Monroe Doctrine

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The Monroe Doctrine was a US foreign policy regarding European countries in 1823. It stated that further efforts by European nations to colonize land or interfere with states in North or South America would be viewed as acts of aggression, requiring U.S. intervention.[1] At the same time, the doctrine noted that the United States would neither interfere with existing European colonies nor meddle in the internal concerns of European countries. The Doctrine was issued in 1823 at a time when nearly all Latin American colonies of Spain and Portugal had achieved or were at the point of gaining independence from the Portuguese and Spanish Empires; Peru consolidated its independence in 1824, and Bolivia would become independent in 1825, leaving only Cuba and Puerto Rico under Spanish rule. The United States, working in agreement with Britain, wanted to guarantee that no European power would move in.[2]:153–5

President James Monroe first stated the doctrine during his seventh annual State of the Union Address to Congress. The term "Monroe Doctrine" itself was coined in 1850.[3] By the end of the nineteenth century, Monroe's declaration was seen as a defining moment in the foreign policy of the United States and one of its longest-standing tenets. It would be invoked by many U.S. statesmen and several U.S. presidents, including Ulysses S. Grant, Theodore Roosevelt, John F. Kennedy, Ronald Reagan and many others.

The intent and impact of the Monroe Doctrine persisted with only minor variations for more than a century. Its primary objective was to free the newly independent colonies of Latin America from European intervention and avoid situations which could make the New World a battleground for the Old World powers, so that the United States could exert its own influence undisturbed. The doctrine asserted that the New World and the Old World were to remain distinctly separate spheres of influence, for they were composed of entirely separate and independent nations.[4]


It is believed that the Monroe Doctrine was inspired by the Napoleonic Wars. The U.S. government feared the victorious European powers that emerged from the Congress of Vienna (1814–1815) would revive the monarchical government. France had already agreed to restore the Spanish Monarchy in exchange for Cuba.[5] As the revolutionary Napoleonic Wars (1803–1815) ended, Prussia, Austria, and Russia formed the Holy Alliance to defend monarchism. In particular, the Holy Alliance authorized military incursions to re-establish Bourbon rule over Spain and its colonies, which were establishing their independence.[2]:153–5

The United Kingdom shared the general objective of the Monroe Doctrine, if from an obviously opposite standpoint and ultimate aim, and even wanted to declare a joint statement to keep other European powers from further colonizing the New World. The British Foreign Secretary George Canning wanted to keep the other European powers out of the New World fearing that its trade with the New World would be harmed if the other European powers further colonized it. In fact, the United Kingdom, for much of the early years of the Monroe Doctrine, was the sole nation enforcing it through the use of its navy (the United States still lacked sufficient naval capabilities to contribute to the effective enforcement of the doctrine as declared). In 1829, however, despite the UK's active acquiescence to the Monroe Doctrine and having contributed to its enforcement by keeping foreign powers out of the New World, rumors spread that a group of British merchants tried to strike a deal with Mexico offering $5,000,000 for Texas which would be held under the protection of the United Kingdom. Ultimately, nothing came of the British merchants' offer but the rumor was proved to be true—a clear violation of the Monroe Doctrine. Allowing Spain to re-establish control of its former colonies would have cut the United Kingdom off from its profitable trade with the region. For that reason, Canning proposed to the United States that they mutually declare and enforce a policy of separating the new world from the old. The United States resisted a joint statement because of the recent memory of the War of 1812, leading to the Monroe administration's unilateral statement.

However, the immediate provocation was the Russian Ukase of 1821[6] asserting rights to the Northwest and forbidding non-Russian ships from approaching the coast.[7][8]

The Doctrine[edit]

The full document of the Monroe Doctrine is long and couched in diplomatic language, but its essence is expressed in two key passages; the first is the introductory statement, which asserts that the New World is no longer subject to colonization by the European countries:[9]

The occasion has been judged proper for asserting, as a principle in which the rights and interests of the United States are involved, that the American continents, by the free and independent condition which they have assumed and maintain, are henceforth not to be considered as subjects for future colonization by any European powers.

The second key passage, a fuller statement of the Doctrine, is addressed to the "allied powers" of Europe (that is, the Holy Alliance); it clarifies that the United States remains neutral on existing European colonies in the Americas but is opposed to "interpositions" that that would create new colonies among the newly independent Spanish American republics:[1]

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.


