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The Encyclopedia Americana (1920)/Monroe Doctrine, The

< The Encyclopedia Americana (1920)

MONROE DOCTRINE, The. The term “Monroe Doctrine” has been popularly used for a variety of principles intended to explain or to define the policy of the United States toward Latin-American countries. The same words have had very different meanings at different periods of our history, but are now generally used to declare that it is contrary to the interest of the United States that any European powers should establish new settlements or colonies in any part of the Americas, or should exercise preponderant influence in Latin America. The whole subject may best be taken up under the following topics: (1) Conditions of the doctrine from 1775 to 1823. (2) Monroe's Doctrine as stated in his message of 1823 and applied down to 1845. (3) Theories as to Latin America put forward by Presidents and Secretaries of State from 1845 to 1900. (4) The modern doctrine of “the paramount interest” of the United States in American affairs, as developed since 1901. (5) The present status of the doctrine in our relations to European, Asiatic and American powers.

I. Conditions of the Doctrine (1775-1823). — The prime reason for the Monroe Doctrine was the rise of a new kind of nation in the western hemisphere. Down to the American Revolution all the occupied parts of both continents and the Caribbean basin were simply outlying parts of European countries and shared in the religion, institutions, law, foreign policy and wares of their mother countries. They were in the same situation as Africa at the present time, a group of dependencies, incapable of direct influence upon the world at large.

The Revolution, with its theories of the right of every people to choose their own government, resulted in the creation of the first American state. The new United States had no territory, claims or ambitions outside of the continent of North America. During the French Revolution and Napoleonic wars it stood aside as a neutral and insisted on several new principles of neutral rights in trade and citizenship. Europe quickly saw that this example was likely to be followed elsewhere and was not surprised when in 1806 the colonies of Spain and Portugal in the New World began to drop off. In 15 years the process was completed, for by 1821 not a Spanish colony remained loyal except Cuba and Porto Rico; and Brazil was forever lost to Portugal.

These new communities appealed to the example of the United States, imitated its government and expected its friendship. By 1823 there appeared on the map the independent States of Mexico, Colombia, Peru, Chile, La Plata, Haiti, Paraguay and Brazil. In the West Indies and on the north coast of South America small colonies remained to Great Britain, France, Holland, Sweden and Denmark. These, with Canada and the British plantation of Belize, were the only American colonies remaining to Europe. America boasted no longer a single star of liberty, but a brilliant constellation of independent republics.

The people of the United States felt a natural and deep interest in what seemed a repetition of their own experience of breaking away from a mastering European government They welcomed the liberal trade opened up to them in regions where for centuries Spain had restricted communication. They enjoyed the sensation of being the pioneers and leaders in what they hoped was a world movement in democracy.

The new states at once demanded recognition by their elder sister. In 1822 President Monroe, under powerful pressure from Henry Clay and other statesmen, received authority to recognize the new countries, and soon exchanged ministers with Colombia, Chile, Mexico, Brazil and La Plata. This step gave the certificate of the American Republic to the new freedom of her neighbors. It committed the United States to the principle that they were self-sustaining, self-governing, genuinely independent and entirely separated from their former European connections. They were too confidently accepted as equal sister states, a part of a free America.

II. Monroe's Original Doctrine (1823-1826). — This feeling of confidence in the continuance of the new governments received a severe shock when the combination of central European powers, commonly called the Holy Alliance (q.v.), after crushing several attempts at liberal government in Europe, turned its attention to Spain and to the Spanish colonies. A French army, with the mandate of the Holy Alliance, in 1823 overran Spain and restored the royal despot to power. The Bourbon monarch naturally asked for the application to these revolted colonies of this principle of supporting the legitimate sovereign. Metternich, the grand master of the Alliance, thought well of the idea, and it was discussed at the Congress of Verona of 1822. The United States feared that France would undertake this commission also, and would claim Cuba as the price of the service to Spain, thereby securing a broader foothold in America and gaining a rich island almost overlooking the American coast. The tension was increased by the attitude of Russia on the northwest Pacific Coast, where the tsar claimed exclusive ownership of the mainland and islands as far south as the 51st parallel by an imperial ukase dated 4 Sept. 1821. The Russians also asserted the right to keep the vessels of other powers out of the north Pacific Ocean.

