Monroe Doctrine

views updated Jun 11 2018


The Monroe Doctrine, the foundation for U.S. foreign policy in the western hemisphere throughout most of its history, was declared on December 2, 1823, by President James Monroe (18171825) in his annual message to Congress. In the first two decades of the nineteenth century the remarkable success of movements for independence in Spanish America set the foundation for the Doctrine. By the end of 1822 Spain was driven from its major colonies in North and South America by nationalist insurgencies. European powers now remained in control of only Belize, Bolivia, and the Guianas. But, fearing that European powers might move to restore Spain to its colonies, the Monroe administration felt compelled to issue a formal declaration regarding U.S. policy.

Four principles formed the Monroe Doctrine. The Americas were no longer to be considered objects for future colonization or control by any European power. The political systems of the European powers were alien to the United States and any attempt to export it to the Americas would be considered dangerous to American interests. The United States would not interfere with the existing colonies or dependencies of the European powers. Finally, the Monroe Doctrine reaffirmed that the United States would not take part in the wars of the European powers.

Great Britain earlier had prodded the Monroe administration to make a similar but joint declaration on preserving the independence of the new Latin American republics. Under the influence of John Quincy Adams (17671848), Monroe rejected the idea, reasoning that the United States would then be cast as the junior partner of Britain, overshadowed by its vastly superior naval power. Furthermore, the motives of the United States diverged significantly from those of Britain. The British were intensely interested in expanding their already valuable trading links with independent Latin Americaties that would be jeopardized if Spain and its mercantilist policies were restored. Although Monroe was certainly aware of the commercial value of Latin America, he placed security and ideological considerations above economic interests when he framed his declaration.

Although the Monroe Doctrine declared unilateral U.S. protection over the entire Western Hemisphere, the United States did not have the military or economic muscle to support such an ambitious policy at that time. Not surprisingly the European powers ignored the Doctrine when it suited them. However, by the end of the American Civil War (18611865), the United States had considerable military and economic resources at its disposal. In the first major application of the Monroe Doctrine, U.S. forces massed in 1867 on the Rio Grande River to support U.S. demands that France abandon its puppet regime in Mexico, headed by the Hapsburg prince, Maximilian. France eventually complied, marking a significant victory for U.S. coercive diplomacy.

The Maximilian affair demonstrated that the fortunes of the Monroe Doctrine were closely linked to the expansion of U.S. power. Indeed, as American industrial development and trading and investment ties with Latin America grew in the latter half of the nineteenth century, the United States became more willing not only to enforce the Monroe Doctrine, but also to add to its self-assumed rights and responsibilities. Latin America's subservience to the United States was amply demonstrated in 1904, when President Theodore Roosevelt (19011909) developed the Roosevelt Corollary to the Monroe Doctrine.

In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries political, economic, and social instability plagued much of Latin America. In these perilous conditions, durable and enforceable economic transactions between Latin American and European parties often foundered. Latin American politicians frequently treated European investors capriciously, while European traders and bankers often cheated or exploited their Latin American customers. The European powers increasingly intervened to resolve disputes involving their nations, as when the dictator of Venezuela refused to honor debts owed to European citizens. In response, Germany and Britain blockaded Venezuelan ports and attacked Venezuelan harbor defenses and naval assets. Such incidents were the proximate cause of Roosevelt's decision to revise the Monroe Doctrine, although it is true that the American president was already disposed to expand American power whenever and wherever possible.

The Roosevelt Corollary, which was included in a message to Congress in December 1904, reiterated that the Monroe Doctrine forbade European intervention in Latin American affairs. However, Latin American states had to honor their obligations to foreign nationals and governments. Roosevelt declared that the United States would act as hemispheric policeman, forcing Latin American governments to put their economic houses in order and pay their debts, eliminating the need for European intervention. Over the next three decades, U.S. forces took control of the governments and customs houses of the Dominican Republic, Haiti, and most of Central America. Although this forceful intervention produced a measure of economic and political stability to the region, it aroused increased and intense resentment among the local populace, which viewed the Monroe Doctrine and the Roosevelt Corollary as pretexts for the pursuit of U.S. interests in the region.

The presidential administrations of Herbert Hoover (19291933) and Franklin Roosevelt (19331945) responded to brewing anti-U.S. nationalism. In 1930 the Hoover administration renounced the Roosevelt Corollary by declaring that the Monroe Doctrine did not justify U.S. intervention in the domestic affairs of Latin America, however turbulent they might be. For his part, Roosevelt withdrew American military forces from Central America and the Caribbean, replacing troops with the "Good Neighbor Policy."

None of these new policies had an immediate and substantive impact on the U.S. tendency for unilateral intervention in Latin America. Rather, they marked a change in U.S. strategies and rhetoric. Thus when the Cold War began the United States moved to combat Soviet subversion in the region, both real and imagined. The United States sponsored a failed invasion of Cuba (1960); engineered the overthrow of democratically elected governments in Guatemala (1954) and Chile (1973), and trained and armed counter-revolutionary forces in Nicaragua.

When the end Cold War and the collapse of the Soviet Union (1991) removed the strategic rationale for intervention, U.S. policy began to move away its long-standing commitment to unilateralism. As the U.S. contemplated armed intervention in Haiti in 1994 to restore democratic government, it sought formal authorization from the United Nations. This dramatic embrace of multilateralism reflected the increased efforts of the United States during the 1990s to pursue both its ideals and its interests through international institutions, both regional (the North American Free Trade Agreement) and global (the United Nations, the General Agreement on Trade and Tariffs, etc.) The question that remained unanswered at the beginning of the twenty-first century was whether the unilateralism of the Monroe Doctrine will revivein whole or in partif multilateralism failed to meet perceived American goals in Latin America.

