An early portrait of James Monroe.
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. In particular, they will examine Monroe's involvement in American diplomacy while serving in a variety of positions before he was elected president. They will become familiar with Monroe's beliefs in an expanded United States as well as an expanded role for the United States in the Americas. Students will also read primary source material reflecting the independence movement in South America, which served as the direct impetus for the Monroe Doctrine.
After completing this lesson, students will be able to
If desired, share with the class information on the connection between independence movements in South America and the formulation of the Monroe Doctrine from the class textbook or another source, such as the website of the U.S. Department of State, which offers the following summary:
In his December 2, 1823, address to Congress, President James Monroe articulated U.S. policy on the new political order developing in the rest of the Americas and the role of Europe in the Western Hemisphere. The statement, known as the Monroe Doctrine, was little noted by the Great Powers of Europe but eventually became a longstanding tenet of U.S. foreign policy. Monroe and his Secretary of State John Quincy Adams drew upon a foundation of American diplomatic ideals such as disentanglement from European affairs and defense of neutral rights as expressed in Washington's Farewell Address and Madison's stated rationale for waging the War of 1812. The three main concepts of the Doctrine—separate spheres of influence for the Americas and Europe, noncolonization, and nonintervention—were designed to signify a clear break between the New World and the autocratic realm of Europe. Monroe's administration forewarned the imperial European powers against interfering in the affairs of the newly independent Latin American states or potential U.S. territories. While Americans generally objected to European colonies in the New World, they also desired to increase U.S. influence and trading ties throughout the region to their south. European mercantilism posed the greatest obstacle to economic expansion. In particular, Americans feared that Spain and France might reassert colonialism over the Latin American peoples who had just overthrown European rule. Signs that Russia was expanding its presence southward from Alaska toward the Oregon Territory also were disconcerting.
For their part, the British also had a strong interest in ensuring the demise of Spanish colonialism, with all the trade restrictions mercantilism imposed. Earlier in 1823 British Foreign Minister George Canning suggested to Americans that two nations issue a joint declaration to deter any other power from intervening in Central and South America. Secretary of State John Quincy Adams, however, vigorously opposed cooperation with Great Britain, contending that a statement of bilateral nature could limit U.S. expansion in the future. He also argued that the British were not committed to recognizing the Latin American republics and must have had imperial motivations themselves.
The critical foreign policy issue facing the United States after the War of 1812 was the fate of Spain's crumbling New World empire. Many of Spain's New World colonies had taken advantage of turmoil in Europe during the Napoleonic Wars to fight for their independence. These revolutions aroused intense sympathy in the United States, but many Americans feared that European powers might restore monarchical order in Spain's New World.
The leaders of the revolts exploited and were inspired by their connections to the American Revolution, despite the many differences between their movements and the movement that established the United States. To increase their legitimacy, the revolutionary leaders of South America sought U.S. recognition, as documents offered in this lesson reveal. President Monroe also attempted to exploit the relationship of the United States to the revolutionary struggles, encouraging "the popular perception of Simon Bolivar of Colombia as the George Washington of Latin America" (from James Monroe: Foreign Affairs on the EDSITEment-reviewed website The American President). Share with the class the annotated excerpts from "Monroe on Recognition of the Independent States of South America" on pages 11-12 of the Master PDF. Or, if desired, use the full text of President Monroe to Congress: Recognition of the Independent States of South America, available on the EDSITEment-reviewed website American Memory. As a guide to your discussion, use "Questions to Accompany President Monroe's Message on Recognition" on page 13 of the Master PDF.
Students should be able to respond effectively, either in writing or class discussion, to the following questions:
Students interested in extending this lesson can read some secondary accounts of and primary documents from the revolutionary movements in South America. They can begin their study of any country listed below with a brief secondary account (from the Library of Congress Country Studies, a link from the EDSITEment resource American Memory, unless otherwise specified) and a primary document (from American Memory, unless otherwise specified). Students should come to a better understanding of the following:
NOTE: Students may encounter the Spanish word "criollo" (English: creole). The criollos were of mixed parentage—European and Native American. Though many criollos had achieved relative prosperity and power in their countries, they resented their inability to achieve full power or recognition due to racism and/or the entrenched power structure.
1 class periods