What are the Monroe Doctrine and the Roosevelt Corollary?

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President James Monroe

In his December 2, 1823, address to Congress, President James Monroe articulated United States’ policy on the new political order developing in the rest of the Americas and the role of Europe in the Western Hemisphere. The statement, known as the Monroe Doctrine, was little noted by the Great Powers of Europe, but eventually became a longstanding tenet of U.S. foreign policy. Monroe and his Secretary of State John Quincy Adams drew upon a foundation of American diplomatic ideals such as disentanglement from European affairs and defense of neutral rights as expressed in Washington’s Farewell Address and Madison’s stated rationale for waging the War of 1812.

A hundred years later, President Theodore Roosevelt’s added onto Monroe's vision with an assertive approach to Latin America and the Caribbean that has often been characterized as the “Big Stick.” Roosevelt essentially strengthened to United States position vis a vis Latin America and it became known as the Roosevelt Corollary to the Monroe Doctrine.

The Principles of the Monroe Doctrine

The Monroe Doctrine had three main concepts of the doctrine—separate spheres of influence for the Americas and Europe, non-colonization, and non-intervention—were designed to signify a clear break between the New World and the autocratic realm of Europe.

Monroe’s administration forewarned the imperial European powers against interfering in the affairs of the newly independent Latin American states or potential United States territories. While Americans generally objected to European colonies in the New World, they also desired to increase United States influence and trading ties throughout the region to their south. European mercantilism posed the greatest obstacle to economic expansion. In particular, Americans feared that Spain and France might reassert colonialism over the Latin American peoples who had just overthrown European rule. Signs that Russia was expanding its presence southward from Alaska toward the Oregon Territory were also disconcerting.

The United States interferes with British imperial motives in Latin America

For their part, the British also had a strong interest in ensuring the demise of Spanish colonialism, with all the trade restrictions mercantilism imposed. Earlier in 1823 British Foreign Minister George Canning suggested to Americans that two nations issue a joint declaration to deter any other power from intervening in Central and South America. Secretary of State John Quincy Adams, however, vigorously opposed cooperation with Great Britain, contending that a statement of bilateral nature could limit United States expansion in the future. He also argued that the British were not committed to recognizing the Latin American republics and must have had imperial motivations themselves.

The bilateral statement proposed by the British thereby became a unilateral declaration by the United States. As Monroe stated: “The American continents … are henceforth not to be considered as subjects for future colonization by any European powers.” Monroe outlined two separate spheres of influence: the Americas and Europe. The independent lands of the Western Hemisphere would be solely the United States’ domain. In exchange, the United States pledged to avoid involvement in the political affairs of Europe, such as the ongoing Greek struggle for independence from the Ottoman Empire, and not to interfere in the existing European colonies already in the Americas.

By the mid-1800s, Monroe’s declaration, combined with ideas of Manifest Destiny, provided precedent and support for U.S. expansion on the American continent. In the late 1800s, U.S. economic and military power enabled it to enforce the Monroe Doctrine. The doctrine’s greatest extension came with Theodore Roosevelt’s Corollary, which inverted the original meaning of the doctrine and came to justify unilateral U.S. intervention in Latin America.

The Roosevelt Corollary expands on US imperialism in Latin America

President Theodore Roosevelt in 1904

Although the Monroe Doctrine of 1823 was essentially passive (it asked that Europeans not increase their influence or recolonize any part of the Western Hemisphere), by the 20th century a more confident United States was willing to take on the role of regional policeman. In the early 1900s Roosevelt grew concerned that a crisis between Venezuela and its creditors could spark an invasion of that nation by European powers. The Roosevelt Corollary of December 1904 stated that the United States would intervene as a last resort to ensure that other nations in the Western Hemisphere fulfilled their obligations to international creditors, and did not violate the rights of the United States or invite “foreign aggression to the detriment of the entire body of American nations.”

As the corollary worked out in practice, the United States increasingly used military force to restore internal stability to nations in the region. Roosevelt declared that the United States might “exercise international police power in ‘flagrant cases of such wrongdoing or impotence.’” Over the long term the corollary had little to do with relations between the Western Hemisphere and Europe, but it did serve as justification for U.S. intervention in Cuba, Nicaragua, Haiti, and the Dominican Republic.

Conclusion

While Monroe Doctrine and Roosevelt Corollary may have prevented European Colonialism in Latin America and the Caribbean, it has been used as justification by the United States to constantly meddle in the foreign and domestic affairs of the United States's southern neighbors. The consequences of these policies have been incredibly severe. The United States has repeatedly invaded and deposed leaders of Latin American for the past 200 years.

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