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Influential Doctrines

Monroe Doctrine

The Monroe Doctrine sought to end European colonization of the Western Hemisphere and thus end any threat to American power.  It did this in a peculiar way in that it reasoned since America had stayed out of wars and problems in Europe, Europe should stay out of affairs in the Western Hemisphere.  This is not something new, but what made it peculiar was that it claimed that the United States would be a spectator rather than a colonizer in the West.

The Monroe Doctrine is the center of this entire investigation because Roosevelt claimed that the Corollary was an amendment to the Monroe Doctrine.  Without the Monroe Doctrine, this module would have no basis.  It was originally Monroe’s December 2, 1823 presidential address.  In the address, Monroe explained much of what was going on at the time and puts the goals of the age into words.  He began by explaining that the Great Powers are very active in the Western Hemisphere and saying that they should not be. The very first example included was about Russia:

At the proposal of the Russian Imperial Government, made through the minister of the Emperor residing here, a full power and instructions have been transmitted to the minister of the United States at St. Petersburg to arrange by amicable negotiation the respective rights and interests of the two nations on the northwest coast of this continent.

Russia was beginning to negotiate with the United States and withdraw from the continent and Monroe thought that the rest of the European powers should do so as well.  This is an extremely important aspect of the Monroe Doctrine.  Monroe was saying the United States had the right to demand that Europe stay out of the Western Hemisphere because it had stayed out of the Eastern Hemisphere despite many problems there.  For example, he says, “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 to do so.”  After many assertions like this, he said that the United States would take any further interference as an attack on its sovereignty.  He explained, “It is impossible that the allied powers should extend their political system to any portion of either continent without endangering our peace and happiness…”  Monroe also claimed that any problems within the Western Hemisphere were caused by the European powers meddling in the affairs of the Latin American and South American countries.  He said, “…nor can anyone 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.”  Here he not only implied that the Latin American and South American countries would not do European-like things on their own, but that if they were doing such things that the United States had no choice but to think European involvement was the cause.  He also implied that the United States would possibly go to war if that happened.  Finally, Monroe claimed that the United States would not interfere in Latin American or South American affairs either.  The final sentence stated, “It is still the true policy of the United States to leave the parties to themselves, in hope that other powers will pursue the same course. . . .”  This doctrine of European exclusion and limited United States involvement is the doctrine that the other political policies and decisions in the module claim to be based on.

Roosevelt Corollary

The Roosevelt Corollary was meant to be an extension of the Monroe Doctrine.  It is one of the first appearances of the representation of the United States as the world police and a power that would be able to step in and correct situations gone awry in the world.  However, it contains some contradictory statements as to what the extent of that power is supposed to be and how often and for what purpose the United States would step in.

The Roosevelt Corollary is commonly called an extension of the Monroe Doctrine.  Like the Monroe Doctrine, the Roosevelt Corollary was part of Roosevelt’s December 6, 1904 presidential address.  Roosevelt began by making the claim that he needed a full standing army and navy to fulfill the requirements of the Monroe Doctrine:

It is not merely unwise, it is contemptible, for a nation, as for an individual, to use high-sounding language to proclaim its purposes, or to take positions which are ridiculous if unsupported by potential force, and then to refuse to provide this force. If there is no intention of providing and keeping the force necessary to back up a strong attitude, then it is far better not to assume such an attitude.

Roosevelt then said, “Many times peoples who were slothful or timid or shortsighted, who had been enervated by ease or by luxury, or misled by false teachings, have shrunk in unmanly fashion from doing duty that was stern and that needed self-sacrifice, and have sought to hide from their own minds their shortcomings, their ignoble motives, by calling them love of peace.”  This implied that those who are not interested in this goal were not interested in peace, but rather an untrue peace that consisted of simply not engaging in any form of combat, necessary or otherwise.  This sentiment was what led him to say that the United States must protect other, less developed countries from injustice and unrest.  He in fact, made this the goal of the United States: “The goal to set before us as a nation, the goal which should be set before all mankind, is the attainment of the peace of justice, of the peace which comes when each nation is not merely safe-guarded in its own rights, but scrupulously recognizes and performs its duty toward others.”  This is contrary to the Monroe Doctrine in that Monroe had not claimed any right or duty to intercede in the affairs of other countries, but claimed that the United States would be a “spectator”1.

