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The Monroe Doctrine was a United Statesmarker policy that was introduced on December 2, 1823, which said that further efforts by European governments to colonize land or interfere with states in the Americas would be viewed by the United States of America as acts of aggression requiring US intervention. The Monroe Doctrine asserted that the Western Hemisphere was not to be further colonized by European countries, and that the United States would not interfere with existing European colonies nor in the internal concerns of European countries. The Doctrine was issued at the time when many Latin American countries were on the verge of becoming independent from Spain, and the United States, reflecting concerns echoed by Great Britain, hoped to avoid having any European power take Spain's colonies.However, the immediate provocation was the Russian Ukase of 1821 asserting rights to the Northwest and forbidding non-Russian ships from approaching the coast.

US President James Monroe first stated the doctrine during his seventh annual State of the Union Address to Congress. It became a defining moment in the foreign policy of the United States and one of its longest-standing tenets, invoked by U.S. presidents, Calvin Coolidge, Herbert Hoover, John F. Kennedy, and others.

The Roosevelt Corollary to the Monroe Doctrine (added during the presidency of Theodore Roosevelt) was invoked to intervene militarily in Latin America to stop the spread of European influence.

It would have been nearly impossible for Monroe to envision that its intent and impact would persist with only minor variations for almost two centuries. Its primary objective was to free the newly independent colonies of Latin America from European intervention and control. The doctrine put forward 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.

President Monroe claimed the United States of America, although only a fledgling nation at the time, would not interfere in European wars or internal dealings, and in turn, expected Europe to stay out of the affairs of the New World. The Western Hemisphere was never to be colonized again and any attempt by a European power to oppress or control any nation in the Western Hemisphere would be perceived as a direct threat to the U.S.. This quid pro quo was presumptuous on its face, yet has stood the test of time.

The formalized document known as the Monroe Doctrine essentially served to inform the powers of the Old World that the Americas were no longer open to European colonization, and that any effort to extend European political influence into the New World would be considered by the United States "as dangerous to our peace and safety." Basically, the doctrine warned the European powers “to leave America for the Americans.” It also created a sphere of influence that would grow stronger with the addition of the Roosevelt Corollary.

Because the U.S. lacked both a credible navy and army at the time, the doctrine was largely disregarded internationally. However, the Doctrine met with tacit British approval, and the Royal Navy mostly enforced it tacitly, as part of the wider Pax Britannica, which enforced the neutrality of the seas. This was in line with the developing British policy of laissez-faire free trade against mercantilism: the fast-growing British industry was ever seeking outlets for its manufactured goods, and were the newly-independent Latin American states to become Spanish colonies once more, British access to these markets would be cut off by Spanish mercantilist policy.

The Doctrine in the 19th Century

Latin American reactions in the 1820s

The reaction in Latin America to the Monroe Doctrine was undeniably upbeat. John Crow, author of The Epic of Latin America, states, “[Simon] Bolivar 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” . 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. Furthermore, they figured that the Monroe Doctrine was powerless if it stood alone against the Triple Alliance. While they appreciated and praised their support in the north, they knew that their future of independence was in the hands of the powerful Great Britain. 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”.

During the first half of the nineteenth century, it was Great Britain’s preoccupation with exerting its power on the rest of the world that led it to decide to support the Monroe Doctrine. At the time, South America as a whole constituted a much larger market for British goods than the United States. Crow argues that it was ultimately the support of Great Britain, not the Monroe Doctrine, which protected the sovereignty of Latin America’s newly independent nations.


In 1836, the United States government objected to Britain's alliance with the newly created Republic of Texas on the principle of the Monroe Doctrine. On December 2, 1845, U.S. President James Polk announced to Congress that the principle of the Monroe Doctrine should be strictly enforced and that the United States should aggressively expand into the West, often termed as Manifest Destiny.

In 1842, U.S. President John Tyler applied the Monroe Doctrine to Hawaii, told Britain not to interfere there, and begin the process of annexing Hawaiimarker to the United States.

In 1852, some politicians used the principle of the Monroe Doctrine to argue for forcefully removing the Spanish from Cuba. In 1898, following the Spanish-American War, the United States obtained Puerto Rico and the Philippines from Spain and began an occupation of Cuba that lasted until 1902.

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. President Theodore Roosevelt asserted the right of the United States to intervene to stabilize the economic affairs of small nations in the Caribbean and Central America if they were unable to pay their international debts. This interpretation, intended to forestall intervention by European powers that had lent money to those countries, has been termed the Roosevelt Corollary to the Monroe Doctrine.

