with analyses of nonfiction texts. From uncovering the literary inspirations for the Monroe Doctrine itself to tracing visions of hemispheric unity and transatlantic separation in novels by Lydia Maria Child, Nathaniel Hawthorne, María Amparo Ruiz de Burton, Lew Wallace, and Richard Harding Davis, she reveals the Doctrine’s forgotten cultural history. In making a vital contribution to the effort to move American Studies beyond its limited focus on the United States, Murphy questions recent proposals to reframe the discipline in hemispheric terms. She warns that to do so risks replicating the Monroe Doctrine’s proprietary claim to isolate the Americas from the rest of the world.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
Hemispheric Imaginings makes an articulate, original argument for the centrality of the Monroe Doctrine to the nineteenth-century imagination. Gretchen Murphy’s exploration of the cultural influence of the Monroe Doctrine, above and beyond its political effects, is long overdue.”—Kirsten Silva Gruesz, author of Ambassadors of Culture: The Transamerican Origins of Latino Writing

“In these times of increasing attention to imperialism, protectionism, and U. S. intervention around the world, Gretchen Murphy’s study of the political and cultural articulations of the Monroe Doctrine is not only welcome but also important reading. Murphy provides an insightful genealogy of how a ‘principle’ first affirmed by James Monroe came to be a cornerstone of American diplomacy and military action; at the same time, she provides a model reading of how an ideological concept was developed and sustained.”—Susan Jeffords, author of Hard Bodies: Hollywood Masculinity in the Reagan Era

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780822334965
  • Publisher: Duke University Press
  • Publication date: 4/28/2005
  • Series: New Americanists Series
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 208
  • Product dimensions: 5.70 (w) x 9.10 (h) x 0.60 (d)

Meet the Author

Gretchen Murphy is Assistant Professor of English at the University of Minnesota, Morris.

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Read an Excerpt

HEMISPHERIC IMAGININGS

THE MONROE DOCTRINE AND NARRATIVES OF U.S. EMPIRE
By GRETCHEN MURPHY

Duke University Press

Copyright © 2005 Duke University Press
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-8223-3496-5


Chapter One

separate (Hemi)spheres John Quincy Adams, Lydia Maria Child, and the Domestic Ideology of the Monroe Doctrine

For months after delivering a Fourth of July speech for the citizens of Washington, D.C., Secretary of State John Quincy Adams was irate about inattentive critics. In an 1822 letter to Edward Everett, the editor of the prestigious North American Review, Adams expresses his frustration that critics failed to notice the most significant points of his Fourth of July Address. He complains that while the spoken address made a favorable impact on its audience, its subsequent printings (in newspapers and miscellanies as well as in pamphlet form) garnered much unfairly prejudiced and trifling criticism that failed to notice the "most noticeable thing in it"-the point that Adams considered "a new but demonstrated axiom" on "a question in political morality transcendently important to the future of this country" (Writings, 200, 202). The axiom demonstrated, according to Adams, that because of "the moral and physical nature of man[,] ... colonial establishments cannot fulfill the great objects of government in the just purpose of civil society" (200; emphasis inoriginal). Adams enumerates to Everett the overlooked significance of this axiom: it proved the rightness of struggles for independence in North and South America, it looked forward to the downfall of the British empire elsewhere in the world, and it anticipated a question in the Union's future: "Whether we too shall annex to our federative government a great system of colonial establishments" (200).

Adams would perhaps be pleased to know that his axiom was not lost to posterity. Most references to his Address in twentieth-century biography and political history attribute its significance to its early articulation of the anti-imperialist principles Adams would later develop as one of the authors of the Monroe Doctrine. The twentieth-century diplomatic historian Samuel Flagg Bemis claimed in 1949 that Adams was the statesman primarily responsible both for the Monroe Doctrine and for "the foundations of American foreign policy." In the late twentieth and early twenty-first century, this assertion has taken on a double meaning, for just as Bemis argued that Adams was the statesman who first codified and adapted a systematic foreign policy that would endure into the twentieth century, Bemis is currently known to diplomatic historians as an influential figure in the founding of what is called "American foreign policy" or "American diplomatic history" as an academic discipline. His representation of John Quincy Adams and the tradition of American foreign policy shaped the early discipline. Adams, Bemis wrote, "more than any other man of his time[,] was privileged to gather together, formulate, and practice the fundamentals of American foreign policy-self-determination, independence, noncolonization, nonintervention, nonentanglement in European politics, Freedom of the Seas, freedom of commerce-and to set them deep in the soil of the Western Hemisphere. On that solid ground they stood and prospered for a century to come" (567). Implicit in all these "fundamentals," argued Bemis, is anti-imperialism, which Adams practiced and "laid down" without ever even using the term: "If one defines imperialism as dominion or control over alien peoples," he wrote, "the United States as an exponent of Manifest Destiny in North America can scarcely be said to have been an imperialistic power until the close of the nineteenth century; and even then it was so only temporarily, for a quarter of a century," after which time it returned "to the classic fundamentals of its foreign policy as laid down in their aggregate by John Quincy Adams" (570).

