Joint Resolution of the US Congress Reaffirming the Principles of the Monroe Doctrine Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

The United States issued the Monroe Doctrine in 1823 to make it clear to European powers that the continents of the Americas were closed to further colonization and foreign intervention. It was restated and clarified several times in the 1930s, more than a century later, as international aggression grew. In a series of summits, the nations of the Americas clarified that existing European involvement in the Americas was not in question, but that they would not recognize the transfer of any North or South American territory from one (presumably Allied) power to another (presumably Germany). The decision by the US Congress in April 1941 to issue a resolution reaffirming the Monroe Doctrine served as a reminder to the world, particularly Germany, that any intervention into the Western Hemisphere would be seen as an intrusion into the sphere of influence of the United States. Though the nations of Central and South America were the primary subjects of this reaffirmation, the doctrine was invoked in order to extend the implicit protection of the United States to noncontiguous territories such as Greenland and the Galapagos Islands. This resolution was issued in support of the decision to send troops to Greenland to prevent a German takeover of the island.

Summary Overview

The United States issued the Monroe Doctrine in 1823 to make it clear to European powers that the continents of the Americas were closed to further colonization and foreign intervention. It was restated and clarified several times in the 1930s, more than a century later, as international aggression grew. In a series of summits, the nations of the Americas clarified that existing European involvement in the Americas was not in question, but that they would not recognize the transfer of any North or South American territory from one (presumably Allied) power to another (presumably Germany). The decision by the US Congress in April 1941 to issue a resolution reaffirming the Monroe Doctrine served as a reminder to the world, particularly Germany, that any intervention into the Western Hemisphere would be seen as an intrusion into the sphere of influence of the United States. Though the nations of Central and South America were the primary subjects of this reaffirmation, the doctrine was invoked in order to extend the implicit protection of the United States to noncontiguous territories such as Greenland and the Galapagos Islands. This resolution was issued in support of the decision to send troops to Greenland to prevent a German takeover of the island.

Defining Moment

Though a direct invasion on American soil never materialized during World War II, the United States had good reason to believe that Germany and Japan were actively seeking a foothold in the Western Hemisphere from which to launch attacks and a potential future invasion. On the northern end of the hemisphere, Denmark was occupied by Germany in April 1940, leaving its colony, Greenland, in a precarious position. As it was unable to receive aid from Denmark, it declared itself independent and in April and May of 1940, the United States established a direct relationship with Greenland, including sending a Coast Guard cutter to guard a consulate there. On April 9, 1941, the day before this resolution was issued, on the anniversary of the invasion of Denmark by Germany, the US secretary of state, working with the exiled Danish envoy, signed an executive order allowing for the placement of troops; the United States thereafter occupied Greenland for the rest of the war. After the United States entered the war in December 1941, Greenland played an important role in the Allies' North Atlantic strategy.

It was crucially important to the United States that Germany not establish a foothold in Central or South American territory either. The Panama Canal provided a strategically crucial link between the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans, and therefore had to be protected from attack or sabotage. Brazil needed to be guarded, as it was the closest point in the Americas to Africa, where the Germans had a significant presence. Chile and Argentina, at odds with the United States at the beginning of the war, continued to communicate with Germany, and were entry points for espionage and propaganda. German immigrants had made their way into South America during the 1930s, and had significant enclaves in most Latin American countries, notably Brazil, Argentina, and Chile. Beginning in 1940, Germany used its commercial and cultural ties with Latin America to begin Operation Bolívar, a program of German espionage active throughout the war. Though no major threat materialized from Latin America, secret radio stations were established that transferred information to Germany from agents in the Americas, and the occasional interception of these broadcasts, along with clandestine reports, convinced the United States that Germany was pursuing territorial goals in South America.

Germany had been threatening shipping in the South Atlantic since the beginning of the war with Britain. The first naval battle of the war took place in December 1939, when the German cruiser Admiral Graf Spee was found by three British cruisers just off the coast of Argentina and Uruguay in South America. In the ensuing engagement, the Admiral Graf Spee was damaged and then landed in neutral Uruguay, where it was eventually scuttled to prevent its falling into British hands.

The nations of the Americas met several times prior to the United States' declaration of war with Germany to reaffirm the principals of the Monroe Doctrine and to affirm that the Americas remained neutral. One month after Germany invaded Poland, American nations agreed not to allow their countries to be used as “bases for belligerent operations.” This was clearly directed against Germany, as both France and England had interests and bases in South and Central America. Just to clarify, the declaration excepted “undisputed colonies and possessions of European countries.” On July 30, 1940, these nations met again to explicitly state that islands were included in this protection. The resolution of 1941 was one in a series of political maneuvers intended to keep Germany away from the Western Hemisphere.

