The first edition of this book appeared in October, 1918, a few weeks before the signing of the Armistice, when the United States was at the high tide of its power and influence. In view of the subsequent course of events, some of my readers may question the propriety of the original title. In fact, one of my friends has suggested that a more appropriate title for the new edition would be “From Isolation to Leadership, and Back.” But I do not regard the verdict of 1920 as an expression of the final judgment of the American people. The world still waits on America, and sooner or later we must recognize and assume the responsibilities of our position as a great world power.


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Baltimore, June 10, 1922.




From Isolation to Leadership


The Monroe Doctrine and the policy of political isolation are two phases of American diplomacy so closely related that very few writers appear to draw any distinction between them. The Monroe Doctrine was in its origin nothing more than the assertion, with special application to the American continents, of the right of independent states to pursue their own careers without fear or threat of intervention, domination, or subjugation by other states. President Monroe announced to the world that this principle would be upheld by the United States in this hemisphere. The policy of isolation was the outgrowth of Washington’s warning against permanent alliances and Jefferson’s warning against entangling alliances. Both Washington and Jefferson had in mind apparently the form of European alliance common in their day, which bound one nation to support another both diplomatically and by force in any dispute that might arise no matter whether it concerned the interests of the first state or not. Such alliances were usually of the nature of family compacts between different dynasties, or between different branches of the same dynasty, rather than treaties between nations. In fact, dynastic aims and ambitions were frequently, if not usually, at variance with the real interests of the peoples affected. It will be shown later that neither Washington nor Jefferson intended that the United States should refrain permanently from the exercise of its due influence in matters which properly concern the peace and welfare of the community of nations. Washington did not object to temporary alliances for special emergencies nor did Jefferson object to special alliances for the accomplishment of definite objects. Their advice has, however, been generally interpreted as meaning that the United States must hold aloof from world politics and attend strictly to its own business.

The Monroe Doctrine was a perfectly sound principle and it has been fully justified by nearly a century of experience. It has saved South America from the kind of exploitation to which the continents of Africa and Asia have, during the past generation, fallen a prey. The policy of isolation, on the other hand, still cherished by so many Americans as a sacred tradition of the fathers, is in principle quite distinct from the Monroe Doctrine and is in fact utterly inconsistent with the position and importance of the United States as a world power. The difference in principle between the two policies can perhaps best be illustrated by the following supposition. If the United States were to sign a permanent treaty with England placing our navy at her disposal in the event of attack from Germany or some other power, on condition that England would unite with us in opposing the intervention of any European power in Latin America, such a treaty would not be a violation of the Monroe Doctrine, but a distinct recognition of that principle. Such a treaty would, however, be a departure from our traditional policy of isolation. Of the two policies, that of avoiding political alliances is the older. It was announced by Washington under circumstances that will be considered in a moment.

In the struggle for independence the colonies deliberately sought foreign alliances. In fact, the first treaty ever signed by the United States was the treaty of alliance with France, negotiated and ratified in 1778. The aid which France extended under this treaty to our revolutionary ancestors in men, money, and ships enabled them to establish the independence of our country. A few years later came the French Revolution, the establishment of the French Republic followed by the execution of Louis XVI, and in 1793 the war between England and France. With the arrival in this country of Genet, the minister of the newly established French Republic, there began a heated debate in the newspapers throughout the country as to our obligations under the treaty of alliance and the commercial treaty of 1778. President Washington requested the opinions in writing of the members of his cabinet as to whether Genet should be received and the new government which had been set up in France recognized, as to whether the treaties were still binding, and as to whether a proclamation of neutrality should be issued. Hamilton and Jefferson replied at great length, taking as usual opposite sides, particularly on the question as to the binding force of the treaties. Hamilton took the view that as the government of Louis XVI, with which the treaties had been negotiated, had been overthrown, we were under no obligations to fulfill their stipulations and had a perfect right to renounce them. Jefferson took the correct view that the treaties were with the French nation and that they were binding under whatever government the French people chose to set up. This principle, which is now one of the fundamental doctrines of international law, was so ably expounded by Jefferson that his words are well worth quoting.

“I consider the people who constitute a society or nation as the source of all authority in that nation, as free to transact their common concerns by any agents they think proper, to change these agents individually, or the organization of them in form or function whenever they please: that all the acts done by those agents under the authority of the nation, are the acts of the nation, are obligatory on them, and enure to their use, and can in no wise be annulled or affected by any change in the form of the government, or of the persons administering it. Consequently the Treaties between the United States and France were not treaties between the United States and Louis Capet, but between the two nations of America and France, and the nations remaining in existence, tho’ both of them have since changed their forms of government, the treaties are not annulled by these changes.”

The argument was so heated that Washington was reluctant to press matters to a definite conclusion. From his subsequent action it appears that he agreed with Jefferson that the treaties were binding, but he held that the treaty of alliance was purely defensive and that we were under no obligation to aid France in an offensive war such as she was then waging. He accordingly issued his now famous proclamation of neutrality, April, 1793. Of this proclamation W. E. Hall, a leading English authority on international law, writing one hundred years later, said: “The policy of the United States in 1793 constitutes an epoch in the development of the usages of neutrality. There can be no doubt that it was intended and believed to give effect to the obligations then incumbent upon neutrals. But it represented by far the most advanced existing opinions as to what those obligations were; and in some points it even went farther than authoritative international custom has up to the present time advanced. In the main, however, it is identical with the standard of conduct which is now adopted by the community of nations.” Washington’s proclamation laid the real foundations of the American policy of isolation.

