The Monroe Doctrine was a U.S. policy of opposing European colonialism in the Americas beginning in 1823. It stated that further efforts by European nations to take control of any independent state in North or South America 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 concerns of European countries. The Doctrine was issued in 1823 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.
President James Monroe first stated the doctrine during his seventh annual State of the Union Address to Congress. The term "Monroe Doctrine" itself was coined in 1850. 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. It would be invoked by many U.S. statesmen and several U.S. presidents, including Ulysses S. Grant, Theodore Roosevelt, John F. Kennedy, Ronald Reagan and many others.
The intent and impact of the Monroe Doctrine persisted with only minor variations for more than a century. Its stated objective was to free the newly independent colonies of Latin America from European intervention and avoid situations which could make the New World a battleground for the Old World powers, so that the U.S. could exert its own influence undisturbed. The doctrine asserted that the New World and the Old World were to remain distinctly separate spheres of influence, for they were composed of entirely separate and independent nations.
After 1898, Latin American lawyers and intellectuals reinterpreted the Monroe doctrine in terms of multilateralism and non-intervention. In 1933, under President Franklin Roosevelt, the U.S. went along with the new reinterpretation, especially in terms of the Organization of American States.
The U.S. government feared the victorious European powers that emerged from the Congress of Vienna (1814–1815) would revive the 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.:153–5
Great Britain shared the general objective of the Monroe Doctrine, albeit from an opposite standpoint and ultimate aim, and even wanted to declare a joint statement to keep other European powers from further colonizing the New World. The British Foreign Secretary George Canning wanted to keep the other European powers out of the New World fearing that its trade with the New World would be harmed if the other European powers further colonized it. In fact, for many years after the Monroe Doctrine took effect, Britain, through the Royal Navy, was the sole nation enforcing it; the U.S. lacking sufficient naval capability. Allowing Spain to re-establish control of its former colonies would have cut Great Britain off from its profitable trade with the region. For that reason, Canning proposed to the U.S. that they mutually declare and enforce a policy of separating the New World from the Old. The U.S. resisted a joint statement because of the recent memory of the War of 1812, leading to the Monroe administration's unilateral statement.
However, the immediate provocation was the Russian Ukase of 1821 asserting rights to the Northwest and forbidding non-Russian ships from approaching the coast.
Seeds of the Monroe Doctrine
Despite America's beginnings as an isolationist country, the seeds for the Monroe Doctrine were already being laid even during George Washington's presidency. According to S.E. Morison, "as early as 1783, then, the United States adopted the policy of isolation, and announced its intention to keep out of Europe. The supplementary principle of the Monroe Doctrine, that Europe must keep out of America, was still over the horizon". While not specifically the Monroe Doctrine, Alexander Hamilton desired to control the sphere of influence in the western hemisphere, particularly in North America but was extended to the Latin American colonies by the Monroe Doctrine. But Hamilton, writing in the Federalist Papers, was already wanting to establish America as a world power and hoped that America would suddenly become strong enough to keep the European powers outside of the Americas, despite the fact that the European countries controlled much more of the Americas than the U.S. itself. Hamilton expected that the United States would become the dominant power in the new world and would, in the future, act as an intermediary between the European powers and any new countries blossoming near the U.S. In fact, in a note from James Madison, Thomas Jefferson’s Secretary of State and a future president, to the U.S. ambassador for Spain, the federal government expressed the opposition of the American government to further territorial acquisition by European Powers. Madison's sentiment might have been meaningless because, as was noted before, the European powers held much more territory in comparison to the territory held by the U.S. Although Thomas Jefferson was pro-French, in an attempt to keep the French-British rivalry out the U.S., the federal government under Jefferson made it clear to its ambassadors that the U.S. would not support any future colonization efforts on the North American continent.
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 (that is, the Holy Alliance); 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.
Because the U.S. lacked both a credible navy and army at the time, the doctrine was largely disregarded internationally. Prince Metternich of Austria was angered by the statement, and wrote privately that the doctrine was a "new act of revolt" by the U.S. that would grant "new strength to the apostles of sedition and reanimate the courage of every conspirator.":156
The doctrine, however, met with tacit British approval. They enforced it tactically as part of the wider Pax Britannica, which included enforcement of the neutrality of the seas. This was in line with the developing British policy of laissez-faire free trade against mercantilism. Fast-growing British industry sought markets for its manufactured goods, and, if the newly independent Latin American states became Spanish colonies again, British access to these markets would be cut off by Spanish mercantilist policy.
