Venezuelan Crisis

Venezuelan Crisis
   A border dispute that occasioned a confrontation between Britain and the United States. For the most part the jungle-covered boundary between British Guiana and Venezuela had never been properly surveyed, so the discovery of gold would suddenly make it a hotly disputed area. Venezuela broke diplomatic relations with London, and Britain’s aggressive attitude in the controversy, as well as her refusal to arbitrate, represented from the American perspective a challenge to the timehonored Monroe Doctrine. In the hope of increasing U.S. influence in Latin America, Secretary of State Richard Olney decided to take a firm stance and forcefully warned London on July 20, 1895, that “to-day the United States is practically sovereign on this continent, and its fiat is law upon the subjects to which it confines its interposition. [ . . . ] because in addition to all other grounds, its infinite resources combined with its isolated position render it master of the situation and practically invulnerable against any or all other powers.”
   The haughty language reflected a new self-confidence, and the American public applauded as expected this vigorous twisting of the lion’s tail. Republican expansionists and nationalists heartily supported the Democratic administration of Grover Cleveland. Britain’s condescending response to Olney’s note raised a jingoistic flurry across the Atlantic and even prompted short-lived rumors of war. President Cleveland further dramatized the issue in his Annual Message to Congress of December 1895, when he asked for funding for a survey crew and hinted at the possible use of armed force.
   If in the end Britain agreed to arbitration, it was not out of fear of American might but because the Boer crisis in South Africa demanded her attention. British restraint also evidenced the incipient Anglo-American rapprochement and London’s shift in world priorities, notably its admission of Washington’s paramount interest in the Americas, recognized as its natural sphere of influence.
   See also <>.
    Cleveland, Grover. The Venezuelan Boundary Controversy. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1913;
    Perkins, Dexter. A History of the Monroe Doctrine. New rev. ed. Boston: Little, Brown, 1963;
    Perkins, Dexter. The Monroe Doctrine, 1867-1907. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins Press, 1937.

Encyclopedia of the Age of Imperialism, 1800–1914. 2014.

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