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THE MONROE DOCTRINE
I HAVE been asked to address you this evening on the subject of the “Monroe Doctrine.” This phrase, heard by many Americans for the first time, and conveying to most minds a very indefinite idea, has been brought before the country with striking effect within the last three or four months. It has drawn us dangerously near to a war with Great Britain, and nearer perhaps to a war with Spain. It has caused a paralysis upon business and a loss of property in the depreciation of securities that no arithmetic can estimate. For what cause? Upon what provocation? With the countries concerned we are perfectly friendly; we have received no injury from them and have none to fear; with their people we have no quarrel. With one of them we are more closely allied, by every tie that can possibly exist between nations, than any independent countries ever were in the history of the world. Suddenly, without warning or premonition, this condition of affairs and its happy presage for the future were threatened with violent disturbance. Twentyfour hours before the announcement, not a man in either country, outside of the American Executive Chamber, could have dreamed of such a rupture, on any score then existing, or capable of being anticipated.
But by a message of the President to Congress it was made known to us that an ancient boundary-line controversy of small importance, between Great Britain and Venezuela, which had been dragging along without conclusion or much attempt at it for the best part of the present century, had been taken in hand by the United States government; that its proposal to the British government that an arbitration should take place between that country and Venezuela to determine the question, had been assented to in part, but in part declined for special reasons, courteously stated; and that thereupon, without further discussion, the President had decided to ascertain the line by an ex parte commission of his own appointment, and to compel Great Britain to accept the result. It was not pointed out, nor was it true, that the United States had the slightest interest, present or future, in the settle ment of the question, or any special alliance or connection with Venezuela. Nor was it claimed (if that could have made any difference) that Great Britain had taken a step or uttered a word which showed a disposition to encroach upon the rights of Venezuela, or to bring any force to bear upon her in the adjustment of the dispute. Neither was it made to appear, even, that she was in the wrong in her contention as to the true location of the line, since that question was admitted to be involved in such obscurity that a learned commission of jurists and scholars was necessary to discover by laborious investigation whether she was right or not, and if not, wherein she was wrong, an inquiry upon which, after several months' labor, they are still at work. It was simply assumed that, because the boundary in dispute was on this hemisphere,
the United States had the right to dictate arbitration between the parties as the proper method of ascertaining its location, and if that was refused, to define the line for herself, and to enforce its adoption. This extraordinary conclusion was asserted for the first time against a friendly nation, not as a proposition open to discussion, to which its attention and reply were invited, but as an ultimatum announced to begin with. And it was addressed, not to that nation itself, through the ordinary channels of diplomatic intercourse, but to a co-ordinate branch of our own government, and thence through the newspapers to the world at large. Coming from the President of the United States, in a state paper of the highest importance, and from a President who has hitherto commanded in an unusual degree the public confidence, this conclusion may be usefully considered, since it applies not only to the case which gave rise to it, but to the other and similar cases which, in the shifting condition of South American affairs, are likely frequently to confront us in the future.
The general rule of international law which precludes intervention by a nation in the disputes of other nations with which it is at peace, and with neither of which it has any treaty of defensive alliance, is universally conceded, and stands upon the most obvious grounds of necessity. Without it the peace of the world would be constantly in danger. When such a dispute has culminated in hostilities, the intervention of a third power against either party is an act of war. To this rule there are but two exceptions: where the interference is for the purpose of repressing gross outrages against humanity, like massacre or intolerable cruelty, such as are reported to have taken place in Armenia; or where the nation interposing is compelled to do so for its own protection, in order to prevent a disposition of territory seriously injurious to its permanent interests, or which would constitute a grave menace to them in the future. In this case, as has been already remarked, the United States has no such apprehension. No advocate of the President's proclamation has undertaken to point out how it can affect us, whether the line through the jungle of bushes and water, which makes up most of the territory really in dispute, is drawn a few miles one way or the other. And if we could conceive that we have any possible interest in the question, it would be on the side of Great Britain. So far as that region is capable of civilized occupation, it would be better for us and for the rest of the world that it should be under British jurisdiction, than in the hands of a weak and unstable government, which is little more than a succession of spasmodic and illregulated republics diversified by revolution. Great Britain has no port on any sea that is not wide open to us without restriction for every purpose of commerce, intercourse, or residence; nor any country under her flag where the rights of all Americans who may find their way there upon whatever errand are not as completely protected as those of Englishmen. We load her exports to us with heavy duties, but she imposes none upon ours in return. On the other hand, United States interests in South American countries have been frequently subject to embarrassment and injustice, requiring the interposition of our government. That we are not claimed to have any concern in the location of the disputed boundary is conclusively