A developing crisis in the Dominican Republic, where the government stopped payments on its debts of more than $32 million to various nations, caused President Theodore Roosevelt to reformulate the Monroe Doctrine. First advanced in May 1904 and later expanded in his annual message to Congress in December, Roosevelt stated what would become known as his corollary (logical extension of) the Monroe Doctrine.
This change in policy was deemed necessary because of a desire to avoid having European powers come to the Western Hemisphere for the purpose of collecting debts. It was feared that those nations might come as earnest creditors, but remain as occupying powers. This prospect was especially unwelcome at this time when the United States was pushing full steam ahead with the construction of the canal in Panama. Defensive interests demanded that the Caribbean be kept as an “American lake.”
Roosevelt felt that the United States had a “moral mandate” to enforce proper behavior among the nations of Latin America, stating:
It 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 force the United States, however reluctantly, in flagrant cases of such wrongdoing or impotence, to the exercise of an international police power.
The Monroe Doctrine had originally been intended to keep European nations out of Latin America, but the Roosevelt corollary was used as a justification for U.S. intervention in Latin America.
Public response in the United States was generally favorable, reflecting widely held support for imperialistic attitudes and actions. Some opposition, however, was voiced by Congressional Democrats who were motivated by both principle and politics. Most European responses were quietly supportive, especially from creditor interests who were pleased to have help in collecting their debts, but the British were unrestrained in applauding Roosevelt. Nonetheless, many Europeans harbored feelings that the Americans were becoming increasingly presumptuous and should be watched carefully.
There was little immediate reaction to the revised doctrine in Latin America. As the years passed and the U.S. routinely intervened in the Caribbean and Central America, attitudes changed sharply and the giant of the north was viewed with increased distrust — and outright hatred in many instances.
Roosevelt’s successors actually enforced the corollary with greater frequency than its author. Even Woodrow Wilson, a Democratic and arch critic of Republican foreign policy, first resorted to armed intervention in tumultuous Haiti and the Dominican Republic in 1915 and 1916. In later years, Wilson and other administrations took strong-armed action in Cuba, Nicaragua and Mexico as well as making return visits to Haiti and the Dominican Republic.
Official unease was evident in some government circles by the late 1920s when the Clark Memorandum was drafted, calling in effect for a repudiation of the corollary. U.S. relations with Latin American improved during the Hoover administration, but it was left to Franklin Roosevelt, the cousin of the corollary’s instigator, to implement a “Good Neighbor Policy" with the Latin nations in the 1930s.
See other aspects of Theodore Roosevelt's foreign policy.