The “Roosevelt Corollary” to the Monroe Doctrine

When the Venezuelan government stopped paying back its debts to European bankers in 1902, “naval forces of Britain, Italy, and Germany erected a blockade along that country's coast.” As rumors spread that Germany was going to establish a permanent base in the region, President Theodore Roosevelt grew alarmed and warned the Germans to withdraw. This incident prompted Roosevelt to update the “Monroe Doctrine” with the new corollary that he announced in a 1904 message to Congress. Roosevelt, like his later rival, Woodrow Wilson, sometimes had difficulty distinguishing between legitimate influence and unwarranted meddling in the affairs of others. No doubt the intentions of both presidents were good, but that was not always the perception in nations who felt the heavy hand of American interference. Not until the Good Neighbor policy was begun under Presidents Herbert Hoover and Franklin D. Roosevelt did relations with our Latin neighbors improve substantially.

rooseveltIt 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 lead 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... In extreme cases action may be justifiable and proper. What form the action shall take must depend upon the circumstances of the case; that is, upon the degree of the atrocity and upon our power to remedy it. 

World Power Home | Imperial America | World War I | Updated July 27, 2013