The very novelty of the rigid neutrality proclaimed by Washington made the policy a difficult one to pursue. In the Revolutionary and Napoleonic wars, which lasted for nearly a quarter of a century, the United States was the principal neutral. The problems to which this situation gave rise were so similar to the problems raised during the early years of the World War that many of the diplomatic notes prepared by Jefferson and Madison might, with a few changes of names and dates, be passed off as the correspondence of Wilson and Lansing. Washington’s administration closed with the clouds of the European war still hanging heavy on the horizon. Under these circumstances he delivered his famous Farewell Address in which he said:

“The great rule of conduct for us in regard to foreign nations is, in extending our commercial relations to have with them as little political connection as possible. So far as we have already formed engagements let them be fulfilled with perfect good faith. Here let us stop.

“Europe has a set of primary interests which to us have none or a very remote relation. Hence she must be engaged in frequent controversies, the causes of which are essentially foreign to our concerns. Hence, therefore, it must be unwise in us to implicate ourselves by artificial ties in the ordinary vicissitudes of her politics or the ordinary combinations and collisions of her friendships or enmities.

“Our detached and distant situation invites and enables us to pursue a different course. If we remain one people, under an efficient government, the period is not far off when we may defy material injury from external annoyance; when we may take such an attitude as will cause the neutrality we may at any time resolve upon to be scrupulously respected; when belligerent nations, under the impossibility of making acquisitions upon us, will not lightly hazard the giving us provocation; when we may choose peace or war, as our interest, guided by justice, shall counsel.

“Why forego the advantages of so peculiar a situation? Why quit our own to stand upon foreign ground? Why, by interweaving our destiny with that of any part of Europe, entangle our peace and prosperity in the toils of European ambitions, rivalship, interest, humor, or caprice?

“It is our true policy to steer clear of permanent alliances with any portion of the foreign world, so far, I mean, as we are now at liberty to do it; for let me not be understood as capable of patronizing infidelity to existing engagements. I hold the maxim no less applicable to public than to private affairs that honesty is always the best policy. I repeat, therefore, let those engagements be observed in their genuine sense. But in my opinion it is unnecessary and would be unwise to extend them.

“Taking care always to keep ourselves by suitable establishments on a respectable defensive posture, we may safely trust to temporary alliances for extraordinary emergencies.”

It will be observed that Washington warned his countrymen against permanent alliances. He expressly said that we might “safely trust to temporary alliances for extraordinary emergencies.” Further than this many of those who are continually quoting Washington’s warning against alliances not only fail to note the limitations under which the advice was given, but they also overlook the reasons assigned. In a succeeding paragraph of the Farewell Address he said:

“With me a predominant motive has been to endeavor to gain time to our country to settle and mature its yet recent institutions, and to progress without interruption to that degree of strength and consistency which is necessary to give it, humanly speaking, the command of its own fortunes.”

The expression “entangling alliances” does not occur in the Farewell Address, but was given currency by Jefferson. In his first inaugural address he summed up the principles by which he proposed to regulate his foreign policy in the following terms: “Peace, commerce, and honest friendship with all nations, entangling alliances with none.”

During the brief interval of peace following the treaty of Amiens in 1801, Napoleon undertook the reëstablishment of French power in Santo Domingo as the first step in the development of a colonial empire which he determined upon when he forced Spain to retrocede Louisiana to France by the secret treaty of San Ildefonso in 1800. Fortunately for us the ill-fated expedition to Santo Domingo encountered the opposition of half a million negroes and ultimately fell a prey to the ravages of yellow fever. As soon as Jefferson heard of the cession of Louisiana to France, he instructed Livingston, his representative at Paris, to open negotiations for the purchase of New Orleans and West Florida, stating that the acquisition of New Orleans by a powerful nation like France would inevitably lead to friction and conflict. “The day that France takes possession of New Orleans fixes the sentence which is to restrain her forever within her low water mark. It seals the union of two nations who in conjunction can maintain exclusive possession of the ocean. From that moment we must marry ourselves to the British fleet and nation. We must turn all our attentions to a maritime force, for which our resources place us on very high grounds: and having formed and cemented together a power which may render reinforcement of her settlements here impossible to France, make the first cannon, which shall be fired in Europe the signal for tearing up any settlement she may have made, and for holding the two continents of America in sequestration for the common purposes of the united British and American nations. This is not a state of things we seek or desire. It is one which this measure, if adopted by France, forces on us, as necessarily as any other cause, by the laws of nature, brings on its necessary effect.”

Monroe was later sent to Paris to support Livingston and he was instructed, in case there was no prospect of a favorable termination of the negotiations, to avoid a rupture until the spring and “in the meantime enter into conferences with the British Government, through their ambassador at Paris, to fix principles of alliance, and leave us in peace until Congress meets.” Jefferson had already informed the British minister at Washington that if France should, by closing the mouth of the Mississippi, force the United States to war, “they would throw away the scabbard.” Monroe and Livingston were now instructed, in case they should become convinced that France meditated hostilities against the United States, to negotiate an alliance with England and to stipulate that neither party should make peace or truce without the consent of the other. Thus notwithstanding his French proclivities and his warning against “entangling alliances,” the author of the immortal Declaration of Independence was ready and willing in this emergency to form an alliance with England. The unexpected cession of the entire province of Louisiana to the United States made the contemplated alliance with England unnecessary.