The United States was thus pressed in two directions by what looked like an attempt of several European powers to come in and occupy the territories wrested from Spain and the unsettled part of North America. For many years the government had been practising the “Policy of Isolation,” which was early laid down by Washington, Hamilton, Jefferson, John Adams and other statesmen. Its purport was that the United States had no share in European political combinations, was not a party to European wars and would pursue the policy of developing itself as an American state. From this policy it was an easy transition to the complementary doctrine that European powers ought not to interfere in American affairs.

The time seemed to have come in 1823 for some sort of action that would head off the threatened invasion of Latin America by third parties in behalf of Spain. Something was also needed to check the Russian advance into North America; and the opportunity was convenient for expressing the undying love of Americans for the popular government that they had chosen. At this moment George Canning, Foreign Minister of Great Britain, stepped into the controversy. England was interested in unrestricted trade with the Spanish-American countries and was extremely opposed to the constricting policy of the Holy Alliance, both in Europe and America. Hence, in August and September 1823. Canning four times proposed to Richard Rush, our Minister in London, that the United States join England in a declaration against intervention, and Monroe was inclined to accept the proposal. After long Cabinet discussions John Quincy Adams, Secretary of State, convinced the President that it would be better to make an independent declaration. Adams' papers show that he not only suggested but formulated most of the important presidential message of 2 Dec 1823, several passages in which, construed together, constitute the original and genuine Monroe Doctrine.

The principal points in this declaration, which is the original form of the Monroe Doctrine, are substantially as follows: (1) The two spheres. The whole statement is based upon the theory that there were two natural spheres of world influence, separated by a meridian drawn through the Atlantic Ocean; and that the European and the American regions had two different sets of political and commercial interests. Since the United States took no part in the affairs of the European sphere it was common sense that European powers should keep out of American affairs. (2) Intervention. The message assumed that the Latin-American states were permanently independent and capable of conducting civilized governments; and it explicitly and strongly protested against “any interposition for the purpose of oppressing them, or controlling in any other manner their destiny, by any European power.” (3) Colonization. “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 an European powers.” This was directed against Russia but had a general bearing and has often been cited as applying to all European powers. (4) Political system. Monroe held that it would be hostile and dangerous to the United States if “the allied powers should extend their political system to any portion of either continent.” This clause plainly refers to the mutual assistance given by members of the Holy Alliance; but history shows that Adams and Monroe both meant to protest against the principles of absolutism in government — and were replying to a reference to the European “political system” in a recent Russian state paper. (5) Protection of the United States. The fundamental reason for setting forth the principles just stated was not America's interest in the Latin Americans but in the United States. Many statesmen then felt an apprehension that, after having subdued the Latin Americans in the South, the Holy Alliance might move its forces northward. (6) Geographical extent. The doctrine in terms excepts from its application the then existing European colonies, which meant Canada, Cuba, Porto Rico, the English and French West India islands and the three South American plantations. From that day to about the time of the Spanish War of 1898 there was little objection to the continuance of the old colonies. (7) Peace. Clearly the Monroe Doctrine was intended to keep the peace — to prevent wars from breaking out in other parts of America and to avoid dangers to our own republic. In that respect the doctrine has been an eminent success. With the exception of the French invasion of Mexico in 1861, no serious or devastating wars have taken place between Latin-American and European countries.

The original Monroe Doctrine was at once effective. Canning was so much interested in the result that he claimed it for himself and said (21 Dec. 1826): “I looked another way . . . I sought for compensation in another hemisphere. . . . I called the new world into existence to redress the balance of the old.” In reality it was John Quincy Adams who struck out the policy and clothed it in a set of appropriate phrases for his country. European intervention was abandoned; but when our Latin-American neighbors asked for a more distinct promise of military protection, at the Panama Congress of 1826, the United States took the ground that our neighbors must protect themselves in case of a fight with European powers; that the Monroe Doctrine was only a pledge by the United States to itself.