See also: General Agreement on Trade and Tariffs, James Monroe, North American Free Trade Agreement


Cashman, Sean Dennis. America Ascendant: From Theodore Roosevelt to FDR in the Century of American Power, 19011945. New York: New York University Press, 1998.

Dent, David W. The Legacy of the Monroe Doctrine: A Reference Guide to U.S. Involvement in Latin America and the Caribbean. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1999.

Kinzer, Stephen and Stephen Z. Schlesinger. Bitter Fruit: The Story of the American Coup in Guatemala. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1999.

Lafeber, Walter. Inevitable Revolutions: The United States in Central America. New York: W.W. Norton and Company, 1993.

May, Ernest R. The Making of the Monroe Doctrine. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1992.

Scott, James. After the End: Making US Foreign Policy in the PostCold War World. Durham: Duke University Press, 1998.

Smith, Gaddis. The Last Years of the Monroe Doctrine, 19451993. New York: Hill and Wang, 1994.

although the monroe doctrine declared unilateral u.s. protection over the entire western hemisphere, the united states did not have the military or economic muscle to support such an ambitious policy at that time. not surprisingly the european powers ignored the doctrine when it suited them.

Monroe Doctrine

views updated May 23 2018

Monroe Doctrine. In his message of 2 December 1823, President James Monroe articulated two principles that by the 1850s were regarded as the basis for the so‐called Monroe Doctrine. The first stipulated 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 Power.” The second embodied Monroe's support for the newly independent Latin American republics by stating that the American and European political systems were “essentially different,” and that the United States would consider efforts by European nations “to extend their system to any portion of this hemisphere as dangerous to our peace and safety.”

James K. Polk, in the 1840s, was the first president to invoke Monroe's message as a form of policy justification, but his conduct did not immediately set a precedent. For much of the nineteenth century the Monroe Doctrine was ignored or violated far more than it was observed. U.S. acquiescence in such developments as the British occupation of the Falkland Islands (1833), British activities in the Central American isthmus throughout the 1850s, Spain's reannexation of Santo Domingo in 1861, and France's installation of a Bourbon monarch in Mexico in the 1860s were hardly in accord with the principles of 1823.

In the last quarter of the nineteenth century, in response to rising concerns about European imperialism coupled with a more assertive sense of American nationalism, the United States began to invoke the Monroe Doctrine more consistently. This was particularly so in 1895, when the Cleveland administration insisted, successfully, that Great Britain submit to arbitration a long‐standing boundary dispute between Venezuela and British Guiana. On that occasion Secretary of State Richard Olney formulated the first major corollary to the 1823 message by asserting that “the United States is practically sovereign on this continent, and its fiat is law upon the subjects to which it confines its interposition.”

After the turn of the century, the United States redefined the Monroe Doctrine in ways that were also intended to justify greater U.S. activity in the Americas. In 1904, President Theodore Roosevelt, anxious that financial malfeasance in the nations of Central America and the Caribbean might provoke intervention by European creditor nations, announced a second major corollary to the Monroe Doctrine to the effect that no American nation could use the doctrine “as a shield to protect it from the consequences of its own misdeeds against foreign nations.” In effect, this required the United States to intervene in the affairs of other American nations. Acting on this basis, the United States took over the management of the finances of the Dominican Republic (in 1907) and of Nicaragua (in 1911), and in 1915 it actually occupied the republic of Haiti.

The assumptions behind the “Roosevelt corollary,” although repudiated in the 1930s in favor of Franklin D. Roosevelt's “Good Neighbor” policy, continued to influence U.S. policy in the Americas through the 1980s. Beginning with Woodrow Wilson, U.S. presidents have sought to reconcile the regional principles of the doctrine with the increasingly global reach of their foreign policies. Worried about aggression from Nazi Germany, Franklin Roosevelt even expanded the doctrine to include both Canada and Greenland.

In the early years of the Cold War after 1945, the United States internationalized the democratic and noninterventionist principles of the Monroe Doctrine in the Truman Doctrine of 1947, while at the same time it preserved its regional hegemony in the Americas through the framework of the Rio Pact (1947) and the Organization of American States (1948). The concern to keep communism out of the Americas subsequently led to U.S. intervention in various forms in Guatemala (1954), Cuba (1961), the Dominican Republic (1965), Chile (1973), and Grenada (1983), as well as to active involvement in the insurgencies in El Salvador and Nicaragua in the 1980s. In each case the United States either overthrew, or attempted to overthrow, left‐wing regimes in order to replace them with dictatorial governments whose members supported U.S. priorities. Critics argued that these repressive governments violated the principles that Monroe had proclaimed in 1823.

The most serious crisis of the Monroe Doctrine occurred in Communist Cuba in 1962. As early as 1960, Soviet premier Nikita Khrushchev openly proclaimed that the Monroe Doctrine was dead. Two years later, Khrushchev installed intermediate‐range missiles on the island to protect Fidel Castro's regime. Throughout the ensuing Cuban Missile Crisis, which was eventually resolved by the removal of the missiles, President John F. Kennedy did not invoke the Monroe Doctrine in defense of his actions, but concern for its traditions was never far from his mind.