The United States was no more successful in its effort to remain neutral during the Napoleonic wars than it was during the late war, though the slow means of communication a hundred years ago caused the struggle for neutral rights to be drawn out for a much longer period of time. Neither England nor France regarded us as having any rights which they were bound to respect, and American commerce was fairly bombarded by French decrees and British orders in council. There was really not much more reason why we should have fought England than France, but as England’s naval supremacy enabled her to interfere more effectually with our commerce on the sea and as this interference was accompanied by the practice of impressing American sailors into the British service, we finally declared war against her. No effort was made, however, to form an alliance or even to coöperate with Napoleon. The United States fought the War of 1812 without allies, and while we gained a number of single-ship actions and notable victories on Lake Erie and Lake Champlain, we failed utterly in two campaigns to occupy Canada, and the final result of the conflict was that our national capitol was burned and our commerce absolutely swept from the seas. Jackson’s victory at New Orleans, while gratifying to our pride, took place two weeks after the treaty of Ghent had been signed and had, consequently, no effect on the outcome of the war.



The international situation which gave rise to the Monroe Doctrine was the most unusual in some respects that modern history records. The European alliance which had been organized in 1813 for the purpose of bringing about the overthrow of Napoleon continued to dominate the affairs of Europe until 1823. This alliance, which met at the Congress of Vienna in 1815 and held later meetings at Aix-la-Chapelle in 1818, at Troppau in 1820, at Laybach in 1821, and at Verona in 1822, undertook to legislate for all Europe and was the nearest approach to a world government that had ever been tried. While this alliance publicly proclaimed that it had no other object than the maintenance of peace and that the repose of the world was its motive and its end, its real object was to uphold absolute monarchy and to suppress every attempt at the establishment of representative government. As long as England remained in the alliance her statesmen exercised a restraining influence, for England was the only one of the allies which professed to have a representative system of government. As Castlereagh was setting out for the meeting at Aix-la-Chapelle Lord Liverpool, who was then prime minister, warned him that, “The Russian must be made to feel that we have a parliament and a public, to which we are responsible, and that we cannot permit ourselves to be drawn into views of policy which are wholly incompatible with the spirit of our government.”

The reactionary spirit of the continental members of the alliance was soon thoroughly aroused by the series of revolutions that followed one another in 1820. In March the Spanish army turned against the government of Ferdinand VII and demanded the restoration of the constitution of 1812. The action of the army was everywhere approved and sustained by the people and the king was forced to proclaim the constitution and to promise to uphold it. The Spanish revolution was followed in July by a constitutional movement in Naples, and in August by a similar movement in Portugal; while the next year witnessed the outbreak of the Greek struggle for independence. Thus in all three of the peninsulas of Southern Europe the people were struggling for the right of self-government. The great powers at once took alarm at the rapid spread of revolutionary ideas and proceeded to adopt measures for the suppression of the movements to which these ideas gave rise. At Troppau and Laybach measures were taken for the suppression of the revolutionary movements in Italy. An Austrian army entered Naples in March, 1821, overthrew the constitutional government that had been inaugurated, and restored Ferdinand II to absolute power. The revolution which had broken out in Piedmont was also suppressed by a detachment of the Austrian army. England held aloof from all participation in the conferences at Troppau and Laybach, though her ambassador to Austria was present to watch the proceedings.

The next meeting of the allied powers was arranged for October, 1822, at Verona. Here the affairs of Greece, Italy, and in particular Spain came up for consideration. At this congress all five powers of the alliance were represented. France was especially concerned about the condition of affairs in Spain, and England sent Wellington out of self-defense. The Congress of Verona was devoted largely to a discussion of Spanish affairs. Wellington had been instructed to use all his influence against the adoption of measures of intervention in Spain. When he found that the other powers were bent upon this step and that his protest would be unheeded, he withdrew from the congress. The four remaining powers signed the secret treaty of Verona, November 22, 1822, as a revision, so they declared in the preamble, of the Treaty of the Holy Alliance, which had been signed at Paris in 1815 by Austria, Russia, and Prussia. This last mentioned treaty sprang from the erratic brain of the Czar Alexander under the influence of Baroness Krüdener, and is one of the most remarkable political documents extant. No one had taken it seriously except the Czar himself and it had been without influence upon the politics of Europe. The text of the treaty of Verona was never officially published, but the following articles soon appeared in the press of Europe and America:

“Article I.—The high contracting powers being convinced that the system of representative government is equally as incompatible with the monarchical principles as the maxim of the sovereignty of the people with the divine right, engage mutually, in the most solemn manner, to use all their efforts to put an end to the system of representative governments, in whatever country it may exist in Europe, and to prevent its being introduced in those countries where it is not yet known.

“Article II.—As it cannot be doubted that the liberty of the press is the most powerful means used by the pretended supporters of the rights of nations, to the detriment of those of Princes, the high contracting parties promise reciprocally to adopt all proper measures to suppress it, not only in their own states, but, also, in the rest of Europe.