Historians like Bemis could envision an essentially anti-imperial United States because the ideology of the Monroe Doctrine reconciled contradictions, such as the one above in Bemis's attempt to demonstrate anti-imperialism through Manifest Destiny. The Doctrine's ideological power to balance such contradictions comes in part from a loophole that Adams places at the center of his axiom. As expressed in the letter to Everett, the axiom states that "colonial establishments cannot fulfill the great objects of government in the just purpose of civil society." But in the Address itself the axiom is qualified: "the tie of colonial subjection is compatible with the essential purposes of civil government only when the condition of the subordinate state is from its weakness incompetent to its own protection" (12). This loophole uses the model of domestic paternalism to grant that the protection of subordinates is one instance when colonial subjection is justified. Revisionist historians have noted the contradictions in these formulations, arguing that if Adams was the father of American foreign policy, he was also the champion of "American global empire," and they have begun asking why such formulations were compelling to their authors and to the academicians and policy makers in their audiences.

As a cultural critic, however, I seek to reveal connections between Adams's speech and popular literature of the day, to show how his answer to the question of U.S. colonialism responded to both political and literary debates. Both Adams's speech and Lydia Maria Child's 1824 historical romance Hobomok use common images and ideas to reconcile "anticolonialism" with national expansion; furthermore, these images and ideas were drawn by both authors from a debate occurring in literary journals like the North American Review and the Edinburgh Review. Thus the relationship I see is not only one of parallelism, where literary and political forms mirror each other by using similar linguistic, thematic, or rhetorical strategies; Adams in fact saw his speech as responding to literary questions as well as questions of "political morality." Putting Adams's speech and Child's novel side by side reveals a crucial intersection of national debates about the literature and foreign policy that informed Monroe's 1823 statement, demonstrating that, from its earliest enunciation, the Monroe Doctrine was concerned with cultural as well as diplomatic conceptions of U.S. identity.

* Adams claims that the "most noticeable thing" in his Address was his new axiom on colonialism, but he writes in another letter that he was also responding in the speech to a more topical question about the diplomatic and cultural relations between the United States and Britain less than a decade after the War of 1812. There Adams explains that his speech was in part provoked by the "pestiferous exhalations of [the British] periodical press" which was "showering down torrents of false and malignant defamation upon America," spurring Adams to conclude it was "high time we should be asking ourselves, where we were in our relations with that country" (Writings, 123). This phraseology is appropriate because what is at stake for Adams in the Address is the location of the United States politically and culturally in relation to Britain and the rest of Europe, and that distance is measured by Adams and his interlocutors in gendered, economic, and racial terms.

Immediately after delivering his Address, John Quincy Adams sent Philadelphia newspaper editor Robert Walsh a copy, along with a letter explaining that he intended portions to respond directly to British criticisms of Walsh's recent book (Writings, 117). Titled An Appeal from the Judgments of Great Britain Respecting the United States of America (1819), Walsh's five-hundred-page polemic had accused the British press of systematic defamation of American history, politics, customs, and literature. It was published in London as well as Philadelphia, and it met with a series of responses from British publications, which typically represented Walsh as paranoid. Interestingly, these responses were in turn often reprinted or discussed in American literary reviews and miscellanies, a sign of the exchange's significance to American readers. Adams told Walsh that in his Address he was particularly answering one British response from the leading liberal Whig journal, the Edinburgh Review (Writings, 117).

That review, "The Dispositions of England and America," argues that Walsh should not have included their journal in his broad accusations, given the Edinburgh Review's democratic sentiments and goodwill toward the United States. The Edinburgh reviewer takes great pains to prove Walsh mistaken about the journal's anti-American bias; such accusations, he explains, were not "a mere personal or literary altercation," but "a matter of national moment and concernment" ("Dispositions," 406). If Walsh's accusations about the bias of the entire British nation-not just the monarchist Tories-were believed, such accusations might eventually prevent the United States, "our Transatlantic brethren" (406), from joining in the common fight against monarchy throughout Europe. When the "cause of Liberty" is eventually fought on the European continent, the Edinburgh reviewer writes, its success "will depend on the part that is taken by America; and on the dispositions she may have cultivated toward the different parties concerned" (404). While "the example of America has already done much for that cause" in showing that democratic institutions are safe and practicable, "her influence will be wanted in the crisis which seems to be approaching" (405; emphasis in original). For the United States to be a distant city on a hill is not enough for the Edinburgh reviewer. He hopes that when this time comes the United States would act "as a mediator or umpire, or, if she take a part, as an auxiliary and ally," but fears that Walsh's work increases the likelihood that the United States will "stand aloof, a cold and disdainful spectator; and counterfeiting a prudent indifference to scenes that neither can nor ought to be indifferent to her" (404).

