Roosevelt's Big Stick Diplomacy: Definition & Policy

An error occurred trying to load this video.

Try refreshing the page, or contact customer support.

Coming up next: Father Charles E. Coughlin & the New Deal

You're on a roll. Keep up the good work!

Take Quiz Watch Next Lesson
 Replay
Your next lesson will play in 10 seconds
  • 0:03 Roots of Big Stick Diplomacy
  • 1:15 Crisis in Venezuela
  • 1:50 Roosevelt Corollary &…
  • 3:30 Panama Canal
  • 4:40 The Great White Fleet
  • 5:20 Lesson Summary
Add to Add to Add to

Want to watch this again later?

Log in or sign up to add this lesson to a Custom Course.

Login or Sign up

Timeline
Autoplay
Autoplay

Recommended Lessons and Courses for You

Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Matthew Hill
Theodore Roosevelt's 'big stick diplomacy' was a middle ground between diplomacy and power. Its best expression was the Roosevelt Corollary, which expanded the Monroe Doctrine.

Roots of Big Stick Diplomacy

The presidency of Theodore Roosevelt marked a shift in American foreign relations. More than any president before him, Roosevelt wanted to project American power around the globe. He put his money where his mouth was. He served as the Assistant Secretary of the Navy and fought in the Spanish-American War in the Battle of San Juan Hill. He then served as Vice-President under William McKinley. It was in this role that he first used the analogy of the 'big stick' in a public address. In a speech at the Minnesota State Fair on 2 September 1901 he stated: 'Speak softly and carry a big stick - you will go far.' Historians point out that he had actually used that phrase in a private letter to Henry W. Sprague two years earlier.

Roosevelt attributed the phrase to a West African proverb, but scholars have not found this phrase in any African literature to date. Either way, his intended meaning, more than its origin, is more important. On the surface it sounds as if he was advocating a power-based policy, but its intent was more nuanced. His point was that diplomacy and goodwill was preferable, but ineffective unless backed up by strength. We'll look at several examples of Roosevelt's balancing diplomacy with power during his presidency.

Crisis in Venezuela

The Venezuelan Crisis of 1902-1903 occurred when Venezuela defaulted on loans it owed to Germany and Great Britain. In response, the two European countries blockaded Venezuela's coastline as a show of force. Roosevelt, livid at this show of force, responded with naval exercises in the Caribbean. In time, a payment plan was worked out through arbitration. A similar issue occurred when the Dominican Republic defaulted on its foreign loans. In this case, the U.S. took direct control of Santo Domingo's custom houses in order to put its financial affairs in order.

Roosevelt Corollary

The Roosevelt Corollary is rooted in the Monroe Doctrine. In response to the liberation movements that occurred when Latin America became independent from Spain and Portugal, President James Monroe warned Europeans that the hemisphere was now off limits to future colonization. When events in Venezuela and the Dominican Republic looked like they would lead to European meddling, Roosevelt issued the Roosevelt Corollary, which stated that the U.S. had the right to intervene in the internal affairs of a Latin American nation to manage its finances to avoid destabilization. This policy was somewhat contradictory and self-serving, however, as it warned Europeans not to intervene, but it gave the U.S. permission to intervene to avoid the intervention of others (such as Europeans).

Anthracite Coal Strike

The anthracite coal strike of 1902 is a domestic example of how Roosevelt wed diplomacy with force. The strike began in May in eastern Pennsylvania when coal miners, led by United Mine Workers president John Mitchell, demanded higher wages and better working conditions. The owners refused, and the price of coal skyrocketed. In October, Roosevelt met with Mitchell and the company owners in the White House to hash out an agreement. Both sides dragged their feet, and Roosevelt threatened to send in the military to operate the mines until a settlement was reached. Roosevelt had no legal standing in this, but he felt the situation warranted it given how much it negatively impacted the local economies.

A deal was reached that gave the miners shorter work hours and a ten percent raise. With this event, Roosevelt became the first president to directly intervene in a labor dispute. He also set a new pattern: the federal government, which historically sided with management over labor issues, sided this time with labor.

To unlock this lesson you must be a Study.com Member.
Create your account

Register for a free trial

Are you a student or a teacher?

Unlock Your Education

See for yourself why 30 million people use Study.com

Become a Study.com member and start learning now.
Become a Member  Back
What teachers are saying about Study.com
Free 5-day trial

Earning College Credit

Did you know… We have over 160 college courses that prepare you to earn credit by exam that is accepted by over 1,500 colleges and universities. You can test out of the first two years of college and save thousands off your degree. Anyone can earn credit-by-exam regardless of age or education level.

To learn more, visit our Earning Credit Page

Transferring credit to the school of your choice

Not sure what college you want to attend yet? Study.com has thousands of articles about every imaginable degree, area of study and career path that can help you find the school that's right for you.

Create an account to start this course today
Try it free for 5 days!
Create An Account
Support