International response[edit]

Because the U.S. lacked both a credible navy and army at the time, the doctrine was largely disregarded internationally.[4] The doctrine, however, met with tacit British approval, and the British Royal Navy mostly enforced it tactically, as part of the wider Pax Britannica, which enforced the neutrality of the seas. This was in line with the developing British policy of laissez-faire free trade against mercantilism. Fast-growing British industry was ever seeking outlets for its manufactured goods, and were the newly independent Latin American states to become Spanish colonies once more, British access to these markets would be cut off by Spanish mercantilist policy.[10]

The "Special Relationship"[edit]

The Monroe Doctrine was viewed as a precursor to the "Special Relationship" between the United States and the United Kingdom. Similar to President Woodrow Wilson's proposal of a League of Nations nearly 100 years later, Canning's proposal "defected ideas into the American decision-making process in such a manner that they imperceptibly seemed to be a part of Washington's own".[11]

Latin American reaction[edit]

The reaction in Latin America to the Monroe Doctrine was undeniably upbeat. John Crow, author of The Epic of Latin America, states, “Simón Bolívar himself, still in the midst of his last campaign against the Spaniards, Santander in Colombia, Rivadavia in Argentina, Victoria in Mexico—leaders of the emancipation movement everywhere— received Monroe's words with sincerest gratitude”.[12] Crow argues that the leaders of Latin America were realists. They knew that the President of the United States wielded very little power at the time, particularly without the backing of the British forces, and figured that the Monroe Doctrine was powerless if it stood alone against the Holy Alliance.[12] While they appreciated and praised their support in the north, they knew that their future of independence was in the hands of the British and their powerful navy. In 1826, Bolivar called upon his Congress of Panama to host the first "Pan-American" meeting. In the eyes of Bolivar and his men, the Monroe Doctrine was to become nothing more than a tool of national policy. According to Crow, "It was not meant to be, and was never intended to be a charter for concerted hemispheric action".[12]

Post-Bolivar events[edit]

In 1836, the United States government objected to the United Kingdom's alliance with the newly created Republic of Texas on the principle of the Monroe Doctrine. 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, often termed as Manifest Destiny.

In 1842, U.S. President John Tyler applied the Monroe Doctrine to Hawaii, told Britain not to interfere there, and began the process of annexing Hawaii to the United States.

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, Spain ceded to the United States for the sum of $20 million, Puerto Rico, the Philippines, Guam, and Cuba (until granted formal independence from the US in 1902).

In 1862, French forces under Napoleon III invaded and conquered Mexico, giving the country to Austrian-born Emperor Maximilian. Americans proclaimed this as a violation of the doctrine, but were unable to intervene because of the American Civil War. This marked the first time the Monroe Doctrine was widely referred to as a "doctrine." After the civil war came to an end, the United States stationed troops on the Rio Grande in hopes of pressuring the French government to end its occupation. Mexican nationalists eventually captured the Emperor and executed him, reasserting Mexico's independence.

In the 1870s, President Ulysses S. Grant and his Secretary of State Hamilton Fish endeavored to replace European influence in Latin America with that of the United States. Part of their efforts involved expanding the Monroe Doctrine by stating "hereafter no territory on this continent [referring to Central and South America] shall be regarded as subject to transfer to a European power."[2]:259 Grant invoked the Monroe Doctrine when his administration controversially attempted to annex the Dominican Republic in 1870.[13]

1895 saw the eruption of the Venezuela Crisis of 1895, "one of the most momentous episodes in the history of Anglo-American relations in general and of Anglo-American rivalries in Latin America in particular."[14] Venezuela sought to involve the US in a territorial dispute with Britain over Guayana Esequiba, and hired former US ambassador William L. Scruggs to argue that British behaviour over the issue violated the Monroe Doctrine. President Grover Cleveland through his Secretary of State, Richard Olney cited the Doctrine in 1895, threatening strong action against the United Kingdom if the British failed to arbitrate their dispute with Venezuela. In a July 20, 1895 note to Britain, Olney stated, “The United States is practically sovereign on this continent, and its fiat is law upon the subjects to which it confines its interposition.”[2]:307 British Prime Minister Lord Salisbury took strong exception to the American language. The United States objected to a British proposal for a joint meeting to clarify the scope of the Monroe Doctrine. Historian George Herring wrote that by failing to pursue the issue further the British “tacitly conceded the U.S. definition of the Monroe Doctrine and its hegemony in the hemisphere.”[2]:307–8

