INAUGURATION day, 4 March 1817, was one of those rare late winter days in Washington with more than a hint of spring—sunny and balmy. Throughout the morning a steady stream of citizens hastened along the dusty, rutted streets toward the temporary congressional quarters in a frame structure across from the burned-out Capitol. The crowd, largely composed of residents of the city, included visitors from as far away as New York who had taken advantage of the cheaper rapid transportation offered by the newly introduced steamboats. By noon a crowd estimated at eight thousand, the largest ever assembled in Washington, had gathered.
The circumstances that occasioned an outdoor ceremony were entirely fortuitous. Usually inaugurations were held in the House chamber, but the refusal of the representatives to let the senators bring with them their new red upholstered armchairs had culminated in a deadlock broken only by deciding to move the ceremony outdoors. The managers were so distracted by this dispute that they forgot to invite the diplomatic corps, which was conspicuously absent. President-elect James Monroe and his vice president, Daniel D. Tompkins, arrived shortly before noon, escorted by a troop of volunteer cavalry. After being greeted by retiring President James Madison, the party entered the House chamber, where the vice president was sworn in, before returning to the outdoor platform. Monroe was then administered the oath of office by Chief Justice John Marshall, a friend of his youth but since alienated by political differences.
The new president, who stepped forth to deliver his inaugural address, was a familiar figure to Washingtonians, who were accustomed to seeing him go about the city clad in the smallclothes of an earlier age—a black coat, black knee breeches, and black silk stockings. On ceremonial occasions he often wore a blue coat and buff knee breeches, an outfit reminiscent of Revolutionary War uniforms. Now in his fifty-ninth year, Monroe was erect in bearing, robust and vigorous in manner. His hair (worn long and tied behind with a black ribbon) had grayed, and his face had become deeply lined during the recent war. Nearly six feet tall, with dignified and formal manners, he was an impressive figure but by no means handsome—his face was plain, the nose large though regular. His wide-set gray eyes were his most striking feature, exhibiting a generosity of spirit confirmed by the warmth of his smile. Never arousing the same passionate devotion as Jefferson, Monroe was admired for his heroism during the Revolution and for his long service to the nation.
In his inaugural address—described by one auditor as of a "plain homespun character"—Monroe spoke of the renewed sense of national unity apparent after the difficulties of the war years. Espousing a course of moderate nationalism, he recommended the continued protection of domestic manufactures. He also stressed the need for the construction of roads and canals to facilitate the movement of commerce, but failed to clarify his position on the constitutionality of federally funded internal improvements. He devoted the lengthiest portion of his message to a project in which he took a personal interest—the need to improve the defenses of the nation by maintaining a larger peacetime army and by the construction of a chain of coastal fortifications to avert the danger of future invasion.
Early Political and Diplomatic Career
James Monroe, the fifth president and the last of the great trio of Virginia Republicans who had held the presidency since 1801, was born in Westmoreland County, Virginia, on 28 April 1758. His father's family, of Scottish origin, had been settled in the county for a century, but with modest holdings of only six hundred acres the Monroes had never cut a large figure in colonial affairs. When his father, Spence, died in 1774, Monroe, his sister, and two younger brothers were placed under the guardianship of his uncle, Joseph Jones of King George County, one of the most influential leaders during the revolutionary era. Jones, who was then childless, took an active interest in his nephew, and it was with Jones's encouragement that Monroe entered William and Mary College in 1774—the first of his family to attend college, as he later proudly recalled—but his residence there was brief.
Caught up in the enthusiasm for the revolutionary cause, he enlisted in the Third Virginia Regiment in the spring of 1775. Within months the young lieutenant was fighting with Washington at New York. He won fame and promotion to major for his heroism when he and a handful of men put out of action the British cannons blocking Washington's advance at Trenton. As aide-de-camp to General William Alexander, Monroe wintered at Valley Forge and fought at Monmouth. Preferring a field command to the routine of a staff officer, Monroe returned to Virginia in the summer of 1779, in the hope of raising a regiment.
Unable to obtain recruits, Monroe's spirits were at a low ebb when he met Thomas Jefferson, the governor of Virginia. This meeting constituted a turning point in Monroe's life, establishing a close and enduring friendship, cemented by common intellectual interests and political objectives. Jefferson sensed in Monroe not only a warm and generous character but also a powerful determination to be of service to his country no matter what the cost might be. Monroe's close association with one of the most original and best informed minds of the day was a decisive influence in his intellectual development.
In 1782, Monroe entered the House of Burgesses from King George County, where he had begun to practice law. His abilities were immediately recognized by the established leaders in the state and the next year won him membership in the Virginia delegation to the Continental Congress, along with Jefferson. When Jefferson left in July 1784 to take up his post as minister to France, he left for Monroe a collection of books and his French cook, but his most valuable gift was a letter of introduction to James Madison. Jefferson's praise of Monroe to his old friend was unstinted: "The scrupulousness of his honor will make you safe in the most confidential communications. A better man cannot be." Thus was forged the final link in the great collaboration that shaped the future of the early Republic.
In Congress, Monroe moved rapidly to the fore-front of the leaders committed to strengthening the Articles of Confederation. His most constructive work as a delegate was the drafting of the plan of territorial government incorporated in the Northwest Ordinance of 1787 and the blocking of the move to close the Mississippi to American navigation in return for commercial concessions from Spain.
When his term ended in 1786, Monroe was not alone on his homeward trip to Virginia. Beside him in his carriage was his bride of eight months, the former Elizabeth Kortright, daughter of a once wealthy New York merchant. Much admired for her beauty, the elegance of her dress, and the refinement of her polished, if rather formal, manners, she brought to Monroe the happiness of family life so much prized by his generation. In the terms of the age, she conducted herself as an ideal wife should, devoted to her children and never obtruding in political concerns. The Monroes lived for two years in Fredericksburg, where he opened a law office. Then, in 1789, they moved to a plantation he purchased in Albemarle County, thus realizing Monroe's cherished dream of living within a few miles of Jefferson's estate, Monticello. Since the Madisons lived but twenty miles away in Orange County, social visits and political conferences were easily arranged. It was in Virginia that Monroe's two daughters were born—Eliza in 1786 and Maria Hester in 1802.
At home in Virginia, Monroe combined an active county law practice with the management of his plantation and membership in the state legislature. As a member of the Virginia ratifying convention, he opposed the Constitution, objecting to the excessive power granted to the Senate and the president. The law had little appeal for Monroe, and he readily abandoned his practice after his election to the United States Senate in 1790. He continued, nonetheless, to supervise his plantation, which remained the principal source of his income. He always considered farming his profession and politics but an avocation.
As a senator, Monroe worked closely with Madison, then in the House, in combating the Hamiltonian fiscal program. He aided Jefferson and Madison in laying the groundwork of opposition to Washington's policies, which culminated in the formation of the Republican party. In 1794, President Washington appointed Monroe to succeed Federalist Gouverneur Morris as minister to France in the hope that the selection of a Republican would improve relations strained by France's conviction that the Washington administration was pro-British. The ratification of Jay's Treaty in 1795 confirmed the French government in its belief that Washington was hostile to the revolutionary movement and rendered ineffective Monroe's efforts at reconciliation. Irritated by Monroe's open enthusiasm for the revolutionary regime, Washington abruptly recalled him in 1796. Monroe responded with a lengthy pamphlet attacking the administration. His View of the Conduct of the Executive in Foreign Affairs . . . (Philadelphia, 1798) was approved by fellow Republicans and won him the governorship of Virginia in 1799.
Just before leaving for France in 1794, Monroe had purchased a more extensive estate adjacent to Monticello. Selling his earlier holdings, he now made his home on his new plantation of twenty-five hundred acres, which he named Highlands (now known as Ashlawn). Until his election as president, he and his family lived in a simple frame house at Highlands.
As Virginia's governor from 1799 to 1802, Monroe improved the administrative organization of the state government, providing stronger leadership than his predecessors. He was the first governor to use the annual message to outline matters needing legislative action. His effective handling of the abortive slave uprising known as Gabriel's Rebellion was highly praised.
Monroe's third term as governor had no sooner ended than Jefferson, in January 1803, appointed him as special envoy to France to negotiate the purchase of a site on the lower Mississippi as a port of deposit. The abrupt suspension of the right of deposit by the Spanish authorities made the mission an urgent one. Accompanied by his wife and daughters, Monroe reached Paris on 12 April 1803, to be coolly greeted by the resident minister, Robert R. Livingston, who had just learned after months of importuning that Napoleon was willing to sell all Louisiana. Faced by the fact that it was all or nothing, Livingston and Monroe ignored the limitations of their instructions and signed an agreement. Monroe rightly assumed that his friendship with President Jefferson and Secretary of State Madison would ensure the acceptance of the treaty.
After completing his mission to France, Monroe was named minister to Great Britain, where he remained until 1807 except for a foray to Madrid in a vain effort to purchase Florida. His main objectives in England were to secure recognition of American principles of neutral rights and a cessation of impressment. Not until 1806, when Charles James Fox became foreign secretary after twenty years in opposition, did Monroe see any hope of a modification of long-standing British policy. He at once began negotiations but had to postpone them, pending the arrival of special envoy William Pinkney.
Fox's illness and death a few months after Pinkney's arrival so weakened the cabinet that major policy changes could not be undertaken. Nonetheless, Monroe and Pinkney concluded an agreement that modified British commercial restrictions but contained no provision on impressment. The best they could obtain from the British commissioners was a note appended to the treaty promising that the "strictest care" would be taken "to preserve the citizens of the United States from any molestation or injury." In accepting this informal statement, Monroe assured Madison that it meant the end of impressment. Although the British, he said, would never abandon a basic principle, they would alter policy through admiralty orders.
Monroe was truly shocked when Jefferson rejected the treaty without submitting it to the Senate. Having been absent so long, Monroe did not realize that the administration regarded impressment as the central issue. Madison, expecting Monroe to return much earlier, had failed to make the point clear in his instructions. The treaty had the misfortune to arrive in Washington at the same time as the news of the British orders-in-council of January 1807, which banned neutral trade with the Continent.
When Monroe returned home in 1807, he was warmly received by Jefferson and Madison but disappointed at their failure to seek his advice on foreign affairs. During the next few years his relations with Madison, whom he blamed for the rejection of the treaty, were strained. No longer did the Madisons stop at Highlands on their regular visits to Monticello. It was through Jefferson's good offices that the friendship was restored, for, as Jefferson told Monroe, if he were to lose the friendship of either he would regard it as the "greatest of calamities which could assail my future peace of mind."
Secretary of State, 1811–1817
With Madison's foreign policy subject to rising criticism from Republicans and Federalists alike, in March 1811 he replaced Secretary of State Robert Smith with Monroe. Both critics and friends of the administration welcomed the appointment of Monroe, an experienced diplomat, for Smith was widely regarded as incompetent. In bringing Monroe into the cabinet, Madison had decided to take a firmer stand with the European belligerents by refusing to settle minor issues unless major concerns were first resolved. As Monroe explained to John Taylor of Caroline, the time had come for the nation to "cease dealing in the small way of embargoes, non-intercourse, and non-importation" and prepare to defend its rights by force. Since neither the French minister nor his British counterpart had authority to make concessions, Monroe's efforts to press them for alterations in policy proved fruitless.
During August 1811 the president and Monroe met while in Virginia and agreed that unless the 1807 orders-in-council were repealed, the only recourse would be to declare war. When Congress met, Monroe worked closely with Speaker Henry Clay and John C. Calhoun, chairman of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs. Their cooperation, as well as the support of younger War Hawks, enabled Madison to secure the approval of defense measures. Monroe, in fact, helped Calhoun's committee draft a response to Madison's war message of 1 June 1812. The House responded promptly, but not until 18 June did the Senate concur.
Monroe preferred a field command during the war rather than the relative inactivity of the State Department, but this proved impossible, since it would have meant placing him over officers who had held higher ranks during the Revolution. When Secretary of War William Eustis, overwhelmed by the increased administrative burden, resigned late in 1812, Madison had to abandon his plan of appointing Monroe after it was learned that confirmation would encounter opposition from northern Republicans and Federalists critical of continued Virginia domination of the national government. To mollify his critics, Madison turned to John Armstrong, Robert Livingston's brother-in-law.
From the outset friction was evident between the two secretaries, for Armstrong felt that Monroe had deprived Livingston of the proper credit due for the Louisiana Purchase. Armstrong vigorously opposed the recommendation made by Monroe and others that the defenses of the capital and Chesapeake Bay area needed strengthening against the possibility of an invasion. Preferring to direct the affairs of his department from the field with the northern army, Armstrong continued to minimize the threat even after it was learned in the spring of 1814 that the British were amassing a large force in the West Indies.
On 2 July, disregarding Armstrong's objections, Madison created a new military district for the bay area under the command of General William Winder, whose preparations were persistently obstructed by the secretary of war. Thus, when a large British force appeared in the bay, no arrangements had been made for reconnaissance. It was Monroe, riding out with a troop of volunteer cavalry, who brought the first reports of the British movement.
Armstrong was blamed for the resultant fiasco at Bladensburg—where the president, Monroe, and Armstrong were all on the field—and the subsequent British occupation of Washington and burning of the public buildings in August 1814. Armstrong's resignation and his replacement by Monroe, who continued as acting secretary of state, were greeted enthusiastically by the citizens of Washington and the military.
Working long hours—frequently sleeping in his office—Monroe brought order into the confused state of affairs in the War Department. His service came too late to affect the outcome of the war, for the Treaty of Ghent arrived in February 1815. As secretary of state, Monroe had drafted the original instructions for the peace commissioners as well as the later modification authorizing them to abandon the American demands on impressment and neutral rights. After relinquishing the War Department in March 1815, Monroe left for a much needed rest in Virginia. Not until six months later was he well enough to return to the capital and begin the negotiations that culminated in the Rush-Bagot agreement to demilitarize the Great Lakes.
With the war over, public interest promptly focused on the coming presidential election. It was generally assumed that Monroe, because of his close association with Jefferson and Madison and long service to the nation, would be the Republican nominee. However, the nomination was by no means assured, for many northern politicians were weary of Virginia domination. New Yorkers were the most outspoken, feeling that they had too long been relegated to the second place on the ticket. Without a northern candidate of national stature, they turned to the secretary of the treasury, William H. Crawford. A former senator from Georgia, Crawford owed his prominence to the fact that his easygoing, jovial manner had made him immensely well liked by congressmen; since the nomination was in the hands of a congressional caucus, his personal popularity was a major asset. He also had the backing of Jefferson's secretary of the treasury, Albert Gallatin, to whose influence Crawford owed his elevation to the Treasury.
Monroe and his congressional supporters were sufficiently worried by Crawford's candidacy that they considered boycotting the congressional caucus in favor of a state nomination. Madison, following Jefferson's example, was outwardly neutral, but his preference for Monroe was well known. The columns of the National Intelligencer, the semi-official administration paper, were full of pro-Monroe items. Crawford, only forty-four, was reluctant to challenge his senior colleague but did not publicly withdraw his name. Consequently, when the caucus met in March 1816, Monroe was nominated by the disappointingly small margin of sixty-five to fifty-four. In effect the caucus was the real election, since the Federalists were so weakened by their opposition to the war that they mustered only minimal support for Rufus King, who received 34 electoral votes to the 183 cast for Monroe.
The disparity in the electoral count marked the end of the first two-party system, a development welcomed by leaders of Monroe's generation in both parties. They had long regarded party conflict as a divisive element tending to destroy republican institutions. They cherished the ideal expressed by Washington in his farewell address of a nation without parties, governed by men chosen on their merits. Shortly after his election Monroe expressed his commitment to this goal when he observed that the "Chief Magistrate of the Country ought not to be the head of a party, but of the nation itself." However, he did not fall in with Andrew Jackson's suggestion that the process of party amalgamation be facilitated by appointing Federalists to high office. Free government, Monroe told Jackson, must still depend on its "decided friends, who stood firm in the day of trial."
Monroe as President: The "Era of Good Feelings" Begins
In choosing his cabinet Monroe honored established precedent, reappointing his predecessor's secretaries and preserving a geographical balance. Crawford was continued in the Treasury, although he had hoped for a transfer to the State Department as the probable successor to Monroe. Benjamin Crownin-shield, a New Englander with a mercantile background, remained in the Navy Department, and Richard Rush of Pennsylvania continued as attorney general until late in 1817, when he was named minister to Great Britain, a post more to his liking. Rush's replacement was William Wirt, a successful Baltimore lawyer celebrated for his popular biography of Patrick Henry. Having no political ambitions, Wirt continued to busy himself with his private practice, since the attorney generalship was a part-time office.
In an effort to broaden the geographical basis of his administration, Monroe wanted to place a westerner in the War Department. After a series of refusals, including one from Henry Clay, who, as a presidential aspirant, was unwilling to enter the cabinet in a lesser post than that held by Crawford, Monroe selected John C. Calhoun. The South Carolinian had demonstrated a command of military affairs while a member of the House during the war. Intellectually gifted, tall, and handsome, the thirty-five-year-old Calhoun presented an image vastly different from the gloomy one of his later years. He gave the War Department an efficient administration that effected substantial economies.
The major post, that of secretary of state, went to John Quincy Adams, who had been absent from the United States since 1809 on a series of diplomatic appointments that had taken him from St. Petersburg, to Ghent, and then to London. The son of a Federalist president and himself a former Federalist, he had been one of the moderate Federalists who had entered Republican ranks during Jefferson's administration. Monroe chose Adams because of his extensive diplomatic experience, a consideration Monroe felt had been ignored by previous administrations. Monroe also intended to disabuse people of the notion that the incumbent in the Department of State was necessarily the president's hand-picked successor. In this Monroe failed. Within a year Adams had developed a solid core of supporters in Congress and was considered a major candidate for the presidency.
Adams—a cold, pedantic man, ill at ease in large gatherings and unprepossessing in appearance (he was short, plump, and balding)—proved the ablest of the secretaries and intensely loyal to his chief. Adams' passion for work, concern for detail, and ability to draft forceful and logical state papers made him invaluable. He genuinely admired Monroe for his sound judgment, although he was frequently irked by the deliberate processes of the president's mind. Sharing, as they did, a common view of American foreign policy goals, their working relationship was extremely harmonious. While Monroe kept full control over policy decisions, he entrusted Adams with all discussions with foreign diplomats. Because Monroe felt that Jefferson's and Madison's habit of casual discussion with diplomats had been a source of confusion, the president restricted his contact with diplomats to formal and ceremonial occasions. Adams' lengthy political diary provides an intimate view of the workings of the Monroe administration.
The only significant change in the cabinet during Monroe's two terms was in the Navy Department. Crowninshield resigned in 1818 and was replaced by Smith Thompson of New York, who remained until 1823, when he was shunted to the Supreme Court at the request of Senator Martin Van Buren of New York. Van Buren, a rising power in the Republican party, was committed to Crawford and felt it essential to squelch Thompson's ambitions. Thompson was succeeded (probably at Calhoun's suggestion) by former Senator Samuel L. Southard of New Jersey. Personally agreeable, Southard was a close friend of Samuel L. Gouverneur, the New Yorker who married Monroe's younger daughter, Maria Hester.
To signalize the coming era of party harmony and the renewal of national unity, Monroe followed George Washington's example by embarking on a tour of the nation. This he completed in two segments, visiting New England and the Middle Atlantic states in 1817 and making a less extensive tour in the West and South two years later. His purpose was clearly understood. Fittingly, it was in a Federalist newspaper, as the editor welcomed the approaching end of party warfare, that the phrase "Era of Good Feelings" made its appearance. Monroe's northward journey was the occasion of unprecedented demonstrations—troops of militia, parades, banquets, and delegations of citizens who greeted him fulsomely not only as president but as a celebrated hero of the Revolution.