“Article III.—Convinced that the principles of religion contribute most powerfully to keep nations in the state of passive obedience which they owe to their Princes, the high contracting parties declare it to be their intention to sustain, in their respective states, those measures which the clergy may adopt, with the aim of ameliorating their own interests, so intimately connected with the preservation of the authority of Princes; and the contracting powers join in offering their thanks to the Pope, for what he has already done for them, and solicit his constant coöperation in their views of submitting the nations.

“Article IV.—The situation of Spain and Portugal unite unhappily all the circumstances to which this treaty has particular reference. The high contracting parties, in confiding to France the care of putting an end to them, engage to assist her in the manner which may the least compromise them with their own people and the people of France, by means of a subsidy on the part of the two empires, of twenty millions of francs every year, from the date of the signature of this treaty to the end of the war.”

Such was the code of despotism which the continental powers adopted for Europe and which they later proposed to extend to America. It was an attempt to make the world safe for autocracy. Wellington’s protest at Verona marked the final withdrawal of England from the alliance which had overthrown Napoleon and naturally inclined her toward a rapprochement with the United States. The aim of the Holy Allies, as the remaining members of the alliance now called themselves, was to undo the work of the Revolution and of Napoleon and to restore all the peoples of Europe to the absolute sway of their legitimate sovereigns. After the overthrow of the constitutional movements in Piedmont, Naples, and Spain, absolutism reigned supreme once more in western Europe, but the Holy Allies felt that their task was not completed so long as Spain’s revolted colonies in America remained unsubjugated. These colonies had drifted into practical independence while Napoleon’s brother Joseph was on the throne of Spain. Nelson’s great victory at Trafalgar had left England supreme on the seas and neither Napoleon nor Joseph had been able to establish any control over Spain’s American colonies. When Ferdinand was restored to his throne in 1814, he unwisely undertook to refasten on his colonies the yoke of the old colonial system and to break up the commerce which had grown up with England and with the United States. The different colonies soon proclaimed their independence and the wars of liberation ensued. By 1822 it was evident that Spain unassisted could never resubjugate them, and the United States after mature deliberation recognized the new republics and established diplomatic intercourse with them. England, although enjoying the full benefits of trade with the late colonies of Spain, still hesitated out of regard for the mother country to take the final step of recognition.

In the late summer of 1823 circular letters were issued inviting the powers to a conference at Paris to consider the Spanish-American question. George Canning, the British foreign secretary, at once called into conference Richard Rush, the American minister, and proposed joint action against the schemes of the Holy Alliance. Rush replied that he was not authorized to enter into such an agreement, but that he would communicate the proposal at once to his government. As soon as Rush’s dispatch was received President Monroe realized fully the magnitude of the issue presented by the proposal of an Anglo-American alliance. Before submitting the matter to his cabinet he transmitted copies of Rush’s dispatch to ex-Presidents Jefferson and Madison and the following interesting correspondence took place. In his letter to Jefferson of October 17th, the President said:

“I transmit to you two despatches, which were receiv’d from Mr. Rush, while I was lately in Washington, which involve interests of the highest importance. They contain two letters from Mr. Canning, suggesting designs of the holy alliance, against the Independence of So. America, & proposing a co-operation, between G. Britain & the U States, in support of it, against the members of that alliance. The project aims, in the first instance, at a mere expression of opinion, somewhat in the abstract, but which, it is expected by Mr. Canning, will have a great political effect, by defeating the combination. By Mr. Rush’s answers, which are also enclosed, you will see the light in which he views the subject, & the extent to which he may have gone. Many important considerations are involved in this proposition. 1st Shall we entangle ourselves, at all, in European politicks, & wars, on the side of any power, against others, presuming that a concert, by agreement, of the kind proposed, may lead to that result? 2d If a case can exist in which a sound maxim may, & ought to be departed from, is not the present instance, precisely that case? 3d Has not the epoch arriv’d when G. Britain must take her stand, either on the side of the monarchs of Europe, or of the U States, & in consequence, either in favor of Despotism or of liberty & may it not be presum’d that, aware of that necessity, her government has seiz’d on the present occurrence, as that, which it deems, the most suitable, to announce & mark the commenc’ment of that career?

“My own impression is that we ought to meet the proposal of the British govt. & to make it known, that we would view an interference on the part of the European powers, and especially an attack on the Colonies, by them, as an attack on ourselves, presuming that, if they succeeded with them, they would extend it to us. I am sensible however of the extent & difficulty of the question, & shall be happy to have yours, & Mr. Madison’s opinions on it.”

