Remarks in Chicago, Illinois

April 02, 1903

Mr. Chairman, ladies and gentlemen:

Today I wish to speak to you, not merely about the Monroe Doctrine, but about our entire position in the Western Hemisphere—a position so peculiar and predominant that out of it has grown the acceptance of the Monroe Doctrine as a cardinal feature of our foreign policy; and in particular I wish to point out what has been done during the life time of the last Congress to make good our position in accordance with this historic policy.

Ever since the time when we definitely extended our boundaries west ward to the Pacific and southward to the Gulf, since the time when the old Spanish and Portuguese colonies to the south of us asserted their independence, our Nation has insisted that because of its primacy in strength among the nations of the Western Hemisphere it has certain duties and responsibilities which oblige it to take a leading part thereon. We hold that our interests in this hemisphere are greater than those of any European power possibly can be, and that our duty to ourselves and to the weaker republics who are our neighbors requires us to see that none of the great military powers from across the seas shall encroach upon the territory of the American republics or acquire control thereover.

This policy, therefore, not only forbids us to acquiesce in such territorial acquisition, but also causes us to object to the acquirement of a control which would in its effect be equal to territorial aggrandizement. This is why the United States has steadily believed that the construction of the great Isthmian Canal, the building of which is to stand as the greatest material feat of the twentieth century—greater than any similar feat in any preceding century—should be done by no foreign nation but by ourselves. The canal must of necessity go through the territory of one of our smaller sister republics. We have been scrupulously careful to abstain from perpetrating any wrong upon any of these republics in this matter. We do not wish to interfere with their rights in the least, but, while carefully safeguarding them, to build the canal ourselves under provisions which will enable us, if necessary, to police and protect it, and to guarantee its neutrality, we being the sole guarantor. Our intention was steadfast; we desired action taken so that the canal could always be used by us in time of peace and war alike, and in time of war could never be used to our detriment by any nation which was hostile to us. Such action, by the circumstances surrounding it, was necessarily for the benefit and not the detriment of the adjacent American republics.

After considerably more than half of a century these objects have been exactly fulfilled by the legislation and treaties of the last two years. Two years ago we were no further advanced toward the construction of the Isthmian Canal on our terms than we had been during the preceding eighty years. By the Hay-Pauncefote treaty, ratified in December, 1901, an old treaty with Great Britain, which had been held to stand in the way, was abrogated and it was agreed that the canal should be constructed under the auspices of the Government of the United States, and that this Government should have the exclusive right to regulate and manage it, becoming the sole guarantor of its neutrality.

It was expressly stipulated, furthermore, that this guaranty of neutrality should not prevent the United States from taking any measures which it found necessary in order to secure by its own forces the defense of the United States and the maintenance of public order. Immediately following this treaty Congress passed a law under which the President was authorized to endeavor to secure a treaty for acquiring the right to finish the construction of, and to operate, the Panama Canal, which had already been begun in the territory of Colombia by a French company. The rights of this company were accordingly obtained and a treaty negotiated with the Republic of Colombia. This treaty has just been ratified by the Senate. It reserves all of Colombia's rights, while guaranteeing all of our own and those of neutral nations, and specifically permits us to take any and all measures for the defense of the canal, and for the preservation of our interests, when ever in our judgment an exigency may arise which calls for action on our part. In other words, these two treaties, and the legislation to carry them out, have resulted in our obtaining on exactly the terms we desired the rights and privileges which we had so long sought in vain. These treaties are among the most important that we have ever negotiated in their effects upon the future welfare of this country, and mark a memorable triumph of American diplomacy—one of those fortunate triumphs, moreover, which redound to the benefit of the entire world.