The high point was reached in Boston, where the streets were lined with a crowd estimated at forty thousand. After a public banquet attended by leading Federalists, Monroe made a round of private visits to old opponents of his party. So great was the rush of Federalists to do him homage that, as Abigail Adams shrewdly remarked, it was like an "expiation" for sins. She attributed Monroe's success in winning approval to "his agreeable affability . . . unassuming manners . . . [and] his polite attentions to all orders and ranks."
Monroe had every reason to feel that his tour had succeeded in its objectives. By 1819 every New England state but one was in the hands of the Republicans. The presidential election of 1820, in which he received all but one of the electoral votes, seemed another proof that party conflict had ceased to be a factor in national political life.
The president and his family did not move into the executive mansion until September 1817, for not until then were the renovations after the fire completed. It was at this time that the mansion, covered with white paint to conceal the scars of fire, became widely known as the White House. At first the Monroes used their own furniture, awaiting the arrival from France of draperies, china, furniture, wall coverings, marble mantelpieces, and ormolu clocks (ordered without nudes). During their residences in France, Monroe and his wife had acquired a preference for French styles not only in furnishings but in social usages.
The presidential family consisted of Mrs. Monroe; Eliza and her husband, George Hay; and the president's youngest brother, Joseph, who acted as a private secretary. Until he returned to New York in 1820 after marrying Maria Hester, Monroe's youngest daughter, Samuel L. Gouverneur was a frequent resident and occasional secretary to the president. Since funds were not provided for staffing the White House, Monroe employed his own servants. With the Monroes a note of formality reminiscent of the Washington years reappeared. At official dinner parties, strict precedence, much to the pleasure of the diplomats, replaced Jefferson's pell-mell. Dinners were served in the formal French manner, with the dishes handed around by the servants. It took official and social Washington some time to recover from Mrs. Monroe's announcement that she, unlike Dolley Madison, would neither return nor make calls. She would, however, be at home in the mornings to receive callers. During Monroe's second term his wife was frequently ill, and so her duties as hostess were filled by her daughter Eliza.
Monroe continued the custom of biweekly evening receptions (known as drawing rooms), which had been abandoned by Jefferson but resumed by the Madisons. The doors were open to all citizens properly dressed. The president received guests standing in the Oval Room. His wife and Eliza, whose stylish dresses were the envy of every Washington lady, were seated beside him. As the guests walked about the rooms, servants passed trays of refreshments and music was usually provided by the marine band. Apart from these occasions, the president and his family led a very private life. When his daughter Maria Hester was married in the White House, only members of the family were present. The president, again following Washington's usage, did not accept invitations from the diplomatic corps, members of the cabinet, or members of Congress.
During the sessions there might be as many as twenty at dinner, for every caller was usually invited to dine. On these all-male occasions Mrs. Monroe was not present. Since the president's salary of $25,000 without any supplements was inadequate to cover the cost of entertaining, Monroe's indebtedness, already large, increased rapidly.
During the war years Monroe had been able to make infrequent visits to Albemarle. He preferred to stay at Oak Hill, a property he had acquired many years earlier, only thirty miles from the capital. Although the plantation was not as large as Highlands, he regarded the Oak Hill estate as more fertile and potentially more productive; consequently, after his election to the presidency, he decided to make it his principal residence and constructed a handsome porticoed mansion.
In response to the disappearance of political parties, Monroe developed new methods of executive leadership. Every president since Washington had relied upon party loyalty to ensure congressional approval of administration measures. Bereft of party support, Monroe turned to the members of his cabinet as a source of power. Three of the secretaries—Adams, Crawford, and Calhoun—as aspirants to the presidency had substantial followings in Congress. Of the leading hopefuls only Henry Clay had elected to remain outside the administration. It was not until Monroe's second term that Andrew Jackson's strength as a candidate was evident. As John Quincy Adams' diary makes abundantly clear, Monroe's frequent cabinet meetings were not held to secure advice but to hammer out a consensus. It is noteworthy that Monroe was able to win congressional approval for every measure that had the support of the cabinet. He never consulted the secretaries when he knew agreement was impossible.
To a greater extent than his predecessors, Monroe used his annual messages to outline concerns needing legislative attention rather than merely as a general report on the main events of the past years. Personal contact with congressmen played an important role, and here Monroe's openness and personal warmth were effective. Every day during the sessions of Congress there was a constant stream of visitors to the White House; no appointments were needed, the president received all, and, as was expected, he usually invited his callers to dinner.
Although foreign affairs, which the Constitution placed directly under the control of the executive, occupied much of his attention, a variety of domestic issues required executive involvement. In his first annual message, Monroe startled the members of Congress by recommending that the Constitution be amended to authorize federal construction of roads and canals. In making this proposal Monroe was attempting to resolve the dilemma created when Madison, just before leaving office, vetoed as unconstitutional a bill appropriating dividends from the federally owned stock in the Bank of the United States for internal improvements. Madison's action had seemed inconsistent to many, for Madison, like Jefferson, had signed bills for the construction of the Cumberland Road. When Monroe queried Madison, he received the unsatisfactory response that the earlier bills had been signed hastily, without full consideration of the issue.
Monroe's recommendation produced some acrimonious debates, but action on an amendment was blocked by those who insisted that Congress had adequate power. Monroe, to his surprise and pain, was vigorously criticized for meddling in a purely legislative matter. In the next few years Monroe contributed to the confusion by signing bills for the extension of the Cumberland Road. Not until 1822, when he vetoed a bill for the collection of tolls on the Cumberland Road, did he have an opportunity to clarify his position. In a lengthy essay he argued that the collection of tolls was an invasion of the police power of the states. It was true that the road had been built with federal funds, but jurisdiction had remained in the hands of the states that had cleared the right of way. This finespun argument did not strike contemporaries as very convincing, no matter where they stood on the issue.
Monroe took a particular interest in the strengthening of the defenses of the nation. Just before leaving the War Department in 1815, he had submitted a report to Congress recommending that the army be retained at twenty thousand men rather than returned to the prewar figure of ten thousand. He also outlined an extensive plan for constructing coastal fortifications. Although Congress reduced the army to its prewar level, the substantial sum of $400,000 was appropriated in 1818 for coastal fortifications. The next year the sum was increased to $800,000. However, the decline in federal revenues following the Panic of 1819 led to a cutback in 1821 to $220,000. Only after revenues improved in 1822 did Congress raise the annual appropriation to $400,000, in response to Monroe's plea for the need to defend Florida.
Midway in his first term Monroe was confronted by two unexpected domestic crises. During his western tour in 1819, Monroe had become aware of the distress precipitated by the first peacetime depression—the so-called Panic of 1819. There was large-scale unemployment in urban areas, farm prices were depressed, and business failures were numerous in the new industries established during the war. The depression was the result of complex factors ill understood at that time. Monroe shared the prevailing opinion that the major causes were the influx of cheap European manufactures, which forced the closing of factories, and the financial instability resulting from excessive note issues and careless loan practices by state-chartered banks. Neither Monroe nor his contemporaries appreciated the role of the extensive speculation in western lands nor the impact of the catastrophic drop in cotton prices in 1818.
Contemporaries unjustly blamed the financial distress on the policies of the second Bank of the United States (rechartered in 1817), admittedly badly managed by William Jones, its first president. Monroe, who considered the bank essential to ensure a sound currency and to control the careless habits of state banks in making loans, succeeded in 1819 in persuading the directors to replace Jones with Lang-don Cheves, a far abler financier. Monroe approved Chief Justice Marshall's decision in McCulloch v. Maryland (1819), which upheld the constitutionality of the bank.
Within the limitations of current thinking about the role of government in the economy, there was little that Congress could do to ameliorate the suffering caused by the depression. In his annual message of 1819, the president urged citizens to respond to the current difficulties, which he considered temporary, by practicing industry and economy—a policy also considered proper for the federal government. In response to his suggestion that Congress "give encouragement to domestic industries," a bill was introduced providing for increased duties on textiles, the industry most hurt by imports. This mild protectionist measure encountered immediate opposition from southern congressmen, many of whom had eagerly supported the tariff of 1816. The bill passed the House but failed in the Senate by one vote.
The only form of governmental intervention familiar to Americans during economic crises was in the form of debtor relief provided by the states. Although debtor problems lay mostly within the jurisdiction of the states, the federal government was faced with extensive defaults in payments for purchases of public land. In his annual message of 1820, Monroe recommended that purchasers who acquired the land when prices were high be granted a "reasonable indulgence." Following a specific plan submitted by Crawford, a bill was passed permitting debtors unable to pay the balance to secure title for that portion for which they had already paid. A discount was granted those making their payments on time.
Since government revenues from customs and land sales had declined so sharply, the Treasury in 1820 was faced with a deficit of $7 million, a sizable sum in a budget of only $25 million. Calhoun had made substantial economies in the operation of the War Department, which absorbed nearly a third of the budget in 1818, but they were insufficient to reduce the deficit substantially. Regarding the depression as only temporary, Monroe accepted Crawford's recommendation that the deficit be met by loans. However, as Monroe noted in his second inaugural, if the depression continued, he would request additional taxes.
Not until after the Missouri question (see below) had been laid to rest near the end of the session of 1820–1821 did Congress move to enact measures to reduce governmental expenditures. The main thrust of the economizers was against the War Department, not only because it absorbed such a large share of the budget but because supporters of rival candidates used it as a means of attacking Calhoun. Republicans of the old school, who had always been hostile to military expansion, were only too happy to join the attack. In addition to cutting appropriations for fortifications, in March 1821 Congress approved a bill reducing the army from a complement of ten thousand men to six thousand, to effect a saving estimated at $2 million. Even after the revenues improved, the reduction in the army was made permanent.
The Missouri Question
In the winter of 1819–1820 the president and Congress engaged in the more serious, protracted conflict over the effort to prevent the admission of Missouri as a slave state. Nearly the whole session was consumed in this bitter controversy while the two houses remained deadlocked. The lower house insisted that slavery be banned as a condition for the admission of Missouri, but the Senate stubbornly rejected all measures imposing restrictions. Although deeply concerned over this issue, which threatened to divide the nation into two hostile sections, Monroe never raised the question with his cabinet prior to the passage of the final compromise, knowing that an agreement on the issue would be impossible. Monroe genuinely believed, and this was a widely held opinion, that the restrictionists, among whose leaders were many former Federalists, were trying to revive the old two-party system on a sectional basis.
Within the framework of the then current interpretation of the relationship between the executive and legislative branches, it was impossible for Monroe to intervene directly in the controversy. From the outset he let it be known that he would veto any measure restricting slavery in Missouri, since this would be contrary to the provision of the Constitution requiring that new states be admitted on an equal footing with the older states. Slavery was a legal institution and imposing limitations on Missouri would deprive that state of the right to determine a basic institution. In opposing restriction, Monroe was not only concerned with the constitutional issue: he shared the common view of many southerners that confining slavery to a few states would ensure its perpetuation. Slavery, he believed, would be more easily eliminated if it were diffused throughout the nation.
Monroe was himself a slaveholder. Like most southerners of the revolutionary generation, he condemned it as evil and anticipated its eventual destruction. He agreed with Jefferson, with whom he corresponded on the subject, that the only solution was the removal of blacks to Africa. He was a member of the American Colonization Society, which had this objective as its ultimate goal, and in 1821 he assisted the society in acquiring title to Liberia as a refuge for freed slaves. It was in gratitude for his efforts that the directors named the capital Monrovia.
While the Missouri debates were raging in Congress, Monroe was kept informed of developments by Senator James Barbour of Virginia. Through Barbour, Monroe let it be known that he would approve Henry Clay's compromise admitting Missouri as a slave state and Maine as a free state and banning slavery in territory north of 36°30'. When Monroe finally consulted his secretaries after the passage of the compromise, he received only a qualified approval.
When the compromise was pending Monroe enlisted the aid of George Hay, his son-in-law (then in Richmond), to calm the Virginia hotheads who loudly talked of secession if southern interests were sacrificed. As Monroe told Jefferson, the plot to destroy the Union had been prevented only by the "patriotic devotion of several members of the non-slave-owning states, who preferred to sacrifice themselves at home, to a violation of the obvious principles of the Constitution." Monroe—and this was typical of most southerners—failed to grasp the intensity of northern antislavery sentiment.
In spite of the furor over the Missouri question and the problems created by the depression, the presidential election of 1820 aroused scant popular interest. Fewer voters turned out than for local elections in which there was a real contest. As the only candidate (there was no caucus, the nomination being left to state legislatures), Monroe received all the electoral votes but one. The only conflict over the election took place in Congress when northern restrictionists objected to the inclusion of Missouri's electoral vote in the final count, since the state had not as yet been formally admitted. The issue was solved by reporting two sets of electoral votes, one with, and the other without, Missouri's three votes. This was by no means the end of the dispute over Missouri. During the session of 1820–1821 there was a prolonged conflict over provisions in the Missouri constitution making it illegal for free blacks to enter Missouri and forbidding manumission without specific authorization of the state legislature. Clay worked out a compromise providing that no provision of the Missouri constitution should be construed as denying any citizen the privileges and immunities of citizens of the United States. While Clay labored in Congress, Monroe quietly helped round up the votes needed to ensure the passage of what has been termed "the second Missouri Compromise."
In view of the responsibility the Constitution assigned to the executive for the conduct of foreign relations, Monroe understandably gave close attention to this aspect of his office. When Monroe and Adams were in the capital, daily conferences were the rule, for the State Department was but a few minutes—walk from the White House. When the president was at Oak Hill during the summer, messengers regularly brought him dispatches. Monroe read all the diplomatic correspondence, scrutinizing and frequently revising Adams' notes.
Foundations of the Monroe Doctrine
Now that the wars precipitated by the French Revolution were over, Monroe had an opportunity to develop foreign policy in new directions. No longer need the executive be preoccupied with the protection of neutral rights and the need to preserve American neutrality. Among Monroe's major objectives, fully supported by Adams, was the recognition of the United States as the only republic of consequence in the world and the strongest power in the Americas. The nation no longer would seek its aims through the patronage of European powers, as Jefferson had relied on France, but would pursue an independent course. Monroe shared the expansionist aims of his generation and with Adams' help fully exploited every opportunity for expanding American territories.
The most immediate problems demanding attention after his inauguration were those arising from the revolutionary movements in Spain's Latin American colonies. Some had been resolved while he was secretary of state, when he had helped formulate a policy of neutrality highly beneficial to the insurgents. Monroe, deeply sympathetic to the revolutionary movements, was determined that the United States should never repeat the policies of the Washington administration during the French Revolution, when the nation had failed to demonstrate its sympathy for the aspirations of peoples seeking to establish republican governments. He did not envisage military involvement but only the provision of moral support. To go beyond this would do the colonies more harm than good, since it would invite European intervention to restore them to Spain. Monroe's caution was justified, for the European powers had intervened in Europe to suppress revolutions in Spain itself and in the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies.
Monroe's policy was also shaped by his desire to obtain from Spain the long-sought cession of Florida and a definition of the boundaries of the Louisiana Purchase. Premature action in extending recognition
to the former colonies would jeopardize the possibility of a settlement with Spain. Still, recognition had to be considered. In order to obtain more accurate information than that appearing in the press, Monroe, shortly after he entered office, sent a special commission to South America to report on the stability of the newly independent states.
As soon as Adams arrived in October 1817 to take his place in the cabinet, Monroe discussed a more immediate issue than recognition. The various insurgents had freely issued letters of marque to privateers, many of whom were Americans. Behaving more like pirates than privateers, they had made their headquarters on Amelia Island, within the jurisdiction of Spanish Florida. With the approval of his cabinet, Monroe authorized an expedition to occupy the island and end this annoyance.
In December, Monroe took more drastic action, authorizing Andrew Jackson to lead an expedition into Florida to pursue Indians raiding the southern frontier. This invasion was justified by the provision of Pinckney's Treaty of 1795, in which Spain had promised to restrain the Indians living under its jurisdiction. Because Jackson had been specifically instructed not to occupy Spanish posts, his seizure of St. Marks and Pensacola was truly embarrassing for the administration. Moreover, his execution of two British traders after a summary trial on the grounds that they were inciting the Indians threatened to create a major international crisis.
Jackson's conduct created a furor, for it was widely alleged that by his actions he had infringed on the congressional power to declare war. The cabinet was sharply divided on this issue. Calhoun and Crawford were among the many who urged that the general be repudiated, while Adams, sensing that at last Jackson had given the administration the lever needed to pry Florida from Spain, recommended that his conduct be approved.
Sensitive to the constitutional issues and yet unwilling to give Spain an advantage by an outright condemnation of the general, Monroe found a middle course acceptable to the secretaries. In reporting on events in Florida in his annual message, he informed Congress that Jackson had indeed overstepped his orders but had done so on information received during the campaign that made the action necessary. Monroe added that the posts had promptly been restored once Jackson had achieved his objectives. Monroe's position was effective in checking the massive anti-Jackson campaign launched in Congress by states' rightists and those anxious to weaken Jackson's standing as a presidential candidate. Jackson was not pleased with Monroe's formula, which fell short of the positive approval he believed he merited. His sensitivity on this point was a major factor in his breach with Calhoun in 1830.
The congressional debate on the resolutions condemning Jackson were under way at the very time that Adams and the Spanish minister were concluding a treaty for the cession of Florida and the extension of Louisiana's western boundary line northward and westward to the Pacific. The administration's concern that Jackson's execution of British subjects might lead to war proved unfounded. The British, having more important concerns on the Continent, made no protest. When Spain failed to ratify the treaty within the six-month time limit, the president contemplated asking Congress in his annual message of 1819 for immediate authority to occupy Florida. However, after he learned that France and Britain were exerting pressure on Spain to ratify, he requested instead contingent authority, suspending action until the arrival of a special emissary from Spain. Although Clay and other advocates of immediate recognition of the new Latin American states were critical of Monroe's delay, they were too much absorbed in the Missouri debates to raise serious objections in Congress.
Spain ratified the treaty late in 1820, but Monroe still held back from immediate recognition of the new Latin American regimes because of doubts about their stability. Not until March 1822 did he inform Congress that permanent governments had been established in the United Provinces of La Plata (present-day Argentina), Chile, Peru, Colombia, and Mexico. He requested an appropriation for diplomatic missions to these nations.
Adams' instructions for the new ministers, drafted under Monroe's careful supervision, declared that the policy of the United States was to uphold republican institutions and to seek treaties of commerce on a most-favored-nation basis. The new diplomats were also instructed to let it be known that the United States would support inter-American congresses dedicated to the development of economic and political institutions fundamentally differing from those prevailing in Europe. The articulation of an "American system" distinct from that of Europe was a basic tenet of Monroe's policy toward Latin America. Monroe took pride in the fact that the United States was the first nation to extend recognition and to set an example to the rest of the world for its support of the "cause of liberty and humanity."
Monroe was aware that recognition did not provide an effective shield against foreign intervention to restore Spain's colonies. This threat became an immediate concern in October 1823 when dispatches arrived from Richard Rush, the minister in London, informing the president that Foreign Secretary George Canning was proposing that the United States and Great Britain jointly declare their opposition to European intervention. This astounding proposal from so recent an enemy was given the closest consideration.
Monroe at once wrote Madison and Jefferson, who both urged him to accept. In spite of their endorsement, Monroe had serious doubts. To accept the British proposal would make the nation once again seem subordinate to a European power and would not enhance American prestige among Spain's former colonies. Acceptance would also involve a declaration repudiating further territorial expansion at Spain's expense and thus rule out the prospect of acquiring Cuba, an event Adams and many others thought most likely. Monroe also sensed that the people were not yet ready for such close cooperation with Great Britain.
