Portrait of James Monroe, fifth President of the United States, by Gilbert Stuart.
Credit: Courtesy of American Memory at the Library of Congress.
James Monroe spent most of his life in public office, devoting a significant portion of his career to foreign affairs. He served as George Washington's Minister to France, but was eventually recalled by the President. Thomas Jefferson appointed Monroe as a special envoy for negotiating the purchase of New Orleans and West Florida. He and principal negotiator Robert Livingston exceeded their authority and all expectations by acquiring the entire Louisiana Territory as well as a claim to all of Florida. Next, Monroe became Minister to Great Britain. Under James Madison, he served as Secretary of State and Secretary of War.
Monroe brought a vision of an expanded America to his presidency—a vision that helped facilitate the formulation of what has become known as the Monroe Doctrine. Because this Doctrine bears his name, the general public is not inclined to recognize the significant contributions made by Secretary of State John Quincy Adams and unofficial presidential advisor Thomas Jefferson.
In this lesson, students will review the Monroe Doctrine against a background of United States foreign relations in the early years of the republic.
After completing this lesson, students will be able to
In Monroe's message to Congress on December 2, 1823, he delivered what we have always called the Monroe Doctrine, although in truth it should have been called the Adams Doctrine.
The writer expresses the opinion that the Monroe Doctrine should have been named after John Quincy Adams to honor his role in its formulation. Additional evidence indicates that former President Thomas Jefferson strongly influenced President Monroe. Tell students that, in this series of lessons, they will decide for themselves if the famous Doctrine has been correctly or incorrectly named. This question—which is interesting but far from central—provides the environment for a closer look at the Monroe Doctrine and the circumstances leading to it.
In Lesson Three and Lesson Four students will do a close reading of the text of the Monroe Doctrine (1823). Here, a careful examination of the document anticipates what is to come. Share a copy of the Monroe Doctrine, available on the EDSITEment-reviewed website Avalon Project, with the class. Ask the students to read the document, list the key points, then discuss its central tenets (noted below):
The American continents, by the free and independent condition which they have assumed and maintain, are henceforth not to be considered as subjects for future colonization by any European powers …
… declare that we should consider any attempt on their part to extend their system to any portion of this hemisphere as dangerous to our peace and safety.
Our policy in regard to Europe … remains the same, which is, not to interfere in the internal concerns of any of its powers…
Once the class has had an opportunity to study and discuss the essential ideas presented in the doctrine, encourage your students to analyze and evaluate the Monroe Doctrine. Among the questions they should address is whether the United States was militarily strong enough to enforce its position and, if not, why the government might have felt confident in issuing the Doctrine. When your class has completed the survey of American foreign policy, outlined below, you might bring the students back to these questions in order to re-evaluate their initial positions. When they have completed their initial review of the Monroe Doctrine, ask students to scan the text looking for names of countries and continents. They may also find indications of unspecified countries, for example, "But with the Governments who have declared their independence and maintain it." The class should compile a complete list. If desired, students can look at maps of Europe and South America. The EDSITEment-reviewed resource Liberty, Equality, Fraternity: Exploring The French Revolution offers a map Europe 1815. The EDSITEment-reviewed website American Memory features a New map of South America from the latest authorities (Samuel Lewis' Atlas, 1817). Online, students can zoom in and out and focus on any part of either map. The EDSITEment-reviewed resource National Geographic Xpeditions offers a Contemporary Map of Europe and a Contemporary Map of South America, both available as PDFs. The next step in this lesson will be to review the events in American diplomacy leading up to the Monroe Doctrine to better understand the relationship between the text of the Doctrine and the countries and continents Monroe mentions. The students also will focus on several important discussion questions.
To achieve a better understanding of the Monroe Doctrine, students need to review American diplomacy prior to the Doctrine's formulation. The handout "Documentary Timeline: American Diplomacy before the Monroe Doctrine," on pages 1-7 of the Master PDF, provides a capsule review of early American diplomacy and related events. How the handout will be used will differ from class to class (some suggestions are provided below), depending largely on the background students bring to the lesson and the available time. However, the goal is to provide the conditions for a discussion of the following questions:
The handout provides a list of events from 1782 to 1823. Though not comprehensive, it attempts instead to highlight the major events. It offers URLs for brief secondary accounts and primary documents and a selection of quotes from some of each. If desired, use the timeline as a guideline for lecture and/or discussion. As a graphic organizer, students can use the "Basic Timeline: American Diplomacy before the Monroe Doctrine" on pages 8-10 of the Master PDF file. Alternatively, the class can review the entire timeline or relevant portions of it without reference to the full online documents. Student groups or individuals also can be assigned a few primary documents to review and then select one or two especially pertinent excerpts. (If desired, students can use the Written Document Analysis Worksheet on the EDSITEment-reviewed resource Digital Classroom.) Student groups or individuals can be assigned specific years (or a particular decade) in an attempt to share with the class the significant events from those years. The teacher can use the timeline as the basis for a lecture or a handout custom-made for the needs of the class. Students can use the timeline as the basis for their own timeline(s) of significant events
Students should be able to respond effectively to the bulleted discussion questions above. To assess how much they have learned from this lesson, ask students, working in small groups or individually, to complete the following statement in one paragraph or less: The history of American foreign relations before 1823 could be characterized as… If desired, students can expand their ideas into brief essays beginning with the opening statement above and then marshaling evidence to support their positions. When they have completed their evaluation of American foreign policy prior to 1823, return to the question of whether the United States had the power to enforce the Monroe Doctrine against the great powers of Europe.
1 class periods