A British scholar untangles one of the most infamous pieces of American foreign-policy legislation.
Sexton (American History/Corpus Christi Coll., Univ. of Oxford; Debtor Diplomacy: Finance and American Foreign Relations in the Civil War Era, 1837–1873, 2005, etc.) demonstrates the haphazard formulation of what has become known as the Monroe Doctrine (1823), and examines how its interpretations altered during the next 100 years, as the once-weak United States became a global power. Fearful that Spain might exert hegemony on the American continent through military might, President James Monroe, in a message to the U.S. Congress, stated that his country would consider any intervention by European nations as a threat. Sexton claims that what seemed like a straightforward message to foreign nations actually came across as both ambiguous and paradoxical, a fusion of anti-colonialism and interventionism. Monroe lacked a reasonable plan for halting European expansion in the Americas. Furthermore, the president remained silent on whether the doctrine would constrain the United States from its own expansion plans within the Americas and abroad. Disagreements about the Monroe Doctrine became especially poignant during the Civil War, as the North and the South invoked the iconic statement to suggest either the end, or expansion, of slavery around the world. Partisan politics extending beyond anti-slavery and pro-slavery camps placed marks on the doctrine, as politicians and diplomats twisted the original tenets for ideological purposes. By the time Theodore Roosevelt became president in the early 1900s, he had altered the Monroe Doctrine so that it served as a rationale to intervene anywhere around the globe. Woodrow Wilson thought of it as an instrument of peace, but U.S. participation in European affairs during World War I undermined a non-interventionist philosophy.
A plainspoken history book demonstrating subtleties galore.