Monroe explored the proposal in detail with his secretaries at lengthy cabinet meetings in November 1823. (Crawford, then seriously ill, was absent.) All agreed that joint action was neither possible nor essential, since the British cabinet had obviously already decided on its policy. At first Monroe felt that a circular diplomatic note would be sufficient to state American opposition to intervention. This had the disadvantage that as a private communication it would not be publicized.
It was the president who hit on the means of announcing the American position to the world: he would include a general statement in his annual message of 2 December 1823. Putting forward the principle that "the political system of the allied powers is essentially different . . . from that of America," he announced that the United States would view any interference in the internal affairs of the American states as an "unfriendly" act. He coupled this with the statement that the United States itself adhered to a policy of noninterference in the internal affairs of other nations. A third principle, the work of Secretary Adams, concerned Russian expansion on the West Coast and declared that the United States considered the Americas closed to European colonization.
A few days after Monroe delivered his message, the American press reported that a large expedition destined for South America was being collected at Cádiz. This report, which later proved erroneous, led Monroe to review the position of the administration and to inform Rush that the United States would undertake further discussions with the British on the possibility of cooperation, should intervention take place. This did not mean, as he explained in a private letter to Rush, that he was committing the nation to "engage in war." What Monroe did not know in December 1823 was that the threat of intervention had vanished in the face of the express opposition of the British government. (In the early twentieth century President Theodore Roosevelt and his successors employed the Monroe Doctrine to justify American intervention in the internal affairs of Latin American states—an interpretation never intended by its author.)
The rejection of the British proposal in regard to Spain's colonies did not mean that Monroe was averse to joint action that did not make the nation seem to be playing a subordinate role. Since the end of the War of 1812 there had been tentative moves by Great Britain toward a rapprochement. The Great Lakes had been demilitarized by the Rush-Bagot Agreement in 1817, and the following year American negotiators had obtained a concession on the fisheries as well as an agreement compensating Americans for slaves removed by British forces at the end of the war. Efforts to obtain concessions for American trade in the British West Indies had been repeatedly rejected.
A more hopeful step was undertaken in the summer of 1823 when Monroe and Adams negotiated an agreement to establish an international patrol to suppress the slave trade. Monroe had rejected the initial proposal in 1819 because it would have required the United States to abandon its position on neutral rights by permitting British ships to stop and search American ships on the high seas. This objection was apparently lessened in 1822 when the House, yielding to the pressure of the American Anti-Slavery Society, adopted a resolution condemning the slave trade as piracy. Since pirates could not claim the protection of any national flag, suspect ships could be stopped and searched by the international patrol established by the British. Congressman Charles Fenton Mercer, a friend and neighbor of the president's, had been the principal agent in securing the adoption of the resolution. Acting on this basis, Monroe, who had long sought to open the way to a rapprochement with Great Britain, was prepared to make a major change in American policy on neutral rights and participate in the international patrol, a measure long urged by the British. In 1823 an agreement to this effect was negotiated with the approval of all the cabinet except Adams, who suspected (correctly) that he would be blamed for what many would regard as a sacrifice of a basic American right.
The Senate ratified the treaty early in 1824 with such crippling amendments that the British government withdrew its ratification. The opposition was directed by supporters of Crawford seeking to damage Adams' presidential ambitions. Monroe was deeply offended, since Crawford had been one of the most ardent advocates of the proposal. Crawford was too ill to have actively directed the maneuvering against the treaty, but it was not the first instance that Monroe felt that the secretary of the treasury had been disloyal. The year before, Monroe had seriously considered dismissing Crawford from the cabinet but held back, realizing that it would simply exacerbate political rivalries.
During Monroe's last two years as president the struggle over the succession degenerated into what could be called the Era of Bad Feelings. Although Monroe was not a candidate, he was subjected to criticism—often of a petty nature. Crawford, Clay, and Jackson all saw it to their advantage to oppose administration policies. Adams and Calhoun (who withdrew from the campaign early in 1824) remained loyal to Monroe and restrained their supporters. The Crawfordites were especially bitter, since they felt that Monroe owed a particular debt to Crawford for not opposing him in 1816. Monroe remained neutral but the impression prevailed that he preferred Adams.
It was a combination of congressional supporters of Jackson and Crawford who raised questions impugning the president's integrity in the management of the so-called Furniture Fund, money appropriated in 1817 and 1818 for the refurnishing of the White House. The investigation was handled in such a way as to leave a cloud of suspicion, although it was apparent that the only error had been inadequate bookkeeping by the agent Monroe engaged to manage the fund.
The Crawfordites managed to generate considerable embarrassment for the president over the discovery that Ninian Edwards, a Calhoun supporter, had been the author of the "A.B. Letter," which questioned Crawford's management of the Treasury. The subsequent investigation, controlled by Crawford's friends, left the basic issues unanswered but placed the administration in the position of prodding Edwards, just appointed the first minister to Mexico, to resign. A further unpleasantness, stirred up by the Georgia delegation, was aimed at Calhoun but involved an attack on Monroe for refusing to force the Cherokee to agree to land cessions stipulated in earlier treaties.
After the harassments of his last two years in office, it was with a sense of relief that Monroe relinquished the office to Adams in March 1825, happy to retire to Oak Hill and the life of a country gentleman, which he so much loved. He stayed aloof from the political squabbles of the day in spite of all efforts to involve him. He busied himself with the affairs of the University of Virginia, Jefferson's cherished educational project, attending the meetings of the Board of Visitors and serving as rector. Visits to Charlottesville were occasions of joyous reunions with Madison, the two being drawn together in an even closer bond after Jefferson's death in 1826. Monroe's last public service was as a member of the Virginia constitutional convention of 1829, also attended by Madison. Monroe was chosen president but was too feeble to preside, although he did speak on several occasions.
After Monroe's retirement his most pressing concern was to lift the heavy debt, now amounting to $75,000, which had been accumulating since his first mission to France. The depressed state of Virginia land values made it impossible for him to sell Highlands. His efforts to obtain recompense for expenses of his past diplomatic missions (his accounts had never been settled with the State Department) were frustrated by the opposition of Jacksonians and Crawfordites. Finally, in February 1831, as news of the former president's financial plight became generally known, Congress appropriated $30,000 in settlement of his claims. The Bank of the United States took over Highlands in lieu of a $25,000 debt.
The death of Monroe's wife early in 1830 prostrated him with grief; rarely had they ever been separated since their marriage. Monroe's health began to fail so rapidly that he moved to New York to live with his younger daughter, Mrs. Samuel L. Gouverneur. Oak Hill was put up for sale to pay the balance of his debts. Sadly he notified Madison in April 1831 that he would not be able to attend the meeting of the Board of Visitors. When Adams saw his predecessor at that time, he found Monroe extremely weak but nonetheless anxious to discuss the recent revolutions in Europe. On 4 July 1831—the fifth anniversary of the deaths of John Adams and Thomas Jefferson—Monroe died. The funeral, which took place in New York City, was attended by state and civic officials. Vast crowds lined the streets as the cortege made its way to the cemetery. Throughout the country his passing was observed by days of mourning, memorial services, and eulogies, the most moving of which was delivered in Boston by John Quincy Adams. In 1858, Governor Wise of Virginia planned to have Jefferson, Madison, and Monroe reburied in Hollywood Cemetery in Richmond, but only Monroe's remains were reinterred.
Stanislaus Murray Hamilton, ed., Writings of James Monroe, 7 vols. (New York, 1898–1903), the only printed edition, is of limited value and has now been fully supplanted by microfilm editions of all major collections of Monroe's papers. Harry Ammon, James Monroe: The Quest for National Identity (New York, 1971; rev. ed., Charlottesville, Va., 1990), is a full-scale biography based on primary materials. George Dangerfield, Era of Good Feelings (New York, 1952), is a limited study depicting Monroe as a dullard and time-serving politician. Noble E. Cunningham, Jr., The Presidency of James Monroe (Lawrence, Kans., 1996), contains the latest scholarship on the last of the Virginia presidents.
Leonard D. White, The Jeffersonians: A Study in Administrative History, 1801–1829 (New York, 1951), superbly details the operation and organization of federal administration under Monroe. Norman K. Risjord, The Old Republicans: Southern Conservatism in the Age of Jefferson (New York, 1965), is a scholarly account of the opposition to Monroe's policies from within his own party. Charles M. Wiltse, John C. Calhoun, 3 vols. (New York, 1944–1951), includes an extensive account of Monroe's Indian policy based on original sources.
Alexander DeConde, Entangling Alliance: Politics and Diplomacy Under George Washington (Westport, Conn., 1974), is essential for understanding Monroe's mission to France. Bradford Perkins, Castlereagh and Adams: England and the United States, 1812–1823 (Berkeley, Calif., 1964), depicts the close working relationship between Monroe and his secretary of state. Samuel Flagg Bemis, John Quincy Adams and the Foundations of American Foreign Policy (New York, 1949), is a definitive study of Monroe's foreign policy. Hugh G. Soulsby, The Right of Search and the Slave Trade in Anglo-American Relations, 1814–1862 (Baltimore, 1933), is a basic study of a major issue confronting Monroe's presidency.
Dexter Perkins, The Monroe Doctrine, 1823–1826 (Cambridge, Mass., 1927), is still the definitive monograph about the origins of the doctrine. Ernest R. May, The Making of the Monroe Doctrine (Cambridge, Mass., 1975), is a revisionist study arguing that it was issued solely to influence the outcome of the presidential election of 1824. Arthur P. Whitaker, The United States and the Independence of Latin America, 1800–1830 (Baltimore, 1941), is indispensible for understanding Monroe's Latin American policy.
Dumas Malone, Jefferson and His Time, 6 vols. (New York, 1948–1981), is a splendid biography with a full account of the impact on American politics of Jefferson and Monroe's lifelong friendship. Irving Brant, James Madison, 6 vols. (Indianapolis, Ind., 1941–1961), touches extensively on his relationship with Monroe. Robert V. Remini, Andrew Jackson and the Course of American Empire, 1767–1821 (New York, 1977), Andrew Jackson and the Course of American Freedom, 1822–1832 (New York, 1981), and Andrew Jackson and the Course of American Democracy, 1833–1845 (New York, 1984) are scholarly pro-Jackson works highly critical of Monroe's treatment of Jackson; Remini's Martin Van Buren and the Making of the Democratic Party (New York, 1959) is a fascinating account of Van Buren's reorganization of the Democratic party in its depiction of Monroe as an apostate. Lucius Wilmerding, Jr., James Monroe, Public Claimant (New Brunswick, N.J., 1960), contends that Monroe's postretirement claims for expenses as a diplomat were unjustified.
Harry Ammon, ed., James Monroe: A Bibliography (Westport, Conn., 1991), is a comprehensive annotated bibliography.
5th president, 1817–1825
Born: April 28, 1758
Died: July 4, 1831
Vice President: Daniel D. Tompkins
First Lady: Elizabeth Kortwright Monroe
Children: Eliza, Maria
Born in 1758, James Monroe inherited his family's estate when he was a teenager. He served in the Continental army under George Washington, and later became the military commissioner of Virginia when he was just 20 years old.
In 1783, Monroe was elected to the Continental Congress. He served two terms as president of the United States—he was re-elected when he ran unopposed in 1820. His presidency is often called the "Era of Good Feeling." This label arose largely because the major political parties—the Federalists and the Jeffersonian Republicans—had ceased to exist, so there was no political bickering. The country's first major economic depression in 1819, however, changed the positive outlook of many Americans.
In 1823, at the end of his second term, Monroe announced that the United States would not permit European countries to claim new colonies in North and South America. This policy became known as the Monroe Doctrine.
- Monroe attended the College of William and Mary when he was only sixteen years old.
- Monroe was the first president to have served as a U.S. senator.
- Monroe was the first president to deliver his Inaugural Address outdoors.
- Monroe's daughter was the first woman to be married in the White House.
- The tradition of the U.S. Marine Band playing at presidential inaugurations began with Monroe's second Inaugural Address in 1821.
President Monroe was married to Elizabeth Kortwright Monroe. The couple had two daughters, Eliza and Maria. In 1830, financial difficulties forced Monroe and his wife to move to New York City to live with one of their daughters. He died there on July 4, 1831. In 1858, his remains were moved to Hollywood Cemetery in Richmond, Virginia.
When Monroe Was in Office
- Mississippi became a state.
- The rebuilt White House opened.
Mary Shelley's Frankenstein was published.
- Spain agreed to give Florida to the United States.
The American ship Savannah became the first steamship to cross the Atlantic Ocean.
Washington Irving's Rip Van Winkle was published.
Alabama became a state.
- Maine became a state.
The Missouri Compromise was passed.
- The nation's first high school opened in Boston.
Missouri became a state.
On Monroe's First Inauguration Day
When Monroe took his first oath of office, the United States was a nation divided into three main regions. The North was a region of industry. The South was a region of large plantations. The West was a region of small farms. As more states entered the Union, this division became deeper.
James Monroe's First Inaugural Address
In Washington, D.C., Tuesday, March 4, 1817
I SHOULD be destitute of feeling if I was not deeply affected by the strong proof which my fellow-citizens have given me of their confidence in calling me to the high office whose functions I am about to assume. As the expression of their good opinion of my conduct in the public service, I derive from it a gratification which those who are conscious of having done all that they could to merit it can alone feel. My sensibility is increased by a just estimate of the importance of the trust and of the nature and extent of its duties, with the proper discharge of which the highest interests of a great and free people are intimately connected. Conscious of my own deficiency, I cannot enter on these duties without great anxiety for the result. From a just responsibility I will never shrink, calculating with confidence that in my best efforts to promote the public welfare my motives will always be duly appreciated and my conduct be viewed with that candor and indulgence which I have experienced in other stations.
In commencing the duties of the chief executive office it has been the practice of the distinguished men who have gone before me to explain the principles which would govern them in their respective Administrations. In following their venerated example my attention is naturally drawn to the great causes which have contributed in a principal degree to produce the present happy condition of the United States. They will best explain the nature of our duties and shed much light on the policy which ought to be pursued in future.
From the commencement of our Revolution to the present day almost forty years have elapsed, and from the establishment of this Constitution twenty-eight. Through this whole term the Government has been what may emphatically be called self-government. And what has been the effect? To whatever object we turn our attention, whether it relates to our foreign or domestic concerns, we find abundant cause to felicitate ourselves in the excellence of our institutions. During a period fraught with difficulties and marked by very extraordinary events the United States have flourished beyond example. Their citizens individually have been happy and the nation prosperous.
Under this Constitution our commerce has been wisely regulated with foreign nations and between the States; new States have been admitted into our Union; our territory has been enlarged by fair and honorable treaty, and with great advantage to the original States; the States, respectively protected by the National Government under a mild, parental system against foreign dangers, and enjoying within their separate spheres, by a wise partition of power, a just proportion of the sovereignty, have improved their police, extended their settlements, and attained a strength and maturity which are the best proofs of wholesome laws well administered. And if we look to the condition of individuals what a proud spectacle does it exhibit! On whom has oppression fallen in any quarter of our Union? Who has been deprived of any right of person or property? Who restrained from offering his vows in the mode which he prefers to the Divine Author of his being? It is well known that all these blessings have been enjoyed in their fullest extent; and I add with peculiar satisfaction that there has been no example of a capital punishment being inflicted on anyone for the crime of high treason.
Some who might admit the competency of our Government to these beneficent duties might doubt it in trials which put to the test its strength and efficiency as a member of the great community of nations. Here too experience has afforded us the most satisfactory proof in its favor. Just as this Constitution was put into action several of the principal States of Europe had become much agitated and some of them seriously convulsed. Destructive wars ensued, which have of late only been terminated. In the course of these conflicts the United States received great injury from several of the parties. It was their interest to stand aloof from the contest, to demand justice from the party committing the injury, and to cultivate by a fair and honorable conduct the friendship of all. War became at length inevitable, and the result has shown that our Government is equal to that, the greatest of trials, under the most unfavorable circumstances. Of the virtue of the people and of the heroic exploits of the Army, the Navy, and the militia I need not speak.
Such, then, is the happy Government under which we live 1—a Government adequate to every purpose for which the social compact is formed; a Government elective in all its branches, under which every citizen may by his merit obtain the highest trust recognized by the Constitution; which contains within it no cause of discord, none to put at variance one portion of the community with another; a Government which protects every citizen in the full enjoyment of his rights, and is able to protect the nation against injustice from foreign powers.
Other considerations of the highest importance admonish us to cherish our Union and to cling to the Government which supports it. Fortunate as we are in our political institutions, we have not been less so in other circumstances on which our prosperity and happiness essentially depend. Situated within the temperate zone, and extending through many degrees of latitude along the Atlantic, the United States enjoy all the varieties of climate, and every production incident to that portion of the globe. Penetrating internally to the Great Lakes and beyond the sources of the great rivers which communicate through our whole interior, no country was ever happier with respect to its domain. Blessed, too, with a fertile soil, our produce has always been very abundant, leaving, even in years the least favorable, a surplus for the wants of our fellow-men in other countries. Such is our peculiar felicity that there is not a part of our Union that is not particularly interested in preserving it. The great agricultural interest of the nation prospers under its protection. Local interests are not less fostered by it. Our fellow-citizens of the North engaged in navigation find great encouragement in being made the favored carriers of the vast productions of the other portions of the United States, while the inhabitants of these are amply recompensed, in their turn, by the nursery for seamen and naval force thus formed and reared up for the support of our common rights. Our manufactures find a generous encouragement by the policy which patronizes domestic industry, and the surplus of our produce a steady and profitable market by local wants in less-favored parts at home.
Such, then, being the highly favored condition of our country, it is the interest of every citizen to maintain it. What are the dangers which menace us? If any exist they ought to be ascertained and guarded against.
In explaining my sentiments on this subject it may be asked, What raised us to the present happy state? How did we accomplish the Revolution? How remedy the defects of the first instrument of our Union, by infusing into the National Government sufficient power for national purposes, without impairing the just rights of the States or affecting those of individuals? How sustain and pass with glory through the late war? The Government has been in the hands of the people. To the people, therefore, and to the faithful and able depositaries of their trust is the credit due. Had the people of the United States been educated in different principles, had they been less intelligent, less independent, or less virtuous, can it be believed that we should have maintained the same steady and consistent career or been blessed with the same success? While, then, the constituent body retains its present sound and healthful state everything will be safe. They will choose competent and faithful representatives for every department. It is only when the people become ignorant and corrupt, when they degenerate into a populace, that they are incapable of exercising the sovereignty. Usurpation is then an easy attainment, and an usurper soon found. The people themselves become the willing instruments of their own debasement and ruin. Let us, then, look to the great cause, and endeavor to preserve it in full force. Let us by all wise and constitutional measures promote intelligence among the people as the best means of preserving our liberties.
Dangers from abroad are not less deserving of attention. Experiencing the fortune of other nations, the United States may be again involved in war, and it may in that event be the object of the adverse party to overset our Government, to break our Union, and demolish us as a nation. Our distance from Europe and the just, moderate, and pacific policy of our Government may form some security against these dangers, but they ought to be anticipated and guarded against. Many of our citizens are engaged in commerce and navigation, and all of them are in a certain degree dependent on their prosperous state. Many are engaged in the fisheries. These interests are exposed to invasion in the wars between other powers, and we should disregard the faithful admonition of experience if we did not expect it. We must support our rights or lose our character, and with it, perhaps, our liberties. A people who fail to do it can scarcely be said to hold a place among independent nations. National honor is national property of the highest value. The sentiment in the mind of every citizen is national strength. It ought therefore to be cherished.
