The Monroe Doctrine
In 1823, in his annual message to Congress, President James Monroe stated that 'the American continents ... are henceforth not to be considered as subjects for future colonization by any European powers.' Foreign powers had been coming and going from North and South America for many years. The President made a bold statement in this message. This 'Monroe Doctrine' became the basis for American foreign policy for the future. A doctrine is 'a stated principal of government policy.'
Americans were concerned that Spain and France were trying to regain power in Central and South America. The British asked the United States if they could join in this doctrine. John Adams opposed this idea. In the years following, although Spain and France did occasionally send troops into those areas, America was mainly interested in decreasing British trade to those areas. The United States wanted to increase its own trade with Central and South America.
In 1842, President John Tyler used the doctrine as the basis for his right to annex Texas. Venezuela complained. A Venezuelan newspaper reported. 'Beware, brothers, the wolf approaches the lamb.' The United States was characterized as a wolf using power over Mexico who owned Texas. In 1861, to avoid focus on the possibility of the Civil War and distract attention, Secretary of State Seward tried to use the doctrine to drive out all foreign countries from Cuba and make it independent. President Lincoln said no.
In the 1890's, the Latin American countries were upset because America defended Venezuela over a boundary dispute with British Guiana, its neighbor. Later, President Theodore Roosevelt (1901-1909) stated that European countries could not use force to collect debts owed to them by countries in Latin America. This was called the Roosevelt Corollary. Roosevelt wanted the Latin American countries to set up stable governments which could peaceably set about repaying debts, instead of being forced militarily to do so.
Roosevelt's 'Big Stick' policy was thought to be just like the Monroe Doctrine. Many people didn't like the image of the United States which the policy presented. Franklin Roosevelt wanted to replace the Big Stick policy with the Good Neighbor policy. The United States gave up its right to interfere with the Cuban government. America kept its base in Guantanamo Bay, however.
Some treaties signed during World War II tried to change the Monroe Doctrine to one followed by many nations together. When America interfered with Castro in Cuba, or with the Dominican Republic in 1965, the United States was quick to state that it was acting together with the OAS, the Organization of American States, a multinational organization.
In 1984, during the Presidency of Ronald Reagan, Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger put a new definition to the Monroe Doctrine. He said, 'that there should be no interference, no sponsorship of any kind of military activity in this hemisphere by countries of other hemispheres.' This would allow the United States room to interfere if it wanted to. In 1982, the United States did support the British right to ownership of the islands called the Malvinas which Argentina was trying to reclaim.
By the Presidency of Ronald Reagan (1981-1989), the United States acted as if the Monroe Doctrine covered any instance when Washington thought a foreign power needed to be removed from the Western Hemisphere or Central America. Unfortunately, a doctrine which had begun in 1823 to prevent European colonization in the Western Hemisphere came to be used as a reason for America doing whatever it wanted.
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