Monroe, James (1758–1831)

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MONROE, JAMES (1758–1831)

James Monroe was the last veteran of the american revolution to serve as President of the United States. He had abandoned his studies at the College of William and Mary to join the army, and he rose to the rank of lieutenant colonel. He later read law under thomas jefferson and, in 1782, was elected to the legislature of his native Virginia. From 1783 to 1786 he represented Virginia in Congress, where one of his chief concerns was the unsuccessful attempt to amend the articles of confederation to provide for a stronger central government. A committee chaired by Monroe drafted an amendment that would have given Congress the power to regulate commerce, but no action was taken on the amendment.

Notwithstanding his views on the Confederation, Monroe opposed ratification of the constitution, primarily because it created too strong a central government and vested too much power in the President. He publicly professed to see in the proposed system a tendency toward monarchy and aristocracy, and he privately complained that the South would be outvoted on sectional issues.

From 1790 to 1794, Monroe represented Virginia in the United States Senate. There he was a leader of the Republican party and an opponent of the programs of alexander hamilton and especially of the bank of the united states act. He left the Senate in 1794 to become ambassador to France. He served as governor of Virginia (1799–1802), then held diplomatic posts abroad for the Jefferson administration, including an assignment as one of the negotiators of the louisiana purchase treaty. He was again elected governor in 1811 but resigned to become secretary of state under President james madison. During the War of 1812 he also acted as secretary of war.

Monroe's presidency (1817–1825) was notable for the rhetoric of constitutional literalism and strict construction. He opposed congressional schemes for federally funded internal improvements (such as highways and canals) on the grounds that there was no constitutional authority for them; but he suggested a constitutional amendment to confer such authority. In 1820, despite reservations about the constitutionality of its conditions on admission of a state, Monroe approved the missouri compromise limiting expansion of slavery in the territories. And in 1823, on the advice of Secretary of State john quincy adams, he asserted presidential control over foreign affairs by proclaiming the monroe doctrine. During his administration, the opportunity for peaceful westward development was assured by the negotiation of treaties fixing the borders of the United States with Canada and with the Spanish and Russian possessions in North America.

The most pressing constitutional question of his time was the place of slavery in the American republic. Himself a slaveholder, Monroe favored gradual, compensated emancipation followed by settlement of ex-slaves in Africa. To that end he was a founding member of the American Colonization Society; and the capital of Liberia, the African state settled through the society's efforts, was named in his honor.

Monroe's last active role in public affairs was as president of the Virginia constitutional convention of 1829.

Dennis J. Mahoney


Ammon, Harry 1971 James Monroe: The Quest for National Identity. New York: McGraw-Hill.

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Monroe, James (1758–1831)

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Monroe, James (1758–1831)