James Monroe (1758-1831)

Figure 1.--.

James Monroe was the 5th president, another Virginian-born planter president. Monroe's greatest achievement was probably many years before he became president--the negotiation of the Louisana Purchase treaty with France. There were, however major accomplishments achieved by his administration. The Nissouri Compromise defused the slavery issue for a generation. In addituon the Monroe Doctrine which became a cornerstone of Anerican diplomacy was issued by his administration.


Monroe's prents ere members of the minor gentryb of the Virginia upper neck.


James was born in Westmoreland County, Virginia (1758).

Childhood Clothing


Monroe attended the College of William and Mary. He had minor prospects as a young man tomanage a small plantation or for a modest law practice.

Revolutionary War

A young James Monroe joined the Continental Army. He was the only president of the Revolutionary War generation to be a certified war hero. The Revolution was for Monroe the great struggle of his age and after the War he would consciously use the Revolution as a great symbol on national unity. His first action was with a group of school friends at William and Mary College. They raided the govenor's mansion and turned arms held them there over to the local militia (1775). He was commisioned a lieutenant in the 3rd Virginia Infantry. He then went ith the Regiment to join Washington's Continental Army in New York. He fought at Harlan Heights and White PLains. And then retreated south with the Army. He destinguished himself at arguaably the key battle of the War--Trenton. He was a part of the advanced guard that crossed the Deleware before the Army, securing the roads to Trenton. Duting the actual battle in Trenton he was severly wounded while attacking the Hessians, taking a musket ball in the chest. He almost died. The ball was so deeply embeded, he lived with for the rest of his life. He was promoted to captain and returned to Virginia to recover and help recruit. When he rejoined the Continental Army, he was promoted again to major. He fought at Brandywine, Germantown, and Monmouth. He spent the winter at Valley Forge. The Continental Army had more officers than men to command. Monroe got a staff appointment which he did not like. He returned to Virginia which was organizing four new regiments to protect the state as the fighting shifted south. Monroe was appointed colonel to command one of the regiments, but Virgini was able to affird to arm four regiments or recruit the men. Monroe never got his command. He liked the title and for the rest of his like was often called Colonel Nonroe. This was essentially the the end of his military career. Jeffereson sent him to North Carolina as an observer and he served with the Virginia militia, but he saw no further action.


Monroe is described with some accuracy as scrupously honest. His character is somewhat mared, however, by his role in the scandal involving an ilicit affair of Secretary of the Treasury Alexander Hamilton.

Legal Career

After the Revolutinary War, Monroe practiced law in Fredericksburg, Virginia.

Political Career

Monrie as a young lawyer and war hero was active in state government. He was elkected to the Continent Congress (1783). Monroe's first impotaant political activities were at the Virginia Convention that considered the new Federal Constitution. He joined the anti-Federalist faction. Monroe was elected to the U.S. Senate (1790). He was a strong supporter of Jefferson. He differed with Jefferson and Madison, however, on the need for a strong military. He was appointed Minister to France (1794-96). He was sympathetic to the French Revolution. Later after Napoleon had seized power, he and Robert R. Livingston helped negotiate the Louisiana Purchase (1803).

War of 1812

When America declared war on Britain, Monroe wanted a cimmission tgo join the Army. There was talk of giving him command of the Army. Both he amd Madison, however, his abilities were better used as secretary of state. He did take the field when the British moved on Washington.

Election of 1816

Monroe was a close associate of President Madison who appointed him Secretary of State. This was the most prestigious post in Government at the time after the presidency. Monroe was well known and his destinguished service in the Revolution and success as a diplomat made him a popular candidate. His service in the Continental Army had helped him make acquintences with men from all over America. President Madison supported him for the presidency which helped him obtain the Republican nomination. The Federalists were no longer a creditable national party. As a result Monroe easily won the 1816 election.

Presidency (1817-25)

Monroe appointed an impressive cabinent, including some of the leading figures in American political life at the time. He appointed Southerner, John C. Calhoun, as Secretary of War. He balabced this by appointing northerner, John Quincy Adams, as Secretary of State. He wanted westener Henry Clay in the cabinent, but Clay declined. Monroe early in his administration conducted a goodwill tour. . Monroe proved popular and was able to win reelection in 1820. He persued nationalist policies. A severe depression tarnished his administration (1819).