To secure us against these dangers our coast and inland frontiers should be fortified, our Army and Navy, regulated upon just principles as to the force of each, be kept in perfect order, and our militia be placed on the best practicable footing. To put our extensive coast in such a state of defense as to secure our cities and interior from invasion will be attended with expense, but the work when finished will be permanent, and it is fair to presume that a single campaign of invasion by a naval force superior to our own, aided by a few thousand land troops, would expose us to greater expense, without taking into the estimate the loss of property and distress of our citizens, than would be sufficient for this great work. Our land and naval forces should be moderate, but adequate to the necessary purposes—the former to garrison and preserve our fortifications and to meet the first invasions of a foreign foe, and, while constituting the elements of a greater force, to preserve the science as well as all the necessary implements of war in a state to be brought into activity in the event of war; the latter, retained within the limits proper in a state of peace, might aid in maintaining the neutrality of the United States with dignity in the wars of other powers and in saving the property of their citizens from spoliation. In time of war, with the enlargement of which the great naval resources of the country render it susceptible, and which should be duly fostered in time of peace, it would contribute essentially, both as an auxiliary of defense and as a powerful engine of annoyance, to diminish the calamities of war and to bring the war to a speedy and honorable termination.
But it ought always to be held prominently in view that the safety of these States and of everything dear to a free people must depend in an eminent degree on the militia. 2 Invasions may be made too formidable to be resisted by any land and naval force which it would comport either with the principles of our Government or the circumstances of the United States to maintain. In such cases recourse must be had to the great body of the people, and in a manner to produce the best effect. It is of the highest importance, therefore, that they be so organized and trained as to be prepared for any emergency. The arrangement should be such as to put at the command of the Government the ardent patriotism and youthful vigor of the country. If formed on equal and just principles, it can not be oppressive. It is the crisis which makes the pressure, and not the laws which provide a remedy for it. This arrangement should be formed, too, in time of peace, to be the better prepared for war. With such an organization of such a people the United States have nothing to dread from foreign invasion. At its approach an overwhelming force of gallant men might always be put in motion.
Other interests of high importance will claim attention, among which the improvement of our country by roads and canals 3, proceeding always with a constitutional sanction, holds a distinguished place. By thus facilitating the intercourse between the States we shall add much to the convenience and comfort of our fellow-citizens, much to the ornament of the country, and, what is of greater importance, we shall shorten distances, and, by making each part more accessible to and dependent on the other, we shall bind the Union more closely together. Nature has done so much for us by intersecting the country with so many great rivers, bays, and lakes, approaching from distant points so near to each other, that the inducement to complete the work seems to be peculiarly strong. A more interesting spectacle was perhaps never seen than is exhibited within the limits of the United States—a territory so vast and advantageously situated, containing objects so grand, so useful, so happily connected in all their parts!
Our manufacturers will likewise require the systematic and fostering care of the Government. Possessing as we do all the raw materials, the fruit of our own soil and industry, we ought not to depend in the degree we have done on supplies from other countries. While we are thus dependent the sudden event of war, unsought and unexpected, can not fail to plunge us into the most serious difficulties. It is important, too, that the capital which nourishes our manufacturers should be domestic, as its influence in that case instead of exhausting, as it may do in foreign hands, would be felt advantageously on agriculture and every other branch of industry. Equally important is it to provide at home a market for our raw materials, as by extending the competition it will enhance the price and protect the cultivator against the casualties incident to foreign markets.
With the Indian tribes it is our duty to cultivate friendly relations 4 and to act with kindness and liberality in all our transactions. Equally proper is it to persevere in our efforts to extend to them the advantages of civilization.
The great amount of our revenue and the flourishing state of the Treasury are a full proof of the competency of the national resources for any emergency, as they are of the willingness of our fellow-citizens to bear the burdens which the public necessities require. The vast amount of vacant lands, the value of which daily augments, forms an additional resource of great extent and duration. These resources, besides accomplishing every other necessary purpose, put it completely in the power of the United States to discharge the national debt at an early period. Peace is the best time for improvement and preparation of every kind; it is in peace that our commerce flourishes most, that taxes are most easily paid, and that the revenue is most productive.
The Executive is charged officially in the Departments under it with the disbursement of the public money, and is responsible for the faithful application of it to the purposes for which it is raised. The Legislature is the watchful guardian over the public purse. It is its duty to see that the disbursement has been honestly made. To meet the requisite responsibility every facility should be afforded to the Executive to enable it to bring the public agents intrusted with the public money strictly and promptly to account. Nothing should be presumed against them; but if, with the requisite facilities, the public money is suffered to lie long and uselessly in their hands, they will not be the only defaulters, nor will the demoralizing effect be confined to them. It will evince a relaxation and want of tone in the Administration which will be felt by the whole community. I shall do all I can to secure economy and fidelity in this important branch of the Administration, and I doubt not that the Legislature will perform its duty with equal zeal. A thorough examination should be regularly made, and I will promote it.
It is particularly gratifying to me to enter on the discharge of these duties at a time when the United States are blessed with peace. It is a state most consistent with their prosperity and happiness. It will be my sincere desire to preserve it, so far as depends on the Executive, on just principles with all nations, claiming nothing unreasonable of any and rendering to each what is its due.
Equally gratifying is it to witness the increased harmony of opinion which pervades our Union. Discord does not belong to our system. Union is recommended as well by the free and benign principles of our Government, extending its blessings to every individual, as by the other eminent advantages attending it. The American people have encountered together great dangers and sustained severe trials with success. They constitute one great family with a common interest. Experience has enlightened us on some questions of essential importance to the country. The progress has been slow, dictated by a just reflection and a faithful regard to every interest connected with it. To promote this harmony in accord with the principles of our republican Government and in a manner to give them the most complete effect, and to advance in all other respects the best interests of our Union, will be the object of my constant and zealous exertions.
Never did a government commence under auspices so favorable, nor ever was success so complete. If we look to the history of other nations, ancient or modern, we find no example of a growth so rapid, so gigantic, of a people so prosperous and happy. In contemplating what we have still to perform, the heart of every citizen must expand with joy when he reflects how near our Government has approached to perfection; that in respect to it we have no essential improvement to make; that the great object is to preserve it in the essential principles and features which characterize it, and that is to be done by preserving the virtue and enlightening the minds of the people; and as a security against foreign dangers to adopt such arrangements as are indispensable to the support of our independence, our rights and liberties. If we persevere in the career in which we have advanced so far and in the path already traced, we can not fail, under the favor of a gracious Providence, to attain the high destiny which seems to await us.
In the Administrations of the illustrious men who have preceded me in this high station, with some of whom I have been connected by the closest ties from early life, examples are presented which will always be found highly instructive and useful to their successors. From these I shall endeavor to derive all the advantages which they may afford. Of my immediate predecessor, under whom so important a portion of this great and successful experiment has been made, I shall be pardoned for expressing my earnest wishes that he may long enjoy in his retirement the affections of a grateful country, the best reward of exalted talents and the most faithful and meritorious service. Relying on the aid to be derived from the other departments of the Government, I enter on the trust to which I have been called by the suffrages of my fellow-citizens with my fervent prayers to the Almighty that He will be graciously pleased to continue to us that protection which He has already so conspicuously displayed in our favor.
Quotes to Note
- "Such, then, is the happy..." Monroe's first term became known as the "Era of Good Feeling" because there was little bickering between political parties.
- "But it ought always..." Monroe's use of the term "militia" refers to armed, trained groups of citizens that protected settlers from Native Americans and foreign powers. Today, the militia is referred to as the National Guard.
- "Other interests of high importance..." The Erie Canal, which connected the Great Lakes with the Hudson Rover, was built during Monroe's terms in office and began the "Canal Boom" in the United States.
- "With the Indian tribes..." Monroe was the first president to use the term "Indian" in an inaugural speech.
On Monroe's Second Inauguration Day
By the beginning of Monroe's second term, the problem of sectionalism was growing as the country itself expanded. The Missouri Compromise, prohibiting slavery north of Missouri's southern border, had been passed in 1820. This agreement settled the question of whether a state would enter the Union slave or free for more than three decades.
James Monroe's Second Inaugural Address
In Washington, D.C., Monday, March 5, 1821
I SHALL not attempt to describe the grateful emotions which the new and very distinguished proof of the confidence of my fellow-citizens, evinced by my reelection to this high trust, has excited in my bosom. The approbation which it announces of my conduct in the preceding term affords me a consolation which I shall profoundly feel through life. The general accord with which it has been expressed adds to the great and never-ceasing obligations which it imposes. To merit the continuance of this good opinion, and to carry it with me into my retirement as the solace of advancing years, will be the object of my most zealous and unceasing efforts.
Having no pretensions to the high and commanding claims of my predecessors, whose names are so much more conspicuously identified with our Revolution, and who contributed so preeminently to promote its success, I consider myself rather as the instrument than the cause of the union which has prevailed in the late election. In surmounting, in favor of my humble pretensions, the difficulties which so often produce division in like occurrences, it is obvious that other powerful causes, indicating the great strength and stability of our Union, have essentially contributed to draw you together. That these powerful causes exist, and that they are permanent, is my fixed opinion; that they may produce a like accord in all questions touching, however remotely, the liberty, prosperity, and happiness of our country will always be the object of my most fervent prayers to the Supreme Author of All Good.
In a government which is founded by the people, who possess exclusively the sovereignty, it seems proper that the person who may be placed by their suffrages in this high trust should declare on commencing its duties the principles on which he intends to conduct the Administration. If the person thus elected has served the preceding term, an opportunity is afforded him to review its principal occurrences and to give such further explanation respecting them as in his judgment may be useful to his constituents. The events of one year have influence on those of another, and, in like manner, of a preceding on the succeeding Administration. The movements of a great nation are connected in all their parts. If errors have been committed they ought to be corrected; if the policy is sound it ought to be supported. It is by a thorough knowledge of the whole subject that our fellow-citizens are enabled to judge correctly of the past and to give a proper direction to the future.
Just before the commencement of the last term the United States had concluded a war with a very powerful nation on conditions equal and honorable to both parties. The events of that war are too recent and too deeply impressed on the memory of all to require a development from me. Our commerce had been in a great measure driven from the sea, our Atlantic and inland frontiers were invaded in almost every part; the waste of life along our coast and on some parts of our inland frontiers, to the defense of which our gallant and patriotic citizens were called, was immense, in addition to which not less than $120,000,000 were added at its end to the public debt.
As soon as the war had terminated, the nation, admonished by its events, resolved to place itself in a situation which should be better calculated to prevent the recurrence of a like evil, and, in case it should recur, to mitigate its calamities. With this view, after reducing our land force to the basis of a peace establishment, which has been further modified since, provision was made for the construction of fortifications at proper points through the whole extent of our coast and such an augmentation of our naval force as should be well adapted to both purposes. The laws making this provision were passed in 1815 and 1816, and it has been since the constant effort of the Executive to carry them into effect.
The advantage of these fortifications and of an augmented naval force in the extent contemplated, in a point of economy, has been fully illustrated by a report of the Board of Engineers and Naval Commissioners lately communicated to Congress, by which it appears that in an invasion by 20,000 men, with a correspondent naval force, in a campaign of six months only, the whole expense of the construction of the works would be defrayed by the difference in the sum necessary to maintain the force which would be adequate to our defense with the aid of those works and that which would be incurred without them. The reason of this difference is obvious. If fortifications are judiciously placed on our great inlets, as distant from our cities as circumstances will permit, they will form the only points of attack, and the enemy will be detained there by a small regular force a sufficient time to enable our militia to collect and repair to that on which the attack is made. A force adequate to the enemy, collected at that single point, with suitable preparation for such others as might be menaced, is all that would be requisite. But if there were no fortifications, then the enemy might go where he pleased, and, changing his position and sailing from place to place, our force must be called out and spread in vast numbers along the whole coast and on both sides of every bay and river as high up in each as it might be navigable for ships of war. By these fortifications, supported by our Navy, to which they would afford like support, we should present to other powers an armed front from St. Croix to the Sabine, which would protect in the event of war our whole coast and interior from invasion; and even in the wars of other powers, in which we were neutral, they would be found eminently useful, as, by keeping their public ships at a distance from our cities, peace and order in them would be preserved and the Government be protected from insult.
It need scarcely be remarked that these measures have not been resorted to in a spirit of hostility to other powers. Such a disposition does not exist toward any power. Peace and good will have been, and will hereafter be, cultivated with all, and by the most faithful regard to justice. They have been dictated by a love of peace, of economy, and an earnest desire to save the lives of our fellow-citizens from that destruction and our country from that devastation which are inseparable from war when it finds us unprepared for it. It is believed, and experience has shown, that such a preparation is the best expedient that can be resorted to prevent war. I add with much pleasure that considerable progress has already been made in these measures of defense, and that they will be completed in a few years, considering the great extent and importance of the object, if the plan be zealously and steadily persevered in.
The conduct of the Government in what relates to foreign powers is always an object of the highest importance to the nation. Its agriculture, commerce, manufactures, fisheries, revenue, in short, its peace, may all be affected by it. Attention is therefore due to this subject.
At the period adverted to the powers of Europe, after having been engaged in long and destructive wars with each other, had concluded a peace, which happily still exists. Our peace with the power with whom we had been engaged had also been concluded. The war between Spain and the colonies in South America, which had commenced many years before, was then the only conflict that remained unsettled. 1 This being a contest between different parts of the same community, in which other powers had not interfered, was not affected by their accommodations.
This contest was considered at an early stage by my predecessor a civil war in which the parties were entitled to equal rights in our ports. This decision, the first made by any power, being formed on great consideration of the comparative strength and resources of the parties, the length of time, and successful opposition made by the colonies, and of all other circumstances on which it ought to depend, was in strict accord with the law of nations. Congress has invariably acted on this principle, having made no change in our relations with either party. Our attitude has therefore been that of neutrality between them, which has been maintained by the Government with the strictest impartiality. No aid has been afforded to either, nor has any privilege been enjoyed by the one which has not been equally open to the other party, and every exertion has been made in its power to enforce the execution of the laws prohibiting illegal equipments with equal rigor against both.
By this equality between the parties their public vessels have been received in our ports on the same footing; they have enjoyed an equal right to purchase and export arms, munitions of war, and every other supply, the exportation of all articles whatever being permitted under laws which were passed long before the commencement of the contest; our citizens have traded equally with both, and their commerce with each has been alike protected by the Government.
Respecting the attitude which it may be proper for the United States to maintain hereafter between the parties, I have no hesitation in stating it as my opinion that the neutrality heretofore observed should still be adhered to. From the change in the Government of Spain and the negotiation now depending, invited by the Cortes and accepted by the colonies, it may be presumed, that their differences will be settled on the terms proposed by the colonies. Should the war be continued, the United States, regarding its occurrences, will always have it in their power to adopt such measures respecting it as their honor and interest may require.
Shortly after the general peace a band of adventurers took advantage of this conflict and of the facility which it afforded to establish a system of buccaneering in the neighboring seas, to the great annoyance of the commerce of the United States, and, as was represented, of that of other powers. Of this spirit and of its injurious bearing on the United States strong proofs were afforded by the establishment at Amelia Island, and the purposes to which it was made instrumental by this band in 1817, and by the occurrences which took place in other parts of Florida in 1818, the details of which in both instances are too well known to require to be now recited. I am satisfied had a less decisive course been adopted that the worst consequences would have resulted from it. We have seen that these checks, decisive as they were, were not sufficient to crush that piratical spirit. Many culprits brought within our limits have been condemned to suffer death, the punishment due to that atrocious crime. The decisions of upright and enlightened tribunals fall equally on all whose crimes subject them, by a fair interpretation of the law, to its censure. It belongs to the Executive not to suffer the executions under these decisions to transcend the great purpose for which punishment is necessary. The full benefit of example being secured, policy as well as humanity equally forbids that they should be carried further. I have acted on this principle, pardoning those who appear to have been led astray by ignorance of the criminality of the acts they had committed, and suffering the law to take effect on those only in whose favor no extenuating circumstances could be urged.
Great confidence is entertained that the late treaty with Spain, which has been ratified by both the parties, and the ratifications whereof have been exchanged, has placed the relations of the two countries on a basis of permanent friendship. The provision made by it for such of our citizens as have claims on Spain of the character described will, it is presumed, be very satisfactory to them, and the boundary which is established between the territories of the parties westward of the Mississippi, heretofore in dispute, has, it is thought, been settled on conditions just and advantageous to both. But to the acquisition of Florida too much importance can not be attached. It secures to the United States a territory important in itself, and whose importance is much increased by its bearing on many of the highest interests of the Union. It opens to several of the neighboring States a free passage to the ocean, through the Province ceded, by several rivers, having their sources high up within their limits. It secures us against all future annoyance from powerful Indian tribes. It gives us several excellent harbors in the Gulf of Mexico for ships of war of the largest size. It covers by its position in the Gulf the Mississippi and other great waters within our extended limits, and thereby enables the United States to afford complete protection to the vast and very valuable productions of our whole Western country, which find a market through those streams.
By a treaty with the British Government, bearing date on the 20th of October, 1818, the convention regulating the commerce between the United States and Great Britain, concluded on the 3d of July, 1815, which was about expiring, was revived and continued for the term of ten years from the time of its expiration. By that treaty, also, the differences which had arisen under the treaty of Ghent respecting the right claimed by the United States for their citizens to take and cure fish on the coast of His Britannic Majesty's dominions in America, with other differences on important interests, were adjusted to the satisfaction of both parties. No agreement has yet been entered into respecting the commerce between the United States and the British dominions in the West Indies and on this continent. The restraints imposed on that commerce by Great Britain, and reciprocated by the United States on a principle of defense, continue still in force.
The negotiation with France for the regulation of the commercial relations between the two countries, which in the course of the last summer had been commenced at Paris, has since been transferred to this city, and will be pursued on the part of the United States in the spirit of conciliation, and with an earnest desire that it may terminate in an arrangement satisfactory to both parties.
Our relations with the Barbary Powers are preserved in the same state and by the same means that were employed when I came into this office. As early as 1801 it was found necessary to send a squadron into the Mediterranean for the protection of our commerce, and no period has intervened, a short term excepted, when it was thought advisable to withdraw it. The great interests which the United States have in the Pacific, in commerce and in the fisheries, have also made it necessary to maintain a naval force there. In disposing of this force in both instances the most effectual measures in our power have been taken, without interfering with its other duties, for the suppression of the slave trade and of piracy in the neighboring seas.
The situation of the United States in regard to their resources, the extent of their revenue, and the facility with which it is raised affords a most gratifying spectacle. The payment of nearly $67,000,000 of the public debt, with the great progress made in measures of defense and in other improvements of various kinds since the late war, are conclusive proofs of this extraordinary prosperity, especially when it is recollected that these expenditures have been defrayed without a burthen on the people, the direct tax and excise having been repealed soon after the conclusion of the late war, and the revenue applied to these great objects having been raised in a manner not to be felt. Our great resources therefore remain untouched for any purpose which may affect the vital interests of the nation. For all such purposes they are inexhaustible. They are more especially to be found in the virtue, patriotism, and intelligence of our fellow-citizens, and in the devotion with which they would yield up by any just measure of taxation all their property in support of the rights and honor of their country.
