The Man in the Street: The Impact of American Public Opinion on Foreign Policy

By Thomas A. Bailey | Go to book overview

CHAPTER TWENTY-TWO
THE CULT OF MONROEISM

". . . the American continents . . . are henceforth not to be considered as subjects for future colonization by any European powers."--JAMES MONROE, 1823


1

A STORY, probably fictitious but certainly in character, is told of two patriotic Americans who met on the streets of an unnamed town. "What's this I hear about you," demanded one, "that you say you do not believe in the Monroe Doctrine?" The reply was instant and indignant:

"It's a lie. I never said I did not believe in the Monroe Doctrine. I do believe in it. It is the palladium of our liberties. I would die for the Monroe Doctrine. All I said was that I do not know what it means."

The Man in the Street certainly cannot step forward with a clear-cut definition of the Monroe Doctrine. He cannot define an elephant either, but he can recognize one when he sees it, which is more to the point. And even if he cannot define the Monroe Doctrine satisfactorily, he can recognize a situation seriously threatening its basic principles, which also is more to the point.

In the simplest possible terms the Monroe Doctrine means: " America for the Americans." Or, " Europe (and Asia), hands off the Americas." Other powers must not secure any more territory on these continents, because if they do they might use it as a base from which to jeopardize our security, and the security nerve is our most sensitive.

The Monroe Doctrine is now so venerable, and it has commanded so much worshipful respect, that its adulators have formed a kind of cult, as often happens with things but dimly understood. At times the Doctrine has seemed to be not a political issue but an emotional or ethical impulse. John Hay, one of our more flashy secretaries of state, proclaimed in a public address: "The briefest expression of our rule of conduct is, perhaps, the Monroe Doctrine and the Golden Rule. With this simple chart we can hardly go far wrong."

Other spokesmen have openly bracketed the ancient altarpiece of the Monroe Doctrine with things spiritual. The founder of Christian Science, Mrs. Mary Baker Eddy, once remarked: "I believe strictly in the Monroe Doctrine, in our Constitution, and in the laws of God." One of her disciples, Mrs. Augusta E. Stetson, published a large advertisement in the New York Times in 1923, on the occasion of the one hundredth anniversary of the Doctrine, proclaiming that the sacrosanct shibboleth was "as binding upon America as our God-inspired constitution." An English writer once concluded: "To the Americans, the Monroe Doctrine is like God or religion

-256-

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