Jefferson’s reply dated Monticello, October 24th, displays not only a profound insight into the international situation, but a wide vision of the possibilities involved. He said:

“The question presented by the letters you have sent me, is the most momentous which has ever been offered to my contemplation since that of Independence. That made us a nation, this sets our compass and points the course which we are to steer through the ocean of time opening on us. And never could we embark on it under circumstances more auspicious. Our first and fundamental maxim should be, never to entangle ourselves in the broils of Europe. Our second, never to suffer Europe to intermeddle with cis-Atlantic affairs. America, North and South, has a set of interests distinct from those of Europe, and peculiarly her own. She should therefore have a system of her own, separate and apart from that of Europe. While the last is laboring to become the domicil of despotism, our endeavor should surely be, to make our hemisphere that of freedom. One nation, most of all, could disturb us in this pursuit; she now offers to lead, aid, and accompany us in it. By acceding to her proposition, we detach her from the bands, bring her mighty weight into the scale of free government, and emancipate a continent at one stroke, which might otherwise linger long in doubt and difficulty. Great Britain is the nation which can do us the most harm of any one, or all on earth; and with her on our side we need not fear the whole world. With her then, we should most sedulously cherish a cordial friendship; and nothing would tend more to knit our affections than to be fighting once more, side by side, in the same cause. Not that I would purchase even her amity at the price of taking part in her wars. But the war in which the present proposition might engage us, should that be its consequence, is not her war, but ours. Its object is to introduce and establish the American system, of keeping out of our land all foreign powers, of never permitting those of Europe to intermeddle with the affairs of our nations. It is to maintain our own principle, not to depart from it. And if, to facilitate this, we can effect a division in the body of the European powers, and draw over to our side its most powerful member, surely we should do it. But I am clearly of Mr. Canning’s opinion, that it will prevent instead of provoking war. With Great Britain withdrawn from their scale and shifted into that of our two continents, all Europe combined would not undertake such a war. For how would they propose to get at either enemy without superior fleets? Nor is the occasion to be slighted which this proposition offers, of declaring our protest against the atrocious violations of the rights of nations, by the interference of any one in the internal affairs of another, so flagitiously begun by Bonaparte, and now continued by the equally lawless Alliance, calling itself Holy.”

Madison not only agreed with Jefferson as to the wisdom of accepting the British proposal of some form of joint action, but he went even further and suggested that the declaration should not be limited to the American republics, but that it should express disapproval of the late invasion of Spain and of any interference with the Greeks who were then struggling for independence from Turkey. Monroe, it appears, was strongly inclined to act on Madison’s suggestion, but his cabinet took a different view of the situation. From the diary of John Quincy Adams, Monroe’s secretary of state, it appears that almost the whole of November was taken up by cabinet discussions on Canning’s proposals and on Russia’s aggressions in the northwest. Adams stoutly opposed any alliance or joint declaration with Great Britain. The composition of the President’s message remained in doubt until the 27th, when the more conservative views of Adams were, according to his own statement of the case, adopted. He advocated an independent course of action on the part of the United States, without direct reference to Canning’s proposals, though substantially in accord with them. Adams defined his position as follows: “The ground that I wish to take is that of earnest remonstrance against the interference of the European powers by force with South America, but to disclaim all interference on our part with Europe; to make an American cause and adhere inflexibly to that.” Adams’s dissent from Monroe’s position was, it is claimed, due partly to the influence of Clay who advocated a Pan-American system, partly to the fact that the proposed coöperation with Great Britain would bind the United States not to acquire some of the coveted parts of the Spanish possessions, and partly to the fear that the United States as the ally of Great Britain would be compelled to play a secondary part. He probably carried his point by showing that the same ends could be accomplished by an independent declaration, since it was evident that the sea power of Great Britain would be used to prevent the reconquest of South America by the European powers. Monroe, as we have seen, thought that the exigencies of the situation justified a departure from the sound maxim of political isolation, and in this opinion he was supported by his two predecessors in the presidency.

The opinions of Monroe, Jefferson, and Madison in favor of an alliance with Great Britain and a broad declaration against the intervention of the great powers in the affairs of weaker states in any part of the world, have been severely criticised by some historians and ridiculed by others, but time and circumstances often bring about a complete change in our point of view. After the beginning of the great world conflict, especially after our entrance into it, several writers raised the question as to whether, after all, the three elder statesmen were not right and Adams and Clay wrong. If the United States and England had come out in favor of a general declaration against intervention in the concerns of small states and established it as a world-wide principle, the course of human history during the next century might have been very different, but Adams’s diary does not tell the whole story. On his own statement of the case he might be justly censured by posterity for persuading the president to take a narrow American view of a question which was world-wide in its bearing. An important element in the situation, however, was Canning’s change of attitude between the time of his conference with Rush in August and the formulation of the president’s message. Two days after the delivery of his now famous message Monroe wrote to Jefferson in explanation of the form the declaration had taken: “Mr. Canning’s zeal has much abated of late.” It appears from Rush’s correspondence that the only thing which stood in the way of joint action by the two powers was Canning’s unwillingness to extend immediate recognition to the South American republics. On August 27th, Rush stated to Canning that it would greatly facilitate joint action if England would acknowledge at once the full independence of the South American colonies. In communicating the account of this interview to his government Mr. Rush concluded: “Should I be asked by Mr. Canning, whether, in case the recognition be made by Great Britain without more delay, I am on my part prepared to make a declaration, in the name of my government, that it will not remain inactive under an attack upon the independence of those states by the Holy Alliance, the present determination of my judgment is that I will make such a declaration explicitly, and avow it before the world.” About three weeks later Canning, who was growing restless at the delay in hearing from Washington, again urged Rush to act without waiting for specific instructions from his government. He tried to show that the proposed joint declaration would not conflict with the American policy of avoiding entangling alliances, for the question at issue was American as much as European, if not more. Rush then indicated his willingness to act provided England would “immediately and unequivocally acknowledge the independence of the new states.” Canning did not care to extend full recognition to the South American states until he could do so without giving unnecessary offense to Spain and the allies, and he asked if Mr. Rush could not give his assent to the proposal on a promise of future recognition. Mr. Rush refused to accede to anything but immediate acknowledgment of independence and so the matter ended.