III. Enunciations (1845-1900). — In the 75 years from 1826 to 1900 a variety of official statements were made on Latin America by Presidents, Secretaries of State and other statesmen; and from time to time new questions were raised as to the application of the Monroe Doctrine to new circumstances. Out of these may be selected the following, as the principle attempts to state and apply the doctrine. (1) Van Buren, Webster and other statesmen, from 1829 to 1843, gave public notice that the United States would not permit the transfer of Cuba to any other European power; an extension of the doctrine to prevent the transfer of colonies from one European power to another. (2) President Polk in 1845 and 1848 favored the annexation of parts of America which might be in danger of European dominion. This statement was backed up by the Mexican War, as a practical demonstration that the United States was not bound by the Monroe Doctrine to refrain from enlarging her territory at the expense of Latin-American states. (3) In the disputes over the Clayton-Bulwer Treaty in the fifties, the principle of the Monroe Doctrine was invoked against the British colony in Honduras, on the ground that it was an extension of European influence. (4) Secretary Seward, undoubtedly in accord with President Lincoln, from 1861 to 1865 warned the French not to force a foreign empire upon unwilling Mexicans, and in 1865 Seward gave formal notice that the French must leave Mexico, which was backed up by a display of military force on the border. Though Seward avoided the term Monroe Doctrine, he applied its principles very effectively. (5) President Grant in 1869 repeated Polk's warning by announcing that no territory in America could be transferred to any European power, whether the inhabitants were willing or unwilling. (6) Secretary Fish tn 1870 proposed that the United States should take the lead in a general political and commercial policy for the republics of America. This is the first distinct statement of a policy of leadership by the United States, which had undeniably been in the mind of John Quincy Adams. (7) Secretary Evarts in 1880 was the first American statesman to see the relation of the Isthmus Canal to the Monroe Doctrine. He claimed “paramount interest” for the United States in any land or water communication across the American isthmus. President Hayes added the significant declaration that any inter-oceanic canal would be “virtually a part of the coast line of the United States.” (8) Secretary Blaine in 1881 made the position of the United States more precise by stating that for any European power to share in the construction and control of the canal would be an introduction of the European political system. (9) Secretary Blaine drafted for the Panama Congress of 1889 the statement that the “principle of conquest” should not be considered as admissible under American public law. This was intended to apply to the wars between Latin-American powers, and also to foreign invasion. (10) Secretary Olney in 1895 went to the farthest point in a protest addressed to Great Britain, in relation to a boundary dispute between that power and Venezuela. He stated that the Monroe Doctrine “has been the accepted public law in this country ever since its promulgation”; he thought “any permanent political union between an European and an American state unnatural and inexpedient”; he asserted that “to-day the United States is practically sovereign on this continent and its fiat is law upon the subjects to which it confines its interposition.” President Cleveland restated the same principle in the words “The Monroe Doctrine finds its recognition in those principles of international law which are based upon the theory that every nation shall have its rights protected and its just claims enforced.”

This series of utterances, along with others of a similar tenor, clearly show a steady growth of responsibility and authority in American affairs. The Panama Canal brought out many rival interests between the United States and European powers, and the State Department at Washington insisted that it was for this government and no other to decide where, how and when the canal should be constructed. Secretary Olney and President Cleveland pushed the doctrine far beyond any previous statement. Their doctrine was certainly not the original Monroe Doctrine, for it really laid down the new principle that Great Britain, which for nearly three centuries had been one of the leading American powers, was no longer to exercise influence on Central and South America. Olney's farther expressions, if carried to their logical outcome, would justify the United States in doing anything and taking anything in North or South America that seemed desirable, under penalty of the hostilities at which President Cleveland distinctly hinted.

IV. Modern Doctrines (1901-19). — So far as the relation of Great Britain to American affairs was concerned the Olney Doctrine was successful, for Great Britain took the lesson to heart, accepted the arbitration with Venezuela which was thrust upon her, cheerfully accepted the finding of the arbitrators (which were almost entirely in her favor) and prepared to give up that joint control of the Canal which was embodied in the Clayton-Bulwer Treaty of 1850. During the Spanish War of 1898, Great Britain made it clear that other European powers must not interfere with the American policy of the United States. The next step was for Great Britain in the first Hay-Pauncefote Treaty of 1900 freely and without consideration to give up the joint control over isthmus transit. The Senate insisted that there should be a formal abrogation of the Clayton-Bulwer Treaty and Great Britain gave way and accepted the second Hay-Pauncefote Treaty of 1901, by which the United States was left free to control any isthmus canal that might be constructed and to “neutralize” it in her own way.

