Clark Memorandum

The Clark Memorandum, a 238-page paper written in December 1928 and subsequently published by the Hoover administration in 1930, “is one of the most powerful and influential documents against imperial, colonial, or interventionist policies ever drafted by an American in high office.” So states the inaugural issue of the J. Reuben Clark publication, also named the Clark Memo. [ref] retrieved 13 October 2011.[/ref]

Its importance was such that “it was accepted by both the American public and by foreign governments as an official interpretation of the Monroe Doctrine and has since become one of the landmark documents of foreign relations.”

J. Reuben Clark had been called to Washington early in 1928 to be the Under Secretary of State to Secretary of State Frank Kellogg in the Coolidge Administration.

A brief summary of the Monroe Doctrine is necessary in order to give a background to the Clark Memorandum. On December 2, 1823, President Monroe issued the statement written by his Secretary of State, John Quincy Adams, as a reaction to further efforts by European nations to establish colonies in the Americas. Many existing colonies in Latin America were gaining independence from Spain. The doctrine referred to the whole of the Western Hemisphere, but chiefly dealt with relations between America and Europe, stating that further efforts to colonize land or to interfere with existing states in America by European nations would be seen as an act of aggression.

A century later, the Monroe Doctrine was still very influential. In 1904 President Theodore Roosevelt had issued an extension to the Doctrine as a result of European “gunboat diplomacy” in a dispute over Venezuelan debt. Known as the Roosevelt Corollary, it asserted the right of the United States to deal with such problems among Latin American Republics. However, there was concern among those republics that it gave carte blanche to the US to interfere in their internal affairs.

Secretary of State Frank B. Kellogg wished to issue a statement clarifying this misunderstanding and asked his Undersecretary J. Reuben Clark to thoroughly research the Monroe Doctrine and come up with a study for Kellogg to use as a basis for the statement. Kellogg had negotiated a treaty, initially with France, in August 1928 called the Kellogg-Briand Pact (also called the General Treaty for the Renunciation of War or the World Peace Act).

This treaty repudiated war as an “instrument of national policy” and was eventually signed by 64 countries. Although it was violated almost immediately by Japan, Italy, Germany, and the Soviet Union, its importance nevertheless remains as a legal basis for declaring unlawful the threat or use of military force to acquire territory against international law.

The Monroe Doctrine and the subsequent Roosevelt Corollary seemed to be counter to the intentions of the Pact, hence the request to J. Reuben Clark for the study. Kellogg intended to present it before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in December 1928.

Clark worked with Anna O’Neil, a former assistant solicitor who had been tasked with undertaking research on the Monroe Doctrine. The first draft, consisting of 45 pages were shown to Kellogg on 24 November. Because of Kellogg’s appointment to testify to the Foreign Relations Committee on 7 December, it became urgent that Kellogg have a statement from the memorandum to present to that committee. By now the paper was well over 200 pages in length, so Clark quickly summarized the main points in a 17-page paper that became known as the Clark Memorandum. While reviewing the complete paper prepared by Anna O’Neil, Clark realized it did not contain a refutation of the Roosevelt Corollary. Clark made sure that this was in his summary.

Kellogg had wanted to make the point that the Monroe Doctrine’s original intent was to ensure the continued separation of Europe and the Americas: “‘The Doctrine,’ as Reuben put it, ‘states a case of United States vs. Europe, not of United States vs. Latin America.’. . . If sanctions needed to be applied, they lay against the European power offending the Doctrine, not against the Latin American power. ‘The so-called “Roosevelt Corollary,”‘ said Undersecretary Clark, ‘is not . . . justified by the terms of the Monroe Doctrine, however much it may be justified by the application of the doctrine of self-preservation'” [ref]Frank W. Fox, J. Reuben Clark: The Public Years (Provo, UT: BYU Press),  518.[/ref].

The gist of the Clark Memorandum is as follows: “Clark’s Memorandum repudiated the Roosevelt Corollary to the Monroe Doctrine, and stated that the Monroe Doctrine was relevant only to relations between the European and American continents, and did not apply to ‘purely inter-American relations.’ Clark further stated that: (1) the Monroe Doctrine is purely unilateral; (2) it is based on the right of self-defense;  (3) all actions of self-defense taken by the United States in regard to Latin America are not by that fact implementations of the Monroe Doctrine, but only such actions as are directed against European countries; and (4) the United States cannot justify actions against American nations under the Monroe Doctrine, however much such actions may be justified on the grounds  of self-defense.”[ref] Clark Memo 1, 8.[/ref]

In February 1929, Kellogg asked Reuben to redraft the document and disseminate the essential points to all Latin American missions for eventual delivery. Herbert Hoover, however, was not convinced, and the document was never delivered. In March 1930, the official document was published, but not as official policy. The government’s position at that time was that the Memorandum was “merely the private opinion of a former undersecretary” [ref]Fox, J. Reuben Clark, 521[/ref]. However, journalists and other commentators had been looking for an official redefinition of the Monroe Doctrine for some time, and obviously saw the Clark Memorandum as such. Hoover finally published the Memorandum in 1930.

Eventually, “The ‘Clark Memorandum,’ which was published as an official State Department document and partially reprinted in textbooks for years, was hailed by national leaders and the press as a brilliant interpretation of the obscure but consequential principle and earned J. Reuben Clark the prestige that he had so often deferred to others who had taken credit for his work.” [ref]Stephen S. Davis, “J. Reuben Clark, Jr., Statesman and Counselor,” p. 4, retrieved 13 October 2011.[/ref]


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