The Monroe Doctrine: A Simulation

The Monroe Doctrine: A Simulation
Elizabeth Monroe: Law, Politics and Govt

Skill: High School/College
Time Required: 3-5 class days

Required Documents
All Situation Reports
Telegram Forms


What we know today as the Monroe Doctrine, was actually first announced in President Monroe’s  seventh annual address to Congress in December of 1823.  Nor were the ideas contained in the speech new; indeed, they go back to George Washington’s warning to avoid close entanglements of any kind with European states, and they continue to have an important influence on American foreign policy today.  Although Elizabeth Monroe did not often attempt to involve herself in her husband’s (and the country’s) foreign policy, it is also the case that she was familiar with European ideas and issues, having  spent some considerable time in Europe with him as the Ambassador’s wife in both France and England. So it is likely that she had some thoughts on the issue of our relations with European countries.


In this simulation, students will take the roles of leaders of various countries whose history and current affairs in the early 19th century led up to President Monroe’s declaration that became the Monroe Doctrine.  These countries include Britain, Portugal, the United Sates, Spain, Russia, and Latin America.  After the simulation, students will compare their choices with what actually happened among and between these countries.  In this way, students will gain “first hand” knowledge of some of the events leading up to the Monroe Doctrine, and be able to argue the positions of various countries involved in those events.

Materials Required:

Access to the Internet; access to library materials on the Monroe Doctrine; access to a series of documents available with the lesson.


Step One: Research and Interpretation (2 days)

 Important Note: Before class begins, the teacher should pull one student aside who will be a “spy” in the Spanish Group.  This student will actually be a Latin American nationalist.  The teacher should use discretion in knowing who is capable of maintaining secrecy about this until the time is right.  This person is especially important to the game. When the groups form, the teacher should secretly let the Latin American group know that they have a spy in the Spanish group, but the Spanish group cannot know about this spy.

                 Day one: First, students will be divided into six teams of 4-5 students each (making sure that the Latin American spy is firmly a part of the Spanish group).  The Teams will represent Spain, Portugal, Great Britain, the U.S., Russia, and, collectively, the newly independent states of Latin America, all of which are involved in this simulation.  Members of each group will take the following roles:

           PlannerThis person will lead the discussion of the group’s ideas and   write down the group’s responses to a series of questions at the end of their political Situation Cards.  These answers will be turned in when the simulation is over.

      Telegrapher: This person is responsible for writing and sending the telegrams during Step Two of the Simulation.

      Speaker: This person will present the group’s case before the World Summit in Step Three of the Simulation. 

      Under-Secretary of State for Political Affairs: This person will be responsible for drawing the propaganda poster for the World Summit meeting in Step Three of the Simulation. 

      Geographer (optional, depending of number of members of each group): This person is responsible for finding and collecting maps of the period that will help the group understand the potential issues among the countries in the Simulation. The maps must be historically accurate. 

      Historian: This person, using the First Ladies Library Timeline on this site, will compile a Timeline of the events leading up to the Monroe Doctrine. (if the lesson is extended, this person can also extend the time to include events since 1823 that have been influenced by or have extended the Monroe Doctrine in more recent history).

Once the groups have been organized, each group will be given its Situation Report, which includes background information on the current status of the country in terms of foreign affairs, some facts and ideas to consider in answering the questions asked of the group.  Answers to these questions will be that group’s plan of action to present to the World Summit.  Any questions that members of the groups have can be answered during Day One, and research can begin.

                  Day Two: Each group will spend class time researching their country and its position in the world of the early 19th century and beginning to craft their action plan.  The websites below can be used for this research, as well as any others they may find, and print resources.

Step Two, Day 3 --  Diplomacy with Other Nations

The teacher announces that Step Two is beginning today, and that this is the time when groups can communicate secretly with one another.  The Telegrapher writes and then takes telegrams to other countries as decided by his or her group.  These telegrams should try to get information that the group needs in order to be sure of its action plan.  For example, one might ask whether one country would be willing to join in a treaty with another country (i.e., the U.S. asks Britain to back them if Spain or Portugal declares war on Latin America, etc.).  All of these messages are a secret between the countries that send and receive telegrams to one another.  The teacher might encourage certain countries to “play both sides” by making promises to both sides and waiting to see how it plays out in the World Court.

Step Three, Day 4 – Participating in the World Summit

All the groups (nations) come together for a World Summit to discuss how to reach a solution to their problems.  The teacher presides as the leader of this Summit and the speaker of each country will lay out what their plan of action is for their country.  After each country has laid out its plan, a second round of discussion will take place as countries respond to accusations from other countries (for instance, the U.S.  might “make public” a telegram between Spain and the U.S. that shows,  based on what Spain has said at the World Summit, that Spain is untrustworthy.

Step Four, Day 5 – What Really Happened?

As homework between Day 4 and Day 5, student teams will discover how their answers to their questions compare with the historical events leading up to the Monroe Doctrine (See websites, below). Classroom discussion will ensue.


Extending the Lesson:

To extend this lesson, students can explore ways in which the Monroe Doctrine has been used, or extended in U.S. relations with Hawaii, the Philippines, Cuba (the Spanish American War), and any of a long list of U.S. military interventions, from those against the Indians in the western United States, to the many in Latin America (See “From Wounded Knee to Lybia,” available at  Teachers should view this site before students do and decide whether or not to use all of it.  The facts in the chart are accurate, but the “Briefing” at the end is written from a point of view that not all teachers will agree with.  Teachers should also decide on using the “Briefing” based on the age of the students she or he is teaching.

Sources & Resources:


Murphy, Gretchen. Hemispheric Imaginings: The Monroe Doctrine and Narratives of U.S. Empire.  Duke University Press, 2005.

Sexton, Jay.  The Monroe Doctrine: Empire and Nation in Nineteenth Century America.  Hill & Wang, 2012.


Background Information 

Territories of the Americas Colonized or Claimed by European Powers in 1750

New Spain in 1795 

History of the Peninsular War, 1808-1814

Information About Portugal

June 21, 1813: French Defeated in Spain

What Really Happened?

19th Century Historical Context in Spain 

The Original Monroe Doctrine

The Monroe Doctrine (2)

The Monroe Doctrine (Video: 1.41 minutes) 

The Roosevelt Corollary to the Monroe Doctrine

William McKinley: The Acquisition of the Philippines

The New York Times (2005): The Doctrine That Never Died

This lesson is adapted from a lesson called “The Monroe Doctrine,” by Danny Kam and posted at  It was adapted and extended a bit by Averil McClelland, Kent State University, but most of the credit goes to Mr. Kam, who says, on his posting, “Hope you enjoy this and use it in your classroom.”