When England was fairly out of the way, Germany loomed up on the horizon. That power for some years had been looking about the world for an opportunity to plant colonies, and was supposed to have a special interest in South America. President Roosevelt took up this question and in 1902 faced the issue of intervention by European powers in Venezuela. This was one of the Latin-American states which objected to foreigners coming in and occupying a privileged status superior to that of natives, by calling on their home governments to press claims for the fulfilment of contract and for damages for personal injuries.

A combination was made between Germany, Great Britain and Italy which prepared to land forces on the Venezuelan coast and hold part of the country till the claims of the subjects of those countries were satisfied. The great Brazilian jurist, Calvo, had laid down what was known as the Calvo Doctrine, to the effect that foreign governments ought not to use even diplomatic methods in behalf of private claims. Drago, Foreign Minister of the Argentine Republic, during the Venezuelan crisis proposed a modification, commonly called the Drago Doctrine (q.v.), which was to the effect that no intervention ought to be allowed to enforce the obligation of contracts, whether made by individuals or by the government. This principle was accepted by President Roosevelt as reasonable and was afterward incorporated into The Hague Conventions of 1907.

When it came to the actual dispatch of the fleets, President Roosevelt demanded from the German government a point blank statement that they would not land or occupy Venezuelan territory. The promise was reluctantly given and was kept. The squadron therefore contented itself with blockades and captures of vessels on the coast and mild bombardments. The Venezuelans finally agreed to arbitrate and the fleets were withdrawn.

The episode led the mind of President Roosevelt to consider what ought to be done in cases where Latin-American countries went beyond the negative refusal to execute contracts and advanced to attacks on the persons, property or diplomatic representatives of a foreign country. He, therefore, in various public speeches and messages declared that the Monroe Doctrine was intended to be one of peace, and that to keep the peace the United States might be forced in flagrant cases “to the exercise of an international police power.” This is the so-called “policy of the Big Stick,” and President Roosevelt and his successors proceeded to apply it in various cases.

(1) In 1902, Cuba which had been released from Spain by the Spanish War, was obliged to consent to the Platt Amendment, to the effect that the nominally independent state must not incur any obligations to foreign countries which would interfere with the interests of the United States. This virtually made Cuba a protectorate of the United States. (2) In 1903 the infant republic of Panama ceded the canal strip to the United States and entered into a treaty which left it also a dependency. (3) In 1905 President Roosevelt made an agreement with the government of the Dominican Republic to administer its customs, setting apart a portion of the proceeds for the public debt service. Santo Domingo thus ceased to be a really independent country. (4) In 1911 President Taft made a similar arrangement with Nicaragua. (5) In 1915 Haiti entered into a financial arrangement which virtually placed it under United States control and provided for an American receivership of customs.

In every instance the reason for this assumption or acceptance of authority over Latin-American republics was based upon the belief that otherwise some foreign country would come in and interfere with American interests and threaten the future of the country affected. That is, the United States acquired six protectorates lest some European power might have cause to descend upon them by armed force. A supposed attempt of Japan in 1912 to secure a footing at Magdalena Bay on the west coast of Mexico led to the adoption by the Senate of a resolution introduced by Senator Lodge against such occupation for naval or military purposes. Ex-Secretary Root in 1914 attempted to show that the Monroe Doctrine did not require the United States to exercise a domination over its neighbors. President Wilson also in public statements and addresses in 1913 disclaimed any ambition of the United States to extend its territory in America. The only way to reconcile these statements with the facts of our protectorates is to admit that the Monroe Doctrine is a check to the territorial greed of European powers but does not restrain the United States from bringing portions of Latin America under her influence.