The "Big Brother"[edit]

The "Big Brother" policy was an extension of the Monroe Doctrine formulated by James G. Blaine in the 1880s that aimed to rally Latin American nations behind US leadership and to open their markets to US traders. Blaine served as Secretary of State in 1881 in the cabinet of President James A. Garfield and again from 1889 to 1892 in the cabinet of President Benjamin Harrison. As a part of the policy, Blaine arranged and led the First International Conference of American States in 1889.[15]

The "Roosevelt Corollary"[edit]

Main article: Roosevelt Corollary
Image of President Theodore Roosevelt.
President Theodore Roosevelt, author of the Roosevelt Corollary.

The doctrine's authors, chiefly future-President and then secretary-of-state John Quincy Adams, saw it as a proclamation by the United States of moral opposition to colonialism, but it has subsequently been re-interpreted and applied in a variety of instances. As the United States began to emerge as a world power, the Monroe Doctrine came to define a recognized sphere of control that few dared to challenge.[4]

Before becoming president, Theodore Roosevelt had proclaimed the rationale of the Monroe Doctrine in supporting intervention in the Spanish colony of Cuba in 1898.

In Argentine foreign policy, the Drago Doctrine was announced on December 29, 1902 by the Foreign Minister of Argentina, Luis María Drago. This was a response to the actions of Britain, Germany, and Italy during the Venezuela Crisis of 1902–1903, in which they had blockaded and shelled Venezuela's ports in answer to its massive debt, acquired under regimes previous to president Cipriano Castro. Drago set forth the policy that no European power could use force against an American nation to collect debt. President Theodore Roosevelt rejected this as an extension of the Monroe Doctrine, declaring, "We do not guarantee any state against punishment if it misconducts itself".[2]:370

Instead, Roosevelt added the Roosevelt Corollary to the Monroe Doctrine in 1904, asserting the right of the United States to intervene in Latin America in cases of "flagrant and chronic wrongdoing by a Latin American Nation", to preempt intervention by European creditors.[16][4][2]:371

The Roosevelt Corollary was invoked to intervene militarily in Latin America to stop the spread of European influence.[16] It was the most significant amendment to the original doctrine and was widely opposed by critics, who argued that the Monroe Doctrine was originally meant to stop European influence in the Americas.[4] They argued that the Corollary simply asserted U.S. domination in that area, essentially making them a "hemispheric policeman."[17]

The Clark Memorandum[edit]

In 1928, the Clark Memorandum was released, concluding that the United States need not invoke the Monroe Doctrine as a defense of its interventions in Latin America. The Memorandum argued that the United States had a self-evident right of self-defense, and that this was all that was needed to justify certain actions. The policy was announced to the public in 1930.

In 1954, Secretary of State John Foster Dulles invoked the Monroe Doctrine at the Tenth Pan-American Conference in Caracas, denouncing the intervention of Soviet Communism in Guatemala. This was used to justify Operation PBSUCCESS that deposed the democratically elected President Jacobo Árbenz and installed the military regime of Carlos Castillo Armas, the first in a series of military dictators in the country.

U.S. President John F. Kennedy said at an August 29, 1962 news conference:

The Monroe Doctrine means what it has meant since President Monroe and John Quincy Adams enunciated it, and that is that we would oppose a foreign power extending its power to the Western Hemisphere [sic], and that is why we oppose what is happening in Cuba today. That is why we have cut off our trade. That is why we worked in the OAS and in other ways to isolate the Communist menace in Cuba. That is why we will continue to give a good deal of our effort and attention to it.[18]

Cold War[edit]

During the Cold War, the Monroe Doctrine was applied to Latin America by the framers of U.S. foreign policy.[19] When the Cuban Revolution (1953-1959) established a Communist government with ties to the Soviet Union, after trying to establish fruitful relations with the U.S., 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.[20] 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 left who argued that the Communist threat and Soviet influence in Latin America was greatly exaggerated.[who?]