In 1863, French forces under Napoleon III invaded and conquered Mexico, giving the country to Austrian-born Emperor Maximilian. Americans proclaimed this as a violation of "The Doctrine," but were unable to intervene due to the American Civil War. This marked the first time the Monroe Doctrine was widely referred to as a "Doctrine." After the civil war came to an end, the U.S. brought troops down to the Rio Grande in hopes of pressuring the French government to end its occupation. Mexican nationalists eventually captured the Emperor and executed him, reasserting Mexico's independence.

In the 1870s, President Ulysses S. Grant and his Secretary of State Hamilton Fish endeavored to replace European influence in Latin America with that of the United States. Part of their efforts involved expanding the Monroe Doctrine by stating "hereafter no territory on this continent [referring to Central and South America] shall be regarded as subject to transfer to a European power."

President Grover Cleveland through his Secretary of State, Richard Olney cited the Doctrine in 1895, threatening strong action against the United Kingdom 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.” 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.”

The Drago Doctrine was announced on December 29, 1902 by the Foreign Minister of Argentina, Luis María Drago. Drago set forth the policy that no European power could use force against an American nation to collect debt. President Theodore Roosevelt rejected this as an extension of the Monroe Doctrine, declaring "We do not guarantee any state against punishment if it misconducts itself"

In the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962, President John F. Kennedy cited the Monroe Doctrine as a basis for America's "eyeball-to-eyeball" confrontation with the Soviet Union that had embarked on a provocative campaign to install ballistic missiles on Cuban soil.

The "Big Sister"

The "Big Sister" policy was an extension of the Monroe Doctrine formulated by James Gillespie Blaine in the 1880s that aimed to rally Latin American nations behind US leadership and to open their markets to US traders. Blaine served as Secretary of State in 1881 in the cabinet of President James Garfield and again from 1889 to 1892 in the cabinet of President Benjamin Harrison. As a part of the policy, Blaine arranged and lead the First International Conference of American States in 1889.

The Doctrine in the 20th Century

The "Roosevelt Corollary"

As the United States emerged as a world superpower, the Monroe Doctrine came to define a recognized sphere of control that few dared to challenge. In 1904, U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt, added the Roosevelt Corollary to the Monroe Doctrine, which asserted the right of the United States to intervene in Latin America in cases of “flagrant and chronic wrongdoing by a Latin American Nation”. This 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 Western Hemisphere. This amendment was designed to preclude violation of the doctrine by European powers that would ultimately argue that the independent nations were “mismanaged or unruly”.

Critics , however, argued that the Corollary simply asserted U.S. domination in that area, essentially making them a "hemispheric policeman." To this day, it is hard to argue that the Western Hemisphere is not entirely a United States sphere of influence.

The Clark Memorandum

In 1928, the Clark Memorandum was released, concluding that the United States need not invoke the Monroe Doctrine as a defense of its interventions in Latin America. The Memorandum argued that the United States had a self-evident right of self-defense, and that this was all that was needed 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 Tenth Inter-American Conference, denouncing the intervention of Soviet Communism in Guatemala. This was used to justify Operation PBSUCCESS.U.S. President John F. Kennedy said at an August 29, 1962 news conference:

The Cold War

During the Cold War, the Monroe Doctrine was applied to Latin America by the framers of U.S. foreign policy. When the Cuban Revolution established a socialist regime with ties to the Soviet Union, after trying to establish fruitful relations with the U.S., it was argued that the spirit of the Monroe Doctrine should be again invoked, this time to prevent the further spreading of Soviet-backed Communism in Latin America. During the Cold War, the United States thus often 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 some domestic controversy within the United States, especially among some members of the left who argued that the Communist threat and Soviet influence in Latin America was greatly exaggerated.

The debate over this new spirit of the Monroe Doctrine came to a head in the 1980s, as part of the Iran-Contra affair. Among other things, 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, arguing that avoiding U.S. intervention in Nicaragua would be "totally to abandon the Monroe doctrine". In a case brought before the International Court of Justice by Nicaragua, however, the court ruled that the United States had exercised "unlawful use of force." The U.S. ignored the verdict. The Carter and Reagan administrations embroiled themselves in the Salvadoran Civil War, again citing the Monroe Doctrine as justification. The conflict was marked by large scale human rights abuses and the 1980 assassination of Archbishop Óscar Romero by right-wing death squads. The Monroe Doctrine was also cited during the U.S. intervention in Guatemala and the invasion of Grenada. Critics of the Reagan administration's support for Britain in the Falklands War charge that the U.S. ignored the Monroe Doctrine in that instance. However, the Falklands were not a seceding colony but a British protectorate attacked by Argentina.

