The Monroe Doctrine originally was a portion of President James Monroe´s seventh annual message to Congress on December 2nd, 1823. Subsequently, this document was considered an essential part of the US foreign policy in the 19th and part of 20th century. Fundamentally the paper contains the idea of no interference in American affairs by European states “…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…”. This message steered relevant parts of the U.S. policy, such as politics, economic and cultural, under the principle of isolation of the American continent regarding Europe.
In order to understand the motivations that inspire the Monroe Doctrine, an analysis of the European historical context is required. In this period, after the Napoleonic Wars, European powers, except United Kingdom, were likely to promote a political and social involution to restore the Ancient Regime; The Holly Alliance, a coalition formed by Russia, Austria and Prussia, was created in 1815 with this purpose. One of its main initiatives was to help Spain in the recovery of its American colonies, which seriously damaged English commerce. Indeed, President Monroe made a specific reference to the military occupation of Spain by the Hundred Thousand Sons of Saint Louis: “The late events in Spain and Portugal show that Europe is still unsettle.” This occupation finally ended up with the Trienio Liberal and gave back absolute power to Ferdinand VII. At the same time, Russia was increasing his commercial activity in Alaska and Oregon what was viewed with quite a lot of concern by US.
England, in order to increase its influence in the American continent, offered to issue a joint declaration with the US against European intervention in America. However, the US rejected the English offer because they didn´t want to accept an agreement clause where both countries agreed not to acquire further territories in the American country, because the US had some clear expansionism aims. Having dismissed the agreement with England, President Monroe presented, in his annual speech, the main principle that guided the foreign policy of the US. America to the Americans was the maxim that sum-up the axis of the Doctrine.
Until then, the US had avoided being involved in European conflicts “In the wars of the European powers in matters relating to themselves we have never taken any part…”, but thereafter US warned that even they would be willing to go to war if European countries interfered in the continent “It is only when our rights are invaded or seriously menaced that we resent injuries or make preparation for our defense.”
But overall, the main purpose enclosed in the Monroe Doctrine was the pretension to enlarge its influence over the continent, either directly, by annexing territories, or indirectly, by expanding his commerce. However, Monroe's statement was frequently ignored as a policy guide for much of the nineteenth century, because the US was mainly involved in domestic affairs, like Civil War, and his its military power wasn´t enough to play a main role in international matters. It was not until the end of that century, when the US consolidated its status of great world power, when the Monroe Doctrine became the cornerstone of U.S. foreign policy.
The Texas annexation in 1845 was the first direct application of the Monroe doctrine. President Polk reinterpreted the Monroe Doctrine in terms of the prevailing spirit of the Manifest Destiny. This belief consisted in the idea that US was destined to expand across the continent, which served to justify the war with Mexico. Initially, Monroe intended that America was no longer a European colony; instead Polk stated that European powers must not interfere in the US´s territorial expansion. As an example of this new interpretation, it can be highlighted that the US position was completely different in the case of the Anglo-French blockade of the Río de la Plata and other interventions such as the occupation of the Falklands by UK (1833) or French invasion of Veracruz (1838). The US president considered differently those interventions that affected directly the vital interests of US from the others that were far from its territory, even when the American countries requested assistance from the US.
The outbreak of the American Civil War prevented the imposition of the Monroe doctrine therefore, no opposition came from US when French forces invaded and conquered Mexico in 1862, except a complaint of the violation of The Doctrine. A remarkable feature of this complaint was that for the first time, Monroe Doctrine was widely referred to as a Doctrine. When the civil war finally finished, U.S. sent troops to the Mexican border in order to put pressure on the French colonialist government, which was eventually defeated by the Mexican troops.
After the Civil War, the years of industrial growth started in United States and, thus the sphere of influence also grew to include the Caribean and Central America. In 1889, Rutherford Hayes set down a policy that a canal in Central America could only be under American control so this thesis laid the foundation for the takeover of the Panama Canal. In this period the capitalist theories led the entrepreneurs and the companies extended beyond the US borders and finally became an imperialist policy. The European menace had been left behind in the same way initial principles that guided the Monroe´s doctrine.
Another remarkable event was the Spanish-American War in 1898, once more the Monroe Doctrine was argued for the forceful removal of the Spanish from Cuba. After the war, Spain ceded Puerto Rico, the Philippines, Guam, and Cuba to the United States.
In 1904, Theodore Roosevelt stated what is known as The Roosevelt Corollary in an amendment to the Monroe Doctrine. Basically, the corollary asserted that “the United States has the right, under the doctrine, to go in in order to exercise police power to keep the Europeans out”. Indeed The Roosevelt Corollary meant US had a carte blanche to intervene wherever they want in the Caribbean, Central America and South America.
From 1920s to post-world war II, the Monroe´s Doctrine was imposed with moderation and with a pan-Americanism view, but due to the fear of Communism that spread in the 1950s, US initiated unilateral actions against countries in which socialist ideas had become popular such as Guatemala (1954), Cuba (Bay of Pigs invasion in 1961), Dominican Republic (1965), Chile (Salvador Allende´s overthrown in 1973) Nicaragua (1980) and Granada (1983). During these interventions, US used to support military governments that frequently committed violation of human rights.
In conclusion, the Monroe´s doctrine enshrined the isolationism concept that has been so prevalent in the US policy from his creation. During the last two centuries, Doctrine´s Monroe has been interpreted and, has also guided the US´s foreign policy in different ways: firstly, to protect the recent American nations against of the conservative Santa Alliance, after that to justify US´s territorial expansion in the early XX century to protect his economic interest in the continent and finally, during the cold war, to prevent the expansion of Socialist ideas in the American continent. This policy has generated great discomfort and anti-American sentiments across the continent that can be widely felt nowadays.