The 1823 Monroe Doctrine made US a Global Empire
by Vladislav B Sotirovic on 28 Jun 2024 0 Comment

The Doctrine


The doctrine was presented by the 5th US President James Monroe (1817-1825) in 1823 as an official warning to Western European powers that any European policy of imperialistic expansion on the ground of the Americas (North, Central, and South or Anglo-Francophone and Latin, i.e., Spanish and Portuguese) was going to be taken into account by Washington as a threat to US national interests. The doctrine proclaimed the Americas as the sole business of the US without any involvement or/ and interruption from the outside world.


In other words, James Monroe proclaimed exclusive US economic, financial, and geopolitical rights to deal (exploit) with the Americas (including Canada). The doctrine was later extended with practical consequences by both 26th US President Theodore Roosevelt (1901-1909) and 28th US President Thomas Woodrow Wilson (1913-1921) who used it to formally justify American imperialistic policies in several countries from Latin America from Mexico to Colombia. 


James Monroe (1758-1831) was a Democratic-Republican statesman. He is remembered for two reasons: 1) In 1803 being a minister to France under US President Jefferson, he negotiated and finally ratified the so-called “Louisiana Purchase”, by which a large territory formally owned by (Napoleonic) France was sold to the USA (as Napoleon needed extra financial resources for his wars in Europe); 2) As the creator of the Monroe Doctrine which drafted the future US imperialistic policy.


The Monroe Doctrine formally warned Western European powers against further colonization of the Americas (the New World) and intervention in the governments within the American hemisphere. As a counter offer, it disclaimed Washington’s intention to take part in European political affairs (until April 1917 when the US joined WWI on European soil followed by American military intervention in Russia during the Russian Civil War of 1917-1921).


Monroe first spoke during his annual speech to the US Congress in 1823, regarding the political threat of military intervention by the post-Napoleonic Holy Alliance that sought to restore the Spanish colonies in Latin America which had declared independence from Madrid. However, it became soon clear that US imperialistic policy would fill the space vacated by the withdrawal of Spanish power.


After the US developed territorial interests in Central America and the Caribbean, the Monroe Doctrine became a tenet of its foreign policy. It asserted that Washington was responsible for the security of the Americas, especially during the Cold War. It complicated US relations with Latin American countries, and only dictatorships sponsored by Washington could control the popular anti-American sentiments.


Monroe promulgated his doctrine as he saw an opportunity for Washington’s geopolitical role in the Americas from Alaska to Patagonia. Originally, beating the Spanish and French colonial influence in the Americas could not be imagined without the British Royal Navy. Britain’s aim was to beat France which then dominated Spain. Therefore, the British Foreign Secretary George Canning (1770-1827) encouraged Washington to cut Spanish (in fact, French) colonial power. Shortly afterwards, the US administration issued the Monroe Doctrine to prevent any further effort by Spain (and France) to regain its lost possessions in the New World. In practice, the doctrine forbade all European states to respect the Western hemisphere as an exclusive sphere of geopolitical, financial, and economic influence of the USA.


The first consequences (1897-1916)


The 1897-1903 Alaska border dispute with neighbouring Canada (Dominion since 1867) was the first direct implementation of the Monroe Doctrine. The intention was to incorporate Canada into the USA. The rush to the Klondike gold fields in 1897 (land between Alaska and Canada) nearly led to war. Canada feared the loss of territories in the northwest. However, a tribunal established to solve the problem in 1903, with the UK judge holding the casting vote, favoured the boundary line between Canada and the US as proposed by Washington. 


The US military intervention in the insurrection in Cuba in 1898 directly provoked war with Spain. Washington won and obtained a protectorate over Cuba in 1903. However, the constant local revolts against US rule caused several American military interventions on the island from 1906 to 1922. Similar US military interventions happened in the Caribbean Dominican Republic (1905 and 1916-1924), in Haiti (1915-1934), and in Nicaragua (1909-1933).


The next stage of US colonial policy in Latin America was in 1917 when Denmark was forced to sell the Virgin Islands to the US. The US aggressive policy on Mexico brought two abortive American military interventions in 1914 (invasion of Tampico and Veracruz) and 1916 (invasion across Rio Grande in the provinces of Chihuahua, Coahuila, and Nuevo León).


Washington’s main geopolitical and economic success in Latin America was the control of the Panama Canal zone. Under the treaty with Panama (a former territory of Colombia) in 1903, the US leased the Panama Canal zone in perpetuity. According to the treaty, Washington had to possess the zone as “if it were sovereign”. Such contradictory diplomatic language caused unsolvable arguments from both sides. The Panama Canal zone is 10 miles wide and is bisected by the Canal which, unlike the Suez Canal, has locks.


Woodrow Wilson and the Monroe Doctrine


President Woodrow Wilson (1913-1921) proclaimed to the US Senate in January 1917 that both the principles and policies of the USA had to be accepted by the rest of the world as they were those of all mankind. He argued that all nations should “with one accord adopt the doctrine of President Monroe as the doctrine of the world,” and that “no nation should seek to extend its polity over any other nation or people”.


This implied that “every people should be left free to determine its own polity, its own way of development, unhindered, unthreatened, unafraid, the little along with the great and powerful”. That was a formal way of universalizing international relations founded on President Monroe’s doctrine (which originally dealt only with the Americas).


In practice, a different perspective of the Monroe Doctrine prevailed as even within the Western Hemisphere its impact was other than benign. It did not serve as a guarantee that all nations would be permitted to determine their destiny “unhindered, unthreatened, and unafraid,” but as a mechanism for making relations between stronger and weaker states in regional or global politics according to terms imposed by the stronger.


From the time of Wilson’s presidency, the Monroe Doctrine evolved into a rationale for both US military intervention and expansion of US power (hard and soft). Wilson, in 1915, was eager to see democracy prevail in the Caribbean but was unwilling to tolerate anything that smacked of radicalism or instability and, therefore sent US troops into Haiti. In 1916, American troops occupied the Dominican Republic. The US stay in each instance proved to be an extended one, and in neither country did democracy flower. 


Wilson was confident that he and his administration had the right to make a destiny of the Mexican Revolution and were eager to teach others to “elect good men”. His administration persistently interfered in Mexican internal affairs and organized military expeditions into Mexico in 1914 and 1916. His quest to make the revolution more democratic was abortive and succeeded only in poisoning relations with Mexico for a longer time, though he claimed that these military actions had the best intentions and followed the Monroe Doctrine.      


Last words


In conclusion, the ideological foundation for US colonial imperialism in the Americas since the end of the 19th century was the 1823 Monroe Doctrine which proclaimed an intention to treat the Americas (especially Latin America) as the exclusive geopolitical, economic, and financial sphere of influence of the USA.


Many advocates of an “open world” or “world without borders” (Globalists) are proponents of Monroe’s doctrine and Wilson’s principles of a free world. They claim that openness is for democracy, economic development, protection of human rights, and peace. But too often this openness is just a framework for American influence around the world.


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