Roosevelt Corollary to the Monroe Doctrine: Definition, Summary & Significance

Instructor: James Moeller
What is a ''corollary'', and what does it have to do with President Theodore Roosevelt? In this lesson we'll learn about the term, which was more of a foreign policy edict than a proposition, and its far-reaching effects. We will also define what came before it, ''The Monroe Doctrine.''

What is a Corollary?

Webster's New World College Dictionary defines the word 'corollary' in this way:

1. a proposition that follows from another that has been proven.

The author of the Roosevelt Corollary, 26th President of the United States, Theodore Roosevelt (1901-1909), certainly operated within the confines of this definition because his 'proposition' did follow an earlier one that had been 'proven' and tested over time. For this reason, before you can understand what the Roosevelt Corollary was, it's necessary to understand what came before it and what inspired it: The Monroe Doctrine.

President Teddy Roosevelt

The Monroe Doctrine

The Monroe Doctrine was named after the 5th President of the United States, James Monroe (1817-1825). The doctrine originated from post-Napoleonic Europe, between 1815 and 1825. Rumors were being circulated that a combined French-Spanish military force was going to be dispatched to South America.

The British foreign minister asked Richard Rush (the US ambassador in London) if the Americans would be in favor of issuing a warning to France to stay out of the Western Hemisphere. Then Secretary of State, John Quincy Adams (who would later become the 6th US President) was also in favor of opposing any further European interference or colonization in the Americas.

The result was the Monroe Doctrine, which clearly stated that the United States would not allow any such colonization or other type of interference in South America or the Western Hemisphere. To put it in more simplistic terms, it was like a homeowner saying to his neighbors, 'Hey! This is my back yard and I have the right to protect it from you or anyone else.'

Origins of the Roosevelt Corollary

Introducing Teddy Roosevelt

Now, fast-forward to 1903-1904. For many years the Monroe Doctrine had proven itself, as European nations generally remained on their side of the Atlantic Ocean. The President of the United States was no longer James Monroe, but Theodore Roosevelt. Roosevelt was a man of boundless energy who strongly believed in American Imperialism (or a nation's actions in expanding its empire and influence in the world).

A perfect example of Roosevelt's imperialistic bent was an event historically known as President Roosevelt's Great White Fleet. From 1907 to 1909, Roosevelt sent 16 Battleships around the world simply to show off American naval power and to intimidate those who would oppose us. He was also the president known for the phrase, 'Speak softly, and carry a big stick.'

Climate of Fear

What brought about this modification of the Monroe Doctrine in 1903 was the fact that many Latin American nations were defaulting on debts owed to various European nations. Venezuela and the Dominican Republic were constantly in arrears regrading their payments to European creditors. This culminated in what was known as The Venezuelan Crisis of 1903, when that nation's president, Cipriano Castro, refused to make payments on his country's debt.

The result was the deployment of a German naval force, under orders to form a blockade. In response, President Roosevelt sent a much larger American US Navy fleet to Venezuela. Roosevelt threatened war if the Germans did not stand down. The German naval force retreated, and a treaty was signed on February 13th, in which the Venezuelan government agreed to use 30% of its import duties to make payments on its European debt.

This created a climate of fear in the US and clearly showed that if European powers could act as debt-collectors, they might decide to create a permanent presence in South America and the Caribbean. Such a speculative action on the part of the European powers would constitute a clear violation of the long-standing Monroe Doctrine, something Teddy Roosevelt would never permit.

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