The reviewer is concerned, in short, about a question many Americans in the 1820s were also asking: Where did the United States stand in relation to diplomatic and political conflicts or alliances between Great Britain and the rest of Europe? This is of course the question that Monroe answered in his 1823 Message to Congress, when he accepted Adams's counsel and declared that the United States would stand apart from European conflicts and protect democracy only in the Western Hemisphere. Adams was developing these ideas in his Address, where his response to the reviewer's attempt to place the United States within the system of European diplomacy was also a response to Henry Clay and other American statesmen who claimed that the United States should aid revolutionary struggles in South America, Greece, Spain, or wherever the "cause of liberty" arose. Adams countered, in the most famous quotation from his Address, that "wherever the standard of freedom and Independence, has or shall be unfurled, there will [the United States'] heart, her benedictions and her prayers be. But she goes not abroad in search of monsters to destroy. She is the well-wisher to the freedom and independence of all. She is the champion and vindicator only of her own. She will recommend the general cause by the countenance of her voice, and the benignant sympathy of her example" (29). As Adams later explained in a letter to Walsh, he intended the passage as a "reply to both Edinburgh and Lexington" (Lexington, Kentucky, being where Clay lived), which would challenge the idea of America's supposed "duty to take an active part in the future political reformation of Europe" (Writings, 117). Instead of activity or influence, the nation remains pure in exemplary domestic isolation.

This rhetoric of domestic purity bears closer examination, however, especially when Adams's conventional use of the feminine pronoun for the nation begins to personify the United States as an embodied female figure with a voice. Through this personification, Adams invokes discourses of feminine behavior and propriety, implying that this woman will have influence not by going abroad or seeking direct argumentation, but by the tone of her voice and the gentle example she sets. Debates about women in the public sphere were beginning to be a topic of broad interest in the 1820s, as popular writers like Catherine Sedgwick became household names and women began organizing for temperance and abolitionist causes. Adams draws from these debates to underscore the unnaturalness of influence rather than example. He implicitly concludes that like a woman, the nation is most effective at home, improving the world through her prayers and sympathy.

Adams strengthens his personification of the nation in the following lines, where the female figure has not just a voice, but distinctly feminine dress as well. Here he emphasizes the danger of imprudent sexuality that was metonymically associated with women taking public roles. Were the United States to join foreign wars, he argues, the nation would implicate itself in avarice and ambition that can "usurp the standards of freedom": "The fundamental maxims of her policy would insensibly change from liberty to force. The frontlet upon her brow would no longer beam with the ineffable splendor of Freedom and Independence; but in its stead would soon be substituted an Imperial Diadem, flashing in false and tarnished lustre the murky radiance of dominion and power. She might become the dictatress of the world. She would no longer be the ruler of her own spirit" (Address, 29; emphasis in original). Actively pursuing the cause of liberty threatens to change angelic, passive "sympathy" into aggressive competition for colonial power. The "murky" and "tarnished" royal jewelry of the imperial dictatress hints that colonial competition results in an unnatural and impure femininity. Looking back on the Edinburgh reviewer's use of the feminine pronoun for the nation when he hopes that the United States will not "stand aloof, a cold and disdainful spectator; and counterfeiting a prudent indifference to scenes that neither can nor ought to be indifferent to her," it seems that Adams's reply brings out that statement's more subtle rhetorical reliance on discourses of female propriety. The reviewer implicitly compares the "aloof" and "disdainful" United States to a "cold," selfish woman unwilling to express charity to stricken neighbors, or perhaps, a haughty lover feigning prudence and indifference to her suitor. Adams responds to the reviewer's representation of a falsely prudent lover or unfeeling spectator of suffering by recasting such indifference as the silent influence of the angel in the home, loathe to sacrifice purity by involving herself in the base matters of the world.

(Continues...)



Excerpted from HEMISPHERIC IMAGININGS by GRETCHEN MURPHY Copyright © 2005 by Duke University Press. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Table of Contents

Introduction : writing the hemisphere 1
Ch. 1 Separate (hemi)spheres : John Quincy Adams, Lydia Maria Child, and the domestic ideology of the Monroe Doctrine 32
Ch. 2 Selling Jim Crow from Salem to Yokohama 62
Ch. 3 Geographic morality and the New World 97
Ch. 4 Gringos abroad : rationalizing empire with Richard Harding Davis 119
Conclusion : the remains of the doctrine 145
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