Lesson Plans: Grades 9-12

Lesson 1: The Monroe Doctrine: U.S. Foreign Affairs (circa 1782–1823) and James Monroe

A We The People Resource


The Lesson


Portrait of James Monroe, fifth President of the United States, by Gilbert  Stuart.

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.

Guiding Questions

  • What was the Monroe Doctrine? What principles of foreign policy did this Doctrine establish?
  • What were the significant events in U.S. diplomacy before 1823?
  • What diplomatic roles had James Monroe played before he became president?
  • Who were the key figures in U.S. diplomacy before 1823? What did each do?
  • Which events were connected to peace and safety concerns for the United States?
  • What factors led the United States to engage in diplomatic exchanges with other countries?
  • Which events touched on American sympathy for revolutionary movements?
  • Which events related to the expansion of the United States?

Learning Objectives

After completing this lesson, students will be able to

  • Create a timeline of significant events in U.S. foreign affairs before 1823
  • Cite the roles played by James Monroe and his contributions to U.S. diplomacy before he became president
  • Make connections between diplomatic events and revolutionary movements, concerns over U.S. peace and safety, and U.S. expansion

Preparation Instructions

In its entry for The Monroe Doctrine (1823), Information USA, an exhibit of the website of the U.S. Department of State, a link from the EDSITEment-reviewed resource Internet Public Library, states:

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.

Lesson Activities

Activity 1. A Glance at the Monroe Doctrine

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.

Actvity 2. A Documentary Crash Course in American Foreign Relations before the Monroe Doctrine

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:

  • Prior to adoption of the Monroe Doctrine, how would you characterize U.S. relations with the countries named in the document?
  • In what ways was Monroe involved with key diplomatic events prior to his inauguration in 1817?
  • What threats to American peace and safety occurred before 1823?
  • What events or circumstances may have led Monroe or his Secretary of State John Quincy Adams to want to protect the newly independent Latin American states?
  • What evidence suggests that Monroe/Adams had expansionist intentions for the United States in the Western Hemisphere? Which events or circumstances may have contributed to the need or desire for expansion?
  • What is the central thesis of the Monroe Doctrine?
  • What connection, if any, exists between events on the timeline and the central thesis of the Monroe Doctrine?
  • What other events or circumstances, if any, should have been included in the timeline?

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.

The Basics

Grade Level


Time Required

1 class periods

Subject Areas
  • History and Social Studies > U.S. > AP US History
  • History and Social Studies > Place > Europe
  • History and Social Studies > People > Hispanic
  • History and Social Studies > U.S. > Revolution and the New Nation (1754-1820s)
  • 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 > Place > The Caribbean
  • History and Social Studies > People > Other
  • 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 > U.S. Constitution
  • History and Social Studies > Themes > War and Foreign Policy
  • Critical analysis
  • Critical thinking
  • Discussion
  • Historical analysis
  • Interpretation
  • Making inferences and drawing conclusions
  • Map Skills
  • Using primary sources
  • MMS (AL)


Activity Worksheets