As Canning could not come to a formal understanding with the United States, he determined to make a frank avowal of the views of the British cabinet to France and to this end he had an interview with Prince Polignac, the French ambassador at London, October 9, 1823, in which he declared that Great Britain had no desire to hasten recognition, but that any foreign interference, by force, or by menace, would be a motive for immediate recognition; that England “could not go into a joint deliberation upon the subject of Spanish America upon an equal footing with other powers, whose opinions were less formed upon that question.” This declaration drew from Polignac the admission that he considered the reduction of the colonies by Spain as hopeless and that France “abjured in any case, any design of acting against the colonies by force of arms.” This admission was a distinct victory for Canning, in that it prepared the way for ultimate recognition by England, and an account of the interview was communicated without delay to the allied courts. The interview was not communicated to Rush until the latter part of November, and therefore had no influence upon the formation of Monroe’s message.

The Monroe Doctrine is comprised in two widely separated paragraphs that occur in the message of December 2, 1823. The first, relating to Russia’s encroachments on the northwest coast, and occurring near the beginning of the message, was an assertion to the effect that the American continents had assumed an independent condition and were no longer open to European colonization. This may be regarded as a statement of fact. No part of the continent at that time remained unclaimed. The second paragraph, relating to Spanish America and occurring near the close of the message, was a declaration against the extension to the American continents of the system of intervention adopted by the Holy Alliance for the suppression of popular government in Europe.

The language used by President Monroe is as follows:

1. “At the proposal of the Russian Imperial Government, made through the minister of the Emperor residing here, a full power and instructions have been transmitted to the minister of the United States at St. Petersburg to arrange by amicable negotiation the respective rights and interests of the two nations on the north-west coast of this continent. A similar proposal had been made by His Imperial Majesty to the Government of Great Britain, which has likewise been acceded to. The Government of the United States has been desirous by this friendly proceeding of manifesting the great value which they have invariably attached to the friendship of the Emperor and their solicitude to cultivate the best understanding with his Government. In the discussions to which this interest has given rise and in the arrangements by which they may terminate the occasion has been judged proper for asserting, as a principle in which the rights and interests of the United States are involved, that the American continents, by the free and independent condition which they have assumed and maintain, are henceforth not to be considered as subjects for future colonization by any European powers.”

2. “In the wars of the European powers in matters relating to themselves we have never taken any part, nor does it comport with our policy so to do. It is only when our rights are invaded or seriously menaced that we resent injuries or make preparation for our defense. With the movements in this hemisphere we are of necessity more immediately connected, and by causes which must be obvious to all enlightened and impartial observers. The political system of the allied powers is essentially different in this respect from that of America. This difference proceeds from that which exists in their respective Governments; and to the defense of our own, which has been achieved by the loss of so much blood and treasure, and matured by the wisdom of their most enlightened citizens, and under which we have enjoyed unexampled felicity, this whole nation is devoted. We owe it, therefore, to candor and to the amicable relations existing between the United States and those powers to declare that we should consider any attempt on their part to extend their system to any portion of this hemisphere as dangerous to our peace and safety. With the existing colonies or dependencies of any European power we have not interfered and shall not interfere. But with the Governments who have declared their independence and maintained it, and whose independence we have, on great consideration and on just principles, acknowledged, we could not view any interposition for the purpose of oppressing them, or controlling in any other manner their destiny, by any European power in any other light than as the manifestation of an unfriendly disposition toward the United States.”

The message made a profound impression on the world, all the more profound for the fact that Canning’s interview with Polignac was known only to the chancelleries of Europe. To the public at large it appeared that the United States was blazing the way for democracy and liberty and that Canning was holding back through fear of giving offense to the allies. The governments of Europe realized only too well that Monroe’s declaration would be backed by the British navy, and all thought of intervention in Latin America was therefore abandoned. A few months later England formally recognized the independence of the Spanish-American republics, and Canning made his famous boast on the floor of the House of Commons. In a speech delivered December 12, 1826, in defense of his position in not having arrested the French invasion of Spain, he said: “I looked another way—I sought for compensation in another hemisphere. Contemplating Spain, such as our ancestors had known her, I resolved that, if France had Spain, it should not be Spain with the Indies. I called the New World into existence to redress the balance of the Old.”



President Monroe said in effect that the western hemisphere must be made safe for democracy. It was reserved for our own generation and for President Wilson to extend the declaration and to say that the world must be made safe for democracy. President Monroe announced that we would uphold international law and republican government in this hemisphere, and as quid pro quo he announced that it was the settled policy of the United States to refrain from all interference in the internal affairs of European states. He based his declaration, therefore, not mainly on right and justice, but on the doctrine of the separation of the European and American spheres of politics. The Monroe Doctrine and the policy of isolation thus became linked together in the public mind as compensating policies, neither one of which could stand without the other. Even Secretary Olney as late as 1895 declared that “American non-intervention in Europe implied European non-intervention in America.” It is not strange, therefore, that the public at large should regard the policy of isolation as the sole justification for the Monroe Doctrine. There is, however, neither logic nor justice in basing our right to uphold law and freedom in this hemisphere on our promise not to interfere with the violation of law and humanity in Europe. The real difficulty is that the Monroe Doctrine as interpreted in recent years has developed certain imperialistic tendencies and that the imperialistic implications of the policy resemble too closely the imperialistic aims of the European powers.

