Monroe Doctrine

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U.S. President James Monroe

The Monroe Doctrine is a United States doctrine which, on December 2, 1823, proclaimed that European powers would no longer colonize or interfere with the affairs of the newly independent nations of the Americas. The United States planned to stay neutral in wars between European powers and their colonies. However, if these latter types of wars were to occur in the Americas, the United States would view such action as hostile. President James Monroe first stated the doctrine during his seventh annual State of the Union Address to Congress, a defining moment in the foreign policy of the United States.

The three main concepts of the doctrine—separate spheres of influence for the Americas and Europe, non-colonization, and non-intervention—were designed to signify a clear break between the Americas and the autocratic realm of Europe. Monroe's administration forewarned the imperial European powers against interfering in the affairs of the newly independent Latin American states or potential United States territories. While Americans generally objected to European colonies in the Americas, they also desired to increase United States influence and trading ties throughout the region to their south. European mercantilism posed the greatest obstacle to economic expansion. In particular, Americans feared that Spain and France might reassert colonialism over the Latin American peoples who had just overthrown European rule. Signs that Russia was expanding its presence southward from Alaska toward the Oregon Territory were also disconcerting.

By the mid-1800s, Monroe's declaration, combined with ideas of Manifest Destiny, provided precedent and support for United States expansion on the American continent. In the late 1800s, United States economic and military power enabled it to enforce the Monroe Doctrine. The doctrine's greatest extension came with Theodore Roosevelt's Corollary, which came to justify unilateral United States influence in Latin America.


In the early nineteenth century, the United Kingdom was torn between monarchical principle and a desire for new markets. South America as a whole constituted, at the time, a much larger market for British goods than did the United States. When Russia and France proposed that Britain join in helping Spain regain her New World colonies, Britain vetoed the idea. Britain was in fact negotiating with the United States as to whether the policies in the Monroe Doctrine should be declared jointly.

Of the regions of the Americas which were directly influenced by a European colonial power, it is notable that the colonies and territories of British North America were not included in the implementation of the Monroe Doctrine. The War of 1812 had already been fought between the United States, the United Kingdom, and Canadian colonials for possession of Lower and Upper Canada, and any further attempts at intervening in the northern colonies would almost certainly have led to another American-British war. It is also notable that the presence of the colonies—and eventually the Dominion of Canada—within the Empire was viewed from within the colonies themselves as being an important counter-weight to possible American hegemony.

The United States was also negotiating with Spain to purchase Florida, and once that treaty was ratified, the Monroe administration began to extend recognition to the new Latin American nations—Argentina, Chile, Colombia, and Mexico were all recognized in 1822.

In 1823, France invited Spain to restore the Bourbons to power, and there was talk of France and Spain warring upon the new republics with the backing of the Holy Alliance (Russia, Prussia, and Austria). This news appalled the British government, as Britain had worked hard to expel France from the New World, while markets in the former Spanish colonies that had recently become open to British trade might be closed off if Spain regained control.

John Quincy Adams, as Secretary of State, was instrumental in the formulation of the Monroe Doctrine.

British Foreign Minister George Canning proposed that the United States and the United Kingdom join to warn off France and Spain from intervention. Both Thomas Jefferson and James Madison urged Monroe to accept the offer, but John Quincy Adams was more suspicious. Adams also was concerned about the efforts of Russia and Mexico to extend their influence over the Oregon Country, which had already been jointly claimed by the Americans and British.

At the Cabinet meeting of November 7, 1823, Adams argued against Canning's offer, and declared, "It would be more candid, as well as more dignified, to avow our principles explicitly to Russia and France, than to come in as a cockboat in the wake of the British man-of-war." He finally won over the Cabinet to an independent policy.

In Monroe's Annual Message to Congress on December 2, 1823, he delivered what has come to be called the Monroe Doctrine. Essentially, the United States was informing the powers of the Old World that the Americas were no longer open to European colonization, and that any effort to extend European political influence into the New World would be considered by the United States "as dangerous to our peace and safety." The United States would not interfere in European wars or internal affairs, and expected Europe to stay out of the affairs of the New World.

