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Roosevelt Corollary to the Monroe Doctrine

President Theodore Roosevelt's assertive approach to Latin America and the Caribbean has often been characterized as the "Big Stick," and his policy came to be known as the Roosevelt Corollary to the Monroe Doctrine. In his annual messages to Congress in 1904 and 1905, President Theodore Roosevelt expanded the Monroe Doctrine. The corollary stated that not only were the nations of the Western Hemisphere not open to colonization by European powers, but that the United States had the responsibility to preserve order and protect life and property in those countries.

European intervention in Latin America (see the Platt Amendment) resurfaced as an issue in U.S. foreign policy when European governments began to use force to pressure several Latin American countries to repay their debts. For example, British, German, and Italian gunboats blockaded Venezuela's ports in 1902 when the Venezuelan government defaulted on its debts to foreign bondholders. Many Americans worried that European intervention in Latin America would undermine their country's traditional dominance in the region.

To keep other powers out and ensure financial solvency, President Theodore Roosevelt issued his corollary. "Chronic wrongdoing . . . may in America, as elsewhere, ultimately require intervention by some civilized nation," he announced in his annual message to Congress in December 1904, "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."

Roosevelt tied his policy to the Monroe Doctrine, and it was also consistent with his foreign policy of "walk softly, but carry a big stick." Roosevelt stated that in keeping with the Monroe Doctrine, the United States was justified in exercising "international police power" to put an end to chronic unrest or wrongdoing in the Western Hemisphere. This so-called Roosevelt Corollary-a corollary is an extension of a previous idea-to the Monroe Doctrine contained a great irony. The Monroe Doctrine had been sought to prevent European intervention in the Western Hemisphere, but now the Roosevelt Corollary justified American intervention throughout the Western Hemisphere.

When President Monroe, in 1823, proclaimed his celebrated doctrine, he placed his country automatically in the forefront of aggressive Powers. Publicists and historians may dispute concerning precisely what this doctrine means; from a military standpoint at least its significance was clear; it meant that, in certain crises, the United States stood ready to defend all North and South America from attack or invasion. No country had ever taken on such a comprehensive contract. Its successful execution demands that we have sufficient forces to defend not only our own extensive coast line, but any portion of Central or South America that may be the center of dispute.

If a strong European Power, such as Germany, decided to appropriate some part of Venezuela, the Monroe Doctrine makes that as much a cause of war as though it should attempt to seize Florida or Texas. The act, unless America abandon the Monroe Doctrine, would probably precipitate a war. The strategists differ as to exactly what course such a war would take. In all probability the aggressive European Power would project its forces at the immediate objects of dispute: it would send transports and battleships directly to Venezuela. Therefore, America should have to dispatch a large fleet to the same waters. Naturally America could not leave its own coast and large cities unprotected, so the exigencies of war would demand some kind of naval protection in the North as well as the South Atlantic. The various complications in which the Monroe Doctrine might involve America all imply the possession of large naval forces. There seemed, then, to be but two alternatives: to abandon this doctrine, or to stand prepared to uphold it with force.

The sources of American expansionism in the late 19th century were varied. Internationally, the period was one of imperialist frenzy, as European powers raced to carve up Africa and competed, along with Japan, for influence and trade in Asia. Many Americans, including influential figures such as Theodore Roosevelt, Henry Cabot Lodge, and Elihu Root, felt that to safeguard its own interests, the United States had to stake out spheres of economic influence as well. That view was seconded by a powerful naval lobby, which called for an expanded fleet and network of overseas ports as essential to the economic and political security of the nation. More generally, the doctrine of "manifest destiny," first used to justify America's continental expansion, was now revived to assert that the United States had a right and duty to extend its influence and civilization in the Western Hemisphere and the Caribbean, as well as across the Pacific.

At the same time, voices of anti-imperialism from diverse coalitions of Northern Democrats and reform-minded Republicans remained loud and constant. As a result, the acquisition of a US empire was piecemeal and ambivalent. Colonial-minded administrations were often more concerned with trade and economic issues than political control.



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