With the end of the Cold War in 1991 and the disappearance of any regional threats to the security of the United States in the western hemisphere, the Monroe Doctrine might be fairly regarded as moribund, if not entirely dead. The doctrine was never accepted as valid international law by any European nation, and it would be inaccurate to say that it saved Latin America from any form of recolonization. Nor did the doctrine ever receive much support in Latin America; indeed, to the extent that the United States invoked it in the twentieth century, it became increasingly unpopular there as a symbol of an overbearing Yankee supremacy. The true significance of the Monroe Doctrine, however, has always depended on circumstances.
[See also Caribbean and Latin America, U.S. Military Involvement in the; Dominican Republic, U.S. Military Involvement in the; El Salvador, U.S. Military Involvement in; Nicaragua, U.S. Military Involvement in.]


Dexter Perkins , A History of the Monroe Doctrine, 1941; rev. ed. 1955.
Gaddis Smith , The Last Years of the Monroe Doctrine 1945–1993, 1994.

J. C. A. Stagg

Monroe Doctrine

views updated May 23 2018


MONROE DOCTRINE. Four years after the ratification of the Adams-Onís Transcontinental Treaty, President James Monroe announced the Monroe Doctrine in a message to Congress in December 1823. While few countries paid much attention to its pronouncement, the doctrine captured the American belief that the New and Old Worlds greatly differed and that the United States had a special role to play. It presaged Manifest Destiny, and, as the years passed, the Monroe Doctrine increasingly became a tenet of American foreign policy, although its international acceptance and significance is still debated.

In the aftermath of the French Revolution (1787– 1799) and the Napoleonic Wars (1805–1814), conservative European powers—Russia, Prussia, Austria, and, to a lesser extent, England—sought to prop up the old monarchies and stamp out revolution. The result, in 1813, was the Quadruple Alliance, which France joined after Louis XVIII returned to Paris.

At this time, Spanish America was throwing off its imperial yoke. Inspiring nationalists like Simón Bolívar, José San Martín, and Bernardo O'Higgins led their respective peoples to independence. The situation then became very complicated. At first, the U.S. government welcomed these independence movements, hoping to establish commercial ties and open new markets for American goods. France then invaded Spain and acted, at least initially, as if it would seek to reestablish Spain's former colonial empire in the Americas. There were even rumors that Spain would cede Cuba to France for its help in reestablishing Spain's empire in the New World! The British also had cause to oppose any reestablishment of Spain's empire, because Great Britain had moved to a concept of maintaining an informal empire—based on trade and avoiding the costs of a more formal empire, which included stationing of troops and maintaining of bases—in Latin America, China, and elsewhere. Britain therefore wanted to economically exploit these newly independent lands.

So the British foreign minister, George Canning, suggested that the United States stand against such foreign intervention in the Americas, and with much input from the American Secretary of State, John Quincy Adams, Monroe worked out his doctrine. To be sure, Monroe's warning against European intervention in the Americas only had force, if it had any force, because of British naval power and behind-the-scenes support. Still, the American people enthusiastically received the message, although it had little practical influence at the time.

Over the years, the Monroe Doctrine became a tenet of American foreign policy, and there were additions by later presidents. On 2 December 1845, President James K. Polk reiterated the principles of Monroe in his condemnation of the intrigues of Great Britain and France in seeking to prevent the annexation of Texas to the United States and in contesting with Great Britain over the vast Oregon Territory ("54′40″ or fight!"). And, on 29 April 1848, Polk declared that an English or Spanish protectorate over the Mexican Yucatan would be a violation of the Monroe Doctrine principles and could compel the United States to assume control over that area. Polk thus made the doctrine the basis for expansion, although ultimately he took no such action. During the American Civil War (1861–1865), France tried to establish an empire in Mexico under Austrian Archduke Maximilian. As the North's victory became assured, the U.S. secretary of state used this power to rebuff the French and helped cause France to withdraw its troops; the regime in Mexico collapsed.

One of the more dramatic extensions of the doctrine was President Grover Cleveland's assertion that its principles compelled Great Britain to arbitrate a boundary dispute with Venezuela over the limitations of British Guiana. Cleveland's views produced a diplomatic crisis, but British moderation helped bring about a peaceful solution. And, later, President Theodore Roosevelt expanded upon Cleveland's views to produce the so-called Roosevelt Corollary to the Monroe Doctrine. The joint intervention of Great Britain, Germany, and Italy against Venezuela looking to recover unpaid loans upset many in the United States. President Roosevelt on the one hand believed that such bills needed to be paid, but did not want foreign intervention to compel timely repayment. So he moved to the position that the United States must assume a measure of control over more unruly Latin American states to prevent European action. Although Senate approval of this corollary was delayed for three years until 1907, Roosevelt produced a view that seemingly justified frequent American interventions in Caribbean affairs, which certainly smacked of imperialism and "White Man's Burden," and did not burnish the image of the United States with its southern neighbors.

During the two decades following World War I (1914–1918), a change took place. Increasing resentment against American interference in the affairs of the republics of Latin America helped bring about the liquidations of U.S. interventions in Santo Domingo in 1924 and in Haiti in 1934. The intervention in Nicaragua begun in Calvin Coolidge's presidency was relatively short-lived. President Franklin D. Roosevelt gave proof of this retreat from an expansive view of the Monroe Doctrine by pledging against armed intervention, and by signing a treaty not to intervene in the internal and external affairs of various Latin American countries at the seventh Pan-American Conference in Montevideo, Uruguay, in December 1933.