About the same time trouble arose in connection with the Republic of Venezuela because of certain wrongs alleged to have been committed, and debts overdue, by that Republic to citizens of various foreign powers, notably England, Germany, and Italy. After failure to reach an agreement these powers began a blockade of the Venezuelan coast and a condition of quasi-war ensued. The concern of our Government was of course not to interfere needlessly in any quarrel so far as it did not touch our interests or our honor, and not to take the attitude of protecting from coercion any power unless we were willing to espouse the quarrel of that power, but to keep an attitude of watchful vigilance and see that there was no infringement of the Monroe Doctrine—no acquirement of territorial rights by a European power at the expense of a weak sister republic—whether this acquisition might take the shape of an outright and avowed seizure of territory or of the exercise of control which would in effect be equivalent to such seizure. This attitude was expressed in the two following published memoranda, the first being the letter addressed by the Secretary of State to the German Ambassador, the second the conversation with the Secretary of State reported by the British Ambassador:

"Department of State, Washington, December 16, 1901.

"His Excellency Dr. von Holleben, etc.:

"Dear Excellency: I enclose a memorandum by way of reply to that which you did me the honor to leave with me on Saturday, and am, as ever,

Faithfully yours,

"John Hay.


"The President in his message of the 3d of December, 1901, used the following language:

"'The Monroe Doctrine is a declaration that there must be no territorial aggrandizement by any non-American power at the expense of any American power on American soil. It is in no wise intended as hostile to any nation in the Old World.'"

"The President further said: "'This doctrine has nothing to do with the commercial relations of any American power, save that it in truth allows each of them to form such as it desires... We do not guarantee any State against punishment if it misconducts itself, provided that punishment does not take the form of the acquisition of territory by any non-American.

"His Excellency the German Ambassador, on his recent return from Berlin, conveyed personally to the President the assurance of the German Emperor that His Majesty's Government had no purpose or intention to make even the smallest acquisition of territory on the South American continent or the islands adjacent. This voluntary and friendly declaration was afterward repeated to the Secretary of State, and was received by the President and the people of the United States in the frank and cordial spirit in which it was offered. In the memorandum of the 11th of December, His Excellency the German Ambassador repeats these assurances as follows: 'We declare especially that under no circumstances do we consider in our proceedings the acquisition or the permanent occupation of Venezuelan territory.'

"In the said memorandum of the 11th of December, the German Government informs that of the United States that it has certain just claims for money and for damages wrongfully withheld from German subjects by the Government of Venezuela, and that it proposes to take certain coercive measures described in the memorandum to enforce the payment of these just claims.

"The President of the United States, appreciating the courtesy of the German Government in making him acquainted with the state of affairs referred to, and not regarding himself as called upon to enter into the consideration of the claims in question, believes that no measures will be taken in this matter by the agents of the German Government which are not in accordance with the well-known purpose, above set forth, of his Majesty the German Emperor."

Sir Michael Herbert To The Marquis Of Lansdowne.

"WASHINGTON, November 13, 1902.

"I communicated to Mr. Hay this morning the substance of Your Lordship's telegram of the 11th instant.

"His Excellency stated in reply, that the United States Government, although they regretted that European powers should use force against Central and South American countries, could not object to their taking steps to obtain redress for injuries suffered by their subjects, provided that no acquisition of territory was contemplated."

Both powers assured us in explicit terms that there was not the slightest intention on their part to violate the principles of the Monroe Doctrine, and this assurance was kept with an honorable good faith which merits full acknowledgment on our part. At the same time, the existence of hostilities in a region so near our own borders was fraught with such possibilities of danger in the future that it was obviously no less our duty to ourselves than our duty to humanity to endeavor to put an end to that. Accordingly, by an offer of our good services in a spirit of frank friendliness to all the parties concerned, a spirit in which they quickly and cordially responded, we secured a resumption of peace—the contending parties agreeing that the matters which they could not settle among themselves should be referred to The Hague Tribunal for settlement. The United States had most fortunately already been able to set an example to other nations by utilizing the great possibilities for good contained in The Hague Tribunal, a question at issue between ourselves and the Republic of Mexico being the first submitted to this international court of arbitration.

