1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Monroe Doctrine

MONROE DOCTRINE. That the United States should avoid entangling itself in the politics of Europe was a policy recommended by Washington. The counterpart of this, that European powers should be prevented from taking a controlling share in the politics of the American continent, grew gradually as the importance and influence of the United States increased. This American attitude towards the European powers became crystallized in what is known as the Monroe Doctrine, since it was first announced officially in a concrete form, though not originated, by President Monroe. His declaration was the result of American apprehension that the combination of European powers known as the Holy Alliance would interfere in South America to restore the Spanish colonies, which had asserted their independence, to the crown of Spain. To meet and check this movement, in his message to Congress on the 2nd of December 1823, Monroe made the following pronouncement: —

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 preparations for our defence. 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. . . . We owe it, therefore, to candour, 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 towards the United States. . . . 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 any one 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.

Earlier in the same message, while discussing negotiations for the settlement of the respective claims of Russia, Great Britain, and the United States in the north-west, Monroe also said: —

In the discussion to which this interest has given rise and 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.

With this message Great Britain was in hearty agreement. Indeed it was Canning's policy, summed up three years later by his famous reference to the necessity of calling the New World into existence to restore the balance of the Old.

This announcement of policy, it will be noticed, involved, firstly, a declaration aimed at foreign intervention in the political affairs of independent American states; secondly, a warning against future European colonization on the American continents. The first was avowedly based on the right of self-defence; it was a policy, not a law; it was not to constrain the minor republics, but to protect them. The second, as explained by John Quincy Adams, was intended to state the fact that the American continent was occupied by contiguous states, leaving no room for further colonization and introduction of foreign sovereignty. No legislative sanction was given to Monroe's statement of policy at the time, and in fact none was needed, for the mere announcement served to prevent foreign action in South America. It has never formed part of the body of International Law, being unilateral. Nor has the United States bound itself by compact with the other republics of the American continent to protect them from European aggression. Thus it hesitated to send delegates to the Panama Congress in 1826, and took no part in any congress with the Latin American states until 1889.

Nevertheless, on several occasions since its conception the Monroe Doctrine has been enforced. Its spirit permeated the Clayton-Bulwer Treaty, in which Great Britain and the United States, in 1850, mutually renounced the right of colonizing, fortifying or occupying any porton of Central America. It was enforced against Maximilian, who, by French intervention in Mexico, had been made emperor, and until the close of the American Civil War had perforce been left undisturbed. Its applicability was urged when de Lesseps's Panama Canal was thought possible of completion. Both Cuba and the Hawaiian Islands at various periods have felt its influence, the general, though not consistent policy of the United States being, while disclaiming the desire of annexation itself, to deny the right of any European power (except Spain in Cuba's case, until 1898) to control them. And it was applied to the claims of British Guiana to Venezuelan territory by President Cleveland's message in 1895, which proposed a commission to settle the boundary and threatened war if its line were not accepted. This commission never reported, but the disputants finally agreed to arbitrate, and the British claim was in the main upheld.

Between 1823 and 1895 the development and enlargement of this policy on the part of the United States was very striking. To prevent the overthrow of an independent republic is one thing; to interfere in the settlement of a boundary dispute between two states, also on the ground of self-defence, is quite another. Yet Cleveland's doctrine met with general acceptance, and in fact it had been in a sense anticipated by President Grant, who, in urging the annexation of San Domingo upon the United States Senate in 1870, used this language: —

The Doctrine promulgated by President Monroe has been adhered to by all political parties, and I now deem it proper to assert the equally important principle that hereafter no territory on this continent shall be regarded as subject of transfer to a European power.

Never having been formulated as law or in exact language, the Monroe Doctrine has meant different things to different persons at different times. It has become deeply rooted in the American heart, and a permanent part of the foreign policy of the United States. It tends to change into the principle that every portion of the American continent must be free from European control. It is still coupled, however, with the converse principle that America takes no part in European politics, as the disclaimer of the American delegates to the first Peace Conference at the Hague proved.

See Tucker's Monroe Doctrine; Gilman's Life of Monroe; Wharton's International Law Digest (title, “Monroe Doctrine”); Snow's American Diplomacy; also an article by Sir Frederick Pollock in the Nineteenth Century and After (1902).

(T. S. W.)