Under the present depression of prices, affecting all the productions of the country and every branch of industry, proceeding from causes explained on a former occasion, the revenue has considerably diminished, the effect of which has been to compel Congress either to abandon these great measures of defense or to resort to loans or internal taxes to supply the deficiency. On the presumption that this depression and the deficiency in the revenue arising from it would be temporary, loans were authorized for the demands of the last and present year. Anxious to relieve my fellow-citizens in 1817 from every burthen which could be dispensed with, and the state of the Treasury permitting it, I recommended the repeal of the internal taxes, knowing that such relief was then peculiarly necessary in consequence of the great exertions made in the late war. I made that recommendation under a pledge that should the public exigencies require a recurrence to them at any time while I remained in this trust, I would with equal promptitude perform the duty which would then be alike incumbent on me. By the experiment now making it will be seen by the next session of Congress whether the revenue shall have been so augmented as to be adequate to all these necessary purposes. Should the deficiency still continue, and especially should it be probable that it would be permanent, the course to be pursued appears to me to be obvious. I am satisfied that under certain circumstances loans may be resorted to with great advantage. I am equally well satisfied, as a general rule, that the demands of the current year, especially in time of peace, should be provided for by the revenue of that year.
I have never dreaded, nor have I ever shunned, in any situation in which I have been placed making appeals to the virtue and patriotism of my fellow-citizens 2, well knowing that they could never be made in vain, especially in times of great emergency or for purposes of high national importance. Independently of the exigency of the case, many considerations of great weight urge a policy having in view a provision of revenue to meet to a certain extent the demands of the nation, without relying altogether on the precarious resource of foreign commerce. I am satisfied that internal duties and excises, with corresponding imposts on foreign articles of the same kind, would, without imposing any serious burdens on the people, enhance the price of produce, promote our manufactures, and augment the revenue, at the same time that they made it more secure and permanent.
The care of the Indian tribes within our limits has long been an essential part of our system, but, unfortunately, it has not been executed in a manner to accomplish all the objects intended by it. We have treated them as independent nations, without their having any substantial pretensions to that rank. The distinction has flattered their pride, retarded their improvement, and in many instances paved the way to their destruction. The progress of our settlements westward, supported as they are by a dense population, has constantly driven them back, with almost the total sacrifice of the lands which they have been compelled to abandon. They have claims on the magnanimity and, I may add, on the justice of this nation which we must all feel. We should become their real benefactors; we should perform the office of their Great Father, the endearing title which they emphatically give to the Chief Magistrate of our Union. Their sovereignty over vast territories should cease, in lieu of which the right of soil should be secured to each individual and his posterity in competent portions; 3 and for the territory thus ceded by each tribe some reasonable equivalent should be granted, to be vested in permanent funds for the support of civil government over them and for the education of their children, for their instruction in the arts of husbandry, and to provide sustenance for them until they could provide it for themselves. My earnest hope is that Congress will digest some plan, founded on these principles, with such improvements as their wisdom may suggest, and carry it into effect as soon as it may be practicable.
Europe is again unsettled and the prospect of war increasing. Should the flame light up in any quarter, how far it may extend it is impossible to foresee. It is our peculiar felicity to be altogether unconnected with the causes which produce this menacing aspect elsewhere. With every power we are in perfect amity, and it is our interest to remain so if it be practicable on just conditions. I see no reasonable cause to apprehend variance with any power, unless it proceed from a violation of our maritime rights. In these contests, should they occur, and to whatever extent they may be carried, we shall be neutral; but as a neutral power we have rights which it is our duty to maintain. For like injuries it will be incumbent on us to seek redress in a spirit of amity, in full confidence that, injuring none, none would knowingly injure us. For more imminent dangers we should be prepared, and it should always be recollected that such preparation adapted to the circumstances and sanctioned by the judgment and wishes of our constituents can not fail to have a good effect in averting dangers of every kind. We should recollect also that the season of peace is best adapted to these preparations.
If we turn our attention, fellow-citizens, more immediately to the internal concerns of our country, and more especially to those on which its future welfare depends, we have every reason to anticipate the happiest results. It is now rather more than forty-four years since we declared our independence, and thirty-seven since it was acknowledged. The talents and virtues which were displayed in that great struggle were a sure presage of all that has since followed. A people who were able to surmount in their infant state such great perils would be more competent as they rose into manhood to repel any which they might meet in their progress. Their physical strength would be more adequate to foreign danger, and the practice of self-government, aided by the light of experience, could not fail to produce an effect equally salutary on all those questions connected with the internal organization. These favorable anticipations have been realized.
In our whole system, national and State, we have shunned all the defects which unceasingly preyed on the vitals and destroyed the ancient Republics. In them there were distinct orders, a nobility and a people, or the people governed in one assembly. Thus, in the one instance there was a perpetual conflict between the orders in society for the ascendency, in which the victory of either terminated in the overthrow of the government and the ruin of the state; in the other, in which the people governed in a body, and whose dominions seldom exceeded the dimensions of a county in one of our States, a tumultuous and disorderly movement permitted only a transitory existence. In this great nation there is but one order, that of the people, whose power, by a peculiarly happy improvement of the representative principle, is transferred from them, without impairing in the slightest degree their sovereignty, to bodies of their own creation, and to persons elected by themselves, in the full extent necessary for all the purposes of free, enlightened and efficient government. The whole system is elective, the complete sovereignty being in the people, and every officer in every department deriving his authority from and being responsible to them for his conduct. 4
Our career has corresponded with this great outline. Perfection in our organization could not have been expected in the outset either in the National or State Governments or in tracing the line between their respective powers. But no serious conflict has arisen, nor any contest but such as are managed by argument and by a fair appeal to the good sense of the people, and many of the defects which experience had clearly demonstrated in both Governments have been remedied. By steadily pursuing this course in this spirit there is every reason to believe that our system will soon attain the highest degree of perfection of which human institutions are capable, and that the movement in all its branches will exhibit such a degree of order and harmony as to command the admiration and respect of the civilized world.
Our physical attainments have not been less eminent. Twenty-five years ago the river Mississippi was shut up and our Western brethren had no outlet for their commerce. What has been the progress since that time? The river has not only become the property of the United States from its source to the ocean, with all its tributary streams with the exception of the upper part of the Red River only, but Louisiana, with a fair and liberal boundary on the western side and the Floridas on the eastern, have been ceded to us. The United States now enjoy the complete and uninterrupted sovereignty over the whole territory from St. Croix to the Sabine. New States, settled from among ourselves in this and in other parts, have been admitted into our Union in equal participation in the national sovereignty with the original States. Our population has augmented in an astonishing degree and extended in every direction. We now, fellow-citizens, comprise within our limits the dimensions and faculties of a great power under a Government possessing all the energies of any government ever known to the Old World, with an utter incapacity to oppress the people.
Entering with these views the office which I have just solemnly sworn to execute with fidelity and to the utmost of my ability, I derive great satisfaction from a knowledge that I shall be assisted in the several Departments by the very enlightened and upright citizens from whom I have received so much aid in the preceding term. With full confidence in the continuance of that candor and generous indulgence from my fellow-citizens at large which I have heretofore experienced, and with a firm reliance on the protection of Almighty God, I shall forthwith commence the duties of the high trust to which you have called me.
Quotes to Note
- "The war between Spain..." During Monroe's administration, many South American countries revolted against Spanish colonial powers. Mexico revolted and won its independence from Spain in 1821.
- "I have never dreaded..." The United States entered its first economic depression during Monroe's terms, and he was compelled to raise various taxes to support the government. He calls on Americans' "virtue" and "patriotism" to support higher taxes.
- "Their sovereignty..." Monroe says that Native American tribes cannot claim ownership of vast areas of lands. Instead, he says, individuals from tribes will be granted land to farm that they can pass down to descendants.
- "The whole system is elective..." Monroe is not correct. The judicial branch of the U.S. government—the Supreme Court—is appointed by the president and approved by Congress.
Diplomat, governor, U.S. president
James Monroe was the first of the early prominent U.S. leaders to deliberately choose public service as his career. Spanning forty-three years, Monroe's career included the roles of state legislator, governor, foreign diplomat, U.S. secretary of state, U.S. secretary of war, and U.S. president.
James Monroe was born on April 28, 1758, the first of four children born to Colonel Spence Monroe and Elizabeth Jones Monroe. James was tutored at home before entering a private school at twelve years of age. He entered the College of William and Mary at the age of sixteen. After two years, his studies were interrupted when he decided to join the Continental Army, to fight for American independence. The American Revolution (1775–83) had begun, and James wanted to help his country break free from British rule.
"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."
From the Monroe Doctrine
Monroe saw action in New York at Harlem and White Plains. He was wounded at the Battle of Trenton in New Jersey, and after recovering he went on to battle in Pennsylvania at Brandywine (September 1777), Germantown (October 1777), and Monmouth (June 1778).
Monroe left the Continental Army in 1780 with a high commendation from the commander in chief, General George Washington (1732–1799; see entry in volume 2). Washington would go on to become the first president of the United States. That same year Monroe began law studies under Virginia governor Thomas Jefferson (1743–1826; see entry in volume 1), whom he met in 1778 while serving in the army.
Continental Congress, 1783–86
Monroe's public service career began in 1782 when he won a seat in the Virginia legislative assembly, the House of Delegates. The next year, the assembly named him a delegate to the Continental Congress, America's national legislative body. He served in this position from December 1783 to November 1786. As a Virginia delegate to Congress, Monroe took a strong interest in three major issues confronting the new nation: regulation of trade, the Old Northwest, and navigation of the Mississippi River.
Under the Articles of Confederation, the nation's first constitution, the national government had no power to regulate trade among the states or with other countries. To remain competitive in trade, states imposed taxes on each other: import taxes on goods coming into the state and export taxes on goods being shipped out of the state. The states also made individual trade agreements with foreign countries. The situation caused confusion and bickering among the states. Monroe advocated giving control of trade to a central authority, the national government. He proposed that the national government collect import and export taxes and then pay out this money to the states. This was one of the few times when Monroe supported a strong centralized government. However, no immediate action was taken on this matter.
As a Virginian, Monroe took a strong interest in the future of the Old Northwest. In 1784, Virginia had ceded (given up) its claims on land in the Old Northwest to Congress, with the understanding that Congress would manage the land for the good of all the states. James Madison (1751–1836; see entry in volume 2) had written the cession plan. Monroe was concerned about how these western lands would be dealt with. The Old Northwest included land north of the Ohio River to Canada and west of the Appalachian Mountains to the Mississippi River.
During the 1784 summer recess of Congress, Monroe made an extended tour of the Old Northwest. He wanted to learn about the British forts in the area; relations between the Native Americans and the whites who had settled there; and the general lay of the land, soil, and water. Monroe encouraged Congress to set up committees to consider dividing the region into several territories and plan for a temporary form of government for them.
Navigation of the Mississippi River was Monroe's third main interest while he was serving in the Continental Congress. Spain held claim to the Mississippi and to the port at New Orleans. Monroe joined with other Virginia delegates to demand free navigation of the Mississippi for American frontier farmers.
Brief return to private life
While serving in the Continental Congress, twenty-seven-year-old Monroe courted seventeen-year-old Elizabeth Kortright (1768–1830), daughter of a wealthy New York merchant. They married in New York on February 16, 1786. When Monroe's term in Congress ended, in November 1786, he and Elizabeth moved back to Virginia. Their first child, Eliza, was born in December. The family lived in Fredericksburg, in Spotsylvania County, from late 1786 until 1789. The Monroes had two more children. Their son, James Spence, was born in May 1799; he died while still a toddler on September 28, 1800. A second daughter, Maria Hester, was born in 1803.
In Fredericksburg, Monroe began a private law practice and was again elected to serve in the Virginia Assembly. However, in 1787, much to his dismay, he was not elected to the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia that began in late May. The purpose of the convention was to revise the Articles of Confederation, the nation's first constitution, but the delegates instead wrote an entirely new constitution. Monroe's friend, James Madison, one of the delegates from Virginia, was the chief author of the new constitution, which significantly strengthened the federal government.
Virginia ratifying convention of 1788
In 1788, Monroe represented Spotsylvania County at the Virginia convention to consider ratification of the new constitution. Madison knew Monroe was not in favor of a strong central government but thought Monroe would vote to ratify the Constitution. However, Monroe joined with fellow Virginia statesmen Patrick Henry (1736–1799) and George Mason (1725–1792) in opposing ratification. Monroe's specific complaints about the Constitution were as follows: (1) It provided no adequate check on exercise of power by the executive (president); (2) it would lead to serious power struggles between national and state governments; and (3) it put no limit on the president's term. Another objection many delegates expressed was that the new constitution did not contain a bill of rights (basic liberties considered fundamental to citizens).
Upset that the majority of Virginia delegates voted in favor of ratifying the Constitution, Henry tried to prevent Madison from winning a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives of the newly established U.S. Congress. He convinced Monroe to run against Madison in the district that included Spotsylvania County. However, much to Henry's dismay, Madison was victorious. Monroe and Madison, having avoided personal attacks during the campaign, remained friends.
Although Monroe lost his bid for the House, he found himself in the U.S. Senate in 1790. The Virginia legislature appointed Richard Henry Lee (1732–1794) and William Grayson (1736–1790) as the state's first two U.S. senators, but Grayson died soon after his appointment. The legislature selected Monroe to fill the vacant Senate slot. He took his seat in the Senate on December 6, 1790, and held the position until May 1794.
During this period, Monroe was one of the fiercest opponents of the policies of President Washington's administration. Washington and his top advisors favored strengthening the federal government over the state governments. Monroe especially opposed the financial measures introduced by Secretary of the Treasury Alexander Hamilton (1755–1804; see entry in volume 1).
Federalists and Republicans
Gradually, America's early leaders split into two political camps. Those favoring a strong central or federal government were known as Federalists. Federalists tended to believe that highly educated Americans would run the government best; this generally meant people who were wealthy enough to afford the privilege of education. Federalists did not believe that the common people could make good decisions on government matters. Washington, Hamilton, and John Adams (1735–1826; see entry in volume 1), Washington's vice president, were considered Federalists.
Friendship of Three Virginians
James Monroe and Thomas Jefferson admired each other's intellect and commitment to American independence. They began a friendship in 1778 that would last until Jefferson's death in 1826. Jefferson, the older statesman, supported and counseled Monroe on many occasions during Monroe's long career of public service. He was the key influence in Monroe's political career.
James Madison, a close friend of Jefferson and later the fourth U.S. president, also became a friend of Monroe's after Jefferson introduced the two in 1784. Although Madison left the Continental Congress in 1783, just when Monroe was arriving, they frequently sought advice from each other on matters related to the new nation. Many years later, Monroe would serve in President Madison's administration. Except for brief interruptions over political matters, Monroe and Madison remained lifelong friends.
Americans aligning with Monroe, Madison, and then secretary of state Thomas Jefferson were known as Republicans (later called Democratic-Republicans). Although Madison had been the primary author of the Constitution, which strengthened the federal government, he did not believe the Constitution gave Congress authority to establish a national bank, one of the financial measures recommended by Hamilton. Republicans of the 1790s believed that the executive branch was quickly becoming too powerful. The term "Republican" comes from the word "republic"; a republic is a government run for and by consent of the people. Republicans trusted the common people, ordinary citizens, to make decisions on how the government should be run.
Minister in France
In his Neutrality Proclamation of 1793, President Washington declared the United States a neutral country. This meant that the United States would not favor either France or Britain in the battles these two enemies continued to fight. Washington knew America could not afford to fight another war. However, America's neutrality was not respected. Both the British and the French seized U.S. commercial ships, and the British "impressed" American seamen. Impressment meant capturing seamen and forcing them to work on British vessels. The U.S. public was outraged.
Given his forthright opposition to many of President Washington's ideas, Monroe was surprised when Washington selected him as minister to France. Monroe, a Republican, was commissioned for the job on May 28, 1794. American statesman John Jay (1745–1829; see entry in volume 1), a Federalist, was the minister to Britain. Republicans such as Monroe favored good relations with France, a country that had helped the United States defeat Britain in the American Revolution. Republicans still considered Britain the enemy and were strongly pro-French. Federalists desired improved trade relations with Britain; they were pro-British and anti-French. Because of Monroe's pro-French feelings, Washington hoped Monroe could have success in negotiating with the French.
The biggest barrier to improved U.S.-French relations was the Jay Treaty, an agreement between America and Britain that Jay negotiated in late 1794. The treaty improved U.S. trade with Britain, but it did not require the British to stop their practice of impressment, Americans' biggest concern. Nevertheless, a Federalist-dominated Congress approved the Jay Treaty in June 1795. Republicans were outraged and so was France. The French believed the United States should honor its Treaty of Alliance of 1778 and support France against Britain. The French had not expected the United States to improve its relations with Britain, but that is exactly what the Jay Treaty did. France was exceedingly upset with the United States from the moment the treaty was signed, and Monroe openly said he regretted that Congress had approved the treaty. The Washington administration was angry with Monroe for not downplaying the importance of the Jay Treaty; President Washington had expected him to soothe French misgivings. Believing Monroe mishandled the entire situation, Washington removed him from the minister post on August 22, 1796.
Return to Virginia
Monroe traveled across the Atlantic in the spring of 1797 and spent the rest of the year writing A View of the Conduct of the Executive, which strongly criticized Washington and Jay. It was published in December 1797. Although Monroe's opinion of Washington and Jay softened over time, Washington never forgave his fellow Virginian for the words contained in the publication.
Within two years, Monroe reentered public office. He was elected governor of Virginia in 1799. The governor's term of office was only one year, but Monroe was elected for three straight years. In November 1799, Monroe moved his main home from Fredericksburg to Albemarle County, Virginia, to property called Highland, later Ash Lawn-Highland. This home was near the homes of his friends Jefferson and Madison.
Louisiana Purchase diplomatic victory
Thomas Jefferson became the third U.S. president in 1801. Jefferson learned that same year that Spain had ceded its rights to a huge expanse of land then known as Louisiana. By the Treaty of San Ildefonso, Spain had handed over this land to France. Louisiana encompassed approximately 800,000 square miles, stretching from the mouth of the Mississippi River at New Orleans northwest all the way to Canada and west to the Rocky Mountains. For the United States, having powerful France as a next-door neighbor on the western frontier was a threatening prospect. Having France in control of New Orleans and navigation on the Mississippi River was intolerable.
Determined to settle the situation peacefully, President Jefferson sent Monroe back to France with instructions to aid the American minister already in France, Robert R. Livingston (1746–1813). Jefferson wanted them to try to purchase the port of New Orleans from the French. Congress had allotted $2 million for the purchase of New Orleans. On April 12, 1803, Monroe joined Livingston in Paris; Livingston was already in negotiation with the French. To the amazement of the two Americans, France offered to sell the United States all of Louisiana. After negotiations over price, Monroe, Livingston, and the French settled on $15 million. They signed a treaty of agreement on May 2, 1803, and hoped Congress would approve the additional $13 million. Congress readily approved the purchase on October 20, and the United States took over the region—which came to be called the Louisiana Purchase—on December 20, 1803. This purchase was the largest land deal the world had ever known; it doubled the size of the United States. President Jefferson, Monroe, and Livingston were astonished and ecstatic.
Difficult missions to Britain and Spain, 1804 –7
By early 1804, the British were still seizing U.S. ships and impressing American seamen. President Jefferson, pleased with Monroe's success in France, dispatched him to Britain in April. Britain was not receptive to negotiators, so Jefferson sent Monroe to Spain in the fall to help Charles Pinckney (1757–1824) with negotiations to acquire the Floridas. Monroe and Pinckney were in constant communication with Spanish minister Don Pedro Cevallos from January to May 1805. Again negotiations led nowhere, so Monroe returned to his residence in London and resumed talks with Britain. At last, in the fall of 1806, serious negotiations with Britain began. The United States signed a treaty in December 1806 for improved relations with Britain. Because of the long time required for communication across the Atlantic, President Jefferson received the treaty on March 15, 1807. The treaty had two fundamental flaws: It made no provision against the impressment of American seamen, and it secured no promise of payment for losses Americans had incurred in the seizure of their goods and vessels. Dismayed with Monroe's treaty, Jefferson never presented it to the Senate for ratification; he simply terminated negotiations without any agreement. He then replaced Monroe and Monroe returned to the United States.
