Geopolitical Cartoons: Monroe and Roosevelt (1900s)

Resurrecting a previous Z Geography series, this week we’ll take a look at the geographic significance of cartoons related to the Monroe Doctrine, specifically the Roosevelt Corollary. As the wikipedia article summarizes, the President James Monroe’s doctrine (articulated in the 1820s) sought to limit European influence in the emerging revolutions in Central and South America. Since the U.S. lacked a “credible” military response at the time, the policy was mostly enforced by the British Empire – who would benefit from new markets for their free trade schemes. At the same time that the U.S. sought to limit European interference in the New World, the U.S. also pledged to respect the internal sovereignty of European countries, to include what colonies remained in the New World.

Of course, perceptions of the doctrine changed with the times. The cartoon below (dated after the U.S. Civil War) depicts a “crippled” American Eagle conversing with an amused British lion and French cock. The context is evident, in the aftermath of the destructive war between the states – the U.S. was in no shape to uphold and enforce the Monroe Doctrine. But by Roosevelt’s presidency, the U.S. had regained its military strength.

a “crippled” American Eagle, unable to uphold the Monroe Doctrine? (post-U.S. Civil War)

President Theodore Roosevelt’s corollary to the Monroe Doctrine (from 1904) moved the doctrine from non-interventionism to hardly-disguised imperialism. The corollary was couched in the language and intent of the earlier doctrine in that the U.S. would intervene in conflicts between European countries and Latin American countries in order to press the “legitimate” claims of the Europeans, rather than have the Europeans attempt to enforce their claims directly. More succinctly, the Roosevelt Corollary promoted the United States as the “hemispheric policeman.”

The two geopolitical cartoons below communicate these points. In the first, we see a President Roosevelt aboard one of the “Great White Fleet” ships resting defiantly on a naval gun pointed at a European monarch. The monarch carries “claims” and reaches to across the Atlantic to a sobbing representation of the Republic of Santo Domingo (now the Dominican Republican). The naval gun is marked the “Monroe Doctrine”. In the distance, Roosevelt is backed by the power of the U.S. Navy (represented by ironclads). The cartoon effectively illustrates the growing strength of the United States. Where before the U.S. required British support to uphold an American doctrine, by Roosevelt’s presidency the U.S. has become a hemispheric (or regional) power in its own right.

Monroe Doctrine as Roosevelt’s “Big Gun” (unknown date)

The second geopolitical cartoon, from 1904, evokes slightly different imagery to explain the Roosevelt Corollary. In it a larger-than-life Roosevelt patrols the Caribbean Sea, which is framed by countries that border it (Santo Domingo/Dominican Republic, Mexico, Cuba, and so on), pulling along the U.S. Navy’s ironclads which are labelled “debt collectors.” In his right hand Roosevelt carries his now-famous big stick, which was his favorite proverb (“Speak softly and carry a big stick; you will go far”).

Roosevelt and his Big Stick, patrolling the Caribbean with the U.S. Navy (probably 1904)

The Monroe Doctrine was “reinstated” as it were by World War II, as seen in the geopolitical cartoon below. The cartoon depicts an Uncle Sam with a wet paint brush posting a sign in the Caribbean with ink from a “restatement of the Monroe Doctrine” bucket. The sign reads “Positively no hunting.” Glaring closely at the sign is Hitler’s Germany who sports a smoking gun and the corpses of France, Holland, and Denmark – symbolized as adult ducks. The sign is meant to ward off German and Italian (Mussolini is just behind Hitler) poaching of the remaining possessions of those countries, the ducklings, in the Western Hemisphere.

A renewed Monroe Doctrine, warding off Hitler and Mussolini? (World War II)

These cartoons illustrate historical and geopolitical points. Historically, the Roosevelt Corollary illustrated the United States abandoning of the non-interventionism of the Monroe Doctrine for the active asserting of a regional (and soon to be global) power. This couldn’t have happened without a much stronger U.S. Navy. From a geopolitical perspective, the Roosevelt Corollary represented an assertion of American dominance in the Western hemisphere; rather than a European one. The last cartoon, a renewed emphasis of an 1820s doctrine during World War II, chronicles the ascendancy of American power through a defiant Uncle Sam determined to resist Nazi and fascist aggression.
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2 thoughts on “Geopolitical Cartoons: Monroe and Roosevelt (1900s)

  1. Thanks for this post! My dissertation is about geopolitical cartoons, so I really appreciate you sharing these images. :-) If you’re interested in more maps-in-cartoons, I’m a fairly regular contributor to this blog: http://blueskygis.blogspot.com and I thought you might appreciate some of the geopolitical cartoons over there, too!

  2. Good info, but actually, the first cartoon titled “The Crippled American Eagle, the Cock, and the Lion,” is not post-US Civil War – it is dated February 16, 1861, and is found in Harper’s Weekly (see – http://www.sonofthesouth.net/leefoundation/civil-war/1861/February/slavery-cartoon.htm).

    But to me, this is interesting as it DOES appear the US is represented either in the middle of, or just after, the Civil War. Yet Fort Sumter has not happened yet – only the deep south had seceded – but maybe the cartoonist, not knowing what was to come, saw the deep south’s secession as a form of “beating up” the Union, thus weakening it? Possibly with roughly 7 states having seceded by Feb. 16, 1861, the cartoonist saw the Union being weakened and reflected this by depicting the American Eagle on crutches? It is “crippled” due to 7 states having seceded, leaving the overall stability of the Union in question? (of course, when the cartoonist began creating this cartoon, it is possible Texas had not seceded yet, so the cartoonist was reacting to 6 states having declared their leaving the Union).

    Possibly the overall message is that in addition to the internal issues secession will create, the Deep South’s secession is undermining the international arena as the Western Hemisphere could now be threatened by European imperialist endeavors – as would end up being the case with France taking advantage of the United States’ Civil War to invade Mexico.

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