Roosevelt Corollary

Roosevelt Corollary2018-12-07T16:37:44+00:00

Roosevelt Corollary for APUSH®

About the Author: Warren Hierl taught Advanced Placement U.S. History for twenty-eight years. He has conducted 250+ AP US History workshops for teachers. He was a member of the committee that wrote the original Advanced Placement Social Studies Vertical Teams Guide and the Advanced Placement U.S. History Teachers Guide. He has been a reader, a table leader, and, for the past eight years, the question leader on the DBQ at the AP U.S. History reading.

In other words- Mr. Hierl grades the essays you will write for the APUSH exam.

Roosevelt Corollary

The Roosevelt Corollary was a foreign policy statement by Teddy Roosevelt in 1904 that claimed the right of the United States to intervene in the domestic affairs of Western Hemisphere nations to maintain stability.  Roosevelt unilaterally attached the concept to the Monroe Doctrine, despite the fact that it had little to do with the initial statement by Monroe in 1823 outside of referring to the same area of the world.

The Monroe Doctrine… and Roosevelt?

In his own words, Roosevelt claimed with regard to Latin American nations,

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.

Roosevelt’s reason for attaching his corollary to the Monroe Doctrine centered around the perception of the U.S. public that the Doctrine had indeed kept the countries of Europe from recolonizing Latin American countries, which was more myth than fact.  Nevertheless through its association with the Monroe Doctrine, the Roosevelt Corollary gained added weight and prestige.

Roosevelt’s reason for attaching his corollary to the Monroe Doctrine centered around the perception of the U.S. public that the Doctrine had indeed kept the countries of Europe from recolonizing Latin American countries

Monroe to Roosevelt: A Transition

The Monroe Doctrine banned further European colonization in the Western Hemisphere.  It also stated that the United States would not interfere with existing European colonies.  By the early twentieth century, many Latin American countries were both unstable and deeply in debt to European powers.  There was fear that European countries would attempt to forcibly collect those debts, possibly militarily.  With this potential came the prospect that recolonization might become a reality.  In this sense, the Roosevelt Corollary was somewhat justified in connecting U.S. police power to the Monroe Doctrine.  It must be remembered however that Roosevelt and other “jingoists” favored a much more aggressive and expansionistic foreign policy that up to this time had been the case.  Roosevelt, and others (navy men like Alfred Thayer Mahan) who favored a significant increase in naval power,  wished to pursue an aggressive and expansionistic foreign policy.  With a large navy, Roosevelt could wave the “big stick” and use U.S. military power to dominate the Western Hemisphere.

By the early twentieth century, many Latin American countries were both unstable and deeply in debt to European powers… European countries wanted to collect those debts- which would open the door to recolonization.

To Wave, or Not to Wave: The Big Stick

And wave it he did.  When Columbian Senate unanimously rejected a proposed treaty giving the United States the right to build a canal through Panama (which was a province of Columbia at the time), Roosevelt referred to them as “the blackmailers of Bogotá“, and he blustered that trying to get the Columbian Senate to agree to anything was “like trying to nail currant jelly to the wall“.  In the end, Panamanians coincidentally revolted (probably with U.S. complicity), declared their independence from Columbia, and concluded a treaty with the United States allowing the U.S. to build a canal.

In 1905, after a show of force by the U.S., the Dominican Republic caved in and allowed the United States to take over their collection of customs duty to retire debts owed to European nations.  While Latin American countries initially viewed protection from European creditors as positive, they quickly came to complain of “Yankee imperialism“.

In 1907 Roosevelt waved the big stick again when he sent the “Great White Fleet” (largely made up of new naval construction) on a world tour clearly designed to impress Latin American and Asian powers of the military might of the United States.  While progressives like Jane Addams might have opposed jingoism and imperialism because it diverted resources from the domestic scene, they nevertheless tended to support Roosevelt because of his progressive domestic policies.  Thus Addams campaigned strongly for his reelection in 1912.

In 1907 Roosevelt waved the big stick again when he sent the “Great White Fleet” (largely made up of new naval construction) on a world tour clearly designed to impress Latin American and Asian powers of the military might of the United States.

