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Analysis of the Historical Review: The Hoover Stimson Doctrine

By Fianchetto1993 Sep 18, 2013 1638 Words
Analysis of the Historical Review by Richard N. Current:

The Hoover Stimson Doctrine

Rick J. Goldberg

American Diplomatic History II

Professor Haas


In the year 1931, Japanese movement in north eastern China became of great concern to the Hoover administration. The policy of non-recognition the U.S. adopted regarding Japanese activity during the Manchurian Crisis would come to be known as the Hoover-Stimson Doctrine. The doctrine was named after the U.S. President and Secretary of State at the time, whose efforts to create an inoffensive yet stern policy to reinforce the Nine Power Treaty and the Kellogg-Briand (Pact of Paris) were the basis of the non-recognition policy, or the Hoover-Stimson Doctrine. The policy of non-recognition toward the actions committed by the Japanese army in China was one that both Hoover and Stimson supported. However, as illustrated in the historical review of the policy written by Richard Current, their conclusion to follow through with the said policy was reached on two differentiating perspectives.

The Hoover-Stimson Doctrine

At the outset of the Manchurian Crisis of 1931-1933, Secretary of State Henry L. Stimson had shown some concern, but not nearly as much as the League of Nations. Stimson did not wish to estrange Japan, nor did he approve of any conduct that would strengthen the Japanese military element. When Japanese expansion to Chinchow occurred, the neutrality policy was then quickly replaced by an urgency to create a new and effective policy. However, the secretary chose to wait for action to be taken by the League and simply have their consultant in Geneva meet with the League to act as a representative of the United States. However, Stimson worked to create a distance between American diplomatic policies from that of the League and delay his endorsement of their policies to Japan, as well as discreetly applying any alterations to the policy to fit U.S. concern. The precautions taken by Stimson were not far from any policy Hoover saw fit; both men were in agreement toward each other’s policy. Yet President Hoover was not as willing as Stimson to take it as far as Stimson himself seemed to favor.

Eventually it became evident that Tokyo was no longer in total control of the Japanese military in China and “the situation was in the hands of virtually mad dogs.”[1] Under immense pressure, debate amongst the cabinet to participate with the League in economic sanctions against Japan had become the primary concern. The administration eventually reached the conclusion that they would not participate with the League, but would not stop them either. Stimson argued that an embargo meant war, and informed the ambassador to Britain the U.S. would therefore, not take part in any sanctions. Hoover felt that the U.S. policy was now going very far, while Stimson was still rather vigilant and willing to keep going. Stimson now began fluctuating on the idea of imposing brief sanctions and keeping on with his current hand. Eventually, President Hoover came up with the non-recognition policy. Stimson immediately brought this up to his staff who for the most part, concurred. Though delayed at first, Japanese movement upon Chinchow hastened Stimson to act and write a note on January 7th of 1932 proclaiming non-recognition of Chinese hegemony in Manchuria. It was cleverly formatted to be as inoffensive as possible and there was no objection from any relative U.S. policy makers.

Upon Japanese activities in Shanghai 13 days following the note, Stimson was prompted to endorse the U.S. navy to reinforce the Asiatic squadron, particularly in Hawai’i and the Philippines. Though this was initially met with some controversy, his staff eventually supported it, and Hoover was rather enthusiastic toward it from the start. Hoover’s purpose, which was in tutelage of American lives and property, was not that of Stimson’s. Stimson, though indeed in concurrence with Hoover, did not wish to pose a threat to Japan but, simply to make a statement. However, Hoover decided to pacify Shanghai with mediation efforts involving England, France, and Italy and endorse a non-violent policy. Stimson was frustrated at this act, as Hoover had called his own secretary’s bluff. In seeking an alternative, Stimson issued a note to Senator Borah suggesting a reissue of the January 7th 1932 note Stimson sent to Japan reaffirming the same policy but, with more vigor and a new threat. This was to use the Nine Power Treaty (which endorsed the Open Door Policy in China) as a bargaining chip with the Washington conference treaties. If Japan continued to show belligerence toward Chinese integrity, the U.S. would no longer abide by the naval restrictions constituted by the Washington conference treaties. President Hoover wished to propose an additional statement threatening a moral sanction on the Japanese in the note but, Stimson wished to keep Japan wondering in the dark. Though Hoover desired to proclaim to the public that the U.S. had no intention of war, Stimson published the note without that addition, and he informed Hoover that such a statement would appear the two men were in disagreement.