V. Present Status. — The war of 1898, including the annexation of the Philippine Islands by the United States, was a frank admission that there were no longer two spheres in modern world politics. Eastern Asia is honeycombed with European settlements and interests, and the occupation by the United States, of the Philippine Islands, near China, makes us near neighbors of Russia, France and Great Britain. On the other side, at the conference of Algeciras in 1906, the United States accepted membership on the pressing invitation of the German emperor and had the determining voice in the result. It was therefore, no longer possible for our government to insist that European powers must keep out of America because we keep out of European affairs. The Japanese have been thought to have some designs on the western coast of North or South America which would be contrary to the Monroe Doctrine. At the other extreme was the danger, which for a time was feared, of German occupation of a part of Brazil or other South American countries. Should either danger ever occur the Monroe Doctrine would presumably become active.

As respects the Latin Americans themselves, they have always welcomed whatever protection the declarations and influence of their powerful neighbor might give against foreign agression; but many of them fear that the United States will eventually seek extensive annexations to the southward. The taking over of the six protectorates and the great interest of the United States in the Mexican question heighten that apprehension. The growth and steadiness of the ABC powers — Argentine, Brazil and Chile, — with about half the total Latin-American population, give a more positive basis for permanent alliances and relations. It has been suggested that the Monroe Doctrine will naturally develop into some kind of Pan-American Union (q.v.) in which the United States will be the most populous and strongest member of a great American federation. The difficulties in the way of a permanent union between a country of 100,000,000 and 20 other countries which together aggregate 75,000,000 are hard to surmount.

The question of the right of a nation to exercise special authority over its neighborhood was raised in another form by the steady growth of Japanese power in Eastern Asia. On 30 Nov. 1908, by the Root-Takahira agreement, the United States recognized this special interest; and in November 1917, in the Lansing-Ishii agreement, went still farther in approving practically the doctrine of special interest, it being tacitly understood that Japan would in like manner respect the American Monroe Doctrine.

The negotiations of 1919 at the end of the Great War seemed for a time likely to weaken the Monroe Doctrine by substituting a system of world peace organization which would take the place of the earlier method, inasmuch as the League of Peace provided a machinery for hearing complaints and settling controversies such as were likely to arise between Latin American and European powers. A strong protest was made in public discussions on the subject in the United States. In the final form the covenant of the League of Nations included the following limitation: “The covenant does not affect the validity of international engagements, such as treaties of arbitration or regional understandings like the Monroe Doctrine, for securing the maintenance of peace.”

This clause would seem to be a guarantee of the special relation of the United States to Latin America; and so far as ratified by those States would bind them to accept the doctrine as a “regional understanding.” It is likewise a reaffirmation of the Japanese Monroe Doctrine, and is likely to be claimed in support of spheres of interest in the Mediterranean, Asia and Africa. Acceptance of the treaty by most world nations is therefore an assertion of the right of powerful nations in various parts of the earth to exercise a general protection over groups of small or weak powers, and at the same time to exclude external powers from interfering with the leadership of the strongest power in such a combination.

Bibliography. — Adams, J. Q., ‘Memoirs’ (Vol. VI, 163; 177-179; 186-216); Blakeslee, W., ‘Latin America’ (1914); Channing, Hart and Turner, ‘Guide to the Study of American History’ (1912); Ford, W. C. (in American Historical Review, Vol. VII, p. 676; Vol. VIII, 28); Hart, A. B., ‘The Monroe Doctrine, An Interpretation’ (1916); Henderson, J. B., ‘American Diplomatic Questions’ (1901); Kraus, ‘Die Monroedoktrin’ (1913); Moore, John Bassett, ‘Digest of International Law’ (1906); Paxson, F. L., ‘Independence of the South American Republics’ (1903); Polk, J. K., ‘Diary of James K. Polk’ (1910); Reddaway, W. F., ‘The Monroe Doctrine’ (1898); Richardson, ‘Messages and Papers of the Presidents’ (1896-99); Roosevelt, Theodore, ‘Theodore Roosevelt : An Autobiography’ (New York 1913); Rush, ‘Residence at the Court of London’ (1855); Sherrill, ‘The Monroe Doctrine’ (1916). Discussions of the Monroe Doctrine in the press and periodicals during the discussions of 1918 on the League of Nations.

Professor of Government, Harvard University.