The Secretary of State to President Wilson

My Dear Mr. President: I enclose a memorandum covering the subject of the Monroe Doctrine, its application, and the possible extension of the principle in a way to constitute a policy which may be termed a “Carribean Policy”, since it is limited in application to the territory in and about the Carribean Sea.

Briefly, the memorandum is this:

The Monroe Doctrine is based on the theory that any extension by a European power of political control, beyond that which exists over any territory in this hemisphere, is a menace to the national safety of the United States. The means of extending political control, thus far recognized, has been by occupation of unattached territory, by conquest and by cession.

Recently the financing of revolutions and corruption of governments of the smaller republics by European capitalists have frequently thrown the control of these governments into the hands of a European power.

To avoid this danger of European political control by this means which may be as great a menace to the national safety of this country [Page 467] as occupation or cession, the only method seems to be to establish a stable and honest government and to prevent the revenues of the republic from becoming the prize of revolution and of the foreigners who finance it.

Stability and honesty of government depend on sufficient force to resist revolutions and on sufficient control over the revenues and over the development of the resources to prevent official graft and dishonest grants of privileges.

The possession of the Panama Canal and its defense have in a measure given to the territories in and about the Carribean Sea a new importance from the standpoint of our national safety. It is vital to the interests of this country that European political domination should in no way be extended over these regions. As it happens within this area lie the small republics of America which have been and to an extent still are the prey of revolutionists, of corrupt governments, and of predatory foreigners.

Because of this state of affairs our national safety, in my opinion, requires that the United States should intervene and aid in the establishment and maintenance of a stable and honest government, if no other way seems possible to attain that end.

I make no argument on the ground of the benefit which would result to the peoples of these republics by the adoption of this policy. That they would be the chief beneficiaries in that their public and private rights would be respected, and their prosperity and intellectual development insured, is manifest. Nevertheless the argument based on humanitarian purpose does not appeal to me, even though it might be justly urged, because too many international crimes have been committed in the name of Humanity.

It seems to me that the ground of national safety, the conservation of national interests, is the one which should be advanced in support of this policy. It is reasonable, practical, and in full accord with the principle of the Monroe Doctrine.

In considering this policy it should be borne in mind what has been done already in Cuba, Panama, Nicaragua, the Dominican Republic and Haiti, and what may have to be done in the small neighboring republics. The Danish West Indies and the colonial possessions of other European nations in the Carribean should not be forgotten in considering this policy as through a change of their sovereignty they might become a serious menace to the interests of the United States.

Faithfully yours,

Robert Lansing
[Page 468]

Present Nature and Extent of the Monroe Doctrine

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This is not perhaps attempted openly at first but the result is the same though more subtly attained. In a large proportion of the instances to which the United States has felt called upon to apply the Monroe Doctrine the acts complained of have been direct political acts of a European Government, as, for example, the invasion of Mexico by France during the Civil War; British interposition in the boundary question of Venezuela; the offer of Italy to purchase the Island of St. Bartholomew in 1870; the attempts of Spain to reannex Santo Domingo and other former Spanish possessions in America. There have however been some instances of interference for the purpose of satisfying claims of foreign subjects, as, for example, the French claims based on Mexican bonds; and Spanish claims against Mexico of various sorts; and the French, German, British and Italian claims, including claims based on war damage and on Government contracts, but it does not appear that the United States protested against drastic action by these Governments on the ground of the Monroe doctrine, but, on the contrary, used its good offices to effect an amicable settlement. As a protest against the forcible collection of contract debts, Drago advanced the doctrine bearing his name. Now it is to political action growing out of investments in the Carribean countries that I make particular reference. The purchase of Government securities upon which payments of interest and sinking funds are defaulted, and the development of a concession, perhaps obtained in return for financing a revolution, which is infringed or annulled, open the offending Government to claims to the foreign bond holders or concessionaires who enlist the aid of their Governments.

Thus the European power, whose subjects supply the capital to install and operate the principal industries of a small American republic and furnish the funds upon which its government is dependent, may, if it finds it expedient to do so, dominate the political action of the weak and bankrupt government. To state it in another way, a European power whose subjects own the public debt of an American state and have invested large amounts of capital, would be able to control the government of the state almost as completely as if it had acquired sovereign rights over the territory through occupation, conquest or cession.

[Page 469]

The method of obtaining political mastery by means of financial control has been an increasing menace to the independence of the republics situated in or about the Carribean Sea. Revolutions have been frequent, due in the majority of cases to the desire of a factional leader by becoming master of the nation’s revenues to amass wealth for himself and his immediate friends. A revolutionary chief finds little difficulty in financing his venture among foreign speculators in exchange for concessions or other privileges and the chance of large profits which will be theirs if the revolution is successful. As a result the people of these countries are the victims of constant strife between rival leaders, and their condition is little improved by the governments, which exist only a short time and which are used to enrich their rulers and those who have financed them.

The corrupt character of the rulers, and the powerful influence of foreign financiers who have aided the rulers in obtaining and will aid them in maintaining control, tends toward instability of Government in these same republics and not only threaten their national independence but prevents the people from developing intellectually or from attaining any degree of prosperity.

The United States in any circumstances would be desirous as a friend of an American republic, which is suffering from this state of affairs, to aid it in removing the cause. But in the case of the Carribean republics self-interest as well as friendship appeals. Since the construction of the Panama Canal it is essential for its safety that the neighboring nations should not come under the political domination of any European power either directly by force or by cession or indirectly through the agency of financial control by its subjects. While force and cession are not impossible means if the government of a republic is corrupt or weak, the greater danger lies in the subtlety of financial control.

To meet this danger the surest if not the only means, is the establishment of a stable and honest government which will devote the revenues of the state to defraying its just obligations, to developing its resources, and to educating its people, and which will protect individuals in their rights of life, liberty and property, and in the enjoyment of their political rights.

In order to accomplish this the first thing to be done is to remove the prize of revolution, namely, the control of the public revenues. If this can be done there will be few revolutions about the Carribean. In the second place the government must not be dependent on foreign financiers for its continuance in power. In the third place it must [Page 470] possess a reliable and efficient military force sufficient to suppress insurrection against the established authority.

If there could arise in all the Carribean republics men of strong character, patriotic and honest, as there have in some, who are able to carry out such a policy, it would be well for all concerned. Unfortunately this is not the case, and the United States is of necessity forced to choose between permitting these republics to continue to be the prey of unscrupulous adventurers native and foreign, or to undertake the task of aiding in the establishment of a stable and honest government, upon principles which will insure political independence and prevent any possibility of European control.

It would seem, therefore, that in the case of the republics about the Carribean Sea the United States should expand the application of the Monroe Doctrine, and declare as a definite Carribean policy that, while it does not seek dominion over the territory of any of these republics, it is necessary for the national safety of the United States, and particularly in view of its interests on the Isthmus of Panama, that it aid the people of those republics in establishing and maintaining responsible and honest governments to such extent as may be necessary in each particular case, and that it will not tolerate control over or interference with the political or financial affairs of these republics by any European power or its nationals or permit the occupation, even temporarily, by a European power, of any territory of such republics.

  1. The omitted portion of this memorandum is substantially the same as the first 15 paragraphs of the memorandum of June 11, 1914, p. 460.