Lesson Plans: Grades 9-12

Lesson 2: The Monroe Doctrine: President Monroe and the Independence Movement in South America

A We The People Resource


The Lesson


An early portrait of James Monroe.

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.

Guiding Questions

  • How did conditions in Europe relate to the independence movements in South America?
  • What reasons did President Monroe give for recognizing the independence movements in South America?

Learning Objectives

After completing this lesson, students will be able to

  • Name some of the present-day countries where independence movements began in the first quarter of the ninteenth century.
  • List the reasons President Monroe gave Congress for recognizing certain independence movements in South America.

Preparation Instructions

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 essay Defending American Interests in Foreign Affairs on the EDSITEment resource Digital History offers this:

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.

Lesson Activities

Activity 1. President Monroe and the Revolutionary Movements in South America

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:

  • How did conditions in Europe relate to the independence movements in South America?
  • What reasons did President Monroe give for recognizing the independence movements in South America?

Extending The Lesson

Revolutionary Movements in South America: Primary and Secondary Sources

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:

  • The connection between independence movements in South America and relations between European countries.
  • The resemblance between the independence movements of South America and the struggle for independence in the United States.
  • The differences between the independence movements of South America and the struggle for independence in the United States.
  • The intent of the primary document. Which one or more of the following applies? Based on what evidence? Or are there other intentions?
    • To gain legitimacy for the independence movement.
    • To gain momentum and support for a movement that has not yet achieved its goals.
    • To establish diplomatic relations with other countries.
    • To formalize its independent status.
    • To elicit empathy in comparison to America's struggle for independence.

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.

  • Argentina
    • Background information on Argentine history from Argentina, The Columbia Encyclopedia: Sixth Edition, a link from the EDSITEment reviewed website Internet Public Library:

      Independence and the Nineteenth Century
      A prelude to independence was the British attack on Buenos Aires. Admiral Sir Home Popham and Gen. William Carr Beresford took the city in 1806 after the Spanish viceroy fled. An Argentine militia force under Jacques de Liniers ended the British occupation and beat off a renewed attack under Gen. John Whitelocke in 1807.

      On May 25, 1810 (May 25 is the Argentine national holiday), revolutionists, acting nominally in favor of the Bourbons dethroned by Napoleon (see Spain), deposed the viceroy, and the government was controlled by a junta. The result was war against the royalists. The patriots under Manuel Belgrano won (1812) a victory at Tucumán. On July 9, 1816, a congress in Tucumán proclaimed the independence of the United Provinces of the Río de La Plata. Other patriot generals were Mariano Moreno, Juan Martín de Pueyrredón, and José de San Martín.

      Uruguay and Paraguay went their own ways despite hopes of reunion. In Argentina, a struggle ensued between those who wanted to unify the country and those who did not want to be dominated by Buenos Aires. Independence was followed by virtually permanent civil war, with many coups by regional, social, or political factions. Rule by the strong man, the caudillo, alternated with periods of democratic rule, too often beset by disorder.

      Anarchy was not ended by the election of Bernardino Rivadavia in 1826. The unitarians, who favored a centralized government dominated by Buenos Aires, were opposed to the federalists, who resented the oligarchy of Buenos Aires and were backed by autocratic caudillos with gaucho troops. The unitarians triumphed temporarily when Argentinians combined to help the Uruguayans repel Brazilian conquerors in the battle of Ituzaingó (1827), which led to the independence of Uruguay. The internal conflict was, however, soon resumed and was not even quelled when Gen. Juan Manuel de Rosas, the most notorious caudillo, established a dictatorship that lasted from 1835 to 1852.
    • Primary document: Presenting Colonel Martin Thompson as the authorized deputy or minister of Buenos Ayres, and requesting the protection and assistance of the United States, 1816, January 16
  • Chile
  • Colombia
    • Background information on Columbian history: Colombia (Click on "Developments Leading to Independence" and "The Independence Movement.")
    • Primary document: The Republic of Colombia Declared, uniting Columbia, Venezuela, and Ecuador (February 20, 1821)
  • Peru
  • Venezuela
Selected EDSITEment Websites

American Memory

The American President

American Studies at the University of Virginia

Digital History

Internet Public Library


The Basics

Grade Level


Time Required

1 class periods

Subject Areas
  • History and Social Studies > U.S. > AP US History
  • History and Social Studies > People > Hispanic
  • History and Social Studies > Place > The Americas
  • History and Social Studies > U.S. > Expansion and Reform (1801-1861)
  • History and Social Studies > People > Native American
  • History and Social Studies > People > Other
  • History and Social Studies > Themes > Demographic Changes
  • History and Social Studies > Themes > Economic Transformation
  • History and Social Studies > Themes > Globalization
  • History and Social Studies > Themes > Immigration/Migration
  • History and Social Studies > Themes > Politics and Citizenship
  • History and Social Studies > Themes > Religion
  • History and Social Studies > Themes > U.S. Constitution
  • History and Social Studies > Themes > War and Foreign Policy
  • Critical analysis
  • Critical thinking
  • Discussion
  • Evaluating arguments
  • Historical analysis
  • Interpretation
  • Making inferences and drawing conclusions
  • Map Skills
  • Using primary sources
  • MMS (AL)


Activity Worksheets