Recent criticisms

Critics of the Monroe Doctrine, such as Noam Chomsky, argue that in practice the Monroe Doctrine has functioned as a declaration of hegemony and a right of unilateral intervention over the Western Hemisphere – limited only by prudence, as in the case of British military. Chomsky points to the work of filibusters, most notably William Walker, who tried to conquer and annex various countries in Latin America.

Many Latin American popular movements have come to resent the "Monroe Doctrine", which has been summarized there in the phrase: "America for the Americans", which translates into Spanish ironically as "América para los americanos". The irony lies in the fact that the Spanish term americano is, in all Latin American countries, used to name the inhabitants of North, Central and South America. However, in English, the term American is related almost exclusively to the nationals of the United States, although this was not always the case. Thus, while "America for the Americans" sounds very much like a call to share a common destiny, it becomes apparent that it could really imply: "America (the two continents) for the United States". At the turn of the 21st century, popular resentment in Latin America gave rise to a series of left of center leaders who questioned Washington's sincerity.

Further reading

  • Samuel Flagg Bemis. John Quincy Adams and the Foundations of American Foreign Policy. 1949.
  • Donald Dozer. The Monroe Doctrine: Its Modern Significance. New York: Knopf, 1965.
  • Leonard Axel Lawson. The Relation of British Policy to the Declaration of the Monroe Doctrine, Columbia University, 1922.
  • Ernest R. May. The Making of the Monroe Doctrine. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1975.
  • Mellander, Gustavo A.(1971) The United States in Panamanian Politics: The Intriguing Formative Years. Daville,Ill.:Interstate Publishers. OCLC 138568.
  • Mellander, Gustavo A.; Nelly Maldonado Mellander (1999). Charles Edward Magoon: The Panama Years. Río Piedras, Puerto Rico: Editorial Plaza Mayor. ISBN 1563281554. OCLC 42970390.
  • Frederick Merk. The Monroe Doctrine and American Expansionism, 1843-1849. New York: Knopf, 1966.
  • Gretchen Murphy. Hemispheric Imaginings: The Monroe Doctrine and Narratives of U.S. Empire. Duke University Press, 2005. Examines the cultural context of the doctrine.
  • Dexter Perkins. The Monroe Doctrine, 1823-1826. 3 vols. 1927.
  • (it) Nico Perrone. Il manifesto dell'imperialismo americano nelle borse di Londra e Parigi, in Belfagor (an Italian review), 1977, iii. Examines the reactions of the European stock exchange markets.
  • Joel S. Poetker. The Monroe Doctrine. Columbus, Ohio: Charles E. Merrill Books, Inc, 1967.
  • Gaddis Smith. The Last Years of the Monroe Doctrine, 1945-1993. New York: Hill and Wang, 1994. Argues that the Monroe Doctrine became irrelevant after the end of the Cold War.
  • Grahame, Leopold. "The Latin American View of the Monroe Dotrine." Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science 54 (1914): 57-62. A view of what Latin America thinks of the Monroe Doctrine, according to an American. Interesting, viewed somewhat skewed.


  1. Herring, George C., From Colony to Superpower: U.S. Foreign Relations Since 1776, (2008) pp. 153-155
  4. Herring, George C., From Colony to Superpower: U.S. Foreign Relations Since 1776, (2008) p. 371
  5. Herring, George C., From Colony to Superpower: U.S. Foreign Relations Since 1776, (2008) p. 259
  6. Herring, George C., From Colony to Superpower: U.S. Foreign Relations Since 1776, (2008) p. 307
  7. Herring, George C., From Colony to Superpower: U.S. Foreign Relations Since 1776, (2008) pp. 307-308
  8. Herring, George C., From Colony to Superpower: U.S. Foreign Relations Since 1776, (2008) p. 370
  9. “The Durable Doctrine”, Time Magazine (September 21, 1962), [1] accessed July 15, 2009.


  • on Monroe Doctrine most of the material (as of this writing on 2-Dec-2002) was copied from this public domain source.
  • The Encyclopedia Britannica 15th Edition:1974 and The Columbia Encyclopedia Sixth Edition:2008
  • “Monroe Doctrine.” The New Encyclopedia Britannica (volume 8) 15th Edition: 1993.

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