The "Special Relationship"
Similar to President Woodrow Wilson's 1919 proposal of a League of Nations nearly 100 years later, British leaders "inject[ed] their ideas into the American decision-making process in such a manner that they imperceptibly seemed to be a part of Washington's own".
Latin American reaction
The reaction in Latin America to the Monroe Doctrine was generally favorable but in some occasions suspicious. John Crow, author of The Epic of Latin America, states, "Simón Bolívar himself, still in the midst of his last campaign against the Spaniards, Santander in Colombia, Rivadavia in Argentina, Victoria in Mexico—leaders of the emancipation movement everywhere—received Monroe's words with sincerest gratitude". Crow argues that the leaders of Latin America were realists. They knew that the President of the United States wielded very little power at the time, particularly without the backing of the British forces, and figured that the Monroe Doctrine was unenforceable if the United States stood alone against the Holy Alliance. While they appreciated and praised their support in the north, they knew that the future of their independence was in the hands of the British and their powerful navy. In 1826, Bolivar called upon his Congress of Panama to host the first "Pan-American" meeting. In the eyes of Bolivar and his men, the Monroe Doctrine was to become nothing more than a tool of national policy. According to Crow, "It was not meant to be, and was never intended to be a charter for concerted hemispheric action".
At the same time, some people questioned the intentions behind the Monroe Doctrine. Diego Portales, a Chilean businessman and minister, wrote to a friend: "But we have to be very careful: for the Americans of the north [from the United States], the only Americans are themselves".
In early 1843, the British reasserted their sovereignty over the Falkland islands. No action was taken by the US, and George C. Herring writes that the inaction "confirmed Latin American and especially Argentine suspicions of the United States.":171 In 1838-50 Argentina was blockaded by the French and, later, the British. No action was taken by the U.S., despite protestations.
On December 2, 1845, U.S. President James Polk announced that the principle of the Monroe Doctrine should be strictly enforced, reinterpreting it to argue that no European nation should interfere with the American western expansion ("Manifest Destiny").
In 1862, French forces under Napoleon III invaded and conquered Mexico, giving control to the puppet monarch Emperor Maximilian. Washington denounced this as a violation of the doctrine but was unable to intervene because of the American Civil War. This marked the first time the Monroe Doctrine was widely referred to as a "doctrine." In 1865 the U.S. stationed a large combat army on the border to emphasize its demand that France leave. France did pull out, and Mexican nationalists executed Maximilian.
In the 1870s, President Ulysses S. Grant and his Secretary of State Hamilton Fish endeavored to supplant European influence in Latin America with that of the U.S. In 1870, the Monroe Doctrine was expanded under the proclamation "hereafter no territory on this continent [referring to Central and South America] shall be regarded as subject to transfer to a European power.":259 Grant invoked the Monroe Doctrine in his failed attempt to annex the Dominican Republic in 1870.
The Venezuela Crisis of 1895 became "one of the most momentous episodes in the history of Anglo-American relations in general and of Anglo-American rivalries in Latin America in particular." Venezuela sought to involve the U.S. in a territorial dispute with Britain over Guayana Esequiba, and hired former US ambassador William L. Scruggs to argue that British behaviour over the issue violated the Monroe Doctrine. President Grover Cleveland through his Secretary of State, Richard Olney, cited the Doctrine in 1895, threatening strong action against Great Britain if the British failed to arbitrate their dispute with Venezuela. In a July 20, 1895 note to Britain, Olney stated, “The United States is practically sovereign on this continent, and its fiat is law upon the subjects to which it confines its interposition.”:307 British Prime Minister Lord Salisbury took strong exception to the American language. The U.S. objected to a British proposal for a joint meeting to clarify the scope of the Monroe Doctrine. Historian George Herring wrote that by failing to pursue the issue further the British “tacitly conceded the U.S. definition of the Monroe Doctrine and its hegemony in the hemisphere.”:307–8 Otto von Bismarck, did not agree and in October 1897 called the Doctrine an "uncommon insolence". Sitting in Paris, the Tribunal of Arbitration finalized its decision on 3 October 1899. The award was unanimous, but gave no reasons for the decision, merely describing the resulting boundary, which gave Britain almost 90% of the disputed territory and all of the gold mines.
The reaction to the award was surprise, with the award's lack of reasoning a particular concern. The Venezuelans were keenly disappointed with the outcome, though they honored their counsel for their efforts (their delegation's Secretary, Severo Mallet-Prevost, received the Order of the Liberator in 1944), and abided by the award.