Dollar Diplomacy: The Big Stick of Corporations

Ultimately the “big stick” gave way to “dollar diplomacy“, but probably in name only.  Through dollar diplomacy, the U.S. government encouraged U.S. businesses to invest in Latin American countries, an encouragement that carried with it the assumption that those business interests would be protected by the U.S. government, even by military force if necessary.

It also carried with it the assumption that major U.S. business investment in relatively limited economies of Latin American nations would give those businesses significant clout in the governmental policies of those countries.  This clout would translate into the ability of the United States to influence the domestic and foreign policies of those countries toward a pro-U.S. attitude.  If that clout failed, the U.S. might view the situation as “unstable” and intervene under the authority of the Roosevelt Corollary.

Through dollar diplomacy the U.S. government encouraged U.S. businesses to invest in Latin American countries, an encouragement that carried with it the assumption that those business interests would be protected by the U.S. government, even by military force if necessary.

Good Neighbors Don’t Wave Big Sticks

As the United States emerged from World I and moved toward a less aggressive foreign policy, dollar diplomacy and the Roosevelt Corollary remained in force.  Finally, in 1933 at the Montevideo Conference in Uruguay, the United States formally renounced the Roosevelt Corollary as Franklin Roosevelt attempted to usher in a “Good Neighbor” policy toward Latin America.  Specifically, the accord that emerged from the conference, signed by the U.S. in 1934, stated that “No state has the right to intervene in the internal or external affairs of another“.  While the “good neighbor” policy might have looked good on paper, it didn’t stop U.S. intervention in Latin America.

While the “good neighbor” policy might have looked good on paper, it didn’t stop U.S. intervention in Latin America.

Good Neighbors Don’t Like Communist

Following World War II, the Cold War threw a new element, communism, into the mix.  Continued economic domination by U.S. economic interests caused a build-up of resentment toward the U.S. government in many Latin American countries.  Coupled with this was the fact that the United States supported many repressive and corrupt Latin American regimes (as long as they were anti-communist) who cared little for the welfare of their people.  As a result, leftist candidates running on platforms of land reform and a more equitable distribution of income had great appeal to much of the population in those countries and a number of leftist candidates were democratically elected.  Many of these candidates sought to expropriate (take over, or nationalize) the land and assets of U.S. companies.

As a result, leftist candidates running on platforms of land reform and a more equitable distribution of income had great appeal to much of the population in those countries and a number of leftist candidates were democratically elected.

At the urging of major U.S. business interests (such as United Fruit Company) and extremely fearful of the spread of communism to the Western Hemisphere, the United States used overt military action and, more importantly, covert actions of the CIA to overthrow unfriendly but democratically elected leftist governments.  The classic example is the U.S. sponsored coup d’état in 1954 in Guatemala that overthrew a leftist government bent on nationalizing U.S. assets.  Nor were these covert operations limited to Latin America.  In 1953 a CIA-backed coup d’état successfully placed the Shah of Iran (Mohammad Reza Pahlavi) in power; the U.S. receiving oil concessions from the Shah in return.

Does this really have much to do with the Roosevelt Corollary?  As the United States emerged as a world power after World War I, and even more so after World War II, it is doubtful that the U.S. would have remained timidly on the sidelines when its economic and political interests were threatened.  Nevertheless, the Roosevelt Corollary espoused the view that the United States had the right to intervene in the internal affairs of Latin American countries to maintain stability, in essence, to become the policeman of the Western Hemisphere.  Military might was the only thing that gave the United States this authority.  Following World War II, the United States enlarged that position and, as a super power assumed the position as policeman of the world.  By the 1970s the War in Vietnam and the backlash of nationalist revolutions that had repressed by interventionist U.S. foreign policy led to a declining sense of support for interventionist policies.

Nevertheless, the Roosevelt Corollary espoused the view that the United States had the right to intervene in the internal affairs of Latin American countries to maintain stability, in essence, to become the policeman of the Western Hemisphere.

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