In the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962, President John F. Kennedy cited the Monroe Doctrine as a basis for America's "eyeball-to-eyeball" confrontation with the Soviet Union that had embarked on a campaign to install ballistic missiles on Cuban soil.[21]

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 U.S. Central Intelligence Agency had been covertly training "Contra" guerrilla soldiers in Honduras in an attempt to destabilize and overthrow the Sandinista revolutionary government of Nicaragua and its President, Daniel Ortega. CIA director Robert Gates vigorously defended the Contra operation, arguing that avoiding U.S. intervention in Nicaragua would be "totally to abandon the Monroe doctrine".[22]

The Monroe Doctrine is often related with the idea of American isolationism – the idea that America keeps to itself and does not get involved with other countries. However, According to historian Hilde Restad and other dissenters from the "old paradigm," America has never been isolationist. It was around the Presidency of James K. Polk that the idea of Manifest Destiny in relation to the Monroe Doctrine developed. Polk attached Manifest Destiny to the Monroe Doctrine and used it to support expansion westward. People do not tend to commonly think of western expansion as taking foreign lands, however, the land was not America's and therefore by definition was foreign. Polk was able to keep the Europeans out of America under the Monroe Doctrine while he could grab lands westward with less competition. Land expansion westward was interventionist, not isolationist.[citation needed]

The Kerry Doctrine[edit]

President Barack Obama's Secretary of State John Kerry told the Organization of American States in November 2013 that the Monroe Doctrine was dead.[23] Several commentators have noted that Kerry's call for a mutual partnership with the other countries in the Americas was more in keeping with Monroe's initial message than with the policies that had been enacted long after Monroe's death.[24]


Critics of the Monroe Doctrine, such as Noam Chomsky,[25] argue that in practice the Monroe Doctrine has functioned as a declaration of hegemony and a right of unilateral intervention over the Americas: a sphere of influence “to leave America for the Americans” that would grow stronger with the Roosevelt Corollary. Chomsky points to the work of filibusters, most notably William Walker, who tried to conquer and annex various countries in Latin America.[26] Walker acted on his own in defiance of official U.S. Government opposition.