For three quarters of a century after Monroe’s declaration the policy of isolation was more rigidly adhered to than ever, the principal departure from it being the signature and ratification of the Clayton-Bulwer Treaty in 1850. By the terms of this treaty we recognized a joint British interest in any canal that might be built through the isthmus connecting North and South America, undertook to establish the general neutralization of such canal, and agreed to invite other powers, European and American, to unite in protecting the same. Owing to differences that soon arose between the United States and England as to the interpretation of the treaty, the clause providing for the adherence of other powers was never carried out.

For nearly a hundred years we have successfully upheld the Monroe Doctrine without a resort to force. The policy has never been favorably regarded by the powers of continental Europe. Bismarck described it as “an international impertinence.” In recent years it has stirred up rather intense opposition in certain parts of Latin America. Until recently no American writers appear to have considered the real nature of the sanction on which the doctrine rested. How is it that without an army and until recent years without a navy of any size we have been able to uphold a policy which has been described as an impertinence to Latin America and a standing defiance to Europe? Americans generally seem to think that the Monroe Doctrine has in it an inherent sanctity which prevents other nations from violating it. In view of the general disregard of sanctities, inherent or acquired, during the early stages of the late war, this explanation will not hold good and some other must be sought. Americans have been so little concerned with international affairs that they have failed to see any connection between the Monroe Doctrine and the balance of power in Europe. The existence of a European balance of power is the only explanation of our having been able to uphold the Monroe Doctrine for so long a time without a resort to force. Some one or more of the European powers would long ago have stepped in and called our bluff, that is, forced us to repudiate the Monroe Doctrine or fight for it, had it not been for the well-grounded fear that as soon as they became engaged with us some other European power would attack them in the rear. A few illustrations will be sufficient to establish this thesis.

The most serious strain to which the Monroe Doctrine was ever subjected was the attempt of Louis Napoleon during the American Civil War to establish the empire of Maximilian in Mexico under French auspices. He was clever enough to induce England and Spain to go in with him in 1861 for the avowed purpose of collecting the claims of their subjects against the government of Mexico. Before the joint intervention had gone very far, however, these two powers became convinced that Napoleon had ulterior designs and withdrew their forces. Napoleon’s Mexican venture was deliberately calculated on the success of the Southern Confederacy. Hence, his friendly relations with the Confederate commissioners and the talk of an alliance between the Confederacy and Maximilian backed by the power of France. Against each successive step taken by France in Mexico Mr. Seward, Lincoln’s Secretary of State, protested. As the Civil War drew to a successful conclusion his protests became more and more emphatic. Finally, in the spring of 1866, the United States Government began massing troops on the Mexican border and Mr. Seward sent what was practically an ultimatum to the French Emperor; he requested to know when the long-promised withdrawal of the French troops would take place. Napoleon replied, fixing the dates for their withdrawal in three separate detachments.

American historians have usually attributed Napoleon’s backdown to Seward’s diplomacy supported by the military power of the United States, which was, of course, greater then than at any previous time in our history. All this undoubtedly had its effect on Napoleon’s mind, but it appears that conditions in Europe just at that particular moment had an even greater influence in causing him to abandon his Mexican scheme. Within a few days of the receipt of Seward’s ultimatum Napoleon was informed of Bismarck’s determination to force a war with Austria over the Schleswig-Holstein controversy. Napoleon realized that the territorial aggrandizement of Prussia, without any corresponding gains by France, would be a serious blow to his prestige and in fact endanger his throne. He at once entered upon a long and hazardous diplomatic game in which Bismarck outplayed him and eventually forced him into war. In order to have a free hand to meet the European situation he decided to yield to the American demands. As the European situation developed he hastened the final withdrawal of his troops and left Maximilian to his fate. Thus the Monroe Doctrine was vindicated!

Let us take next President Cleveland’s intervention in the Venezuelan boundary dispute. Here surely was a clear and spectacular vindication of the Monroe Doctrine which no one can discount. Let us briefly examine the facts. Some 30,000 square miles of territory on the border of Venezuela and British Guiana were in dispute. Venezuela, a weak and helpless state, had offered to submit the question to arbitration. Great Britain, powerful and overbearing, refused. After Secretary Olney, in a long correspondence ably conducted, had failed to move the British Government, President Cleveland decided to intervene. In a message to Congress in December, 1895, he reviewed the controversy at length, declared that the acquisition of territory in America by a European power through the arbitrary advance of a boundary line was a clear violation of the Monroe Doctrine, and asked Congress for an appropriation to pay the expenses of a commission which he proposed to appoint for the purpose of determining the true boundary, which he said it would then be our duty to uphold. Lest there should be any misunderstanding as to his intentions he solemnly added: “In making these recommendations I am fully alive to the responsibility incurred and keenly realize all the consequences that may follow.” Congress promptly voted the appropriation.

