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The New International Encyclopædia/Monroe Doctrine

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MONROE DOCTRINE. The term applied to the policy of the United States regarding foreign interference in American affairs. It takes its name from President Monroe, who in his message to Congress in 1823 first gave it formal announcement. It is sometimes stated as the corollary of Washington's policy of neutrality toward all European affairs. In modern conception it is the policy of the United States to regard any attempt on the part of a European power to gain a foothold in this hemisphere by conquest, or to acquire any new establishment in North or South America as an act hostile to the United States. Yet it does not contravene the right of any nation to enforce indemnity for injuries to its subjects, physical or financial, but applies only to territorial aggression by foreign powers, whether temporary or permanent. The conception of the policy is one of gradual growth, and as far as it has authority in international law it rests upon the principle of the right of a sovereign state to protect its own interests from dangerous aggression. With the wide and complex development of modern American interests, appeal to this argument is strengthened, yet the assertion of the doctrine in its extreme form is always attended with the danger of grave international complications.

The ‘doctrine’ is based upon two passages in Monroe's message, and has a twofold relation — a non-colonization and a non-intervention feature. The first passage referred to the boundary dispute in the Northwest, then in issue between Russia, Great Britain, and the United States, Russia having assumed to exclude foreigners from disputed territory extending to the fifty-first parallel of latitude. President Monroe said: “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 conditions which they have assumed and maintained, are henceforth not to be considered as subjects for future colonization by any European powers.” Both the conditions which inspired the passage and its language prove that it related to an acquisition of territory by original occupation or settlement; that it did not include acquisition by gift, purchase, or like voluntary transfer, or by conquest. Further, while it did not strictly commit the United States to the application of the principle to territory other than that immediately in dispute in the Northwest, in prospective consideration it involved the vast traits of unclaimed land on the continent still unexplored and unoccupied, upon which the establishment of a European colony with the exclusive trade policies then professed by all Continental governments could not fail to prejudice the trade relations of the United States. The controversy in question was settled by the treaty of 1825 with Russia, but the doctrine formulated was again asserted in 1826 by President J. Q. Adams in the proposed instructions of the United States delegates to the Panama Congress (q.v.), its application, however, being limited to its adoption by each separate State as a protection of the territory claimed by that State, and not committing the powers concerned as a body to “a joint resistance against any future attempt to plant a colony.” The question, however, was not considered by the Panama Congress, owing to the non-arrival of the United States delegates, and this phase of the doctrine remained in abeyance for twenty years.

The second part of the Monroe message related to the proposed action of the Holy Alliance as announced by the resolutions of the Congress of Verona (November, 1822), directed against the system of representative government in Europe, and aiming at the reimposition of the Spanish yoke upon the South American colonies, then in a state of revolt, the independence of which the United States had already recognized. This action of the Powers threatened English commercial interests already established with these States, and England promptly proposed to the United States a joint declaration by the two governments against their action; but without awaiting a reply from this Government, on October 9, 1823, she gave notice to the French Ambassador of her unfriendly altitude. This, followed by President Monroe's declaration, summarily checked the Powers. “We owe it, therefore,” said Monroe, “to candor and the amicable relations existing between the United States and these 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 and dependencies of any European Power we have not interfered nor shall we interfere. But with the governments who have declared their independence and manifested it, and whose independence we have on great consideration and just principles acknowledged, we could not view any interposition for the purpose of oppressing them, or in any other manner controlling their destiny, than as a manifestation of an unfriendly disposition toward the United States.” While Monroe's declaration was intended to meet the exigencies of the time, the principle was no novel one, but rather the embodiment of an idea that had developed with the growth of nationality, and had been expressed in various forms in previous papers and correspondence of Monroe. Adams, and Jefferson. Two months before the publication of the message Jefferson had written: “Our first and fundamental maxim should be never to entangle ourselves in the broils of Europe. Our second, never to suffer Europe to intermeddle with Cis-Atlantic affairs.” The declaration, having accomplished its purpose, practically disappeared in its application with respect to the Holy Alliance, and the development of the policy for the next generation was the outgrowth of the colonization feature.

In 1845 President Polk took the first step toward extension of the principle. The northwest boundary was again in issue, this time with Great Britain, and the Administration was committed to the annexation of Texas. “It should be distinctly announced to the world,” said Polk, “as our settled policy, that no future European colony or dominion shall with our consent be planted or established in any part of the North American continent.” The doctrine was thus made to include acquisition by voluntary transfer or conquest of occupied territory, and a virtual protectorate over other American States in its application was announced, though limited to North America. Again in 1848, when the question of the occupation of Yucatan arose, Polk issued a second manifesto against the acquisition of such territory by voluntary transfer or cession. In 1853, when the Cuban annexation discussion was at its height, a resolution was introduced into the Senate combining the doctrines of Monroe and Polk; but it failed of passage, and the doctrine has never received express legislative sanction either by resolution or statute. It is therefore not a part of the law of the land, though with the predominance of the interests of the United States the policy in relation to both North and South America has been generally accepted by both political parties and the people, and its principles have been given repeated recognition during the past half century in our foreign policy. The interference of the United States in Mexico, resulting in the withdrawal of the French in 1866, and President Cleveland's declaration to Great Britain in connection with the Venezuelan boundary dispute in 1895, are the notable examples of such recognition. Notwithstanding the protests of the United States Government, during the progress of the Civil War, the French had secured a foothold in Mexico and attempted to install Maximilian, an Austrian prince, on the Mexican throne. With the conclusion of peace a formal demand for withdrawal was made, and General Sherman was sent to the Mexican frontier with a large force. After some delay in negotiations the French Emperor withdrew his troops, and Maximilian was left to his fate. In the Venezuelan affair, representations having been made by our Government that the action of Great Britain was a violation of the Monroe Doctrine, the latter yielded to the suggestion of the United States and consented to an arbitration, thus effecting an amicable settlement.

The Monroe Doctrine is sometimes held to commit the United States to a protectorate over other American States, requiring this country to espouse their quarrels though unable to control their actions. It has never been within its intent to forbid European nations to employ force in the settlement of their just demands upon this continent. In 1842 Great Britain blockaded San Juan de Nicaragua, and in 1851 laid an embargo on the entire western coast of Salvador, and in 1903 the combined German and English fleets maintained a blockade of the Venezuelan coast to secure the collection of their claims for indemnity. The requirements of the Monroe Doctrine as a national policy were fully met with the assurance to the United States of good faith on the part of the Powers concerned and that no Venezuelan territory would be taken in settlement of the indemnity. While the building of an interoceanic canal and the position which the United States has had as a world power since the close of the war with Spain have rendered the problem attending the application of the doctrine more complex, the increased respect which it has insured our demands has greatly decreased the difficulties of its enforcement.

For modern aspects of the Monroe Doctrine, consult: J. B. Moore, Political Science Quarterly, vol. ii., p. 1; T. S. Woolsey, Forum, vol. XX., p. 705; H. C. Lodge, North American Review, vol. clx., p. 651; John W. Burgess, Political Science Quarterly, vol. ii., p. 44. Consult also: Reddaway, The Monroe Doctrine (Cambridge, 1898); and authorities cited under International Law.