Monroe's failed missions to Spain and Britain were not due to any lack of intelligence or expertise on his part. These missions were doomed from the start, because Spain was not ready to give up the Floridas and Britain had no intention of giving up the practice of seizing U.S. vessels and seamen. Within a few years, the United States would be at war with Britain. However, Monroe was embarrassed and angry that Jefferson and Madison had refused to take his negotiated treaty to the Senate. He felt slighted by his two old friends.
Ill-fated run at the presidency
In 1808, a few old Virginia Democratic-Republicans talked Monroe into opposing Madison in his run for the presidential nomination. Monroe's candidacy went nowhere. Madison went on to become the Democratic-Republican presidential nominee and the fourth president of the United States. Monroe's family life served to cheer him. On October 17, 1808, his oldest daughter, Eliza, married Judge George Hay (1765–1830). Hay, twenty years older than Eliza, was a well-known lawyer and a political activist in Virginia. Hay and Monroe would become close friends. As Monroe regrouped from his diplomatic difficulties and renewed his political career, Hay became a close adviser.
In the spring of 1810, Monroe was elected for the third time to the Virginia House of Delegates. By the end of 1810, he was again elected as governor of Virginia. Monroe served only part of his term as governor, from January until November 1811. President Madison, fully aware of Monroe's political and diplomatic talents and holding no ill feelings toward him, asked him to join his administration as secretary of state. Monroe relished the opportunity and gladly accepted the assignment. He would hold the position until 1817.
Secretary of state, secretary of war
On June 18, 1812, the United States declared war on Britain. The start of the war went so badly for the United States that the secretary of war, Dr. William Eustis (1753–1825), left his Cabinet position. President Madison asked Monroe to temporarily serve as both the secretary of state and secretary of war. Soon, General John Armstrong (1758–1842) took over the war secretary's position. In August 1814, the battle reached Washington, D.C. Convinced the British would never march on the nation's capital city, Armstrong had not dispatched troops to defend it. On August 22, Monroe informed President Madison that he believed the capital was in direct danger. On August 24, the British marched into Washington and burned the public buildings, including the Capitol and the president's mansion.
Dismissing Armstrong immediately, President Madison asked Monroe to again take charge of the War Department. Monroe at once infused vigor into the military operations. His hopes were bolstered when Fort McHenry at Baltimore held firm against a British advance. Monroe was enthusiastic, determined, and confident of public support. By the end of 1814, peace was at hand.
In 1816, Monroe was elected the fifth president of the United States. He received 183 electoral votes, defeating Federalist candidate Rufus King (1755–1827) of New York, who received only 34. Monroe was inaugurated on March 4, 1817. That same year, he participated in laying the cornerstone for the University of Virginia. Former president Jefferson founded the university, but both Monroe and Madison aided in the plans. In 1820, Monroe was reelected to a second term. By then, the Federalist Party no longer existed. Monroe received every electoral vote except one cast by a New Hampshire elector for Monroe's secretary of state, John Quincy Adams (1767–1848). The Monroe presidential years are known as the Era of Good Feelings. The eight years proved very positive for the young nation.
The first major event of the eight-year Monroe administration was the Seminole War of 1817–18. Members of the Seminole living in Spanish-held Florida made frequent raids into southern Georgia, stealing property and terrorizing Americans. General Andrew Jackson (1767–1845; see entry in volume 1) and his troops crossed into Florida, subdued the Native Americans, and seized territory. By 1819, the Spanish realized they could not hold Florida and ceded it to the United States.
In 1818, Missouri applied for admission to the union as a slave state (a state that allows slavery in contrast to free states that make slavery illegal), setting off a bitter controversy over the expansion of slavery in America. In 1820, Congress agreed on the Missouri Compromise, which remained in effect for thirty years. Missouri was admitted as a slave state, but slavery was prohibited in the region of the Louisiana Purchase north of the southern boundary of Missouri, except in the state of Missouri itself which could allow slavery.
On December 2, 1823, Monroe delivered a message to Congress that became a lasting legacy of his administration. The three main points of the message, later known as the Monroe Doctrine, set directions for U.S. foreign policy throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Monroe stated that there was to be no further European colonization in the Western Hemisphere, chiefly meaning Mexico, Central America, and South America; that the United States would stay out of the political affairs of European nations; and that he expected European governments not to meddle in the affairs of governments in the Western Hemisphere.
Monroe retired from the presidency in 1825 and moved to his estate, "Oak Hill," near Leesburg, Virginia. His last act of public service came in 1829, when he served as president of the Virginia convention to revise the state constitution. Madison joined him as a member of the convention. Monroe's wife died in 1830, and he moved to his daughter Maria's residence in New York City. Monroe died at Maria's home on July 4, 1831.
For More Information
Ammon, Harry. James Monroe: The Quest for National Identity. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1971. Reprint, Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1990.
Dangerfield, George. The Era of Good Feelings. New York: Harcourt, Brace, 1952.
Gilman, Daniel C. James Monroe: In His Relations to the Public Service during Half a Century, 1776 to 1826. Boston: Houghton, Mifflin and Company, 1883.
Kelley, Brent. James Monroe: American Statesman. Philadelphia: Chelsea House, 2001.
Levy, Debbie. James Monroe. Minneapolis: Lerner Publications, 2005.
"James Monroe (1817–1825)." American Presidents.http://www.americanpresident.org/history/jamesmonroe/ (accessed on June 14, 2005).
James Monroe Foundation.http://www.monroefoundation.org/ (accessed on August 17, 2005).
James Monroe's Ash Lawn–Highland.http://www.ashlawnhighland.org/ (accessed on August 17, 2005).
Born April 8, 1758
Westmoreland Country, Virginia
Secretary of state,
secretary of war, president of the UnitedStates
Monroe played a key role in the War of 1812, serving as secretary of state during the conflict and also taking over the job of secretary of war in its last few months. He was one of several figures whose wartime accomplishments helped to propel them into political office. In Monroe's case, that office was the presidency. A tall, plain-looking, warm-hearted man who wore the old-fashioned clothes of the Revolutionary War period (1775-83), Monroe was admired for his honesty, his good judgment, and his ability to gauge the mood of his country's citizens.
Caught up in the revolutionary spirit
James Monroe was the eldest of four children born to Spence and Elizabeth Jones Monroe on the family's six-hundred-acre (fairly small, by the standards of the time) plantation in Westmoreland Country, Virginia. When Monroe was sixteen years old his father died, and his much wealthier uncle Joseph Jones, who lived in nearby King George Country, became his guardian. Jones had no children of his own and took a special interest in his young nephew.
In 1774 Monroe entered William and Mary College in Williamsburg, Virginia. He was proud of being the first person his family to attend college, but his time at William and Mary would be short. Monroe soon got caught up in the revolutionary spirit that had overtaken the thirteen colonies of America as they declared their independence from Great Britain and began the war that would establish the United States of America, and he enlisted in the Third Virginia Regiment in the spring of 1775.
A strong sense of public service
In 1779 Monroe came back to Virginia in the hope of raising a regiment so that he could serve as a field commander rather than a staff assistant. He felt discouraged when he could not find enough recruits to make up a regiment. It was at this bleak moment in his life that Monroe met Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826), who was then serving as governor of Virginia. Monroe began a friendship with Jefferson, who was fifteen years older, that would last until Jefferson's death in 1826.
In 1786 Monroe married Elizabeth Kortright, the daughter of a New York merchant, who was admired for her beauty as well as her polished, formal manners. The couple moved to Fredericksburg, Virginia, where Monroe set up a law office. After three years Monroe bought a plantation in Albemarle Country, only a few miles from Jefferson's home, Monticello, and within twenty miles of the plantation of future president James Madison (1751-1836; see biographical entry), whom Monroe also had befriended. Monroe ran his farm while also practicing law and serving in the state legislature.
An active role in the new government
Elected to the U.S. Senate in 1790, Monroe worked closely with both Madison—who was then serving in the House of Representatives—and Jefferson, who was serving as vice president under George Washington (1732-1799). The three Virginians were united in their disapproval of the financial policies put forth by Treasury Secretary Alexander Hamilton (c. 1775-1804). They also felt that Washington's administration and followers, who were called Federalists because they advocated a strong central or federal government, favored merchants and city dwellers over farmers and plantation owners and that they were too friendly with Great Britain. With Jefferson and Madison, Monroe took part in the formation of a new political party, whose members came to be known first as Democratic Republicans and later simply as Republicans.
Washington appointed Monroe as minister to France from 1794 to 1796. He then was elected governor of Virginia in 1799. While serving three one-year terms in that office, Monroe demonstrated his strong leadership ability through his calls for legislative actions and his skillful handling of Gabriel's Rebellion, a slave uprising that took place in 1800.
Negotiating the Louisiana Purchase
In January 1803 Monroe was appointed by now president Jefferson to serve as a special envoy (representative) to France to negotiate a site at the mouth of the Mississippi River that Americans could use as a port. Arriving in Paris in April, Monroe met with Robert Livingston (1746-1813), the U.S. minister to France, who had just learned that French emperor Napoleon Bonaparte (1769-1821) was willing to sell all of Louisiana to the United States for fifteen million dollars.
Even though their orders did not authorize such a move, the two Americans immediately signed an agreement with the French. The Louisiana Purchase (an area of more than eight hundred thousand square miles that included the present-day states of Arkansas, Missouri, Iowa, North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Oklahoma, most of Kansas, and parts of Minnesota, Montana, Wyoming, Colorado, and Louisiana) nearly doubled the size of the United States and opened up a huge new area for settlement.
After four months in France, Monroe moved on to London, where he would serve as the U.S. minister to Great Britain until 1807. During these years he worked hard to get the British to recognize the rights of the United States as a neutral nation, but he could make little headway. A particularly thorny issue was the British practice of impressment, by which sailors (many of them recognized as American citizens by the United States but not by Great Britain) were forcibly removed from U.S. ships and made to serve in the British navy.
Near the end of 1806, Monroe and special envoy William Pinkney (1764-1822) reached an agreement with Great Britain regarding trade issues, but because it did not resolve the impressment issue, Jefferson and Madison (who was serving as secretary of state) rejected it. Monroe returned home in a resentful mood about the treaty, and for the next several years his relationships with Jefferson and Madison were strained. He even allowed some Republican friends to present him as a presidential candidate, running against Madison in the election of 1808, but Madison easily won the election. For the next few years, Monroe kept busy as a Virginia state legislator and also served another term as the state's governor.
Appointed secretary of state
Monroe's rift with the president was healed in 1811, when Madison asked his old friend to become secretary of state. Monroe's diplomatic experience made him a good candidate for the job, and Madison also hoped the move would repair the damaging splits that had occurred in the Republican Party. Monroe quickly became one of Madison's closest advisors. He also built a loyal following in Congress, especially among the group of young leaders called the War Hawks, who favored war with Great Britain as the only way to resolve the continuing issues of neutral trade rights and impressment.
In July 1811 Madison met with Augustus J. Foster, Great Britain's minister to the United States, to try to reach a peaceful solution, but neither country wanted to budge on its demands or practices. Congress met in November and began to seriously discuss the possibility of war. Monroe did his part to support the president, even writing prowar editorials for the National Intelligencer, the newspaper that was the administration's main mouthpiece.
When war with Great Britain was declared in June 1812, Monroe remained optimistic that it would end quickly, since he believed that Great Britain was too busy with the war in Europe to carry on a long conflict in North America. Meanwhile, he longed to command soldiers in the field. Madison, however, did not want to offend more experienced officers by assigning Monroe a rank higher than theirs, so Monroe stayed in Washington, D.C., to help plan the war effort.
The war continues
By the end of 1812, disastrous army campaigns in the northwest and along the Niagara River had reflected poorly on Secretary of War William Eustis (1753-1825), who resigned his position as a result. Madison made Monroe the temporary head of the war department, and during the two months he held this job he managed to push a military expansion program through Congress and plan an invasion of Canada for the coming spring. In February, John Armstrong (1758-1843) took over as secretary of war and Monroe returned to his State Department duties. From now on, Armstrong and Monroe would see each other as rivals (because both had set their sights on the presidency), and Armstrong would make sure that Monroe never got the military command he wanted.
In February 1813 the Russian government offered to mediate a peace agreement between the United States and Great Britain. Monroe and Madison immediately accepted, and they sent Treasury Secretary Albert Gallatin (1761-1849) and Senator James Bayard (1767-1815) to St. Petersburg, Russia, to represent the United States. Great Britain, however, rejected the offer, stating that they preferred to negotiate directly with the United States. Toward the end of the year, the British sent their own offer to begin peace talks. Now Speaker of the House Henry Clay (1777-1852; see biographical entry) joined Gallatin and Bayard, as well as diplomat John Quincy Adams (1767-1848) and U.S. chargé d'affaires in Russia (in charge of the diplomatic mission or embassy when no ambassador is in place) Jonathan Russell (1771-1832).
Great Britain launches a counteroffensive
Although there had been a few significant American victories in 1813, in general the war was not going well. The war between Great Britain and France ended with Napoleon's defeat in the spring of 1814. As a result of Great Britain's victory, they mounted a major offensive against the United States, and many more British troops began to arrive in North America. The British had targeted the Chesapeake Bay as one of three areas of concentration (the others were Lake Champlain in the northeastern United States and the Gulf Coast region, including Florida, Mississippi, Alabama, and Louisiana). Some U.S. leaders, including Monroe, feared that the British would attack Washington, D.C., but Armstrong insisted that the larger city—and important shipping center—of Baltimore would be their target, not the nation's capital.
In July 1814 Monroe was finally able to convince Madison to provide for Washington's defense by establishing a new military district that included Washington and the Potomac River. Still, the city remained very poorly defended, mostly by militia troops that had been gathered in haste and had not received much training. In August, the British landed at the Chesapeake Bay and began to march toward the capital.
The British reached the town of Bladensburg, located just north of Washington, D.C., on August 24. Met by a ragtag, inexperienced U.S. force, the British won an easy victory, even though they were outnumbered. The British could now proceed to Washington, where they arrived that same evening. They spent about twenty-four hours in the city, burning many public buildings, and then departed.
Returning to the capital
Monroe was one of the first leaders to return to Washington, D.C., arriving on August 27, and immediately setting to work at the State Department. Meanwhile, Armstrong had been blamed for allowing the attack on Washington, and he resigned on September 5. Madison made Monroe acting secretary of war, and he would be in charge of both the state and war departments for the next nine months.
At the same time, the peace negotiations between the United States and Great Britain had been going on in Ghent, Belgium. During the summer of 1814, Madison and Monroe had removed impressment as an issue to be included in the talks (since the end of the war against France had eliminated Great Britain's need for more seamen, impressment was no longer practiced). Nevertheless, the negotiations had stalled over the British demands for adjustments of the Canadian border and for a Native American homeland in the Northwest Territory (an area of land that would become the states of Ohio, Michigan, Indiana, Illinois, and parts of Minnesota). Discouraged, U.S. leaders braced themselves for a new campaign in 1815. Toward the end of 1814, however, the deadlock was broken when Great Britain, unwilling to begin another season of fighting in North America, gave in on its demands.
The war comes to an end
In the months before and even the weeks after the signing of the Treaty of Ghent, more battles took place (the slowness of communications, which had to travel on ships across the Atlantic Ocean, meant that it took almost two months for news of the peace to arrive in the United States). Major General Andrew Jackson (1767-1845; see biographical entry) was in charge of U.S. forces in the area of the Gulf Coast, and Monroe worked closely with him to prepare for a British invasion. His quick responses to Jackson's requests for troops and supplies helped Jackson's men defeat a much larger British force at the Battle of New Orleans on January 8, 1815.
Monroe resigned from the War Department on February 15, two days after the news of the Treaty of Ghent arrived in Washington. Exhausted and ill, he took the next six months off, retreating to his plantation to rest. When Monroe returned to work at the State Department, he negotiated the Rush-Bagot agreement, by which the United States and Great Britain agreed to restrict the number of warships on the Great Lakes.
As the presidential election of 1816 approached, it was generally assumed that Monroe would be the Republican nominee, thus continuing the "Virginia dynasty," which is how some referred to the dominance of Virginia leaders (especially Jefferson, Madison, and Monroe) in national politics. The Federalist Party had fallen more and more out of favor due to its opposition to the war, and the end of the conflict in what many considered a victory for the United States seemed to be the final blow. The Federalists did put forth a candidate, New York Senator Rufus King (1755-1827), but Monroe beat him easily.
"The Era of Good Feelings"
Monroe's victory signaled a temporary end to the two-party system (in which those with similar views and goals banded together in factions or political parties). This was seen as a positive change by Monroe and other Republicans, who believed that political parties created harmful divisions in the nation and that candidates should win or lose by their own personal merits.
In the same spirit of harmony, Monroe chose a cabinet with representatives from different parts of the country. Thus his team of advisors included southerner William Crawford (1772-1834) as treasury secretary, New Englander Benjamin Crowninshield (1772-1851) as secretary of the navy, and westerner John C. Calhoun (1782-1814) as secretary of war. The important job of secretary of state went to the very experienced diplomat, John Quincy Adams, who would later follow in the footsteps of his father, John Adams (1735-1826), to become president of the United States.
Also in keeping with the new mood of harmony and conciliation, Monroe went on two goodwill tours of the nation, visiting New England and the middle Atlantic states in 1817 and parts of the west and south in 1819. He was warmly received wherever he went, and particularly in Boston, Massachusetts, where a crowd of forty thousand turned out to cheer him. This represented a remarkable change of heart in a region that had been strongly opposed to the War of 1812 and to Madison's administration. A writer for a Federalist newspaper remarked that an "Era of Good Feelings" seemed to be dawning, and from then on that phrase would be associated with Monroe's first term as president.
A new president begins his job
Monroe's first term as president was marked by two significant domestic (affecting the internal United States, rather than its relations with foreign countries) crises. One was the Panic of 1819, a period of economic hardship when unemployment rose while farm prices fell and businesses failed. The other domestic issue that arose was that of Missouri's admission as a state.
During the early part of the nineteenth century, tension was mounting over the issue of slavery, which was still practiced in the southern United States. In 1818 when Missouri applied to join the union as a slaveholding state, the number of states on each side of the issue was equal. Admitting Missouri as a slave state would upset the balance.
Monroe's view of the president's limited role in legislative matters required him to stay out of the debate over Missouri, but he gave his approval to a compromise proposed by Henry Clay. Missouri would be admitted as a slave state, but at the same time Maine would be admitted as a free state, and slavery would be permanently banned beyond the northern and western borders of Missouri. Although the compromise settled this specific problem, slavery would continue to be a troubling issue and a major factor in the outbreak of the American Civil War (1861-65).
The Monroe Doctrine
Monroe ran unopposed in the 1820 presidential election and won all but one electoral college vote. His second term was marked by an important development in the foreign policy of the United States. At this time, many Latin American nations were declaring their independence from Spain, which had colonized South and Central America during the previous two centuries. Like many Americans, Monroe was deeply sympathetic to these nations' struggle for freedom. He wanted to lend them the moral support of the United States. Monroe was opposed, however, to offering them military support, because he did not want to provoke the European nations into intervening.
In March 1822 he announced that the United States was establishing diplomatic relations with La Plata (which later became Argentina), Chile, Peru, Colombia, and Mexico. The next year, Great Britain proposed a joint British-U.S. declaration of opposition to European intervention in American affairs. After considering the proposal, Monroe and Adams rejected it, fearing that it would make the United States appear to be in Great Britain's shadow. Instead, Monroe wanted to establish the United States as the leading power in the Americas.
