Monroe Doctrine

The Monroe Doctrine, expressed in 1823, proclaimed that the Americas should be closed to future European colonization and free from European interference in sovereign countries' affairs. It further stated the United States's intention to stay neutral in European wars and in wars between European powers and their colonies but to consider any new colonies or interference with independent countries in the Americas as hostile acts toward the United States. It was issued by President James Monroe during his seventh annual address to Congress.

The Doctrine was conceived by its authors, especially John Quincy Adams, as a proclamation by the United States of moral opposition to colonialism, but has subsequently been re-interpreted in a wide variety of ways, including by President Theodore Roosevelt as a license for the U.S. to practice its own form of colonialism (see Roosevelt Corollary).



The end of the Napoleonic Wars in 1815 marked the breakup of the Spanish empire in the New World. Between 1815 and 1822 Jos de San Martn led Argentina , Chile and Peru to independence, while Simn Bolvar in Venezuela guided his country out of colonialism. The new republics sought — and expected — recognition by the United States, and many in the United States endorsed that idea.

But President James Monroe and his secretary of state, John Quincy Adams, were not willing to risk war for nations they did not know would survive. From their point of view, as long as the other European powers did not intervene, the government of the United States could just let Spain and her rebellious colonies fight it out.

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 the United States. When Russia and France proposed that Britain join in helping Spain regain her New World colonies, Britain vetoed the idea.

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 republics — Argentina, Chile, Peru, Colombia and Mexico were all recognized in 1822.

In 1823, France invited Spain to restore Bourbon 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 — all the work of James Wolfe, William Pitt and other eighteenth-century British statesmen to get France out of the New World would be undone, and France would again be a power in the Americas.

British Foreign Minister George Canning proposed that the US and the UK 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 quite concerned about Russia and Mexico's efforts to extend their influence over the joint British-American claimed territory of Oregon Country (see New Albion).

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 argued and finally won over the Cabinet to an independent policy. In Monroe's State of the Union message to Congress on December 2, 1823, he delivered what we have come to call 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.

This explicitly stated intent was contradicted by cooperation with European powers in the repeated re-occupation of various territories of the island of Hispaniola, regions of which were in this period variously known as Santo Domingo and Haiti. Both France and Spain were interested in re-claiming their territories in Hispaniola, or re-exerting their influence, although Spain was more successful in the 19th century. In practice, the Monroe Doctrine sided with whatever side of Caribbean conflicts favoured the United States' short-term economic interests, rather than definitively drawing a barrier against European interventionism.


Although it would take decades to coalesce into an identifiable policy, John Quincy Adams did raise a standard of an independent U.S. foreign policy so strongly that future administrations could not ignore it. One should note, however, that the policy succeeded because it met British interests as well as those of the United States and, for the next 100 years, was secured by the backing of the Royal Navy.

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.

On December 2, 1845, US 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 (see Manifest Destiny).

In 1852 some politicians used the principle of the Monroe Doctrine to argue for kicking the Spanish out of Cuba.

Between 1864 and 1867, Napoleon III set up a puppet regime in Mexico, and Americans proclaimed this as a violation of "The Doctrine" (See Maximilian Affair). This was the first time the Monroe Doctrine was widely referred to as a "Doctrine".

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

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

The Drago Doctrine was announced in 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.

In 1904, President Theodore Roosevelt added the Roosevelt Corollary to the Monroe Doctrine, which asserted the right of the U.S. to intervene in Latin America. This is the largest extension that has ever been added to the Monroe Doctrine.

In 1930 the Clark Memorandum was released, concluding 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.

Cold War

During the Cold War, the Monroe doctrine was applied to Latin America by the framers of U.S. foreign policy. When the Cuban Revolution established a Communist 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. During the Cold War the United States thus often 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 some domestic controversy within the United States, especially among some members of the radical left who argued that the Communist threat and Soviet influence in Latin America was greatly exaggerated.

The debate over this new spirit of the Monroe Doctrine came to a head in 1984, as part of the Iran Contra Scandal. Among other things, it was revealed that the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency had been covertly training "Contra" guerrilla soldiers in Nicaragua in an attempt to overthrow the democratically elected government and its President Daniel Ortega. During the period of the civil war the Contras killed an estimated 40,000 to 70,000 people and were responsible for the displacement of more than 150,000. CIA director Robert Gates vigourously defended the Contra scheme, arguing that avoiding US intervention in Nicaragua would be "totally to abandon the Monroe doctrine".

Critics of the Reagan administration's support for Britain in the Falklands War charge that the U.S. ignored the Monroe Doctrine in that instance (even though an American nation, Argentina, attacked the possession of an existing European power Britain that predated the Doctrine).

Present day

The Monroe Doctrine is still being applied. The United States plays a major role in the internal destinies of Latin American countries by means of economic or political pressure. Recently, the US is suspected of supporting a failed coup d'tat in Venezuela against the president of Venezuela, Hugo Chvez and is alleged to have helped overthrow the president of Haiti, Jean-Bertrand Aristide. It has also been alleged that the United States was behind his "kidnapping". The US also continues its embargo against Cuba which has been in place now for more than 40 years.

Further reading

  • Dexter Perkins, The Monroe Doctrine, 1823-1826 (1927)
  • Samuel Flagg Bemis, John Quincy Adams and the Foundations of American Foreign Policy (1949)
  • Ernest R. May, The Making of the Monroe Doctrine (1975).
  • Joel S. Poetker The Monroe Doctrine Columbus, Ohio: Charles E. Merrill Books, Inc, (1967).
  • Donald Dozer The Monroe Doctrine: Its Modern Significance New York: Knopf (1965).

See also


External link

fr:Doctrine Monroe he:דוקטרינת מונרו nl:Monroedoctrine ja:モンロー主義 sv:Monroedoktrinen zh:门罗主义


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