South America - A Popular History - H. Butterworth

The Monroe Doctrine
and the Venezuelan Boundary

In 1814 England acquired from the Dutch about twenty thousand square miles of land in Guiana. This territory, according to the Venezuelan view, had formerly belonged to Spain. It now became a part of the colonial possessions of Great Britain. Later England claimed that the territory extending from the mouth of the river Essequibo to the Orinoco was a part of Dutch Guiana when that territory was ceded by the Dutch to the English in 1814. Venezuela replied that this territory never belonged to Dutch Guiana at all, but that it was Spanish territory, and so became hers when she established her independence.

Between the years 1839 and 1841 Sir Robert H. Schomburgk, without the knowledge of Venezuela at the time, drew a boundary-line for Great Britain, which gave her 60,000 square miles. The territory claimed by the English continued to grow. In 1889 England claimed 76,000 square miles, and later the claim was made for 109,000 square miles.

After the downfall of Napoleon the Holy Alliance of Prussia, Austria and Russia was formed in the interest of absolutism in Europe. South America had thrown off the rule of Spain, and it was feared that this council of the great European powers would restore to Spain her colonies. It then became a question in the United States as to what should be the attitude of the American republics in regard to the interference of European powers in American affairs.

In 1823, when the Allies were considering the affairs of Spain, President Monroe consulted Thomas Jefferson in regard to the new aspect of international affairs. He replied to President Monroe's letters in these strong, clear words: "The question presented by the letters you have sent me is the most momentous which has ever been offered to my contemplation since that of independence. That made us a nation; this sets our compass, and points the course which we are to steer through the ocean of time opening on us. And never could we embark upon it under circumstances more auspicious. Our first and fundamental maxim should be, never to entangle ourselves in the broils of Europe; our second, never to suffer Europe to intermeddle with cisatlantic affairs. America, North and South, has a set of interests distinct from those of Europe, and peculiarly her own. She should therefore have a system of her own, separate and apart from that of Europe. While the last is laboring to become the domicile of despotism, our endeavor should surely be to make our hemisphere that of freedom."

Shortly after, President Monroe announced the principles of a new policy which he thought should govern American diplomacy. It is known as the Monroe Doctrine. "The political system of the allied powers is essentially different in this respect from that of America. We owe it therefore to candor and to the amicable relations existing between the United States and those powers to declare that we should consider any attempt on their part to extend their system to any portion of this hemisphere as dangerous to our peace and safety. With the existing colonies or dependencies of any European power we have not interfered, and shall not interfere. But with the governments who have declared their independence and maintained it, and whose independence we have, on great consideration and on just principles, acknowledged, we could not view any interposition for the purpose of oppressing them, or controlling in any manner their destiny, by any European power, in any other light than as the manifestation of an unfriendly disposition toward the United States.

"Our policy in regard to Europe, which was adopted at an early stage of the wars which have so long agitated that quarter of the globe, nevertheless remains the same, which is not to interfere in the internal concerns of any of its powers; to consider the government de facto  as legitimate government for us; to cultivate friendly relations with it, and to preserve those relations by a frank, firm and manly policy, meeting in all instances the just claims of every power, submitting to injuries from none. But, in regard to these continents, circumstances are eminently and conspicuously different. It is impossible that the allied powers should extend their political system to any portion of either continent without endangering our peace and happiness; nor can any one believe that our southern brethren, if left to themselves, would adopt it of their own accord. It is equally impossible, therefore, that we should behold such interposition, in any form, with indifference."

President Polk applied the doctrine to Oregon and Yucatan, and President Buchanan to Mexico. President Cleveland did likewise in regard to British enlargement of territory in Venezuela. England's claim to territory larger than all New England had come, in his opinion, to be a matter of territorial interference in America. In his famous message of December 17, 1895, President Cleveland said:

"In my annual message addressed to the Congress on the 3d inst., I called attention to the pending boundary controversy between Great Britain and the republic of Venezuela, and recited the substance of a representation made by this government to her Britannic Majesty's government, suggesting reasons why such dispute should be submitted to arbitration for settlement, and inquiring whether it would be so submitted.

"If a European power, by an extension of its boundaries, takes possession of the territory of one of our neighboring republics against its will and in derogation of its rights, it is difficult to see why, to that extent, such European power does not thereby attempt to extend its system of government to that portion of this continent which is thus taken. This is the precise action which President Monroe declared to be 'dangerous to our peace and safety,' and it can make no difference whether the European system is extended by an advance of frontier or otherwise. . . .