The first use of the yet unnamed doctrine was in 1836, when Americans objected to Britain's alliance with Texas on the principle of the Monroe Doctrine.

The Monroe Doctrine was invoked when European powers became involved in the repeated re-occupation of various territories of the island of Hispaniola, which had been divided between France and Spain. Both nations were interested in re-claiming their territories in Hispaniola, or re-exerting their influence. Ultimately, the new Republic of Haiti not only resisted recolonization attempts, but also gained control of the other portion of the island, controlling it until 1844 when it gained its independence as the Dominican Republic.

On December 2, 1845, U.S. President James Polk announced to Congress that the principle of the Monroe Doctrine should be strictly enforced and that the United States should aggressively expand into the West, a policy which became known as Manifest Destiny).

In 1852, some politicians used the principle of the Monroe Doctrine to argue for forcefully removing the Spanish from Cuba. In 1898, following the Spanish-American War, the United States obtained Puerto Rico from Spain and began an occupation of Cuba that lasted until 1902.

In 1863, French forces under Napoleon III invaded Mexico and set up a French puppet regime headed by Emperor Maximilian; Americans proclaimed this as a violation of "The Doctrine," but were unable to intervene due to the American Civil War. This marked the first time the Monroe Doctrine was widely referred to as a "Doctrine." After the war, the United States government began to pressure Napoleon to withdraw his troops, and he did so in 1867.

In the 1870s, U.S. President Ulysses S. Grant extended the Monroe Doctrine, saying that the United States would not tolerate a colony in the Americas being transferred from one European country to another.

In 1895, U.S. Secretary of State Richard Olney extended the Monroe Doctrine to give the United States the authority to mediate border disputes in South America. This is known as the Olney interpretation.

The Drago Doctrine was announced on December 29, 1902 by the Foreign Minister of Argentina. Extending the Monroe Doctrine, it set forth the policy that no European power could use force against an American nation to collect debt. Two years later, U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt added the Roosevelt Corollary to the Monroe Doctrine, which asserted the right of the United States to intervene in Latin America. This was the most significant amendment to the original doctrine.

In the early twentieth century, President Theodore Roosevelt used it to proclaim America's right to intervene in the internal affairs of Latin American states. The doctrine also contributed to the United States' building of the Panama Canal (1904–1914).

The Doctrine

The Monroe Doctrine (below) states three major ideas, with one more added by President Theodore Roosevelt. First, it conveys that European countries cannot colonize in any of the Americas: North, Central, or South as well as islands of the Caribbean which were considered to be a part of the Americas. Second, it enforces Washington's rule of foreign policy, in which the United States will only be involved in European affairs if America's rights are disturbed. Third, the United States will consider any attempt at colonization a threat to its national security. Roosevelt added to the doctrine, and summed up his additions with the statement, "Speak softly and carry a big stick."

from President James Monroe's seventh annual message to Congress, December 2, 1823:

James Monroe
At the proposal of the Russian Imperial Government, made through the minister of the Emperor residing here, a full power and instructions have been transmitted to the minister of the United States at St. Petersburg to arrange by amicable negotiation the respective rights and interests of the two nations on the northwest coast of this continent. A similar proposal had been made by His Imperial Majesty to the Government of Great Britain, which has likewise been acceded to. The Government of the United States of America has been desirous by this friendly proceeding of manifesting the great value which they have invariably attached to the friendship of the Emperor and their solicitude to cultivate the best understanding with his Government. In the discussions to which this interest has given rise and in the arrangements by which they may terminate 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....