The Monroe Doctrine never obtained a true international status. At the Versailles Peace Conference in 1919, President Woodrow Wilson, to win over domestic opponents to his cherished League of Nations covenant, incorporated into the language of the document an article declaring that nothing therein affected the validity of a regional understanding such as the Monroe Doctrine. It was not clear that this either met with European support or placated more nationalistic supporters of Monroe's principles in the United States.

In more modern times, the Monroe Doctrine has undergone change. The Inter-American Conference on Problems of War and Peace, called to strengthen arrangements for collective security in the Western Hemisphere during World War II (1939–1945) and to discuss problems resulting from Argentina's neutrality against the Axis powers, met in February 1945. Participants adopted the Act of Chapultepec, which broadened the Monroe Doctrine with the principle that an attack on any country of the hemisphere would be viewed as an act of aggression against all countries of the hemisphere. The act also had a provision for negotiation of a defense treaty among American states after the war. Meeting at Petrópolis, out-side Rio de Janeiro, from 15 August through 2 September 1947, the United States and nineteen Latin American republics (Canada was a member of the British Commonwealth and did not directly participate) drew up the so-called Rio Pact, a permanent defensive military alliance that legally sanctioned the principle from the Act of Chapultepec and foreshadowed the establishment of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization two years later.

The United States would justify its action in Guatemala in 1954, its continuing opposition to Fidel Castro's regime in Cuba, and its intervention in the Dominican Republic in 1965 with the view that communism as a movement was foreign to the Americas. This provided the basis for intervention reaching back as far as the Monroe Doctrine and as recent as the Rio Pact.

In the end, the Monroe Doctrine as an international policy has only been as effective as the United States' power to support it.


Dozer, Donald Marquand, ed. The Monroe Doctrine: Its Modern Significance. rev. ed. Tempe: Arizona State University Press, 1976.

Merk, Frederick. The Monroe Doctrine and American Expansionism, 1843–1849. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1966.

Perkins, Dexter. A History of the Monroe Doctrine. Boston: Little, Brown & Co., 1963.

Smith, Gaddis. The Last Years of the Monroe Doctrine, 1945–1993. New York: Hill and Wang, 1994.

Charles M.Dobbs

See alsovol. 9:The Monroe Doctrine and the Roosevelt Corollary .

Monroe Doctrine

views updated May 21 2018

Monroe Doctrine

On December 23, 1823, in his annual message to Congress, President james monroe made a statement on foreign policy that came to be known as the Monroe Doctrine. At that time the United States feared that Russia intended to establish colonies in Alaska and, more importantly, that the continental European states would intervene in Central and South America to help Spain recover its former colonies, which had won their independence in a series of wars in the early nineteenth century.

President Monroe announced that North and South America were closed to colonization, that the United States would not become involved in European wars or colonial wars in the Americas, and, most importantly, that any intervention by a European power in the independent states of the Western Hemisphere would be viewed by the United States as an unfriendly act against the United States.

Later presidents reiterated the Monroe Doctrine. In the early twentieth century, it was extended to justify U.S. intervention in the states of Latin America.

Monroe Doctrine

Fellow citizens of the Senate and House of Representatives:

Many important subjects will claim your attention during the present session, of which I shall endeavor to give, in aid of your deliberations, a just idea in this communication. I undertake this duty with diffidence, from the vast extent of the interests on which I have to treat and of their great importance to every portion of our Union. I enter on it with zeal from a thorough conviction that there never was a period since the establishment of our revolution when, regarding the condition of the civilized world and its bearing on us, there was greater necessity for devotion in the public servants to their respective duties, or for virtue, patriotism, and union in our constituents.

Source: James D. Richardson, ed., A Compilation of the Messages and Papers of the Presidents, vol. 2 (1897), pp. 207–219.

Meeting in you a new Congress, I deem it proper to present this view of public affairs in greater detail than might otherwise be necessary. I do it, however, with peculiar satisfaction, from a knowledge that in this respect I shall comply more fully with the sound principles of our government. The people being with us exclusively the sovereign, it is indispensable that full information be laid before them on all important subjects, to enable them to exercise that high power with complete effect. If kept in the dark, they must be incompetent to it. We are all liable to error, and those who are engaged in the management of public affairs are more subject to excitement and to be led astray by their particular interests and passions than the great body of our constituents, who, living at home in the pursuit of their ordinary avocations, are calm but deeply interested spectators of events and of the conduct of those who are parties to them. To the people every department of the government and every individual in each are responsible, and the more full their information the better they can judge of the wisdom of the policy pursued and of the conduct of each in regard to it. From their dispassionate judgment much aid may always be obtained, while their approbation will form the greatest incentive and most gratifying reward for virtuous actions and the dread of their censure the best security against the abuse of their confidence. Their interests in all vital questions are the same, and the bond, by sentiment as well as by interest, will be proportionably strengthened as they are better informed of the real state of public affairs, especially in difficult conjunctures. It is by such knowledge that local prejudices and jealousies are surmounted, and that a national policy, extending its fostering care and protection to all the great interests of our Union, is formed and steadily adhered to….

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 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 fellow men 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 new 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.