The Anglo-Venezuelan boundary dispute asserted for the first time a more outward-looking American foreign policy, particularly in the Americas, marking the U.S. as a world power. This was the earliest example of modern interventionism under the Monroe Doctrine in which the USA exercised its claimed prerogatives in the Americas.
In 1898, the U.S. intervened in support of Cuba during its war for independence from Spain. The U.S. won what is known in the U.S. as the Spanish–American War and in Cuba as the Cuban War for Independence. Under the terms of the peace treaty from which Cuba was excluded, Spain ceded Puerto Rico, the Philippines, and Guam to the U.S. in exchange for $20 million. Cuba came under U.S. control and remained so until it was granted formal independence in 1902.
The "Big Brother"
The "Big Brother" policy was an extension of the Monroe Doctrine formulated by James G. Blaine in the 1880s that aimed to rally Latin American nations behind US leadership and open their markets to US traders. Blaine served as Secretary of State in 1881 under President James A. Garfield and again from 1889 to 1892 under President Benjamin Harrison. As a part of the policy, Blaine arranged and led the First International Conference of American States in 1889.
The "Olney Corollary"
Also known as Olney interpretation or Olney declaration was United States Secretary of State Richard Olney's interpretation of the Monroe Doctrine when a border dispute for Guayana Esequiba occurred between Britain and Venezuela governments in 1895. Olney claimed that the Monroe Doctrine gave the U.S. authority to mediate border disputes in the Western Hemisphere. Olney extended the meaning of the Monroe Doctrine, which had previously stated merely that the Western Hemisphere was closed to additional European colonization. The statement reinforced the original purpose of the Monroe Doctrine, that the U.S. had the right to intervene in its own hemisphere and foreshadowed the events of the Spanish–American War three years later. The Olney interpretation was defunct by 1933.
In 1902, Canadian Prime Minister Wilfrid Laurier acknowledged that the Monroe Doctrine was essential to his country's protection. The doctrine provided Canada with a de facto security guarantee by the United States; the US Navy in the Pacific, and the British Navy in the Atlantic, made invading North America almost impossible. Because of the peaceful relations between the two countries, Canada could assist Britain in a European war without having to defend itself at home.
The "Roosevelt Corollary"
The doctrine's authors, chiefly future-President and then secretary-of-state John Quincy Adams, saw it as a proclamation by the U.S. of moral opposition to colonialism, but it has subsequently been re-interpreted and applied in a variety of instances. As the U.S. began to emerge as a world power, the Monroe Doctrine came to define a recognized sphere of control that few dared to challenge.
Before becoming president, Theodore Roosevelt had proclaimed the rationale of the Monroe Doctrine in supporting intervention in the Spanish colony of Cuba in 1898. The Venezuela Crisis of 1902–1903 showed the world that the US was willing to use its naval strength to force an American viewpoint in world politics.
In Argentine foreign policy, the Drago Doctrine was announced on December 29, 1902 by the Foreign Minister of Argentina, Luis María Drago. This was a response to the actions of Britain, Germany, and Italy during the Venezuela Crisis of 1902–1903, in which they had blockaded and shelled Venezuela's ports in an attempt to collect money owed as part of its national debt, accrued under regimes preceding that of president Cipriano Castro. Drago set forth the policy that no European power could use force against an American nation to collect debt. President Theodore Roosevelt rejected this policy as an extension of the Monroe Doctrine, declaring, "We do not guarantee any state against punishment if it misconducts itself".:370
Instead, Roosevelt added the Roosevelt Corollary to the Monroe Doctrine in 1904, asserting the right of the U.S. to intervene in Latin America in cases of "flagrant and chronic wrongdoing by a Latin American Nation" to preempt intervention by European creditors. This re-interpretation of the Monroe Doctrine went on to be a useful tool to take economic benefits by force when Latin nations failed to pay their debts to European and US banks and business interests. This was also referred to as the Big Stick ideology because of the phrase from president Roosevelt to "speak low and carry a big stick".:371 The Roosevelt corollary provoked outrage across Latin America.
The Roosevelt Corollary was invoked to intervene militarily in Latin America to stop the spread of European influence. It was the most significant amendment to the original doctrine and was widely opposed by critics, who argued that the Monroe Doctrine was originally meant to stop European influence in the Americas. They argued that the Corollary simply asserted U.S. domination in that area, effectively making them a "hemispheric policeman."
The Clark Memorandum
The Clark Memorandum, written on December 17, 1928 by Calvin Coolidge’s undersecretary of state J. Reuben Clark, concerned U.S. use of military force to intervene in Latin American nations. This memorandum was officially released in 1930 by the Herbert Hoover administration.