National unity

The primary domestic policy onjective of President Monroe was to promote national unity. The War of 1812 had proven divisive. New England in particular suffered because its maritime industry was ruined by the Royal Navy. There was even talk of dis-union. It was thus that the first stage of Monroe's good will tour was New England. The purpose was both to persue unity and to promote his policy of trengthening defenses by building coastal fortifications. At the time there were two primary symbols of the American Republic. One was the Revolutiionary struggle the other was the Constitution. The Revolutionary War at the time was by far the most potent. And Monroe used the symbol of the Revolution to promote unity. He saw the Revolution as the defining event of the age and used the Revolution to pull americans together. And Americans responded. His war servive was well known. And he was the last president of the Revolutionary War generation. He was an adroit politican and used this smbolism to the hilt. New Englanders responded to him. In fact he was given a hero's welcome. He would seek out ocomrads and other veterans on these tours. In particular he would meet with the Society of Cincinatus. This franternal order was a Federalist stringhold, yet Monroe as a war hero struck a cord with them. It is at this time that Boston newspaper editor described what he saw as "Era of Good Feelings". That was an exageration, but based on what was to come after Monroe, his administration is often described with that title. But New England was only one section. And Monror's goodwill tours took him as farcweat as Detroit. This had bee wrestled from the British as a result of William Henry Harrison's victories during the War. Monroe was well aware of other sectional interests that were pulling America apart. In fact he persued a curious blend of nationalism and state's rights. He understood that the states all had their own individual interests. He thought it was important that they have the power to persue those interests, but he also understood that only a union and a national government could prevent conflict between states and threats from foreign powers.


Monroe was especially interested in Revolutionarfy War veterans. He used the power of patrinage and pardon to assist veteransd and their families.

Missouri Compromise

The major issue the Nonroe Adninistration confronted was Missori. Missoyuri wanted to join the Union as a slave state. Opposition to the spread of slavery was growing and the application of the Missouri Territory was rejected. The result was 2 years of highly inflamatory sectional debate in Congress. The impsse was finally resolved by the Missouri Compromise. Missouri as a slave state ws paired with with Maine, a free state. And slvery was permanently barred in the western territories notyh of the southern border of Missouri. The compromise defused the slavery issue for a generation. It was only when the South undid the Missouri Compromise (1850) that the efforts to extend slavery would eventully lead to Civil War.

Foreign affairs

Monroe assumes office after Napoleon's defeat at Waterloo (1815) and the Congress of Vienna attempted to return Europe to conservative monarchy and authocracy. There was a desire to assist Spain in reimposing its rule in the newly independent Latin American republics. The Monroe Doctrine expressed opposition to European colonial rule. Monroe moved cautiously in this area. America had a very small mavy and was not a great power. Actually British oposition to Spain reimposing its rule was more important because the British Royal Navy had the power to prevent it. The British approached the Administration suggesting a joint proclamation. Ex-Presidents Jefferson and Madison both advised Monroe to join with the British. Secretary Adams, however, advised differently. He suggested, "It would be more candid ... to avow our principles explicitly to Russia and France, than to come in as a cock-boat in the wake of the British man-of-war." Monroe took Adams's advice. He not only expressed concern with the Latin American Republics, but warned Russia ot move southward on the Pacific coast. He insisted "... 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 Power." It was only 20 years later after President Monroe died (1831) that the declaration became known as the Monroe Doctrine. The Administration wanted to acquire Florida from Spain and did want want to antagonize the Spanish Government. Only after Florida was acquired (1821) did the Administratiin begin recognizing the new independent Latin American republics (1822). Monroe worked carefully with Adams on this.

Monroe's Vision

Monroe was realistic enough to understand that national symbols not matter how effectively employed would resonve thecserious sectional division. He hoped, however, that symbols like the Revolution would help create a harmonious spirit and commom ground through which compromises could be worked out to hold the union tgogether. It worked for Monroe as a war hero. But he was the last of the Revilutionary generation and the veterans of the War were giving way to a new generation. Thus future presudents would have to find new ways of promoting unity in an era in which sectional differences continued to develop. Monroe's efforts and the Missouri Compromise, however, managed to defuse section rancor for a generation.

Election of 1824

The election of 1824 proved to be one of the most divisive in American history. President Monroe declined to endorse a successor. He expected a contentious election and convinced Congress to invite another war hero, the Marquis de Lafayette to visit America. He hoped that Lafayette would reminf Americans of their common struggle and help defuse the rancor of the election. The candidates were unable to obtain a majority in the Electoral Comgress. The electuin was thrown into the House of Representatives. Monroe made sure that Laffayette was swith him in Washingtom as the House settled the election.


She was an invalid and unable to serve the social function as First Lady.


The Monroes had three childre, two of which survived infancy.

Eliza Kortright (1786-1835)

Eliza was educated in Oaris while her father served as U.S. Ambassador. She became very Eiropean in oitlook and tastes, loving the cultured European lifestyle. She married George Hay, a orominant Americam lawyer. With her cultured Eurpean styles, she was the perfect White House hostess. She came to be seen as pretensious by the Washington social scene, including foreign diplomats. When her father died, she went back to France. She converted to Catholicism shortly before she died.

J.S. (1799-1801)

Monroe's only son died at age 2 years.

Maria Hester (1803-1850)

Maria wa birn in 1903, the year her father helped negotiate the Louisiana Purchase. She married Samuel Lawrence Gouverneur, a junir iofficial in her gather's administration, in 1820. They moved to New York where her husband became postmaster. After the death of his wife, Monroe near bankruptsy, lived his last years with his daughter and son and law.


Preston, Daniel. ed. The Papers of James Monroe.


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Created: March 23, 2003
Last changed: 10:44 AM 2/15/2007