Monroe Doctrine

views updated Jun 11 2018

Monroe Doctrine

Monroe Doctrine, a fundamental principle of U.S. foreign policy that rejects European expansion in the Western Hemisphere. The immediate causes for the doctrine's pronouncement were the fear that Spain might find European powers willing to assist with the restoration of her Latin American empire lost to wars for independence and concern over Russian activities on the northwestern coast of North America. At the same time, British foreign secretary George Canning did not want the Spanish colonies restored because of the trading links Britain had established with them. Anxious to placate the United States, Canning proposed a joint Washington-London declaration. To ensure that Spain would not receive help from other European nations, Canning secured a promise from France's ambassador to London, Prince Polignac, not to assist Spain with the recovery of her colonies, an agreement not known to the United States. In Washington, President James Monroe consulted with former presidents Thomas Jefferson and James Madison, who favored a joint declaration with the British, and Secretary of State John Quincy Adams, who favored an independent course. Monroe determined that the United States should act independently of Britain. Therefore, in his message to Congress on 2 December 1823, Monroe asserted that the Western Hemisphere was not open to future European colonization, that Europe could no longer extend political control to any portion of the Western Hemisphere, and that the United States would not interfere in the affairs of Europe. While the principles dealt with contemporary issues—the possibility that the European powers would recover Spain's lost colonies in the New World, Russia's claims on the northwestern coast, and U.S. neutrality in the Greek Revolution—their origins predated the War of Independence in the United States and the belief that Europe's monarchical political system should not be extended to the New World. Since the time of independence, presidents George Washington, Jefferson, and Madison had enunciated similar statements.

Monroe's declaration was not well received in the capitals of Europe, and the Latin Americans were puzzled at the unilateral pronouncement. They all understood that Britain, not the United States, was the major supporter of the Latin American struggle for independence. In the nineteenth century, the doctrine did not deter European expansion in the Americas. The Clayton-Bulwer Treaty (1850) recognized the British presence in Central America. The Monroe Doctrine failed to prevent Spain from reannexing Santo Domingo in 1861 or the French from placing Austrian Archduke Maximilian in the Mexican presidential palace in 1864. In Mexico, Secretary of State William H. Seward recognized the European right to debt collection, but held out the threat of future retribution should Napoleon maintain a European presence. Seward's threat kept Napoleon worried about a possible conflict with the United States once its civil war was over. Still, when the French withdrew from Mexico in 1866–1867, it was because of Mexican opposition to the French imposition, not due to U.S. policy. Corollaries have been attached to the Monroe Doctrine. In 1845, President James K. Polk declared that if any North American people desired to join the United States, the matter would be one for them and the U.S. government to determine without foreign interposition. Polk's declaration referred to British and French efforts to prevent the annexation of Texas, to the dispute with Britain over Oregon, and to suspicions that Britain intended to limit U.S. interests in California. In 1904, President Theodore Roosevelt added a corollary. He asserted that if any Latin American state behaved in a manner that invited European intervention, it was the obligation of the United States to intervene first, in order to prevent the European action. The Roosevelt Corollary justified intervention by the United States in the Caribbean region through 1933. In each instance the United States acted to put regional political and financial houses in order, in an effort to prevent possible European intervention, which might threaten the Panama Canal. In 1928, State Department official J. Reuben Clark repudiated the Roosevelt Corollary as a justifiable extension of the Monroe Doctrine, because the corollary dealt with inter-American affairs, not European relations.

In 1912, when a Japanese company considered the acquisition of a large land tract in Baja California, Mexico, Senator Henry Cabot Lodge introduced a resolution to the Senate disapproving the transfer of American territory to non-American private firms that could be serving as agents of foreign nations. Following World War II, many U.S. policymakers argued that the Monroe Doctrine became hemispheric policy with the Rio de Janeiro Treaty (1947), the Act of Bogotá (1948), and a resolution at the Caracas Conference (1954), all of which established a hemispheric defense system against foreign aggression and subversion. The United States, however, often acted unilaterally to remove what it perceived to be a European threat, specifically communism, to the security of the Western Hemisphere; among such interventions were Guatemala (1954), the Bay of Pigs (1961), the Cuban Missile Crisis (1962), the Dominican Republic (1965), and support of the Nicaraguan Contras (1980–1989). The paternalistic attitude embodied in the Monroe Doctrine, coupled with the unilateral actions of the United States, contributed to Latin America's nationalistic response to Washington's policies.

See alsoClark Memorandum; Dollar Diplomacy; Good Neighbor Policy.


Alejandro Alvarez, ed., The Monroe Doctrine: Its Importance in the International Life of the States of the New World (1924).

Dexter Perkins, A History of the Monroe Doctrine, rev. ed. (1963).

Donald M. Dozer, ed., The Monroe Doctrine: Its Modern Significance (1965).

Harold Molineu, U.S. Policy Toward Latin America: From Regionalism to Globalism (1986).

Alonso Aguilar Monteverde, Pan-Americanism from Monroe to the Present: A View from the Other Side (1988).

Lester D. Langley, America and the Americas: The United States in the Western Hemisphere (1989).

Additional Bibliography

Dent, David W. The Legacy of the Monroe Doctrine: A Reference Guide to U.S. involvement in Latin America and the Caribbean. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1999.

Hilton, Sylvia-Lyn. "La 'nueva' doctrina Monroe de 1895 y sus implicaciones para el Caribe español: Algunas inter-pretaciones coetáneas españolas." Anuario de Estudios Americanos 55:1 (January-June 1998): 125-151.

LaFeber, Walter. Inevitable Revolutions: The United States in Central America. 2nd ed. New York: W.W. Norton, 1993, pp. 19-85.

Smith, Gaddis. The Last Years of the Monroe Doctrine, 1945–1993. New York: Hill and Wang, 1994.