Here was a bold and unqualified defiance of England. No one before had ever trod so roughly on the British lion’s tail with impunity. The English-speaking public on both sides of the Atlantic was stunned and amazed. Outside of diplomatic circles few persons were aware that any subject of controversy between the two countries existed, and no one had any idea that it was of a serious nature. Suddenly the two nations found themselves on the point of war. After the first outburst of indignation the storm passed; and before the American boundary commission completed its investigation England signed an arbitration agreement with Venezuela. Some persons, after looking in vain for an explanation, have concluded that Lord Salisbury’s failure to deal more seriously with Mr. Cleveland’s affront to the British Government was due to his sense of humor.

But here again the true explanation is to be found in events that were happening in another quarter of the globe. Cleveland’s Venezuelan message was sent to Congress on December 17th. At the end of the year came Dr. Jameson’s raid into the Transvaal and on the third of January the German Kaiser sent his famous telegram of congratulation to Paul Kruger. The wrath of England was suddenly diverted from America to Germany, and Lord Salisbury avoided a rupture with the United States over a matter which after all was not of such serious moment to England in order to be free to deal with a question involving much greater interests in South Africa. The Monroe Doctrine was none the less effectively vindicated.

In 1902 Germany made a carefully planned and determined effort to test out the Monroe Doctrine and see whether we would fight for it. In that year Germany, England, and Italy made a naval demonstration against Venezuela for the purpose of forcing her to recognize as valid certain claims of their subjects. How England was led into the trap is still a mystery, but the Kaiser thought that he had her thoroughly committed, that if England once started in with him she could not turn against him. But he had evidently not profited by the experience of Napoleon III in Mexico. Through the mediation of Herbert Bowen, the American minister, Venezuela agreed to recognize in principle the claims of the foreign powers and to arbitrate the amount. England and Italy accepted this offer and withdrew their squadrons. Germany, however, remained for a time obdurate. This much was known at the time.

A rather sensational account of what followed next has recently been made public in Thayer’s “Life and Letters of John Hay.” Into the merits of the controversy that arose over Thayer’s version of the Roosevelt-Holleben interview it is not necessary to enter. The significant fact, that Germany withdrew from Venezuela under pressure, is, however, amply established. Admiral Dewey stated publicly that the entire American fleet was assembled at the time under his command in Porto Rican waters ready to move at a moment’s notice. Why did Germany back down from her position? Her navy was supposed to be at least as powerful as ours. The reason why the Kaiser concluded not to measure strength with the United States was that England had accepted arbitration and withdrawn her support and he did not dare attack the United States with the British navy in his rear. Again the nicely adjusted European balance prevented the Monroe Doctrine from being put to the test of actual war.

While England has from time to time objected to some of the corollaries deduced from the Monroe Doctrine, she has on the whole been not unfavorably disposed toward the essential features of that policy. The reason for this is that the Monroe Doctrine has been an open-door policy, and has thus been in general accord with the British policy of free trade. The United States has not used the Monroe Doctrine for the establishment of exclusive trade relations with our southern neighbors. In fact, we have largely neglected the South American countries as a field for the development of American commerce. The failure to cultivate this field has not been due wholly to neglect, however, but to the fact that we have had employment for all our capital at home and consequently have not been in a position to aid in the industrial development of the Latin-American states, and to the further fact that our exports have been so largely the same and hence the trade of both North and South America has been mainly with Europe. There has, therefore, been little rivalry between the United States and the powers of Europe in the field of South American commerce. Our interest has been political rather than commercial. We have prevented the establishment of spheres of influence and preserved the open door. This situation has been in full accord with British policy. Had Great Britain adopted a high tariff policy and been compelled to demand commercial concessions from Latin America by force, the Monroe Doctrine would long since have gone by the board and been forgotten. Americans should not forget the fact, moreover, that at any time during the past twenty years Great Britain could have settled all her outstanding difficulties with Germany by agreeing to sacrifice the Monroe Doctrine and give her rival a free hand in South America. In the face of such a combination our navy would have been of little avail.



President Monroe’s declaration had a negative as well as a positive side. It was in effect an announcement to the world that we would not use force in support of law and justice anywhere except in the Western Hemisphere, that we intended to stay at home and mind our own business. Washington and Jefferson had recommended a policy of isolation on grounds of expediency. Washington, as we have seen, regarded this policy as a temporary expedient, while Jefferson upon two separate occasions was ready to form an alliance with England. Probably neither one of them contemplated the possibility of the United States shirking its responsibilities as a member of the family of nations. Monroe’s message contained the implied promise that if Europe would refrain from interfering in the political concerns of this hemisphere, we would abstain from all intervention in Europe. From that day until our entrance into the World War it was generally understood, and on numerous occasions officially proclaimed, that the United States would not resort to force on any question arising outside of America except where its material interests were directly involved. We have not refrained from diplomatic action in matters not strictly American, but it has always been understood that such action would not be backed by force. In the existing state of world politics this limitation has been a serious handicap to American diplomacy. To take what we could get and to give nothing in return has been a hard rule for our diplomats, and has greatly circumscribed their activities. Diplomatic action without the use or threat of force has, however, accomplished something in the world at large, so that American influence has by no means been limited to the western hemisphere.

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