It was stated at the commencement of the last session that a great effort was then making in Spain and Portugal to improve the condition of the people of those countries, and that it appeared to be conducted with extraordinary moderation. It need scarcely be remarked that the result has been so far very different from what was then anticipated. Of events in that quarter of the globe, with which we have so much intercourse and from which we derive our origin, we have always been anxious and interested spectators. The citizens of the United States cherish sentiments the most friendly in favor of the liberty and happiness of their fellowmen on that side of the Atlantic. In the wars of the European powers in matters relating to themselves we have never taken any part, nor does it comport with our policy so to do. It is only when our rights are invaded or seriously menaced that we resent injuries or make preparation for our defense. With the movements in this hemisphere we are of necessity more immediately connected, and by causes which must be obvious to all enlightened and impartial observers. The political system of the allied powers is essentially different in this respect from that of America. This difference proceeds from that which exists in their respective Governments; and to the defense of our own, which has been achieved by the loss of so much blood and treasure, and matured by the wisdom of their most enlightened citizens, and under which we have enjoyed unexampled felicity, this whole nation is devoted. 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. In the war between those new Governments and Spain we declared our neutrality at the time of their recognition, and to this we have adhered, and shall continue to adhere, provided no change shall occur which, in the judgment of the competent authorities of this Government, shall make a corresponding change on the part of the United States indispensable to their security.

The late events in Spain and Portugal show that Europe is still unsettled. Of this important fact no stronger proof can be adduced than that the allied powers should have thought it proper, on any principle satisfactory to themselves, to have interposed by force in the internal concerns of Spain. To what extent such interposition may be carried, on the same principle, is a question in which all independent powers whose governments differ from theirs are interested, even those most remote, and surely none more so than the United States. Our policy in regard to Europe, which was adopted at an early stage of the wars which have so long agitated that quarter of the globe, nevertheless remains the same, which is, not to interfere in the internal concerns of any of its powers; to consider the government de facto as the legitimate government for us; to cultivate friendly relations with it, and to preserve those relations by a frank, firm, and manly policy, meeting in all instances the just claims of every power, submitting to injuries from none. But in regard to those continents circumstances are eminently and conspicuously different. It is impossible that the allied powers should extend their political system to any portion of either continent without endangering our peace and happiness; nor can anyone believe that our southern brethren, if left to themselves, would adopt it of their own accord. It is equally impossible, therefore, that we should behold such interposition in any form with indifference. If we look to the comparative strength and resources of Spain and those old Governments, and their distance from each other, it must be obvious that she can never subdue them. It is still the true policy of the United States to leave the parties to themselves, in the hope that other powers will pursue the same course....

The Roosevelt Corollary

A political cartoonists' commentary on Roosevelt's "big stick" policy

The doctrine's authors, especially John Quincy Adams, saw the Monroe Doctrine as a proclamation by the United States of moral opposition to colonialism, but it has subsequently been re-interpreted in a wide variety of ways, most notably by President Theodore Roosevelt.

The Roosevelt Corollary was a substantial alteration (called an "amendment") of the Monroe Doctrine by U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt in 1904. Roosevelt's extension of the Monroe Doctrine asserted the right of the United States to intervene to stabilize the economic affairs of small nations in the Caribbean and Central America if they were unable to pay their international debts. The alternative was intervention by European powers, especially Britain and Germany, which loaned money to the countries that did not repay. The catalyst of the new policy was Germany's aggressiveness in the Venezuela affair of 1902-1903.

Roosevelt's December 1904 Annual message to Congress declared:

All that this country desires is to see the neighboring countries stable, orderly, and prosperous. Any country whose people conduct themselves well can count upon our hearty friendship. If a nation shows that it knows how to act with reasonable efficiency and decency in social and political matters, if it keeps order and pays its obligations, it need fear no interference from the United States. Chronic wrongdoing, or an impotence which results in a general loosening of the ties of civilized society, may in America, as elsewhere, ultimately require intervention by some civilized nation, and in the Western Hemisphere the adherence of the United States to the Monroe Doctrine may force the United States, however reluctantly, in flagrant cases of such wrongdoing or impotence, to the exercise of an international police power.

The program spurred export growth and better fiscal management, but debt settlements were driven primarily by "gunboat diplomacy."

Shift to the "Good Neighbor policy"

Presidents cited the Roosevelt Corollary as justification for United States intervention in Cuba (1906-1910), Nicaragua (1909-1911, 1912-1925 and 1926-1933), Haiti (1915-1934), and the Dominican Republic (1916-1924).