                                      Thomas M. Leonard

Monroe Doctrine

views updated May 17 2018

Monroe Doctrine


The Monroe Doctrine defined the U.S. position on international affairs involving nations in the Americas and former colonial holdings of European powers. In his seventh annual message to Congress on December 2, 1823, President James Monroe unveiled his plan for United States foreign policy. The United States government acknowledged the sovereignty of independent nations in the Americas, and declared the Americas closed to future colonization. The policy further stated that the United States would not be a party to European conflicts. The policy took decades to come to full fruition, receiving the name "Monroe Doctrine" in 1853. During the nineteenth century, the policy was tested during the Mexican-American and the Spanish-American Wars, though it was only directly invoked in the latter.

The Napoleonic Wars in Europe in the first decades of the nineteenth century stirred nationalist sentiment in both the Old and the New World. As European nations devoted increasing resources to combating Napoleon's invading armies, they politically neglected their colonial holdings abroad. Nationalists in Latin America supported taking up arms against European colonial powers and establishing independent nations. Between 1815 and 1823, Argentina, Venezuela, Mexico, Peru, Colombia, and Chile gained their independence and established republics. These fledgling nations needed, and sought, political recognition from larger, more influential nations. Knowing that they could not rely on the monarchist nations of Europe to support break-away democracies, the new American republics sought recognition from the United States.

In the United States, the European Napoleonic Wars spawned the War of 1812. British troops burned the U.S. capitol, but U.S. forces succeeded in routing British troops long enough to force a cease-fire and peace treaty. This second defeat of British forces more firmly established the United States as a thriving, independent nation, able to compete with European rivals. However, most members of the United States government sought to keep the nation out of European rivalries. When the revolutions in South America yielded new republics, the United States was left in a precarious position, caught between European and American interests.

A rumor circulated in diplomatic circles that the Holy Alliance of Russia, Austria, and Prussia was set to intervene on behalf of Spain in the colonial rebellions. In 1823, France invited Spain to restore the Bourbon monarchy with a promise of further aid against insurgent republics in the Americas. The monarchist alliance angered Great Britain, who was politically torn between the need to defend the principles of monarchist government, and keep the French from regaining strongholds in the Americas and the Caribbean.

British foreign minister George Canning lobbied the United States government to form an Anglo-American alliance to oppose the intervention of France or the Holy Alliance in Latin America. Many in the United States government supported the diplomatic move, but President Monroe and his Secretary of State, John Quincy Adams, were suspicious of the British plan. Adams advocated issuing a unilateral declaration, warning all European powers to refrain from joining colonial wars in which they had no direct involvement.

Monroe heeded Adams counsel. In a yearly speech, Monroe issued a statement proclaiming that any efforts to extend European political power in the Americas would be considered a threat to the security of the United States. Though the doctrine stated that the United States would refrain from participation in European conflicts, it left open the possibility for U.S. involvement in the Americas. Monroe counted on Britain to receive the statement as compromise, and recognize its mutual benefit. Indeed, the doctrine eventually worked largely because of backing from Britain.

The Monroe Doctrine was formally invoked seventy-five years later at the outbreak of the Spanish-American War. The United States cited Spain's continued involvement in Cuba as a threat to U.S. property and interests. The United States won the conflict against Spain, and in the years following the war, the United States acted to prevent European nations from collecting debts from defaulting Latin American nations and former colonial holdings. When the Dominican Republic was bankrupt in 1904, United States President Theodore Roosevelt issued the Roosevelt Corollary to the Monroe Doctrine, stating that the United States could preemptively act to ward off European aggression in the Americas.



The Avalon Project at Yale University. The Monroe Doctrine, 1823. <> (April 2003).

Monroe Doctrine

views updated May 17 2018


From a historians perspective, President James Monroe's proclamation of the Monroe Doctrine—consisting of three paragraphs in his annual message to Congress of December 1823—was perhaps one of the most important moments in nineteenth-century American diplomacy. At the time, however, its significance was not obvious. Within just a few years, it had been largely forgotten, and it would not be taken up again until the 1840s, when it was first referred to as the "Monroe Doctrine."

President Monroe and Secretary of State John Quincy Adams crafted the doctrine as the American response to recent European developments. In the spring of 1823 French troops, authorized by the Holy Alliance of European monarchs, had entered Spain to topple the three-year-old constitutional government and restore King Ferdinand VII to absolute rule. It seemed likely that the Holy Alliance would continue to support Ferdinand by providing military and financial assistance to help him resubjugate his rebellious American colonies. Some Americans even worried that the allies' wars against republican government would eventually extend to the United States. In August, the British foreign secretary, George Canning, proposed to the American minister in London, Richard Rush, an Anglo-American declaration opposing any allied assistance for Spain against its colonies and disavowing any interest in acquiring Spain's colonies for themselves. Over the same months, moreover, evidence mounted that Russia intended to extend its colonial presence along the Pacific Coast of North America.

Rush's report of Canning's proposal reached Washington in early October and formed the principal topic for often-divisive cabinet discussions during November. Historians have offered various explanations of the divisions within the cabinet over the appropriate response to the European developments and the British proposal, ranging from conflicting assessments of the real danger to competing aspirations in the approaching presidential election of 1824. According to Adams's diary (the only internal account of the cabinet meetings), President Monroe and Secretary of War John C. Calhoun leaned toward accepting the British proposal in some form because they genuinely feared an allied assault upon Spanish America. Adams, in contrast, pressed for a unilateral response that would preserve American freedom of action, both in the current crisis and in the future. By taking its stand in the message to Congress rather than through a joint statement with Great Britain, the administration adopted, at least publicly, a position more consistent with Adams's views.