The Clark memorandum rejected the view that the Roosevelt Corollary was based on the Monroe Doctrine. However, it was not a complete repudiation of the Roosevelt Corollary but was rather a statement that any intervention by the U.S. was not sanctioned by the Monroe Doctrine but rather was the right of America as a state. This separated the Roosevelt Corollary from the Monroe Doctrine by noting that the Monroe Doctrine only applied to situations involving European countries. One main point in the Clark Memorandum was to note that the Monroe Doctrine was based on conflicts of interest only between the United States and European nations, rather than between the United States and Latin American nations.
Latin American reinterpretation
After 1898, jurists and intellectuals in Argentina, Brazil, Chile, and Uruguay, especially Luis María Drago, Alejandro Álvarez and Baltasar Brum, reinterpreted the Monroe doctrine. They sought a fresh continental approach to international law in terms of multilateralism and non-intervention. However, American leaders were reluctant to renounce unilateral interventionism until the Good Neighbor policy enunciated by President Franklin Roosevelt in 1933. Control of the Monroe doctrine thus shifted to the multilateral Organization of American States (OAS) founded in 1948.
In 1954, Secretary of State John Foster Dulles invoked the Monroe Doctrine at the 10th Pan-American Conference in Caracas (Venezuela), denouncing the intervention of Soviet Communism in Guatemala. President John F. Kennedy said at an August 29, 1962 news conference:
The Monroe Doctrine means what it has meant since President Monroe and John Quincy Adams enunciated it, and that is that we would oppose a foreign power extending its power to the Western Hemisphere [sic], and that is why we oppose what is happening in Cuba today. That is why we have cut off our trade. That is why we worked in the OAS and in other ways to isolate the Communist menace in Cuba. That is why we will continue to give a good deal of our effort and attention to it.
During the Cold War, the Monroe Doctrine was applied to Latin America by the framers of U.S. foreign policy. When the Cuban Revolution (1953–1959) established a Communist government with ties to the Soviet Union, it was argued that the Monroe Doctrine should be invoked to prevent the spread of Soviet-backed Communism in Latin America. Under this rationale, the U.S. provided intelligence and military aid to Latin and South American governments that claimed or appeared to be threatened by Communist subversion. This, in turn, led to domestic controversy within the U.S., particularly among the left who argued that the Communist threat and Soviet influence in Latin America was greatly exaggerated, and that the U.S. was actively overthrowing democratically elected governments creating chaos and poverty on the region.
In the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962, President John F. Kennedy cited the Monroe Doctrine as grounds for America's confrontation with the Soviet Union over the installation of Soviet ballistic missiles on Cuban soil.
The debate over this new interpretation of the Monroe Doctrine burgeoned in reaction to the Iran-Contra affair. It was revealed that the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency had been covertly training "Contra" guerrilla soldiers in Honduras in an attempt to destabilize and overthrow the Sandinista revolutionary government of Nicaragua and its President, Daniel Ortega. CIA director Robert Gates vigorously defended the Contra operation in 1984, arguing that eschewing U.S. intervention in Nicaragua would be "totally to abandon the Monroe Doctrine".
The Kerry Doctrine
President Barack Obama's Secretary of State John Kerry told the Organization of American States in November 2013 that "era of the Monroe Doctrine is over." This was a main change in U.S. foreign relations between the era of Secretary Hillary Clinton and Secretary John Kerry; under Secretary Clinton the U.S. was involved in the coup d'etat in Honduras against democratically elected president Manuel Zelaya.
Several commentators have noted that Kerry's call for a mutual partnership with the other countries in the Americas is more in keeping with Monroe's intentions than the policies enacted after his death.
Critics of the Monroe Doctrine, such as Noam Chomsky, argue that in practice the Monroe Doctrine has been used as a declaration of hegemony and a right of unilateral intervention over the Americas: that ended up in overthrowing even democratic elected governments; a sphere of influence “to leave America for the Americans” that would expand with the Roosevelt Corollary and his active intervention in all Latin America with a policy known through the region as Big Stick. Chomsky points to the work of filibusters, as William Walker and Narciso Lopez, who tried to conquer and annex various countries in Latin America.
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- Monroe Doctrine and related resources at the Library of Congress
- Selected text from Monroe's December 2, 1823 speech
- Adios, Monroe Doctrine: When the Yanquis Go Home by Jorge G. Castañeda, The New Republic, December 28, 2009
- as illustrated in a 1904 cartoon