The terms which we have secured as those under which the Isthmian Canal is to be built, and the course of events in the Venezuela matter, have shown not merely the ever growing influence of the United States in the Western Hemisphere, but also, I think I may safely say, have exemplified the firm purpose of the United States that its growth and influence and power shall redound not to the harm but to the benefit of our sister republics whose strength is less. Our growth, therefore, is beneficial to humankind in general. We do not intend to assume any position which can give just offence to our neighbors. Our adherence to the rule of human right is not merely profession. The history of our dealings with Cuba shows that we reduce it to performance.

The Monroe Doctrine is not international law, and though I think one day it may become such, this is not necessary as long as it remains a cardinal feature of our foreign policy and as long as we possess both the will and the strength to make it effective. This last point, my fellow-citizens, is all important, and is one which as a people we can never afford to forget. I believe in the Monroe Doctrine with all my heart and soul; I am convinced that the immense majority of our fellow-countrymen so believe in it; but I would infinitely prefer to see us abandon it than to see us put it forward and bluster about it, and yet fail to build up the efficient fighting strength which in the last resort can alone make it respected by any strong foreign power whose interest it may ever happen to be to violate it.

Boasting and blustering are as objectionable among nations as among individuals, and the public men of a great nation owe it to their sense of national self-respect to speak courteously of foreign powers, just as a brave and self-respecting man treats all around him courteously. But though to boast is bad, and causelessly to insult another, worse, yet worse than all is it to be guilty of boasting, even without insult, and when called to the proof to be unable to make such boasting good. There is a homely old adage which runs: "Speak softly and carry a big stick; you will go far." If the American Nation will speak softly, and yet build, and keep at a pitch of the highest training, a thoroughly efficient navy, the Monroe Doctrine will go far. I ask you to think over this. If you do, you will come to the conclusion that it is mere plain common-sense, so obviously sound that only the blind can fail to see its truth and only the weakest and most irresolute can fail to desire to put it into force.

In the last two years I am happy to say we have taken long strides in advance as regards our navy. The last Congress, in addition to smaller vessels, provided nine of those formidable fighting ships upon which the real efficiency of any navy in war ultimately depends. It provided, moreover, for the necessary addition of officers and enlisted men to make the ships worth having. Meanwhile the Navy Department has seen to it that our ships have been constantly exercised at sea, with the great guns, and in maneuvers, so that their efficiency as fighting units, both individually and when acting together, has been steadily improved. Remember that all of this is necessary. A warship is a huge bit of mechanism, well nigh as delicate and complicated as it is formidable. It takes years to build it. It takes years to teach the officers and men how to handle it to good advantage. It is an absolute impossibility to improvise a navy at the outset of war. No recent war between any two nations has lasted as long as it takes to build a battleship; and it is just as impossible to improvise the officers or the crews as to improvise the navy.

To lay up a battleship and only send it afloat at the outset of a war, with a raw crew and untried officers, would be not merely a folly but a crime, for it would invite both disaster and disgrace. The navy which so quickly decided in our favor in the war of 1898 had been built and made efficient during the preceding fifteen years. The ships that triumphed off Manila and Santiago had been built under previous Administrations with money appropriated by previous Congresses. The officers and the men did their duty so well because they had already been trained to it by long sea service. All honor to the gallant officers and gallant men who actually did the fighting; but remember, too, to honor the public men, the shipwrights and steel workers, the owners of the shipyards and armor plants, to whose united foresight and exertion we owe it that in 1898 we had craft so good, guns so excellent, and American seamen of so high a type in the conning towers, in the gun-turrets, and in the engine rooms. Itis too late to prepare for war when war has come; and if we only prepare sufficiently no war will ever come. We wish a powerful and efficient navy, not for purposes of war, but as the surest guarantee of peace. If we have such a navy--if we keep on building it up—we may rest assured that there is but the smallest chance that trouble will ever come to this Nation; and we may likewise rest assured that no foreign power will ever quarrel with us about the Monroe Doctrine.

Theodore Roosevelt, Remarks in Chicago, Illinois Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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