In 1928, under President Calvin Coolidge, the Clark Memorandum stated that the United States did not have the right to intervene unless there was a threat by European powers. Released two years later, it concluded that the Doctrine did not give the United States any right to intervene in Latin American affairs when the region was not threatened by Old World powers, thereby reversing the Roosevelt Corollary.

In 1934, Franklin D. Roosevelt further renounced interventionism and established his "Good Neighbor policy," which tolerated the emergence of dictatorships like that of Batista in Cuba or Trujillo in the Dominican Republic, as long as they were not seen as agents of European powers.

In 1954, Secretary of State John Foster Dulles evoked the Monroe Doctrine at the Tenth Inter-American Conference, denouncing the influence of Soviet Communism in Guatemala. This was used to justify United States involvement in 1954 Guatemalan coup d'état, which overthrew the pro-Soviet leader Jacobo Arbenz Guzmán.

The Cold War

During the Cold War, the Monroe doctrine was applied to Latin America by the framers of United States foreign policy. When the Cuban Revolution established a socialist regime with ties to the Soviet Union, it was argued that the spirit of the Monroe Doctrine should be again invoked, this time to prevent the further spreading of Soviet-backed Communism in Latin America. As the situation escalated, the Monroe Doctrine played a part in the Cuban missile crisis (1962), a confrontation with the USSR over Soviet missile bases established in Cuba.

United States President John F. Kennedy 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, 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 Organization of American States 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.

The United States thus often provided intelligence and military aid to Latin and South American governments that appeared to be threatened by Communist subversion.

The debate over this new spirit of the Monroe Doctrine came to a head in the 1980s, as part of the Iran-Contra Affair. Among other things, it was revealed that the United States Central Intelligence Agency had been covertly training "Contra" guerrilla soldiers in Nicaragua in an attempt to destabilize the country and overthrow the Sandinista revolutionary government and its president, Daniel Ortega. CIA director Robert Gates vigorously defended the operation, arguing that avoiding American intervention in Nicaragua would be "totally to abandon the Monroe doctrine."

In a case brought before the International Court of Justice by Nicaragua, however, the court ruled that the United States had exercised "unlawful use of force." The United States ignored the verdict. The Carter and Reagan administrations embroiled themselves in the civil war in El Salvador, again citing the Monroe Doctrine as justification. The Monroe Doctrine was also cited during the later United States intervention in Guatemala and the invasion of Grenada under President Reagan. Critics of the Reagan administration's support for Britain in the Falklands War charge that the United States ignored the Monroe Doctrine in that instance.


Some allege that, in practice, the Monroe Doctrine has functioned as a declaration of hegemony and a right of unilateral intervention over the of the Western Hemisphere. They point to 79 United States military interventions in Latin America and Haiti since 1846.

Did you know?
The Monroe Doctrine has been ironically summarized in Latin America as "America for the Americans"

Some Latin Americans have come to resent this "Monroe Doctrine," which has been summarized there in the ironic phrase: "America for the Americans," translated into Spanish as América para los americanos. The irony lies in the fact that the Spanish term americano is used to name the inhabitants of the whole continent. However, in English, the term American is related almost exclusively to the nationals of the United States. Thus, while "America for the Americans" sounds very much like a call to share a common destiny, it becomes apparent that it could really imply: America (the continent) for the United States.

Other critics have interpreted the Monroe Doctrine as isolationist in intent—in that it ignores the United States' responsibility to involve itself overseas. For example, the Monroe Doctrine was cited in the early stages of WWII to justify the United States staying out of the conflict.

ISBN links support NWE through referral fees

  • Alagna, Magdalena. The Monroe Doctrine: An End to European Colonies in America. Rosen Publishing Group, 2003. ISBN 9780823940400
  • Leavitt, Joshua. The Monroe Doctrine. Cornell University Library, 1863. ISBN 9781429729369
  • Renehan, Jr., Edward J. The Monroe Doctrine: The Cornerstone of American Foreign Policy. Chelsea House Publications, 2007. ISBN 9780791093535
  • Smith, Gaddis. The Last Years of the Monroe Doctrine, 1945-1993. Hill and Wang, 1995. ISBN 9780809015689

External links

All links retrieved November 9, 2022.


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