Though this letter (Borah letter) had no mention of imposing economic sanctions, Stimson’s envisage of that such threat’s eventual use and the implementation of the Washington treaties as somewhat of a bargaining chip portrayed his willingness to compete in a naval race in the Pacific. In April, Hoover then sent Stimson to Europe to discuss the far eastern crisis in councils. It was then that Hoover, with the help of Undersecretary of State Castle, endeavored to claim the non-recognition policy as his own to be used as a boost in the presidential campaign. Hoover then wanted Stimson to proclaim said policy as the Hoover Doctrine; Stimson declined this request on the grounds that he had already issued the same such policy in the January 7th note and the Borah Letter.111 Hoover also sought military disarmament. Stimson condemned such an act as detrimental to the necessity of keeping the U.S. naval force intact in the Pacific to keep the Japanese at bay. However, Hoover, through speeches made by Castle, assured the public that the use of economic sanctions and/or military force was not going to take place, ignoring Stimson’s pleas. Meanwhile Stimson was in Europe to rally the League of Nations behind the non-recognition policy. Hoover also suppressed the part of Stimson’s speech that the secretary had written himself on the Kellogg-Briand as well as expressing a willingness to join on imposing sanctions when he presented his draft. Thus the administration had presented a basis and support for the non-recognition policy. The speech was presented before the Council of Foreign Relations, finalizing the policy indefinitely. However, Stimson was in disapproval toward Hoover’s assurance of refraining from war to the public and suppression of the last three pages of his speech.

The reporting of the Lytton Commission of the League of Nations condemned Japan as using the army not in any form of self-defense, in violation of Kellogg-Briand, as well as including implications on China and the Soviet Union. Stimson was pleased with the Lytton Report. However to his dismay yet again, the rest of the cabinet as well as the president were apathetic. It was argued that the notes of non-recognition and the Lytton Report cannot coincide because the Lytton Report suggested a new Chinese regime over the old one or a Japanese one. Stimson however did not concur. After Franklin D. Roosevelt’s victory in the 1932 presidential elections, Stimson took it upon himself to undertake the task of acting on the two policies together. With Hoover’s skeptic approval, Stimson accepted an invitation from Roosevelt to meet on the subject of foreign affairs. He and Roosevelt were in complete agreement, and on the Manchurian Crisis, Roosevelt had limited knowledge of the subject and in turn had no quarrel supporting Stimson. Now at last Stimson was in a position to act without accordance from the suppressive administration and the League of Nations due to Roosevelt’s aid, Stimson successfully arranged through several subsequent political endeavors to allow the adoption by the League and the U.S. the non-recognition policy and the Lytton Report together. This led to Japanese’s resignation from the League as they felt that the Lytton Report along with the U.S. non-recognition policy were both anti-Japanese. They also saw the League as powerless on the grounds that it had censured Japanese aggression, but never took effective action.

A satisfactory alternative to economic and military pressure, the policy endorsed by the non-recognition policy or the Hoover-Stimson Doctrine, seems somewhat contradictory in name. Hoover and Stimson, though sharing a common goal, had different intentions behind said goal. A measure taken in lieu of formal sanctions to protect the lives and property of Americans was the Hoover Doctrine, and the means of laying down a precedent basis to war if war should come was the Stimson Doctrine. Though originally on Hoover’s basis, the adaptation of the non-recognition policy was realized in Stimson’s favor with the help of Roosevelt. This is the reasoning behind the general reference of the non-recognition policy as the Stimson Doctrine, but perhaps the policy should be more appropriately referred to as the Stimson-Roosevelt Doctrine.[2]


Current, Richard N. "The Stimson Doctrine and the Hoover Doctrine." The American Historical Review LIX, no. 3 (April 1954): 513-42. America: History and Life.

[1] Richard N. Current, "The Stimson Doctrine and the Hoover Doctrine," The American Historical Review LIX, no. 3 (April 1954): 519, America: History and Life. [2] Richard N. Current, "The Stimson Doctrine and the Hoover Doctrine," The American Historical Review LIX, no. 3 (April 1954): 542, America: History and Life.

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