"Assuming, however, that the attitude of Venezuela will remain unchanged, the dispute has reached such a stage as to make it now incumbent upon the United States to take measures to determine with sufficient certainty for its justification what is the true divisional dine between the republic of Venezuela and British Guiana. The inquiry to that end should, of course, be conducted carefully and judicially, and due weight should be given to all available evidence, records and facts in support of the claims of both parties.

"In order that such an examination should be prosecuted in a thorough and satisfactory manner, I suggest that Congress make an adequate appropriation for the expenses of a commission, to be appointed by the Executive, which shall make the necessary investigation and report upon the matter with the least possible delay. When such report is made and accepted it will, in my opinion, be the duty of the United States to resist, by every means in its power, as a wilful aggression upon its rights and interests, the appropriation by Great Britain of any lands, or the exercise of governmental jurisdiction over any territory, which, after investigation, we have determined of right belongs to Venezuela.

"In making these recommendations, I am fully alive to the responsibility incurred, and keenly realize all the consequences that may follow.

"I am, nevertheless, firm in my conviction that, while it is a grievous thing to contemplate the two great English-speaking peoples of the world as being otherwise than friendly competitors in the onward march of civilization, and strenuous and worthy rivals in all the arts of peace, there is no calamity which a great nation can invite which equals that which follows a supine submission to wrong and injustice, and the consequent loss of national self-respect and honor, beneath which are shielded and defended a people's safety and greatness."

The necessity of intervention in Cuba in the interests of humanity became obvious in the winter of 1896-97, and brought legislation again face to face with the Monroe Doctrine.

The Senate Committee on Foreign Relations reported on December 21, 1896, a resolution offered by Senator Cameron:

"Resolved, by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, That the independence of the republic of Cuba be, and the same is hereby, acknowledged by the United States of America.

"Be it further resolved, That the United States will use its friendly offices with the government of Spain to bring to a close the war between Spain and the republic of Cuba."

The report accompanying the resolution was regarded as one of the ablest political documents of the last quarter of this century. It reviewed the Monroe Doctrine, and said:

"Into this American system, thus created by Monroe in 1822-23, and embracing then, besides the United States, only Buenos Ayres, Chili, Colombia and Mexico, various other communities have since claimed, and in most cases have received, admission, until it now includes all South America, except the Guianas; all Central America, except the British colony of Honduras; and the two black republics of Spanish Santo Domingo and Hayti in the Antilles.

"No serious question was again raised with any European power in regard to the insurrection or independence of their American possessions until, in 1869, a rebellion broke out in Cuba, and the insurgents, after organizing a government and declaring their independence, claimed recognition from the United States.

"The government of the United States had always regarded Cuba as within the sphere of its most active and serious interest. As early as 1825, when the newly recognized states of Colombia and Mexico were supposed to be preparing an expedition to revolutionize Cuba and Puerto Rico, the United States government interposed its friendly offices with those governments to request their forbearance. The actual condition of Spain seemed to make her retention of Cuba impossible, in which case the United States would have been obliged, for her own safety, to prevent the island from falling into the hands of a stronger power in Europe. That this emergency did not occur may have been partly due to the energy with which Monroe announced 'our right and our power to prevent it,' and his determination to use all the means within his competency 'to guard against and forfend it.'

"This right of intervention in matters relating to the external relations of Cuba, asserted and exercised seventy years ago, has been asserted and exercised at every crisis in which the island has been involved.

"When the Cuban insurgents in 1869 appealed to the United States for recognition, President Grant admitted the justice of the claim, and directed the minister of the United States at Madrid to interpose our good offices with the Spanish government in order to obtain by a friendly arrangement the independence of the island. The story of that intervention is familiar to every member of the Senate, and was made the basis of its resolution last session, requesting the President once more 'to interpose his friendly offices with the Spanish government for the recognition of the independence of Cuba.'

"The resolution then adopted by Congress was perfectly understood to carry with it all the consequences which necessarily would follow the rejection by Spain of friendly offices. On this point the situation needs no further comment. The action taken by Congress in the last session was taken 'on great consideration and on just principles,' on a right of intervention exercised twenty-seven years ago, and after a patient delay unexampled in history.