That is why he decided to use his annual message to Congress, delivered on December 2, 1823, to state that the United States would consider any interference in American affairs an aggressive act. For its part, the United States would not intervene in any other nation's affairs. Monroe emphasized that the United States now considered the Americas closed to any further European colonization. This policy—known in Monroe's day as the American System but later called the Monroe Doctrine—would gain even greater significance in the twentieth century, when it would be used to justify U.S. intervention in Latin American affairs (a use that was not intended by its author).
Leaving the presidency
Monroe left the White House in March 1825 and kept busy by helping Jefferson run the recently established University of Virginia. His friendships with Jefferson and Madison continued, and he grew even closer to Madison after Jefferson's death in 1826. Monroe attended Virginia's Constitutional Convention in 1829 and was chosen to serve as its president, but he was now too feeble to take a very active role, although he did deliver several speeches.
Monroe died on July 4, 1831, the fifth anniversary of the deaths of Jefferson and John Adams. His New York City funeral was attended by a host of officials, and huge crowds assembled to watch the funeral procession. In newspapers across the nation, journalists paid tribute to the tall, dignified man who had lent his sound judgment and so many years of service to the country he loved. Monroe was buried in New York, but was eventually re-interred in Richmond, Virginia.
For More Information
Ammon, Harry. James Monroe: The Quest for National Identity. New York:McGraw-Hill, 1971.
Dangerfield, George. The Era of Good Feelings. New York: Harcourt, Brace& World, 1963.
Heidler, David S., and Jeanne T. Heidler, eds. Encyclopedia of the War of 1812. Santa Barbara, Calif.: ABC-CLIO, Inc., 1997.
May, Ernest R. The Making of the Monroe Doctrine. Cambridge: BelknapPress, 1975.
Ammon, Harry. "James Monroe." Grolier Online Biography. [Online] http://www.grolier.com/presidents/ea/bios/05pmonr.html (accessed on November 26, 2001).
"James Monroe." The American President. [Online] http://www.americanpresident.org/theseries.htm (accessed on November 26, 2001).
"James Monroe." Presidential Explorations.http://library.thinkquest.org/11492/cgi-bin/pres.cgi/monroejames (accessed on November 26, 2001).
"James Monroe: Fifth President 1817-1825." White House Biography. [Online] http://www.whitehouse.gov/history/presidents/jm5.html (accessed on November 26, 2001).
James Monroe (1758-1831), fifth president of the United States, a founder of the Jeffersonian Republican party and a major agent in acquiring Louisiana and Florida, authored the celebrated American foreign policy statement, the Monroe Doctrine.
James Monroe was born in Westmoreland County, Va., on April 28, 1758, on his parents' small plantation. He enrolled in William and Mary College in 1774 but left 2 years later, with the beginning of the American Revolution, to enlist as a lieutenant in the 3d Virginia Regiment. He was seriously wounded in the action at Trenton, and his heroism earned him the rank of major. In 1777 and 1778 he was aide to Gen. William Alexander (Lord Stirling) with the rank of colonel. Unable to obtain a field command because of the excess of officers, he returned to Virginia and entered the lower house of the legislature in 1782. At this time he formed his friendship with Governor Thomas Jefferson, with whom he began to study law.
In 1783 Monroe was elected to the governor's council; the next year he, Jefferson, and Richard Henry Lee were members of the Virginia delegation to the Confederation Congress. Monroe labored to strengthen the central government, but after failing to secure reform through Congress, he endorsed the recommendation that a special convention be held. He was responsible for the structure of territorial government incorporated in the Ordinance of 1787. In 1786 he led the fight against the proposal of John Jay, Secretary for Foreign Affairs, to negotiate a treaty with Spain closing the Mississippi for 20 years in return for commercial concessions. While a member of Congress he married Elizabeth Kortright, one of the most beautiful women of her generation.
Monroe was not a member of the Constitutional Convention, but as a delegate to the Virginia ratifying convention, he opposed ratification unless the Constitution was amended. After the new government was inaugurated and the amending process under way, he ceased his opposition. At this time he shifted his residence to Albemarle County adjacent to Monticello, Thomas Jefferson's home.
After a few years of law practice Monroe entered the U.S. Senate in 1790. He emerged as a leading critic of George Washington's administration, which, he felt, was favoring the commercial class and seeking closer ties with Great Britain. He attributed these policies to the influence of Alexander Hamilton. Monroe joined James Madison and Jefferson in organizing the opposition that developed into the Republican party.
In 1794 Washington appointed Monroe minister to France. Monroe accepted at the urging of the Republicans, who felt that friendship with France was essential for the preservation of republican government in the United States. Arriving in France immediately after the downfall of Robes-pierre, Monroe was able to ease recent tensions, but he irritated Washington by publicly voicing enthusiasm for the French Revolution. The ratification of Jay's Treaty led to a worsening of relations between France and the United States, and Monroe was recalled in 1796 in a manner casting doubt on his conduct. He published a vindication, asserting that the administration was seeking to join England in the war against France.
As proof that Monroe's recall had not shaken party confidence, the Republicans elected him governor of Virginia in 1799. He proved an able administrator, acting decisively to suppress the attempted slave rebellion (Gabriel's Rebellion) in 1800. In 1803 President Jefferson sent him to France to assist Robert R. Livingston in seeking a port for America at the mouth of the Mississippi River after Spanish authorities had closed the river to American ships. In France, Monroe learned that Napoleon, who had acquired Louisiana from Spain, had offered to sell all Louisiana. Although empowered to buy only a small tract, Monroe and Livingston purchased the whole region. From 1804 to 1807 Monroe was minister to Great Britain.
In 1806 Monroe and William Pinkney concluded a treaty with Great Britain permitting American ships to carry produce of the French colonies to France if American duties were paid. Jefferson and his secretary of state, James Madison, did not consider this arrangement a sufficient compensation for the omission of impressment, which they deemed the sine qua non for any treaty with England. Consequently, it was not submitted to the Senate. Deeply offended, Monroe allowed dissident Republicans in Virginia to run him against Madison in the 1808 presidential election. Madison won, but Monroe garnered enough votes to indicate wide support. In 1811 President Madison, plagued by factional conflicts within his own party and a resurgence of federalism, appointed Monroe secretary of state.
Monroe's entry into the Cabinet did not change the policy of commercial warfare with Great Britain, but it did strengthen the administration. Enjoying great popularity among the younger Republican congressmen, Monroe worked with them to implement presidential policies. He collaborated with the "War Hawks" in drafting the measures that culminated in the declaration of war against England in 1812. He continued in the State Department during the war, serving simultaneously as secretary of war after John Armstrong retired in disgrace following the burning of the capital.
Monroe was named Republican presidential candidate in 1816. The Federalists offered only token opposition. As president, Monroe was an old-fashioned figure, wearing his hair pulled back in a queue and clad in the black clothes of the Revolutionary days. Tall, dignified, and formal in manner, he was admired for his genuine goodness, warmth, and lack of malice. His face was rather plain with massive features, but his widely set gray eyes and his smile reflected benevolence. He did not reach decisions quickly, for he was inclined to reflect carefully on all aspects of a question. His attention to detail gave him a soundness of judgment often lacking in more original minds. His remarkable awareness of the trends of public opinion contributed to his political success. He introduced into the White House a new, more formal note. Although he received congressmen, state party leaders, and citizens freely, he kept diplomats at a distance.
Monroe's Cabinet consisted of John Quincy Adams (State), William H. Crawford (Treasury), John C. Calhoun (War), William Wirt (Attorney General), and Benjamin Crowninshield, followed by Smith Thompson and Samuel L. Southard (Navy). If Monroe's appearance suggested the past, his policies were distinctly contemporary. A moderate nationalist, he supported the Bank of the United States, sought to maintain a large peacetime army, and approved the protective tariff.
Monroe made the restoration of political harmony (which meant, in effect, the elimination of parties) a major goal. To facilitate this, he toured the Union, journeying to New England in 1817 and to the South and West in 1819. The "Era of Good Feeling" that followed was short-lived. In 1820 Monroe, who was unopposed, received all the electoral votes but one.
During Monroe's presidency two major domestic crises occurred. The Panic of 1819 resulted from the overexpansion of credit during and after the War of 1812. The abrupt decline in government revenues forced a drastic reduction in the appropriation for the extensive system of coastal fortifications that Monroe had undertaken. The second crisis took place in 1820, following attempts to make the abolition of slavery a condition for the admission of Missouri to statehood. This conflict so divided the nation that many feared the Union would be destroyed. Monroe opposed any restriction on Missouri, but in the interest of harmony he accepted the compromise admitting Missouri as a slave state but excluding slavery from north of 36°30' in the Louisiana Territory.
Monroe's most important accomplishments were in foreign affairs. In 1819 he capitalized on Andrew Jackson's invasion of Florida to pressure Spain into ceding Florida and establishing the western and northern boundaries of Louisiana. Jackson's seizure of Spanish military posts precipitated a domestic furor. Many felt he should be reprimanded for exceeding his orders. Monroe, who appreciated the advantage Jackson's action gave him in negotiations with Spain, chose a middle course. He restored the posts and acknowledged that though Jackson had violated his orders, he had acted on reasons that seemed sufficient during the campaign.
In spite of considerable pressure for recognizing the new Latin American states, Monroe held off until 1822, after ratification of the treaty with Spain. His concern that the European powers might intervene in South America to restore Spanish authority seemed justified in 1823, after France suppressed revolution in Spain. Consequently, in 1823 Monroe was inclined to accept Britain's proposal that the United States and Great Britain jointly declare opposition to European interference in Latin America. However, though Jefferson and Madison urged him to accept, Monroe, desiring the United States to pursue an independent course, decided to act unilaterally. In his annual message of Dec. 2, 1823 (subsequently known as the Monroe Doctrine), he expressed disapproval of European intervention and affirmed America's intention of not interfering in the internal affairs of other nations. The message also contained a statement that the Americas were not to be considered open to further European colonization.
Monroe's last years in office were harassed by the intraparty battle for the 1824 presidential nomination. His hope for a general rapprochement with England was frustrated when a treaty to suppress the international slave trade was so amended that England withdrew ratification.
Monroe's retirement was plagued by financial difficulties. He obtained some relief when Congress voted him $30,000 in 1826, and a similar sum in 1831. Until his health failed in 1831, he was a member of the board of visitors of the University of Virginia. In 1829, as a member of the Virginia Constitutional Convention, he joined Madison in an unsuccessful attempt to arrange a compromise between Eastern and Western interests. He died in New York City on July 4, 1831.
The Writings of James Monroe was edited by Stanislaus M. Hamilton (7 vols., 1898-1903). Harry Ammon, James Monroe: The Quest for National Identity (1971), concentrates on Monroe's political and public life. Useful older biographies are George Morgan, The Life of James Monroe (1921), and William P. Cresson, James Monroe (1946). Lucius Wilmerding, James Monroe: Public Claimant (1960), is an exhaustive study of a minor aspect of Monroe's career.
The presidential elections of 1816 and 1820 are covered in Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr., History of American Presidential Elections (4 vols., 1971). For Monroe's presidency, George Dangerfield's colorful but overdrawn The Era of Good Feelings (1952) and his briefer and more restrained The Awakening of American Nationalism, 1815-1828 (1965) are important works. There is much material on Monroe in Irving Brant, James Madison (6 vols., 1941-1961), and in Dumas Malone, Jefferson and His Time (3 vols., 1948-1962).
Among the most important works on Monroe's foreign policy are Bradford Perkins, The Monroe Doctrine (1927; rev. ed. 1966); Philip C. Brooks, Diplomacy and the Borderlands: The Adams-Onis Treaty of 1819 (1939); Arthur P. Whitaker, The United States and the Independence of Latin America, 1800-1830 (1941); Samuel Flagg Bemis, John Quincy Adams and the Foundations of American Foreign Policy (1949); and Bradford Perkins, Castlereagh and Adams: England and the United States, 1812-1823 (1964). □
James Monroe (1758–1831) was a soldier, lawyer, state legislator, ratification convention delegate, governor, diplomat, U.S. representative and senator, secretary of war, secretary of state, and fifth president of the United States. Monroe was born on 28 April 1758 in Tidewater Virginia's Westmoreland County to respectable but not prominent parents. He was fortunate, however, in his maternal uncle, Joseph Jones. This childless uncle stood alongside the other Patriot leaders of the colonial House of Burgesses and ultimately sat in the Continental Congress and on Virginia's highest court. He took young James under his wing and encouraged the nephew's political inclinations.
early political career
Monroe attended the finest school in the colony, Rev. Archibald Campbell's Campbelltown Academy, beginning at age eleven. He then became the first in his line to attend the College of William and Mary when he matriculated in 1774, but his schooling was interrupted by the Revolution. Monroe enlisted in the American forces along with many of his classmates.
Monroe's service in the Revolution earned him respect as a war hero. Particularly noteworthy was his role in the Battle of Trenton on 26 December 1776, during which he helped lead a cavalry charge that captured enemy guns well positioned to command the chief road into town. Monroe received a severe wound in helping to ensure one of the Americans' most conspicuous victories of the entire war.
Upon returning to the College of William and Mary in 1780, Monroe began to read law under Governor Thomas Jefferson. Their personal association would reach fruition in the late 1790s, when Monroe bought a plantation two miles from Monticello.
In 1782 Monroe entered the House of Delegates, which elected him to the Confederation Congress the
following year. Much of Monroe's attention in Congress was devoted to issues related to Virginia's western lands claims. Although he grew sympathetic to nationalists' demands that the Confederation government be strengthened, from early on his attachment to the United States included a tincture of the states' rights creed that he, Jefferson, and James Madison later would elevate into the centerpiece of their party's dogma.
Monroe's support for federal reform left him disappointed in the Virginia General Assembly's omission of his name from its distinguished roster of Constitutional Convention delegates at Philadelphia in 1787. Close attention to Virginia's interests, particularly in regard to the western lands and to the apportionment of the new U.S. Senate, drove him into opposition in the Virginia ratifying convention of 1788. It was Monroe who wrote after the state's convention that George Washington's influence had narrowly won the day for the Federalists. Attempting to secure membership in the first U.S. House of Representatives, Monroe lost a hard-fought election to his friend James Madison, the intellectual leader of the new Constitution's advocates in the Old Dominion.
becoming a republican
By the end of 1790, Monroe had been elected by the General Assembly to the U.S. Senate, where he soon became one of the leaders of the developing opposition to Alexander Hamilton's Federalist program. At the same time, Monroe staked out a position of strong support for the French Revolution. Thus, when the French government requested the recall of Gouverneur Morris, the U.S. minister to France, President Washington nominated Monroe to replace him in 1794.
In France, Monroe made notorious statements in support of a revolution that had become a bloody debacle. Secretary of State Timothy Pickering of Massachusetts finally insisted that he be recalled, and Washington did so in September 1796.
On his return, Monroe found himself quite popular among Republicans. Defensively, Monroe published a volume of official papers with a selfexculpatory introduction; he also took the opportunity to attack Federalist foreign policy.
In 1799 Monroe was requited for his dutiful Republicanism when, on Madison's nomination, the General Assembly elected him to the first of three consecutive one-year terms as governor. As governor, he presided over the delicate work of limiting the political impact of Gabriel's Rebellion, the largest known slave conspiracy in Virginia history until that time, which broke out in the capital of Richmond in the run-up to the pivotal election of 1800. Monroe also prepared the Virginia militia to intervene in case the presidential imbroglio of 1800 did not turn out in Jefferson's favor.
diplomat and cabinet member
In 1803 Monroe was one of two negotiators who exploited Napoléon Bonaparte's unexpected willingness to part with his North American empire by accepting the proffered region that became the Louisiana Territory. The resulting treaty is usually regarded as Jefferson's foremost achievement as president, but in actuality diplomatic brilliance had little to do with it. It simply fell into the Americans' lap.
Before his return to America in 1807, Monroe conducted fruitless negotiations with Spain in 1805; he and fellow negotiator William Pinkney concluded a treaty with Great Britain in 1806, but Secretary of State James Madison considered it inadequate (as did President Jefferson). Monroe believed that Madison and Jefferson's purpose was to deny Monroe the acclaim he believed the treaty would have brought him, and he allowed dissident Virginia Republicans to promote his presidential candidacy in preference to Madison in 1808; his candidacy, though, came to naught.
Early in his administration, Madison offered Monroe the governorship of Louisiana Territory, which Monroe refused. Instead, Monroe returned to the General Assembly in 1810 and was elevated to the governorship again in January 1811. In March 1811 Madison appointed Monroe secretary of state. When the War of 1812 broke out, Monroe and his political allies were certain that Madison's rejection of his treaty with Britain underlay most of America's diplomatic troubles, but Monroe soldiered on.
Secretary of State Monroe personally scouted the Chesapeake region to ascertain British troop movements in 1814, which symbolized the disaster that Republican foreign and defense policy had become. When the secretary of war resigned in the wake of Washington's capture by British forces, Monroe became secretary of war in 1814; soon thereafter, he was reappointed secretary of state as well. Resigning the secretary of war position in 1815, he considered himself Madison's logical successor.
Monroe took office in 1817 after carrying all but three states—Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Delaware—in the 1816 election. He appointed a very talented group of cabinet secretaries, headed by Secretary of State John Quincy Adams and, in time, Secretary of War John C. Calhoun. His administration was notable for five developments: the Missouri Crisis, the Monroe Doctrine, the Transcontinental Treaty of 1819, the Supreme Court's decision in the 1819 case of McCulloch v. Maryland, and the virtual demise of the Federalist Party.
The Missouri Crisis of 1819–1821 found Monroe and Calhoun playing the unusual role of southerners willing to compromise the issue of slavery in the territories. While southern members of Congress nearly unanimously opposed the eventual Missouri Compromise, Calhoun and Monroe both considered it a positive development. Their primary interest lay in ending the dispute over slavery in the western territories rather than in ensuring the prospects for slavery in the enormous Louisiana Territory that Monroe had helped to purchase from France.
The Monroe Doctrine, central to American foreign policy since it was proclaimed, warned European powers to keep their hands off New World territories. It was issued in response to assertions of independence by Spain's former colonies in mainland Latin America. The Monroe Doctrine demonstrated boldness and daring. The United States had first rejected a British proposal for a joint statement of policy. Then, although it had no power to enforce its position at the time, the United States issued the Monroe Doctrine alone. From that day onward, the United States would feel free to intervene in opposition to European involvement in American territory south of Canada.
Finally, Federalism, long in decline and extremely weak in the election of 1816, virtually disappeared from the national stage by 1820. Monroe secured reelection with all but one electoral vote, and it seems that that elector's anti-Monroe stance flowed rather more from personal animus than from political opposition. Little could Monroe have realized at the time that his second term would be marred by the contest for the presidency.
All of Monroe's cabinet secretaries, the Speaker of the House, and General Andrew Jackson—America's war hero du jour—fancied themselves his successor. Their political maneuvering went so far as coordinating obstruction of each other's policy proposals in Congress. Monroe, meanwhile, believed himself barely suited to his high charge, confiding at a private dinner at Jefferson's Monticello that he was not intellectually fit for the post.
When Monroe retired from the presidency, he returned to Virginia in relative poverty. Therefore, he became a symbol of republican rectitude for those, such as Calhoun, who thought that the succession in 1825 ultimately had been decided by what he and others called a "corrupt bargain." Monroe's political retirement was interrupted only when he served as the titular president of the Virginia Constitutional Convention in 1829–1830. There, in an echo of his performance during the Missouri Crisis, he stood for compromise between Virginia's warring democratic and aristocratic sections.
