The Presidents of the USA


 
 
 

Biography

 
5
James Monroe
R R R R R
 
1817-1825
 
A major agent in acquiring Louisiana and Florida, authored the celebrated American foreign policy statement, the Monroe Doctrine. His time in office has been called the Era of Good Feeling.


Born: Apr. 28, 1758, Westmoreland County, Va.
Political partyDemocratic-Republican
EducationCollege of William and Mary, 1774-76
Military service 3rd Virginia Infantry, 1776-80 (Major). Hero of the battle of Trenton
Previous public office♦ Virginia House of Delegates, 1782, 1787, 1810
♦ Continental Congress, 1783-86
♦ Annapolis Convention, 1786
♦ Virginia constitutional ratifying convention, 1788
♦ U.S. Senate, 1790-94
♦ minister to France, 1794-97
♦ governor of Virginia, 1799-1802
♦ minister to Great Britain, 1803-7
♦ U.S. secretary of state, 1811-17
♦ U.S. secretary of War, 1814-15
DiedJuly 4, 1831, New York, N.Y.
picture of James Monroe



Early Life

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.



Political Career

In 1782 he served in the Virginia Governor's Council, then in the Congress under the Articles of Confederation from 1783 to 1786. Although he opposed ratifying the new U.S. Constitution, Monroe soon took part in national politics. He was defeated by James Madison for a seat in the House of Representatives in 1788, but two years later was selected by the Virginia legislature for a seat in the U.S. Senate, where he opposed the Federalist economic programs of Alexander Hamilton.

President George Washington appointed Monroe to be U.S. minister to France. He refused to defend the Jay Treaty with Great Britain to the French government and Washington recalled him. He published a defense of his conduct and an attack on the Federalist foreign policy in a book, A View of the Conduct of the Executive in the Foreign Affairs of the United States (1797). He then served three terms as governor of Virginia.

In 1803 President Jefferson appointed Monroe to a mission to France to purchase New Orleans. Finding that Emperor Napoleon wished to sell even more land, Monroe exceeded his instructions and negotiated a treaty to purchase the entire Louisiana Territory. The following year, however, he failed in an attempt to negotiate the purchase of Florida from Spain. In 1806 he negotiated a commercial treaty with Great Britain that seemed so favorable to the British that President Jefferson refused to submit it to the Senate. In response, Monroe entered the Presidential contest in an attempt to defeat Jefferson's protégé, James Madison. But in a replay of their 1788 contest, Madison defeated Monroe once again, this time for the Democratic-Republican caucus nomination.

In spite of their political rivalry, Madison appointed Monroe secretary of state in 1811. Simultaneously appointed secretary of war just after the British sacking of the capital in 1814, Monroe prevented an outright British victory, and he oversaw a favorable peace treaty that ended the War of 1812. By a narrow margin the Democratic-Republican congressional caucus nominated him for the Presidency in 1816. He handily won the general election against Federalist candidate Rufus King.



Presidency

Since the Capitol had been burned to the ground by the British, Monroe's inauguration took place at the Brick Capitol, a temporary meeting hall for Congress. The Monroes could not move into the President's House (later "the White House") for six months, and Congress could not use the Capitol again until 1819.

Monroe's two terms saw the disappearance of the Federalist party and the brief establishment of a “no party” period known as the Era of Good Feelings. Sectional conflicts among the North, South, and West took the place of party competition. Monroe was reelected in 1820 by a 231-to-1 vote in the electoral college. The one dissenting vote was cast by William Plumer, an elector from New Hampshire, because he wished to reserve the honor of a unanimous vote for Washington alone.

Monroe appointed an exceptional cabinet: John Quincy Adams as secretary of state, John C. Calhoun as secretary of war, William Crawford as secretary of the Treasury, and William Wirt as attorney general—all men of Presidential stature. The cabinet met 180 times during Monroe's two terms, and most decisions were made by consensus.

In domestic affairs Monroe reduced taxes and paid off much of the public debt. He signed the Missouri Compromise of 1820, which forbade slavery in the Louisiana Territory above the southern boundary of Missouri, in spite of his doubts that Congress had the constitutional power to exclude slavery from any part of the Union. The compromise preserved sectional peace. Monroe vetoed the Cumberland Road Bill in 1822 because he did not think it was constitutional for the national government to charge tolls for national roads. The following year, however, he submitted his own public works program for construction of roads and canals, to be funded by the national government out of general revenues.

Monroe sparked a constitutional controversy when, in 1817, he sent General Andrew Jackson to move against Spanish Florida to pursue hostile Seminole Indians and punish the Spanish for aiding them. News of Jackson's exploits ignited a congressional investigation of the 1st Seminole War. Dominated by Democratic-Republicans, the 15th Congress was generally expansionist and more likely to support the popular Jackson. After much debate, the House of Representatives voted down all resolutions that condemned Jackson in any way, thus implicitly endorsing Monroe's actions and leaving the issue surrounding the role of the executive with respect to war powers unanswered.

Monroe believed that the Indians must progress from the hunting stage to become an agricultural people, noting in 1817, "A hunter or savage state requires a greater extent of territory to sustain it than is compatible with progress and just claims of civilized life.

Monroe's major accomplishments were in foreign affairs. In 1818 the United States settled its fishing disputes with Canada, which involved the right of Americans to fish off the coast of Labrador. By the Adams-Onis Treaty (1819) the United States acquired Florida from Spain and all Spanish claims to the Oregon Territory were granted instead to the United States.

The United States recognized the newly independent nations of Latin America, and the Monroe Doctrine established the principles that European states were neither to colonize in the New World nor interfere with the governments there. Monroe's only significant failure involved the Senate, which refused to consent to a treaty with Great Britain that would have allowed navies of both nations to put an end to the illegal trade in African slaves.



Retirement

Monroe retired in 1825 to Oak Hill, his Virginia plantation. During his retirement he was plagued by financial difficulties.

He acted as a regent of the University of Virginia and presided over the Virginia state constitutional convention in 1829. He died on a visit to New York City on July 4, 1831.



Legacy

Much of Monroe's career was closely associated with his two presidential predecessors. Monroe was the last president who was a Founding Father of the United States, the third of them to die on Independence Day, and the last president from the Virginia dynasty and the Republican Generation.

His presidency concluded the first period of American presidential history before the beginning of Jacksonian democracy and the Second Party System era.

Compared to other presidencies of that first period, Monroe's administration was relatively free of quarrels between Americans. His time in office has been called the Era of Good Feeling.

Monroe's presidency contributed significantly to national defense and security. His Monroe Doctrine became a landmark in American foreign policy,




 
 
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