A Quick Overview of The Monroe Doctrine


Let’s review the Monroe Doctrine so that we can better understand how it’s used as a declaration of hegemony and right of unilateral intervention in Latin America.

The Monroe Doctrine was expressed during President Monroe’s seventh annual message to Congress, December 2, 1823. The statement 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.

In the discussions to which this interest has given rise and in the arrangements by which they may terminate 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.

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.

It is impossible that the allied powers should extend their political system to any portion of either continent without endangering our peace and happiness; nor can anyone believe that our southern brethren, if left to themselves, would adopt it of their own accord.

In truth, while Americans generally objected to European colonies in the New World, they desired to increase their influence and trading ties throughout the region to their south. European mercantilism posed the greatest obstacle to the United States’ economic expansion.

In the late 1800s, U.S. economic and military power enabled the nation to take on the role of regional policeman. 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.

Theodore Roosevelt’s Annual Message to Congress, December 6, 1904.

To the Senate and House of Representatives:

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. All that this country desires is to see the neighboring countries stable, orderly, and prosperous. Any country whose people conduct themselves well can count upon our hearty friendship. If a nation shows that it knows how to act with reasonable efficiency and decency in social and political matters, if it keeps order and pays its obligations, it need fear no interference from the United States. 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.

If every country washed by the Caribbean Sea would show the progress in stable and just civilization which with the aid of the Platt amendment Cuba has shown since our troops left the island, and which so many of the republics in both Americas are constantly and brilliantly showing, all question of interference by this Nation with their affairs would be at an end. Our interests and those of our southern neighbors are in reality identical. They have great natural riches, and if within their borders the reign of law and justice obtains, prosperity is sure to come to them. While they thus obey the primary laws of civilized society they may rest assured that they will be treated by us in a spirit of cordial and helpful sympathy. We would interfere with them only in the last resort, and then only if it became evident that their inability or unwillingness to do justice at home and abroad had violated the rights of the United States or had invited foreign aggression to the detriment of the entire body of American nations. It is a mere truism to say that every nation, whether in America or anywhere else, which desires to maintain its freedom, its independence, must ultimately realize that the right of such independence can not be separated from the responsibility of making good use of it.

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.  There are, however, cases in which, while our own interests are not greatly involved, strong appeal is made to our sympathies. Ordinarily it is very much wiser and more useful for us to concern ourselves with striving for our own moral and material betterment here at home than to concern ourselves with trying to better the condition of things in other nations.

We continue steadily to insist on the application of the Monroe Doctrine to the Western Hemisphere.

Now, these thoughts are not restricted to the 19th and 20th century. They are very much part of our modern political ideology. For example, 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. And that’s why we oppose what is being–what’s happening in Cuba today. That’s why we have cut off our trade. That’s why we worked in the OAS and in other ways to isolate the Communist menace in Cuba. That’s why we’ll continue to give a good deal of our effort and attention to it.

In a study prepared in response to National Security Study Memorandum 15, Washington, July 5, 1969, the Department of State commented:

The “special relationship” exists as an historical fact. Since the days of the Monroe Doctrine we have asserted a protective relationship toward the Latin American nations — and have expected friendship and loyalty in return. This special relationship which has evolved over time is now embodied in the web of treaties and organizations known as the “Inter-American System” — a system which operates under the umbrella of the OAS Charter, the Rio Pact, and the Charter of the Alliance for Progress. Geographical propinquity, ties of tradition and association, the common psychological acceptance of the idea of community, and the formal international arrangements and commitments all lead to a single conclusion: The U.S. is generally regarded by both Latins and non-Latins as responsible to a substantial degree for the course of events in the hemisphere.

April 17, 2013 | FY 2014 State Department Budget Request.

Secretary of State John Kerry described the Western Hemisphere as the “backyard” of the US and of “critical importance”.

I am planning a trip shortly to both Colombia and Brazil, and other countries hopefully as time permits. We have some issues obviously with Argentina, over some debt repayment, which we need to work through. But look, the western hemisphere is our backyard. It’s critical to us. … And we intend to do everything possible to try to change the attitude of a number of nations where we’ve had sort of a breach in the relationship over the course of the last few years.

Feb 1, 2018, during a question-and-answer session after a speech in Austin, Texas regarding on Latin American affairs, U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson praised the 1823 Monroe Doctrine as

clearly has been a success … [and] … as relevant today as it was the day it was written.

Any questions?

Thanks for reading,







One response to “A Quick Overview of The Monroe Doctrine”

  1. […] No other formulation occupied a more cherished place in the canons of US foreign policy than the Monroe Doctrine. […]

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