  1. ^ a b "The Monroe Doctrine (1823)". Basic Readings in U.S. Democracy. United States Department of State. Archived from the original on January 8, 2012. 
  2. ^ a b c d e f g Herring, George C. (2008). From Colony to Superpower: U.S. Foreign Relations Since 1776. New York: Oxford University Press. ISBN 9780195078220. 
  3. ^ "Monroe Doctrine". Oxford English Dictionary (3rd ed.). 2002. 
  4. ^ a b c d e New Encyclopedia Britannica 8 (15th ed.). Encyclopedia Britannica. p. 269. ISBN 1-59339-292-3. 
  5. ^ Boyer, Paul S., ed. (2006). The Oxford Companion to United States History. Oxford: Oxford University Press. p. 514. ISBN 978-0-19-508209-8. 
  6. ^ For the text of the Ukase of 1821, see: "Imperial Russian Edicts Relating to the Russian–American Company". Fur-Seal Arbitration: Appendix to the Case of the United States Before the Tribunal of Arbitration to Convene at Paris Under the Provisions of the Treaty Between the United States of America and Great Britain, Concluded February 29, 1892. Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office. 1892. p. 16. 
  7. ^ Kennedy, David M.; Cohen, Lizabeth; Bailey, Thomas Andrew (2008). The American Pageant: A History of the Republic, Volume I. Cengage Learning. p. 267. ISBN 9780547166599. 
  8. ^ Miller, Robert J.; Furse, Elizabeth (2006). Native America, Discovered and Conquered: Thomas Jefferson, Lewis & Clark, and Manifest Destiny. Praeger. p. 136. ISBN 9780275990114. 
  9. ^ Monroe, James. "The Monroe Doctrine". U.S. Department of State. Retrieved November 2, 2011. 
  10. ^ Hobson, Rolf. Imperialism at Sea 163. Brill Academic Publishers. p. 63. ISBN 978-0-391-04105-9. Retrieved October 12, 2009. 
  11. ^ Kissinger, Henry A. (1994). Diplomacy. New York: Simon & Schuster. p. 223. ISBN 9780671659912. 
  12. ^ a b c Crow, John A. (1992). "Areil and Caliban". The Epic of Latin America (4th ed.). Berkeley: University of California Press. p. 676. ISBN 0-520-07723-7. 
  13. ^ Ulysses S. Grant (April 5, 1871), Special Message
  14. ^ Humphreys, R. A. (1967). "Anglo-American Rivalries and the Venezuela Crisis of 1895: Presidential Address to the Royal Historical Society December 10, 1966". Transactions of the Royal Historical Society 17. pp. 131–164.  Missing or empty |title= (help)
  15. ^ Lens, Sidney; Zinn, Howard (2003). The Forging of the American Empire: From the Revolution to Vietnam, a History of U.S. Imperialism. Human Security Series (Illustrated ed.). Pluto Press. p. 464. ISBN 0-7453-2100-3. 
  16. ^ a b Roosevelt, Theodore (December 6, 1904). "State of the Union Address". Retrieved December 20, 2008. 
  17. ^ Lerner, Adrienne Wilmoth (2004). "Monroe Doctrine". Encyclopedia of Espionage, Intelligence, and Security. 
  18. ^ "352 - The President's News Conference August 29, 1962 response to Q[21.]". Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project. 
  19. ^ Dominguez, Jorge (1999). "US–Latin American Relations During the Cold War and its Aftermath". The United States and Latin America: The New Agenda. Institute of Latin American Studies and the David Rockefeller Center for Latin Americas Studies. p. 12. Retrieved August 4, 2010. 
  20. ^ "Study Prepared in Response to National Security Study Memorandum 15". NSC–IG/ARA. July 5, 1969. Retrieved August 4, 2010. 
  21. ^ "The Durable Doctrine". Time. September 21, 1962. Retrieved July 15, 2009. 
  22. ^ Smith, Gaddis (1995). The Last Years of the Monroe Doctrine, 1945–1993. New York: Hill & Wang. p. 201. ISBN 978-0-8090-1568-9. 
  23. ^ Johnson, Keith (November 18, 2013). "Kerry Makes It Official: ‘Era of Monroe Doctrine Is Over’". Wall Street Journal. 
  24. ^ Keck, Zachary (November 21, 2013). "The US Renounces the Monroe Doctrine?". The Diplomat. Retrieved November 28, 2013. 
  25. ^ Chomsky, Noam (2004). Hegemony Or Survival. Henry Holt. pp. 63–64. ISBN 978-0-8050-7688-2. Retrieved December 20, 2008. 
  26. ^ Chomsky, Noam. "Assessing Humanitarian Intent". The New Military Humanism: Lessons from Kosovo, 1999. p. 41. ISBN 0-7453-1633-6. 

Further reading[edit]

  • "Present Status of the Monroe Doctrine". Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science 54: 1–129. 1914. ISSN 0002-7162. JSTOR i242639.  14 articles by experts
  • Bemis, Samuel Flagg. John Quincy Adams and the Foundations of American Foreign Policy (1949)
  • Dozer, Donald (1965). The Monroe Doctrine: Its Modern Significance. New York: Knopf. 
  • Lawson, Leonard Axel (1922). The Relation of British Policy to the Declaration of the Monroe Doctrine. Columbia University. 
  • May, Ernest R. (1975). The Making of the Monroe Doctrine. Harvard University Press. 
  • Meiertöns, Heiko (2010). The Doctrines of US Security Policy: An Evaluation under International Law. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 978-0-521-76648-7. 
  • Merk, Frederick (1966). The Monroe Doctrine and American Expansionism, 1843–1849. 
  • Murphy, Gretchen (2005). Hemispheric Imaginings: The Monroe Doctrine and Narratives of U.S. Empire. Duke University Press.  Examines the cultural context of the doctrine.
  • Perkins, Dexter (1927). The Monroe Doctrine, 1823–1826.  3 vols.
  • Sexton, Jay (2011). The Monroe Doctrine: Empire and Nation in Nineteenth-Century America. Hill & Wang.  290 pages; competing and evolving conceptions of the doctrine after 1823.


  • "Monroe Doctrine". Retrieved December 2, 2002.  Most of the material was originally copied from this public domain source.
  • "Monroe Doctrine". The Columbia Encyclopedia (6th ed.). 2008.  Missing or empty |title= (help)
  • "Monroe Doctrine". The Encyclopædia Britannica (15th ed.). 1974.  Missing or empty |title= (help)
  • "Monroe Doctrine". The New Encyclopædia Britannica 8 (15th ed.). 1993.  Missing or empty |title= (help)

External links[edit]