The Monroe Doctrine included three key points. In a section that was directed primarily at Russia, it asserted that the Western Hemisphere was closed to further colonization. Two other paragraphs warned that the European powers should not interfere in New World affairs and pledged that the United States would not interfere in European affairs. By responding to the European threat and the British proposal unilaterally, the administration avoided either entangling the United States with Great Britain or foreswearing future expansion at Spain's expense, particularly in Cuba. It also preserved the diplomatic position enjoyed by the United States in the New World as the only established nation that had formally recognized the independence of the rebellious colonies.

Monroe's message was wildly popular at home and among the new nations of Spanish America. But it was largely ignored in Europe, where quiet Anglo-French diplomacy had already defused the crisis even as Monroe's cabinet debated its response. While European developments never required a decision about whether and how to make good on the doctrine, some of the Spanish American governments viewed it as a new pledge of American commitment on their behalf and called upon the administration for assistance. Colombia, and later Mexico, hoped to use Monroe's message to leverage military support—probably aid rather than ships or troops out of the United States—as well as diplomatic support. They pointed to the continuing Spanish denial of their independence and, in the case of Colombia, to French diplomatic pressures. Monroe and Adams quickly and quietly backed off from their bold stance as they responded to these calls for assistance. When Adams's secretary of state, Henry Clay, referred to Monroe's "memorable pledge" in diplomatic correspondence regarding Mexico, he triggered a fierce backlash in Congress. By the end of Adams's presidency in March 1829, the doctrine had been abandoned.

Scholars have differed over the significance of the Monroe Doctrine in the minds of those who shaped it, describing the doctrine as little more than an attempt to curry favor with American voters; one element of a complex and flexible response to international developments; or a bold blueprint for American empire in the New World. Ultimately, it neither prevented a European invasion nor checked British influence in Spanish America nor established American dominance in the New World. It did, however, testify to a deep fear that the spread of European influence, institutions, and principles in the New World would threaten the United States.

See alsoAdams, John Quincy; Monroe, James .


Combs, Jerald A. "The Origins of the Monroe Doctrine: A Survey of Interpretations by United States Historians." Australian Journal of Politics and History 27 (1981): 186–196.

Lewis, James E., Jr. The American Union and the Problem of Neighborhood: The United States and the Collapse of the Spanish Empire, 1783–1829. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1998.

May, Ernest R. The Making of the Monroe Doctrine. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1975.

Perkins, Dexter. The Monroe Doctrine, 1823–1826. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1927.

James E. Lewis Jr.

Monroe Doctrine

views updated May 29 2018

Monroe Doctrine


The Monroe Doctrine is a principle of American foreign policy in the Western Hemisphere that was announced by President James Monroe (17581831) on December 2, 1823, in his annual message to Congress. The Monroe Doctrine was intended to discourage and prevent further colonialism and military intervention by European powers, especially Britain and Russia, in the Western Hemisphere and any attempts by European powers to exploit or endanger the growing independence of Latin American countries from the Spanish empire. The major tenets of the Monroe Doctrine are that, first, the Western Hemisphere has a political existence that is separate from Europe. Second, the United States would regard further European efforts to colonize or extend political and military influence in the Western Hemisphere as hostile actions against American national security. Third, the United States would not interfere with existing European colonies or political matters.

The Monroe Doctrine was particularly influential in American foreign policy toward Latin America during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. In 1895, the United States cited the Monroe Doctrine in a boundary dispute between Venezuela and Britain. In 1898, the United States relied on the Monroe Doctrine to justify its war against Spain in Cuba and its later intervention in Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic. The application of the Monroe Doctrine to Cuba was strengthened by the Platt Amendment of 1902. This amendment to the Cuban constitution specified that the United States retained the right to intervene militarily and politically in Cuba. In 1904, President Theodore Roosevelt (18581919) announced the Roosevelt Corollary to the Monroe Doctrine. The Roosevelt Corollary stated that the United States has an obligation to prevent political and economic instability in Caribbean nations.

Until 1934, the Monroe Doctrine was used to justify American military intervention in Haiti, Nicaragua, and the Dominican Republic. In 1934, however, President Franklin D. Roosevelt (18821945) rejected the Roosevelt Corollary in announcing his Good Neighbor policy toward Latin America. The principles of this policy included that the United States would respect Latin American governments as diplomatic equals, that the Platt Amendment would be repealed, and that the United States would refrain from intervening in Latin American domestic affairs. The Good Neighbor policy improved cooperation and diplomatic understanding between the United States and most Latin American governments during the 1930s and 1940s, but American economic domination and exploitation of Latin America continued.

During the cold war, the United States revived the use of the Monroe Doctrine to legitimize military intervention because of its concern that communism would develop and expand in Latin America, especially after Cuba became a Soviet ally. American presidents made public or private references to the Monroe Doctrine to justify the U.S. naval blockade of Cuba in 1962 and the American invasions of the Dominican Republic in 1965 and Grenada in 1983. The end of the cold war and greater economic development and democratization in Latin America made it less likely that the United States would invoke the Monroe Doctrine.

SEE ALSO Cold War; Colonialism; Communism; Cuban Revolution; Foreign Policy; Imperialism; National Security


Dallek, Robert. 1983. The American Style of Foreign Policy: Cultural Politics and Foreign Affairs. New York: Oxford University Press.

Smith, Gaddis. 1994. The Last Years of the Monroe Doctrine, 19451993. New York: Hill and Wang.

