Monroe Doctrine

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The Monroe Doctrine was a U.S. foreign policy regarding domination of the American continent 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. The United States, working in agreement with Great 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 19th 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 stated 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.[by whom?] 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

Great Britain shared the general objective of the Monroe Doctrine, albeit from an 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, for many years after the Monroe Doctrine took effect, Britain, through the Royal Navy, was the sole nation enforcing it; the United States lacked sufficient naval capabilities. Allowing Spain to re-establish control of its former colonies would have cut Great Britain off from its profitable trade with the region. For that reason, Canning proposed to Washington that they mutually declare and enforce a policy of separating the new world from the old. Washington 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

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, which contains 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 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

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. The British Royal Navy enforced it tactically as part of the wider Pax Britannica, which included enforcement of 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 sought markets for its manufactured goods, and, if the newly independent Latin American states became Spanish colonies again, British access to these markets would be cut off by Spanish mercantilist policy.[10]

The "Special Relationship"

The Monroe Doctrine is viewed as a precursor to the "Special Relationship" between the United States and Great Britain.[by whom?] Similar to President Woodrow Wilson's 1919 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

The reaction in Latin America to the Monroe Doctrine was generally favorable but in some occasions suspicious. 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 unenforceable if the United States stood alone against the Holy Alliance.[12] While they appreciated and praised their support in the north, they knew that the future of their 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]

At the same time, some people questioned the intentions behind the Monroe Doctrine. Diego Portales, a Chilean businessman and minister, wrote to a friend: "But we have to be very careful: for the Americans of the north [from the United States], the only Americans are themselves".[13]

American isolationism

The Monroe Doctrine is opposed to the idea of American isolationism – the idea that America keeps to itself and does not get involved with other countries.[citation needed]

Post-Bolivar events

In December 1832 the British reasserted their sovereignty over the Falkland islands. No action was taken by the US.

In 1842, U.S. President John Tyler applied the Monroe Doctrine to Hawaii and warned Britain not to interfere there. This began the process of annexing Hawaii to the United States.[14]

On December 2, 1845, U.S. President James Polk announced that the principle of the Monroe Doctrine should be strictly enforced.[citation needed]

In 1862, French forces under Napoleon III invaded and conquered Mexico, giving control to the puppet monarch Emperor Maximilian. Washington denounced this as a violation of the doctrine but was unable to intervene because of the American Civil War. This marked the first time the Monroe Doctrine was widely referred to as a "doctrine." In 1865 the United States stationed a large combat army on the border to emphasize its demand that France leave. France did pull out, and Mexican nationalists executed Maximilian.[15]

In 1862, Belize was turned into a crown colony of the British empire and renamed British Honduras. The United States did not take any action against Britain at this time, being preoccupied with the American Civil War.[16]

In the 1870s, President Ulysses S. Grant and his Secretary of State Hamilton Fish endeavored to supplant European influence in Latin America with that of the United States. In 1870, the Monroe Doctrine was expanded under the proclamation "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 in his failed attempt to annex the Dominican Republic in 1870.[17]

The Venezuela Crisis of 1895 became "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."[18] Venezuela sought to involve the United States 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 Great Britain 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

In 1898, the United States demanded that Spain stop its repression of Cuba. The Spanish–American War resulted which was won by the United States. Under the terms of the peace treaty, Spain ceded Puerto Rico, the Philippines, and Guam to the United States in exchange for $20 million. Cuba also came under American control and remained so until it was granted formal independence in 1902.[19]

The "Big Brother"

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 open their markets to US traders. Blaine served as Secretary of State in 1881 under President James A. Garfield and again from 1889 to 1892 under President Benjamin Harrison. As a part of the policy, Blaine arranged and led the First International Conference of American States in 1889.[20]

The "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 an attempt to collect money owed as part of its national debt, accrued under regimes preceding that of 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 policy 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.[2]:371[4][21]

The Roosevelt Corollary was invoked to intervene militarily in Latin America to stop the spread of European influence.[21] 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, effectively making them a "hemispheric policeman."[22]

