The Monroe Doctrine
The Final Act for American Independence
One cannot read the writings of the Founders without discovering that a most singular and important feature of the settlers of America was their overpowering sense of mission — a conviction that they were taking part in a grand latter-day scene of divine design and magnitude. This sense of America’s destiny will be found expressed in nearly all of the inaugural addresses given by the presidents of the United States.
It was not a feeling of superiority or of a conquering imperialistic nature, but of humble recognition that the great yearnings of the human heart of all people is to live in freedom, prosperity, and peace. In the Founders thinking these yearnings were not limited to just the people in the colonies of America, but, if possible, the American experiment could eventually be an example and a blessing to the entire human race. For example, John Adams wrote:
“I always consider the settlement of America with reverence and wonder, as the opening of a grand scene and design in Providence for the illumination of the ignorant, and the emancipation of the slavish part of mankind all over the earth.”
Thomas Jefferson looked upon the development of freedom under the Constitution as “the world’s best hope,” and wrote to John Dickinson in 1801 that what had been accomplished in the United States “will be a standing monument and example for the aim and imitation of the people of other countries.”
Even while the Constitution was being written, John Adams expressed his hope that America will be the example for other nations to follow:
“The people of America have now the best opportunity and the greatest trust in their hands that Providence ever committed to so small a number.”
A special feeling for our American neighbors struggling for freedom
America’s Founders watched as their neighboring countries to the south struggled, as they themselves had, under the heavy yoke of European tyranny. Spain especially had control of many Latin America countries since the days of Cortez and Pizarro. But when Napoleonic forces created political turmoil in Spain, Spanish control of its American colonies weakened, and, under the leadership of liberators such as Simon Bolivar and others, the Latin American countries began winning their independence from European domination. After Napoleon was deposed, Spain and other European countries tried to regain control of their former Latin American colonies.
In 1823, President James Monroe, with the encouragement of Thomas Jefferson and John Quincy Adams, proclaimed in a speech to congress, that this attempted intrusion by European powers into the Western Hemisphere would pose a threat to the security of the United States and other free countries and would not be tolerated. It declared the Americas off-limits to European countries and committed that the United States would stay out of the affairs of the Eastern Hemisphere. President Monroe also stated that, while protecting our southern neighbors from European aggression, the United States would not meddle in the internal affairs of these Central and Latin American countries. This became known as the Monroe Doctrine and served as the basis of our foreign policy until it began to crumble with our entry into World War I.
The Monroe Doctrine A Fulfillment of Providential Design
After nearly forty years of experience and seasoning for the new nation, the Monroe Doctrine was a direct attempt by the Founders to begin to fulfill what they felt was a God-given mandate to America to be a force for good in protecting the rights and privileges of all flesh and to help the peoples of other nations gain the great longings of the human heart–freedom, prosperity, and peace. Where better to start to fulfil this mandate than with our own neighbors and thereby also further securing our own nation?
In the early 1960s, and soon after the Marxist-Communist Fidel Castro forcibly took control of Cuba with the encouragement and support of the Soviet Union, the Kennedy administration had refused to invoke the Monroe Doctrine. Former Secretary of Agriculture Ezra Taft Benson, who had just concluded eight years with President Eisenhower and was one of his trusted advisors on Cuba, explained the importance of the Monroe Doctrine in these words:
“The declaration was directed against the real danger of intervention by European powers in Central and South American affairs, and in particular, against any attempt at restoring to Spain its Latin American colonies, most of which had won their independence a few years earlier. President Monroe’s message was a bold act, a striking example of open diplomacy in the face of danger that loomed large throughout the century of European supremacy. It became securely established in the minds of several generations of Americans.
“Most people generally are quite familiar with the Monroe Doctrine. The basic facts are these. On December 2, 1823, President Monroe delivered his annual message to Congress and enunciated a policy which he and his cabinet had formulated regarding the official attitude of the United States toward future extension of European influence anywhere in the American hemisphere – both North and South America. In essence, that policy proclaimed that the United States would look with disfavor upon any new European colonization in the future, and any attempt by European powers to extend their influence over existing independent countries. In return, the United States proclaimed that it would not interfere with existing European colonies or in the internal affairs of any country in the Western Hemisphere. The purpose was to maintain the current balance of power so that we would not become the targets of future aggressive designs of European nations with massive strongholds on or near our borders. It was felt that the maintenance of an ocean between ourselves and European powers would safeguard us from becoming reluctantly entwined in the perennial intrigues and wars of the [European] Continent.
“Whenever the physical security of the United States is directly threatened, as it was in the Cuban crisis, we must not hesitate to uphold the traditional meaning of the Monroe Doctrine: our unilateral opposition to outside intervention in the Western Hemisphere. This Doctrine laid down as a broad principle of action and applied to world communism enjoys strong public support for foreign policy decisions. While the Monroe Doctrine may be subject to modification and divergent interpretation, it can and should continue to play a useful and significant role in the diplomacy of the United States.
“The Monroe Doctrine was entirely within the constitutional prerogative of the President. He could not commit our armed forces to battle, for that is a legislative function. But, as spokesman to the world in matters of foreign policy, he not only had a right but had an obligation to advise other nations of this country’s general position on such matters. Advance declarations of this kind serve a valuable function in the international relations of a non-aggressive nation. Hopeful of maintaining peace for ourselves, and with nothing to hide, there is much in favor of spelling out for other nations what conditions generally will be unacceptable to the point where non-peaceful acts will be contemplated. Other nations then can consider the probable consequences of their acts prior to making them, and thus avoid stumbling into a confrontation.