Sean J. Savage

Monroe Doctrine

views updated May 18 2018

Monroe Doctrine

The Monroe Doctrine was enunciated by President James Monroe (1758–1831) in an annual message to the U.S. Congress in 1823. The main concern of Monroe and his secretary of state, John Quincy Adams (1767–1848), was the future of Hispanic America. Hispanic America had struggled for independence from Spain, and new republics sprang up from Mexico to Chile, influenced in part by the examples of French and U.S. republicanism. The United States welcomed the emergence of the new republics in most respects; but the absolute monarchies in Europe, notably Russia and the briefly resurgent monarchical regime in France, looked askance at the creation of the new states and sought to isolate them diplomatically.

While the United States began the process of recognizing the Spanish American republics in 1822, France in 1823 urged Spain to reimpose the power of the House of Bourbon in Spanish America. A program of reconquest backed by the Holy Alliance (Russia, Prussia, and Austria) and endorsed by the Vatican was a matter of deep anxiety in Spanish America, the United States, and Britain, which was aiming to establish strong commercial ties with the fledgling republics. Indeed, the British foreign secretary, George Canning (1770–1827), even proposed that Britain and the United States should together warn Spain and France against intervention. Adams, meanwhile, had a secondary anxiety: the drive of Russia to extend its influence along the Pacific coast of North America from Alaska to California, then still part of Mexico.

The Monroe Doctrine amounted to a statement that the United States would treat any attempt to extend European influence in the "New World" as a threat to its security. This was, in effect, an assertion that the Western Hemisphere was closed to European colonization, whether by powers like Russia with new expansionist aspirations or by old colonial powers like Spain, which aimed to recuperate colonies lost in the wars of independence. The immediate impact of the Monroe Doctrine was limited, both because the powers of mainland Europe were too preoccupied with events closer to home to put up a united front in the Americas, and because Spain was too debilitated by the effects of warfare at home and in the former colonial empire to launch a project of reconquest.

Enjoying some support from the British, the most formidable naval power of the century, the Monroe Doctrine remained in place. It was insufficient, however, to prevent brief interventions in the 1860s by Spain in Santo Domingo and France in Mexico. There were two reasons for this: the weakness of the U.S. Navy, which was smaller than the Chilean navy; and deep divisions in the United States, which culminated in the American Civil War (1861–1865). Only after the consolidation of the frontier in the West and the assertion of the United States as a major naval power in both the Atlantic and Pacific oceans could the Monroe Doctrine be applied without British support.

The final defeat of Spain in the Caribbean and the Pacific during the War of 1898 meant that the United States could now assert an ascendancy in northern Latin America and the Caribbean and consolidate U.S. influence in southern South America. Complemented by the Roosevelt Corollary, enunciated by President Theodore Roosevelt (1858–1919) in 1904, the Monroe Doctrine was used by successive U.S. administrations to justify interventions ostensibly designed to preempt European, especially German, invasions of small nations, usually to collect outstanding debts. Thus the Monroe Doctrine provided the main rationale for a sequence of interventions in Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Haiti, Nicaragua, and the port of Veracruz (Mexico) during the next three decades. These interventions achieved the goal of forestalling European involvement at the expense of awakening widespread and, in some countries, sustained nationalist movements.

see also United States Interventions in Postindependence Latin America.


Collin, Richard H. Theodore Roosevelt's Caribbean: The Panama Canal, the Monroe Doctrine, and the Latin American Context. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1991.

Niess, Frank. A Hemisphere to Itself: A History of US-Latin American Relations. Translated by Harry Drost. London: Zed, 1990.

Perkins, Dexter. A History of the Monroe Doctrine, rev. ed. Boston: Little, Brown, 1955.

Monroe Doctrine

views updated Jun 11 2018


The Founding Fathers of the United States of America sought to establish a foreign policy that was compatible with the surge of nationalism that engulfed the new country during its first century of independence. The Monroe Doctrine, proposed by President james monroe in 1823, contributed to the formation of such a policy.

Certain events in 1821 prompted the creation of the doctrine. An insurrection in the colonies under Spanish rule in Latin America resulted in freedom for the colonies, but several European nations threatened to intervene on Spain's behalf and restore the former colonies to Spanish domination. Both the United States and Great Britain saw the advantages of trade with the new Latin American nations and feared further European interference in future disputes. As a result, British Foreign Secretary George Canning approached the U.S. emissary in London, richard rush, with a proposal for the formation of a dual alliance to protect the interests of the two countries. According to Canning's plan, the United States and Great Britain would oppose any intervention in the Spanish colonies by any European country except Spain.

President Monroe was agreeable to the terms of Canning's proposition, as were Secretary of War john c. calhoun and former Presidents thomas jefferson and james madison. Secretary of State john quincy adams, however, presented an alternative view. Adams believed that Britain's interests in Latin America were sufficiently strong to encourage Britain's defense of those nations whether or not the United States agreed to Canning's proposal. Adams favored the development of a U.S. policy without alliance with Britain.

On December 2, 1823, Monroe presented the terms of the Monroe Doctrine, which Adams had helped to develop. The doctrine contained four significant elements: the American continents were to be regarded as independent, with no further settlement by European nations; the nations of the Western Hemisphere were deemed republics, as opposed to the European system of monarchies; European intervention in the affairs of nations of the Western Hemisphere was prohibited and would be viewed as a threat to the security of the United States; and, conversely the United States promised to refrain from involvement in European affairs.


"Monroe Doctrine" (Appendix, Primary Document).

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Monroe Doctrine