Author Biography

This resolution was issued by both the Senate and the House of Representatives and presented to the president on April 10, 1941, in support of Franklin D. Roosevelt's decision to send a military presence to Greenland. It was issued by the Seventy-Seventh United States Congress, which met from January 3, 1941, to January 3, 1943. Both houses had a significant Democratic majority. At the time that this resolution was issued, Henry Wallace was Senate president, and Sam Rayburn was the Speaker of the House.

Historical Document

JOINT RESOLUTION

(Affirming and approving non-recognition of the transfer of any geographic region in this hemisphere from one non-American power to another non-American power, and providing for consultation with other American republics in the event that such transfer should appear likely.)

Whereas our traditional policy has been to consider any attempt on the part of non-American powers to extend their system to any portion of this hemisphere as dangerous to the peace and safety not only of this country but of the other American republics; and

Whereas the American republics agreed at the Inter-American Conference for the Maintenance of Peace held in Buenos Aires in 1936 and at the Eighth International Conference of American States held in Lima in 1938 to consult with one another in the event that the peace, security, or territorial integrity of any American republic should be threatened; and

Whereas the Meeting of the Foreign Ministers of the American Republics at Panama October 3, 1939, resolved “That in case any geographic region of America subject to the jurisdiction of any non-American state should be obliged to change its sovereignty and there should result therefrom a danger to the security of the American Continent, a consultative meeting such as the one now being held will be convoked with the urgency that the case may require”: Therefore be it

Resolved by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, (1) That the United States would not recognize any transfer, and would not acquiesce in any attempt to transfer, any geographic region of this hemisphere from one non-American power to another non-American power; and

(2) That if such transfer or attempt to transfer should appear likely, the United States shall, in addition to other measures, immediately consult with the other American republics to determine upon the steps which should be taken to safeguard their common interests.

Approved, April 10, 1941.

Glossary

consultative: of or relating to consultation; advisory

convoked: to call together; summon to meet or assemble

Document Analysis

The resolution begins with a reiteration of the core issue at stake in the US decision to protect Greenland. Since Greenland was a colony of Denmark, which was then under German control, the Monroe Doctrine was invoked to prevent the “transfer of any geographic region in this hemisphere from one non-American power to another non-American power”—in this case, to keep Germany from using Greenland for military purposes.

The resolution goes on to state that any attempt by non-American nations to expand into the Western Hemisphere is “dangerous to the peace and safety not only of this country but of the other American republics,” and therefore would require a response, according to the Monroe Doctrine.

The nations of the Americas had been meeting since before the war began, affirming their commitment to work for the common defense of the Western Hemisphere. This resolution lists these meetings, beginning with conferences in 1936 and 1938, where the American republics agreed to work together if they were threatened or attacked. The Meeting of the Foreign Ministers of the American Republics in Panama on October 3, 1939, was far more explicit. Territorial incursions by other European powers had been allowed over the century since the Monroe Doctrine was first established, and now the situation had to be clarified so it was obvious that the United States would not recognize the transfer of territory in the Americas from any non-American power to another—in other words, from the US perspective, Germany's takeover of Denmark did not imply German control of the Danish colony of Greenland, nor did the 1940 German victory over France imply German control of the former's territorial possessions in the Caribbean and South America. Quoting from the 1939 meeting, the resolution noted that “if any geographic region of America subject to the jurisdiction of any non-American state should be obliged to change its sovereignty and there should result therefrom a danger to the security of the American Continent,” the nations of the Americas would meet to discuss an appropriate response.

This resolution affirms that the United States will not recognize the transfer of any territory in the Western Hemisphere from one non-American power to another, and will invoke common agreements to consult with the rest of the Americas “to determine upon the steps which should be taken to safeguard their common interests.”

Essential Themes

The primary theme of this resolution was the commitment of the United States to actively resist any attempts by the Axis powers (Germany, Italy, and Japan) to gain a foothold in the Western Hemisphere. This resolution was delivered as Greenland was given the protection of the United States in order to prevent it from falling into German hands, but the Monroe Doctrine extended this protection to any territory in the Americas. This statement broadened the original scope of the Monroe Doctrine, allowing that although some territory might have had European interests already established, such territory could not be transferred without a response from the United States.

Bibliography and Additional Reading
  • Leonard, Thomas M., and John F. Bratzel. Latin America during World War II. Lanham: Rowman, 2007. Print.
  • “Milestones: 1801–1829: Monroe Doctrine, 1823.” US Department of State, Office of the Historian. US Dept. of State, n.d. Web. 11 Nov. 2014.
  • Smith, Gaddis. The Last Years of the Monroe Doctrine, 1945–1993. New York: Hill, 1994. Print.
  • Wilcox, Francis O. “The Monroe Doctrine and World War II.” American Political Science Review 36.3 (1942): 433–53. Print.
Categories: History Content