James Monroe's death on 4 July 1831 came on an appropriate day, exactly five years after that of his political mentor, Jefferson. Monroe was both the last president to have played a part in the American Revolution and the only anti-Federalist to serve as president. While he was always a more practical, less philosophically inclined man than either of his two immediate predecessors (and in this he resembled the other Revolutionary warrior who held the presidency, George Washington), he was certainly a more successful president.
Ammon, Harry. James Monroe: The Quest for National Identity. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1971.
Cunningham, Noble E., Jr. The Presidency of James Monroe. Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 1996.
Egerton, Douglas R. Gabriel's Rebellion: The Virginia Slave Conspiracies of 1800 and 1802. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1993.
Horn, James, Jan Lewis, and Peter S. Onuf, eds. The Revolution of 1800: Democracy, Race, and the New Republic. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2002.
Sutton, Robert P. Revolution to Secession: Constitution Making in the Old Dominion. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1989.
Kevin R. C. Gutzman
James Monroe (1758–1831) came from a family of small planters in Westmoreland County, Virginia. He spent two years pursuing a classical education at William and Mary College (1774–1776) but left before graduation to fight in the American Revolution (1775–1783). He served as a lieutenant in the Third Virginia Regiment, and was wounded in the Battle of Harlem Heights (September 16, 1776). He fought again at White Plains (October 28, 1776), and suffered a serious wound in the battle of Trenton (December 26, 1776). There, General George Washington (1732–1799) promoted him to the rank of captain for "bravery under fire." After recuperating from his injuries he returned to fight in the battles of Brandywine and Germantown, Pennsylvania, in the fall of 1777 and again at Monmouth, New Jersey (June 1778). Because of an oversupply of officers he resigned his commission and returned to Virginia to serve in the lower house of the legislature.
In 1782 Monroe was elected to the Virginia House of Delegates and served as a member of the Continental Congress (1783–1786). He practiced law for a short time but, after the Constitution came into force in 1788, he won election to the U.S. Senate. There, Monroe became a persistent critic of President George Washington's administration (1789–1797). He charged that the federalist leadership of Alexander Hamilton and George Washington was out to enrich commercial and financial interests and was insufficiently sympathetic to farmers. He accused the federalists of passing coercive legislation, such as the Alien and Sedition Acts. In this and in his unabashed support of the French Revolution he found agreement with Thomas Jefferson (1743–1826) and James Madison (1751–1836) and became a member of the Democratic Republican Party.
After the United States fought the British to a standstill in the War of 1812 (1812–1814), the country entered a period of relative tranquility. Monroe was elected fifth president of the United States in 1816 and presided for two terms, during what is now called "the era of good feelings." During this period, President James Monroe's (1817–1825) diplomatically adept Secretary of State, John Quincy Adams, negotiated a number of treaties and agreements with other countries. The Convention of 1818 extended the northern border between the United States and British Canada along the forty-ninth parallel, from the Lake of the Woods in present day Minnesota to the Rocky Mountains in the west. Another important diplomatic accomplishment was the 1817 agreement between the United States and British Canada to restrict the number of each nation's warships on the Great Lakes. This was called the Rush-Bagot Treaty.
The most reknown diplomatic initiative of the Monroe administration was also suggested by Secretary of State John Quincy Adams. This was the Monroe Doctrine. This declaration, which the president articulated in his annual address to Congress in December 1823, warned European nations to refrain from further colonizing, or exploiting instability which might develop in the new nations in the Western Hemisphere. American "rights and interests," according to the Monroe Doctrine, dictated that newly emerging countries in the Americas were not in the future to be interfered with by any European powers. In exchange for this freedom from European intervention in the Americas (both North and South), the United States promised to not become involved in the internal affairs of Europe. Given the relative weakness of the United States as a military power prior to the American Civil War (1861–1865), this was a promise that was easy to keep.
The Monroe Doctrine addressed not only the relationship between the United States and Europe, it also announced a special relationship between the United States and Latin America. The United States would oversee and protect Latin America against European and other foreign invaders. It would also pursue commerce and capital investment with the less developed nations of Latin and South America. The Monroe Doctrine was used as justification for a U.S. policy of military intervention in the "banana republics" of Central and South America. The United States often intervened when the leaderships of these countries appeared ready to become less accommodating to American foreign investment or military interests.
At the end of Monroe's last term of office, political factions emerged in a four-way presidential race which ended in the election of John Quincy Adams (1825–1829) as the sixth president of the United States. On the occasion of Monroe's death in 1831, Adams credited Monroe with stabilizing the nation.
Monroe died in 1831. He was a courageous soldier and a determined partisan of liberty (although, like his colleagues Madison and Jefferson, he did not extend this principle to freeing his slaves). Monroe is best known for the Monroe Doctrine and for other diplomatic expressions of the new nation's nationalism during his presidency.
See also: Monroe Doctrine
Dangerfield, George. The Era of Good Feelings. New York: Harcourt, Brace & World, 1963.
Elliot, Ian, ed. James Monroe 1758–1831: Chronology, Documents, Bibliographical Aids. Dobbs Ferry, N. Y.: Oceana Publishers, 1969.
Levine, Isaac D. Hands Off the Panama Canal. Washington: Monticello Books, 1976.
May, Ernest R. The Making of the Monroe Doctrine. Cambridge: Belknap Press, 1975.
Perkins, Dexter. Hands Off. Boston: Little, Brown, 1955.
James Monroe was the fifth president of the United States. He took office on March 4, 1817, and served two terms as a very popular president. Overseeing the “Era of Good feelings,” Monroe's presidency was marked by a period of peace, national expansion, and the absence of party politics.
James Monroe was born in Westmoreland County, Virginia , on April 28, 1758. His parents, Spence and Elizabeth Jones Monroe, had a six-hundred acre plantation. Upon his father's death in 1774, Monroe and his younger siblings fell under the guardianship of his mother's brother, Joseph Jones (1727–1805). Jones was one of the most influential leaders in Virginia at the time and introduced Monroe to the world of politics.
Encouraged by his uncle, Monroe left home to attend William and Mary College in the colonial capital of Williamsburg, Virginia, in June 1774. While there, Monroe quickly became distracted by political activity. The long conflict between the king of England and the American colonists was reaching its climax. Inspired by the revolutionary cause, Monroe left college in the spring of 1776 and enlisted in the Third Virginia Infantry.
Within months of his enlistment, Monroe became a lieutenant and was fighting with George Washington (1732–1799), commander of the Continental armies, in New York . During his two and a half years of military service, Monroe participated in some of the American Revolution 's (1775–83) most historic events. He won fame and promotion to major for his heroism in aiding Washington's advance at Trenton, one of the most pivotal moments in the revolution, which turned the tide in favor of the American patriots. Though he became an aid to one of Washington's generals, Monroe preferred to be in the field, so he left his position and sought to raise his own regiment in Virginia in 1779.
Unable to raise his own regiment, Monroe returned home, where his uncle introduced him to the governor of Virginia, Thomas Jefferson (1743–1826). The meeting was the start of a long friendship for the two men, a friendship that inspired Monroe's lifelong career in politics. At Jefferson's encouragement, Monroe returned to William and Mary in 1780 and began to study law. When the capital of Virginia was moved later that year, Monroe left school again to follow his mentor Jefferson to Richmond, Virginia.
After two years of studying law under Jefferson's guidance, Monroe turned to politics. In 1782, he won an election to the Virginia legislature, the House of Burgesses . The following year, Monroe became a delegate to the Continental Congress, the forerunner of today's U.S. Congress, where he served until 1786. (See Continental Congress, First and Continental Congress, Second .)
While in New York at the Continental Congress, Monroe met his wife, Elizabeth Kortright (1768–1830). They were married on February 16, 1786, and lived briefly in New York. When Monroe's congressional term ended in October, they returned to Virginia where they soon had their first child, Eliza. It would be more than a decade before they had two more children, a son who died as an infant and another daughter, Maria. The family eventually settled on an estate in Virginia near what became Washington, D.C. At home in Virginia, Monroe combined an active law practice with management of his plantation and part-time membership in the state legislature.
After four years in private life, Monroe was called back into active politics with his election to the U.S. Senate in 1790. Monroe had voiced concerns in the state legislature about the government set forth by the U.S. Constitution . He objected to what he considered to be excessive power granted to the Senate and the president. He became a leader in the Senate and a founding member of the newly developing Democratic-Republican Party , which acted to balance the Federalist Party (the majority party at the time, which favored a strong federal government) in Congress and the overly powerful executive branch. He served in this capacity until 1794.
Over the next twenty years, Monroe would hold a number of political appointments interspersed with returns to private life on his plantation. From 1794 to 1796, he served as ambassador to France under President Washington. He went on to serve three successful terms as governor of Virginia from 1799 to 1802.
At the end of Monroe's last term as governor, President Jefferson sent Monroe to France as a special envoy. The treaty that Monroe negotiated with French emperor Napoleon Bonaparte (1769–1821) gave the Louisiana Territory, more than 800,000 square miles of land extending from the Mississippi River to the Rocky Mountains, to the United States. Upon completing that mission, Monroe was appointed ambassador to England, a post he held from July 1803 until his return to private life in the United States in December 1807.
The commercial treaty that Monroe negotiated with Britain in 1806, which did little to resolve the problem of impressment , the British practice of seizing U.S. sailors and forcing them to serve in the British navy, caused a temporary strain in his friendships with Jefferson and Secretary of State James Madison (1751–1836). The break did not last long, however, and Madison, now president, appointed Monroe to be secretary of state in 1811. Monroe served in that capacity until 1817, when he became president.
James Monroe easily won the 1816 election for president. The Federalist Party was fading, and no new party had yet risen. Those who challenged his nomination were from the same political party and far less experienced. Monroe was reelected in 1820 in an election in which he was unopposed.
Monroe's two terms of service have been called the “Era of Good Feelings” due to the general peace and stability that the nation enjoyed. Without competition from another party in the political system, Monroe's administration was able to accomplish much. Monroe and Congress spent much of their time on issues involving the admittance of new sates, territorial expansion, and the role of the federal government in establishing these new areas.
Monroe's presidency was marked by two major issues. The first involved the role of slavery in the nation. Expansion of the United States sparked a crisis between the northern and southern states that nearly caused some states to leave the Union. The debate centered on the expansion of slavery into new territories. “The Missouri Compromise” was reached after two years of debate, providing what would be a temporary solution. It established a boundary separating slave and free territories in the new parts of the country.
An international crisis was the second major issue of Monroe's presidency. Seminole Indians staged raids against the United States from the Spanish territory of Florida . In pursuing the aggressors, U.S. general Andrew Jackson (1767–1845) invaded and seized Spanish forts. Monroe quickly returned the properties to avoid war with Spain. The events triggered negotiations that resulted in the United States's acquisition of Florida.
Monroe is perhaps best remembered for establishing a model of foreign policy in the Western Hemisphere for the United States. Called the Monroe Doctrine , it set forth three basic principles as guidelines for American involvement in foreign affairs. First, Monroe announced to Europe that the United States would oppose further colonization in the New World. Second, he promised that the United States would not intervene in European quarrels unless a nation's rights were endangered. Third, Monroe insisted that Europe must not interfere with the independent republics that had been established in the Western Hemisphere. While the United States lacked the power to enforce the Monroe Doctrine, it has since evolved into a guiding force in U.S. foreign policy.
Monroe retired from politics when he left the presidency in 1825. He returned to the life of a country gentleman in his home in Virginia. Monroe busied himself by becoming a board member for the University of Virginia and by enjoying his friendships with Jefferson and Madison. In 1830, Elizabeth Monroe died. Monroe's own health quickly began to deteriorate, and he moved to New York to live with his youngest daughter. He died in New York on July 4, 1831.
(b. April 28, 1758; d. July 4, 1831) Fifth U.S. president (1817–1825).
James Monroe led a life shaped by war. As a young man he served with distinction in the Continental Army during the War of Independence, and as a two-term president (1817–1825) he avoided potential war with Spain. His most important accomplishment, however, was creating the "era of good feelings," a period of unprecedented unity and nationalism, out of the partisan bitterness left from the War of 1812.
As president, Monroe held two particular distinctions. He was the last of the so-called Virginia Dynasty of presidents, which included such luminaries as the Father of the Nation, George Washington; the author of the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson; and the framer of the Constitution, James Madison. Monroe was also the "last of the cocked hats," or the last chief executive who was a veteran of the War of Independence. He was a senator, an ambassador, and President Madison's secretary of state as well as acting secretary of war during key moments of the War of 1812.
The War of 1812 ended in peace with the Treaty of Ghent in 1814, yet in 1817, when Monroe became president, the nation still felt its effects. Monroe faced a divided nation torn across political and regional lines, and met it with an elaborate personal tour. Most significant, he visited New England, the seedbed of much partisan opposition, where he met with political rivals. A combination of his humility—paying for his expenses, traveling as a private citizen, wearing simple, Revolutionary-era clothing—and his symbolic acts—visiting key locations from the War of Independence and the War of 1812, honoring veterans, and invoking the memory of George Washington and other past war heroes—made his tour a great success. The unity and nationalism fostered by Monroe's goodwill campaign energized the country's spirit, economy, and expansion.
Monroe also faced other challenges during his tenure in executive office, many of which he inherited from his predecessors. One involved the U.S. military chain of command. General Andrew Jackson, the hero of the Battle of New Orleans during (though technically after) the War of 1812, protested the fact that one of President Madison's cabinet members had issued an order to one of Jackson's inferiors, thus bypassing Jackson. Monroe ably handled the problem with a compromise that spared Jackson's pride but also removed any block to direct orders from Washington, D.C. The situation grew more complicated when Jackson captured Spanish holdings in Pensacola without authorization. Monroe not only managed to avoid hostilities with Spain over Jackson's reckless actions, but also convinced Spain to sell its Florida lands and define boundaries for its remaining territories. The problem could have led to war, but Monroe's solution proved both peaceful and popular.
Monroe also inherited the problem of slavery from earlier presidents. Slaveholding and non-slaveholding representatives were perfectly balanced in the Senate when Missouri, a territory allowing slavery, applied for statehood, threatening to tip that balance. Maine, a northern and non-slaveholding part of Massachusetts, soon applied for statehood as well. Eventually, through the Missouri Compromise, the two territories became states, thus canceling out each other's Senate votes and preserving a fragile balance between the two opposing interests. New law prohibited slavery in territories above Missouri's northern border. The resolution avoided civil war but was only a temporary solution at best, despite Monroe's plea for an end to regional self-interest in politics.
As president, Monroe repositioned the United States on the world stage by creating a policy known as the Monroe Doctrine. Because of the increase of Latin American revolutions against colonial powers and hostilities
in Europe that threatened to spill over into other parts of the Western hemisphere, Monroe felt it was time to articulate a clear role for the United States in international affairs. Monroe pledged U.S. neutrality in Europe but explained that European powers could no longer colonize in the Americas. The Monroe Doctrine proclaimed the Western hemisphere a "hands-off zone" that would be protected by the United States.
Other challenges, such as funding internal improvements and building coherent policy toward American Indians, also arose during Monroe's administration. In the final analysis, Monroe avoided war, rethought U.S. foreign policy, erred on the side of compromise when he could, and postponed crises that had no simple solution. With his New England tour, his measured rhetoric, and his command of symbolism, Monroe built unity from a bitter postwar nation, reviving Revolutionary spirit in the unstable aftermath of the War of 1812 and ushering in the "era of good feelings."
Cunningham, Noble E., Jr. The Presidency of James Monroe. Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 1996.
Dangerfield, George. The Era of Good Feelings. Chicago: Ivan R. Dee, 1989.
Ketchum, Ralph. Presidents above Party: The First American Presidency, 1789–1829. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1984.
Monroe, James. The Papers of James Monroe. Edited by Daniel Preston. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 2003.
Sturgis, Amy. Presidents from Washington through Monroe, 1789–1825: Debating the Issues in Pro and Con Primary Documents. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 2002.
"The James Monroe Museum and Memorial Library." Mary Washington College. Available from <http://www.mwc.edu/jmmu>.
Monroe, James. "The Papers of James Monroe." The Avalon Project at Yale Law School. Available from <http://www.yale.edu/lawweb>.
Amy H. Sturgis
Monroe, James (1758-1831)
James Monroe (1758-1831)
Fifth president of the united states
Background. James Monroe was born in Westmoreland County, Virginia, on 28 April 1758 to Spence and Elizabeth Monroe, the oldest of their five children. Though well off, the Monroe family was not among Virginia’s elite. After a primary education in a private school, Monroe entered the College of William and Mary at the age of sixteen. The American Revolution interrupted his education, and he enlisted as a lieutenant in the Continental Army in 1776. He was present at several major battles and was wounded at Trenton. He caught George Washington’s attention and studied law with Thomas Jefferson, then Virginia’s governor, from 1780 to 1783. In 1786 he married Eliza Kortright, the daughter of a New York merchant who traced his ancestors to early Dutch immigrants.
Early Career. In 1782 Monroe was elected to Virginia’s state legislature and a year later entered the Confederation Congress. He realized that the Articles of Confederation were far too weak, but his fear of a strong central government led him to prefer amending them rather than creating a new government. He was not a delegate to the Constitutional Convention but was elected to the Virginia ratifying convention, where he opposed the new constitution. That did not stop him from running for U.S. representative against James Madison. Madison won decisively, but Monroe was selected to fill a vacant United States Senate position. As senator he opposed most Federalist policies but became Washington’s minister to France in 1794. Monroe sought to end French interference with American commerce, but Jay’s Treaty weakened his position, and he was recalled in 1796. Between 1799 and 1802 he was governor of Virginia. From 1803 to 1810 he served in a variety of diplomatic missions, including helping Robert Livingston negotiate the Louisiana Purchase.
Secretary of State. Monroe became Madison’s secretary of state in March 1811. Monroe believed he could resolve the complex problems raised by the Napoleonic Wars, but failed. His service as secretary of state during the War of 1812 was unremarkable, and he hoped for a military command that would raise his prestige and secure him the presidency. He was never commissioned but became secretary of war in late 1814. His brief stint as head of the War Department witnessed better American performance in the field and enhanced his reputation as an effective administrator.
Virginia Dynasty. Monroe was the fifth president and the fourth Virginian to hold the office. Elected in 1816, after the Federalist Party’s demise, Monroe served during the “Era of Good Feelings.” In the 1820 election Monroe secured all but one electoral vote cast. Few pressing domestic issues arose during his presidency though debate over internal improvements and slavery in Missouri did require his close attention. Initially a strict constructionist who vetoed internal improvement bills, he believed that national improvements for the general defense were authorized by the Constitution and signed bills to repair the Cumberland Road and build better harbors. He stayed out of the Missouri debate until congressional legislation settling the crisis arrived at his desk. Although unsure about Congress’s power to restrict slavery, he signed the bill anyway. His most momentous accomplishment was the promulgation of the Monroe Doctrine, which articulated the United States’ desire to dominate the Western Hemisphere.
Administrator. While perhaps not among the great presidents, Monroe demonstrated a remarkable ability for administration and for selecting highly effective cabinet members. He approached domestic affairs as a strict constructionist and had no clear policy to alleviate the economic dislocation of the Panic of 1819. His foreign policy, generally directed by Secretary of State John Quincy Adams, was far more successful and included the resolution of several pressing issues with Great Britain in the late 1810s, the annexation of Florida, and the Mon roe Doctrine.
Later Years. Monroe retired in 1825 after his second term and returned to Virginia. His years of public service left him in serious debt, and Congress voted him $30, 000 to settle certain claims. In 1829 he presided over Virginia’s state constitutional convention and opposed expanding the franchise or meddling with slavery. He moved to New York in 1830 and lived with his daughter until his death on 4 July 1831, exactly five years to the day after the death of his mentor and friend, Thomas Jefferson.
Harry Ammon, James Monroe: The Quest for National Identity (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1971).