The Clark Memorandum

In 1928, the Clark Memorandum concluded that the United States need not invoke the Monroe Doctrine to vindicate its interventions in Latin America. The Memorandum argued that the United States had a self-evident right of self-defense, and that this was sufficient 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 10th Pan-American Conference in Caracas, denouncing the intervention of Soviet Communism in Guatemala. It was then 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.[23]

Cold War

During the Cold War, the Monroe Doctrine was applied to Latin America by the framers of U.S. foreign policy.[24] When the Cuban Revolution (1953–1959) established a Communist government with ties to the Soviet Union, it was argued that the Monroe Doctrine should be invoked to prevent the spread of Soviet-backed Communism in Latin America.[25] Under this rationale, the United States 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 domestic controversy within the United States, particularly among 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 grounds for America's confrontation with the Soviet Union over the installation of Soviet ballistic missiles on Cuban soil.[26]

The debate over this new interpretation of the Monroe Doctrine burgeoned in reaction to the Iran-Contra affair. 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 in 1984, arguing that eschewing U.S. intervention in Nicaragua would be "totally to abandon the Monroe Doctrine".[27]

The Kerry Doctrine

President Barack Obama's Secretary of State John Kerry told the Organization of American States in November 2013 that "era of the Monroe Doctrine is over."[28] Several commentators have noted that Kerry's call for a mutual partnership with the other countries in the Americas is more in keeping with Monroe's intentions than the policies enacted after his death.[29]


Critics of the Monroe Doctrine, such as Noam Chomsky,[30] argue that in practice the Monroe Doctrine has been used 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 expand 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.[31] Walker acted on his own in defiance of official U.S. policy.


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  28. Johnson, Keith (November 18, 2013). "Kerry Makes It Official: 'Era of Monroe Doctrine Is Over'". Wall Street Journal.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  29. Keck, Zachary (November 21, 2013). "The US Renounces the Monroe Doctrine?". The Diplomat. Retrieved November 28, 2013.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  30. Chomsky, Noam (2004). Hegemony Or Survival. Henry Holt. pp. 63–64. ISBN 978-0-8050-7688-2. Retrieved December 20, 2008.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
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Further reading

  • Lua error in Module:Citation/CS1/Identifiers at line 47: attempt to index field 'wikibase' (a nil value). 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.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Lawson, Leonard Axel (1922). The Relation of British Policy to the Declaration of the Monroe Doctrine. Columbia University.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • May, Ernest R. (1975). The Making of the Monroe Doctrine. Harvard University Press.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Meiertöns, Heiko (2010). The Doctrines of US Security Policy: An Evaluation under International Law. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 978-0-521-76648-7.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Merk, Frederick (1966). The Monroe Doctrine and American Expansionism, 1843–1849.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Murphy, Gretchen (2005). Hemispheric Imaginings: The Monroe Doctrine and Narratives of U.S. Empire. Duke University Press.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles> Examines the cultural context of the doctrine.
  • Perkins, Dexter (1927). The Monroe Doctrine, 1823–1826.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles> 3 vols.
  • (Italian) Nico Perrone, Progetto di un impero. 1823. L'annuncio dell'egemonia americana infiamma la borsa (Project of an Empire. 1823. The Announcement of American Hegemony Inflames the Stock Exchange), Naples, La Città del Sole, 2013 ISBN 978-88-8292-310-5
  • Sexton, Jay (2011). The Monroe Doctrine: Empire and Nation in 19th-Century America. Hill & Wang.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles> 290 pages; competing and evolving conceptions of the doctrine after 1823!


  • "Monroe Doctrine". Retrieved December 2, 2002.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles> 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)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • "Monroe Doctrine". The Encyclopædia Britannica (15th ed.). 1974. Missing or empty |title= (help)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • "Monroe Doctrine". The New Encyclopædia Britannica. 8 (15th ed.). 1993. Missing or empty |title= (help)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>

External links