What is Moral Diplomacy? - Definition & Examples

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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Allison Tanner

Allison has a Masters of Arts in Political Science

Moral diplomacy is a type of foreign policy that greatly influenced the way that the United States worked with countries that were non-democratic. This impacted the economy and businesses operating in those regions.

Moral Diplomacy and Woodrow Wilson

It is 1912 and it has certainly been an exciting year! Imagine, New Mexico became the 47th state, followed by Arizona becoming the 48th state to join the United States. It became even more exciting when Woodrow Wilson won the presidency! Wilson quickly made many policy changes and implemented plans to enhance international relations and trade.

Quick! There is an announcement. You turn up the radio just in time to hear the announcer say:

'Today, President Wilson has adjusted President Taft's dollar diplomacy intended to assist in the economic support of other nations and initiated moral diplomacy.'

What is moral diplomacy you wonder? It is a new way to deal with other nations by only giving support to those with similar values and beliefs.' You see, Wilson believed that if the U.S. placed an economic strain on certain undemocratic countries, they would begin to shift their values and transform into democratic nations.

Although moral diplomacy was primarily initiated to influence U.S. relations in Latin America, it has had several effects on international relations as a whole. A major idea behind moral diplomacy was to force countries to pursue democracies.

If a country was willing to align with the values seen as moral by the American government, then they were supported. If not, they were harmed economically by the U.S.'s lack of support. Because the U.S. was a major player in the economy, the lack of U.S. support would harm the economies and, ultimately, the development of countries we did not support.

Let's look at a few examples of how moral diplomacy was used.


Moral diplomacy had a major impact on how the U.S. handled relations in Mexico. When Mexican President Victoriano Huerta took power by force in 1913, Wilson would not recognize his right to the presidency. Because Wilson was not willing to negotiate his moral policy, tensions increased between the U.S. and Mexico.

At some point, a few American sailors accidentally found themselves in an illegal part of the Mexican port. The sailors were arrested, infuriating Wilson. Following the arrests, Wilson ordered the U.S. Navy to occupy this region. Doing so damaged Huerta's reputation to the Mexican people, eventually leading him to step down from his presidency.

While there were several other political moves and potential wars, the important thing to remember is that all of these events were caused by moral diplomacy. The primary goal was to economically harm Mexico and delegitimize the power of their non-democratic leader. Although Wilson was able to damage Huerta's reputation, he did so by using American military power to force decisions. This ultimately damaged the U.S.'s long-term relationship with Mexico.


However, the use of moral diplomacy didn't stop there. This policy also had a significant impact on American businesses operating in countries outside of 'moral' acceptance.

The man who Wilson would later succeed as president, William Howard Taft,

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