Richard Collin belongs to the group of historians who claim that Roosevelt was not working to extend, but limit the Monroe Doctrine and in so doing was making a strategically necessary move in his protection and intervention patterns.  He says, “Emphasizing the principle of responsibility, Roosevelt limited the grounds for possible American intervention in Latin America.”2  He cites the line in the Corollary where Roosevelt says intervention would be a last resort and claims that Roosevelt indeed used it as a last resort.  This is dubious considering the number of times Roosevelt decided it was “necessary” to intervene.  Furthermore, when the speeches are compared, one quickly realizes that Roosevelt’s goals and statements extended beyond those of the Monroe Doctrine.

Roosevelt worked to maintain the idea that he was upholding the Monroe Doctrine and simply claimed United States hegemony over the Western Hemisphere by saying:

Under any circumstances a sufficient armament would have to be kept up to serve the purposes of international police; and until international cohesion and the sense of international duties and rights are far more advanced than at present, a nation desirous both of securing respect for itself and of doing good to others must have a force adequate for the work which it feels is allotted to it as its part of the general world duty.

This was meant to further his claim that the country needed to be prepared and would simply try to uphold the duty to others that he argued the Monroe Doctrine had bestowed upon it.  He furthered this claim of compliance by saying, “It is not true that the United States feels any land hunger or entertains any projects as regards the other nations of the Western Hemisphere save such as are for their welfare.”  This statement could also be interpreted as furthering the Doctrine’s attempt to distinguish the United States from Europe because it claims it is not trying to gain any colonies.  Collin would say that this shows that Roosevelt was truly doing what was necessary rather than trying to imperialize the Latin American nations.

This claim, however, becomes suspicious when Roosevelt says that he will intervene if needed and claims that the Monroe Doctrine allowed for:

Chronic wrongdoing, or an impotence which results in a general loosening of the ties of civilized society, may in America, as elsewhere, ultimately require intervention by some civilized nation, and in the Western Hemisphere the adherence of the United States to the Monroe Doctrine may force the United States, however reluctantly, in flagrant cases of such wrongdoing or impotence, to the exercise of an international police power.

He then attempted to provide support for the idea that the Monroe Doctrine sanctions this kind of policing by saying, “In asserting the Monroe Doctrine, in taking such steps as we have taken in regard to Cuba, Venezuela, and Panama, and in endeavoring to circumscribe the theater of war in the Far East, and to secure the open door in China, we have acted in our own interest as well as in the interest of humanity at large.”  All of these actions are things that many pointed to as being proof that Roosevelt was breaking with the Monroe Doctrine and furthering imperialist wishes.  The Monroe Doctrine had specifically stated that the United States remained a spectator, but these actions are not simply observing by any means.  Furthermore, rather than simply aiding the country and then leaving, Roosevelt and Congress decided to stay and continue to be involved both economically and in the government, which many would argue is the very definition of imperialism.

Although Collin claims “Roosevelt’s main purpose was the exclusion of Europe, not the subjugation of Latin America,”2 and that “America had to change its defensive posture- not to become imperialistic… Strategic necessity, not imperialism nor the big stick, caused American intervention in the Philippines and Panama,”4 this seems to simply be a convenient excuse for the actions that went beyond what the Monroe Doctrine had called for. 


Monroe Doctrine (as seen above)

2  Richard H. Collin, Theodore Roosevelt’s Caribbean The Panama Canal, the Monroe Doctrine, and the Latin American Context (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1990), 410.

3 Richard H. Collin, Theodore Roosevelt’s Caribbean The Panama Canal, the Monroe Doctrine, and the Latin American Context (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1990), ix.

4 Richard H. Collin, Theodore Roosevelt, culture, Diplomacy, and Expansion A New View of American Imperialism (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1985), 3.