"The interval of nine months which has elapsed since that action of Congress has proved the necessity of carrying it out to completion. In the words of the President's annual message: 'The stability two years' duration has given to the insurrection; the feasibility of its indefinite prolongation in the nature of things, and as shown by past experience; the utter and imminent ruin of the island unless the present strife is speedily composed,' are, in our opinion, conclusive evidence that 'the inability of Spain to deal successfully with the insurrection has become manifest, and it is demonstrated that the sovereignty is extinct in Cuba for all purposes of its rightful existence; . . . a hopeless struggle for its reestablishment has degenerated into a strife which means nothing more than the useless sacrifice of human life and the utter destruction of the very subject-matter of the conflict.'

"Although the President appears to have reached a different conclusion from ours, we believe this to be the actual situation of Cuba, and, being unable to see that further delay could lead to any other action than that which the President anticipates, we agree with the conclusion of the message that, in such case, our obligations to the sovereignty of Spain are 'superseded by higher obligations which we can hardly hesitate to recognize and discharge.' Following closely the action of President Monroe, in 1818, Congress has already declared in effect is opinion that there can be no rational interference except on the basis of independence.

"In 1822, as now, but with more force, it was objected, as we have shown, that the revolted states had no governments to be recognized. Divisions, and even civil war, existed among the insurgents themselves. Among the Cubans no such difficulty is known to exist. In September, 1895, as we know by official documents printed on the spot, the insurgent government was regularly organized, a constitution adopted, a president elected, and, in due course, the various branches of administration set in motion. Since then, so far as we are informed, this government has continued to perform its functions undisturbed. On the military side, as we officially know, they have organized, equipped and maintained in the field sufficient forces to baffle the exertions of two hundred thousand Spanish soldiers. On the civil side they have organized their system of administration in every province; for, as we know officially, they roam at will over at least two thirds of the inland country. Diplomatically they have maintained a regularly accredited representative in the United States for the past year, who has never ceased to ask recognition, and to offer all possible information. There is no reason to suppose that any portion of the Cuban people would be dissatisfied by our recognizing their representative in this country, or that they disagree in the earnest wish for that recognition. The same thing could hardly be said of all the countries recognized by Monroe in 1822. Greece had no such stability when it was recognized by England, Russia and France. Belgium had nothing of the sort when it was recognized by all the powers in 1830. Of the states recognized by the treaty of Berlin in 1878, we need hardly say more than that they were the creatures of intervention.

"The only question that properly remains for Congress to consider is the mode which shall be adopted for the step which Congress is pledged next to take.

"The government of the United States entertains none but the friendliest feelings toward Spain. Its most anxious wish is to avoid even the appearance of an unfriendliness which is wholly foreign to its thought. For more than a hundred years, amid divergent or clashing interests, and under frequent and severe strains, the two governments have succeeded in avoiding collision, and there is no friendly office which Spain could ask which the United States, within the limits of her established principles and policy, would not be glad to extend. In the present instance she is actuated by an earnest wish to avoid the danger of seeming to provoke a conflict.

"The practice of Europe in regard to intervention, as in the instances cited, has been almost invariably harsh and oppressive. The practice of the United States has been almost invariably mild and forbearing. Among the precedents which have been so numerously cited there can be no doubt as to the choice. The most moderate is the best. Among these the attitude taken by President Monroe in 1822 is the only attitude which can properly be regarded as obligatory for a similar situation to-day. The course pursued by the United States in the recognition of Colombia is the only course which Congress can consistently adopt."

In 1898 a squadron of the American navy was at Hong-Kong, China, under Commodore Dewey. He was ordered to proceed to the Philippine Islands and destroy the Spanish fleet in the port of Manila. The order was executed, and resulted in one of the greatest naval victories in American history. The taking of Manila presents a new phase of the Monroe Doctrine. The doctrine that opposed the enlargement of English territory on the Orinoco might, by inference, be interpreted to prevent the New World from seeking expansion in the countries or islands of the Old World. The right of the United States to maintain the principle of the Monroe Doctrine seems a reasonable one, but consistency would require her to maintain a like view and relations in her diplomacy with the powers of the Old World. The maintenance of the principles of the Monroe Doctrine has heretofore seemed to be more valuable to our institutions in the future than any territory that we could secure and hold in the East or in foreign seas. Have changed conditions made necessary a change in this governmental policy?