“The Monroe Doctrine is based upon the principle, long recognized in international law journals, that a nation has a right to interfere in the affairs of another nation if such interference is within the framework of self-defense. In other words, if the establishment by a foreign power of unusually heavy military installations is observed on a nation’s frontier, and if that nation has good reason to believe that those installations eventually are going to be used as a part of an offensive attack against it, then it is justified in taking the initiative in destroying those installations, without waiting for the actual attack. Such action, although aggressive by itself, is viewed as part of a generally defensive maneuver.
“Naturally, whether a nation can successfully execute this policy of “preventive self-defense” depends ultimately upon its strength and the advantage of its position. But international law is concerned, not so much with what a nation can do as it is with what a nation may do and still abide by a code of conduct to which honorable men can subscribe. In this respect, the Monroe Doctrine neither added nor detracted on iota from what the United States had a right to do. All it accomplished was to inform other nations what conditions the United States would consider a sufficient threat to its long-range security to justify involving, if need be, the sovereign right of preventative self-protection. If other nations wished to test our resolve or our strength in these matters, that was up to them, but at least we went on record and laid our cards on the table so that no one could say that they did not know.
“The important point, however, is that, even if the Monroe Doctrine had never been enunciated, the United States – or any nation for that matter – would still be justified in attempting to prevent an upset on the stable balance of power among its friendly bordering neighbors if it were convinced that such a shift in power eventually would result in a threat to its own security. That principle, which is at the heart of a nation’s right to self-preservation, is just as valid today as ever before – and especially so for the United States.
“It should be painfully obvious that the principle of preventative self-defense embodied in the Monroe Doctrine now has been deserted by our leaders in Washington. With a hostile communist regime in Cuba, firmly established only ninety miles from our borders, and with the United States Navy and Coast Guard actively protecting this enemy stronghold against anti-communist Cuban refugees who attempt to raid the island, it is futile any more to expect other nations to seriously believe that the Monroe Doctrine reflects the present attitude of the United States Government. The Monroe Doctrine is right, it just needs to be applied.
“There is no doubt in my mind that the American people would be angry if they fully realized the extent to which our leaders have abandoned the vital principle of preventative self-defense on behalf of our nation. If a man says he is going to shoot you, and then points a gun in your direction, you don’t have to wait until he pulls the trigger before you take action to overpower him. When the communists say they are going to bury us and then move in a bearded gravedigger right next door, we should grab him by the hair on his chin and throw him out! And we don’t have to apologize to anyone for our action.
“What we need is a new application of the Monroe Doctrine – a declaration to the nations of the world to inform them that no longer are we going to tolerate communist or other hostile regimes on or near our borders. Give them fair warning. We don’t need to tell them exactly what we intend to do. That should be determined by each situation and the need. But there is no doubt that very quickly in the beginning we should have taken strong and swift action against communist Cuba, not only to eliminate that menace from our borders, but to demonstrate that we mean business with what we declare.” (See An Enemy Hath Done This, pp. 241-245, compiled by Jerreld L. Newquist, Parliament Publishers, 1969)
A fundamental transformation of the Founders’ foreign policy has happened
On November 18, 2013, our current Secretary of State, John Kerry, completely abrogated what is left of the Monroe Doctrine in these words spoken to the Inter-American League:
“When people speak of the Western Hemisphere, they often talk about transformations that have taken place, but the truth is one of the biggest transformations has happened right here in the United States of America. In the early days of our republic, the United States made a choice about its relationship with Latin America. President James Monroe, who was also a former Secretary of State, declared that the United States would unilaterally, and as a matter of fact, act as the protector of the region. The doctrine that bears his name asserted our authority to step in and oppose the influence of European powers in Latin America. And throughout our nation’s history, successive presidents have reinforced that doctrine and made a similar choice.
“Today, however, we have made a different choice. The era of the Monroe Doctrine is over…. The relationship that we seek and that we have worked hard to foster is not about a United States declaration about how and when it will intervene in the affairs of other American states. It’s about all of our countries viewing one another as equals, sharing responsibilities, cooperating on security issues, and adhering not to doctrine, but to the decisions that we make as partners to advance the values and the interests that we share.”
It is clear that Secretary Kerry, representing the current administration, believes that:
- America has no responsibility to help protect our neighbors from the powerful dictatorships of Europe and Asia.
- America will be in no real danger having anti-American forces close to our borders.
- People of other nations might, if left free to do so, choose slavery and dictatorship.
- “American Exceptionalism” is an archaic notion and no longer defensible.
- The Founders’ belief that America has a Providential mandate to be an example and a blessing to the entire world and to help free the world’s enslaved peoples is pure fantasy.
- Somehow, under the Monroe Doctrine, the United States claims the right to interfere in the internal affairs of other countries, even though it specifically rejects the idea.
From the perspective of the ideals and values of those who founded our American nation, it must be said that such beliefs expounded by our present leaders are dangerously “un-American.”
What a blessing it would be to our friends in North and South America if we would once again proclaim and enforce the principles of the Monroe Doctrine.
Earl Taylor, Jr.