Secretary of State John Quincy Adams’s July Fourth Address (1821)
On July 4, 1821, Secretary of State John Quincy Adams delivered a speech to the House of Representatives on foreign policy. During this period, U.S. intervention abroad, particularly in Latin America, was a major issue. Many Americans were sympathetic to events overseas and wanted the government to intervene. Adams did not believe that foreign policy should be based on sentiment or emotion.
Adams stated that the United States should support movements for freedom and independence, “but she goes not abroad, in search of monsters to destroy.” In other words, the United States would not intervene in the affairs of other nations. He feared that using military force to promote liberty would undermine the United States' principles and mission.
The ideas expressed by Adams are still relevant today. The notion of the United States going abroad “in search of monsters to destroy” remains at the heart of discussions about U.S. intervention.
Below is the speech John Quincy Adams delivered to the House of Representatives.
AND NOW, FRIENDS AND COUNTRYMEN, if the wise and learned philosophers of the elder world, the first observers of nutation and aberration, the discoverers of maddening ether and invisible planets, the inventors of Congreve rockets and Shrapnel shells, should find their hearts disposed to enquire what has America done for the benefit of mankind?
Let our answer be this: America, with the same voice which spoke herself into existence as a nation, proclaimed to mankind the inextinguishable rights of human nature, and the only lawful foundations of government. America, in the assembly of nations, since her admission among them, has invariably, though often fruitlessly, held forth to them the hand of honest friendship, of equal freedom, of generous reciprocity.
She has uniformly spoken among them, though often to heedless and often to disdainful ears, the language of equal liberty, of equal justice, and of equal rights.
She has, in the lapse of nearly half a century, without a single exception, respected the independence of other nations while asserting and maintaining her own.
She has abstained from interference in the concerns of others, even when conflict has been for principles to which she clings, as to the last vital drop that visits the heart.
She has seen that probably for centuries to come, all the contests of that Aceldama the European world, will be contests of inveterate power, and emerging right.
Wherever the standard of freedom and Independence has been or shall be unfurled, there will her 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 commend the general cause by the countenance of her voice, and the benignant sympathy of her example.
She well knows that by once enlisting under other banners than her own, were they even the banners of foreign independence, she would involve herself beyond the power of extrication, in all the wars of interest and intrigue, of individual avarice, envy, and ambition, which assume the colors and usurp the standard of freedom.
The fundamental maxims of her policy would insensibly change from liberty to force . . .
She might become the dictatress of the world. She would be no longer the ruler of her own spirit . . .
[America's] glory is not dominion, but liberty. Her march is the march of the mind. She has a spear and a shield: but the motto upon her shield is, Freedom, Independence, Peace. This has been her Declaration: this has been, as far as her necessary intercourse with the rest of mankind would permit, her practice.
• Speech to the U.S. House of Representatives on Foreign Policy, known as July Fourth Address, by Secretary of State John Quincy Adams, delivered July 4, 1821.
Entire Selection: https://millercenter.org/the-presidency/presidential-speeches/july-4-1821-speech-us-house-representatives-foreign-policy
Accessed March, 2017