Saturday, February 16, 2013

The Presidents: James Monroe

James Monroe was born April 28th, 1758 and passed away on July 4th, 1831 He was the fifth President of the United States. 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. He was of French and Scottish descent. Born in Westmoreland County, Virginia, Monroe was of the planter class and fought in the American Revolutionary War. He was injured in the Battle of Trenton with a musket ball to his shoulder. After studying law under Thomas Jefferson from 1780 to 1783, he served as a delegate in the Continental Congress. As an anti-federalist delegate to the Virginia convention that considered ratification of the United States Constitution, Monroe opposed ratification, claiming it gave too much power to the central government. He took an active part in the new government, and in 1790 he was elected to the Senate of the first United States Congress, where he joined the Jeffersonians. He gained experience as an executive as the Governor of Virginia and rose to national prominence as a diplomat in France, when he helped negotiate the Louisiana Purchase in 1803. During the War of 1812, Monroe held the critical roles of Secretary of State and the Secretary of War under President James Madison.

Facing little opposition from the fractured Federalist Party, Monroe was easily elected president in 1816, winning over 80 percent of the electoral vote and becoming the last president during the First Party System era of American politics. As president, he bought Florida from Spain and sought to ease partisan tensions, embarking on a tour of the country that was generally well received. As nationalism surged, partisan fury subsided and the "Era of Good Feelings" ensued until the Panic of 1819 struck and dispute over the admission of Missouri embroiled the country in 1820. Nonetheless, Monroe won near-unanimous reelection. Monroe supported the founding of colonies in Africa for free African Americans that would eventually form the nation of Liberia, whose capital, Monrovia, is named in his honor. In 1823, he announced the United States' opposition to any European intervention in the recently independent countries of the Americas with the Monroe Doctrine, which became a landmark in American foreign policy. His presidency concluded the first period of American presidential history before the beginning of Jacksonian democracy and the Second Party System era. Following his retirement in 1825, Monroe was plagued by financial difficulties.

James Monroe was born on April 28th, 1758, in his parents' house located in a wooded area of Westmoreland County, Virginia. The site is marked and is one mile from the unincorporated community known today as Monroe Hall, Virginia. His father Spence Monroe was a moderately prosperous planter who also practiced carpentry. His mother Elizabeth Jones married Spence Monroe in 1752 and they had several children.

His paternal great-grandfather Andrew Monroe emigrated to America from Scotland in the mid-17th century. In 1650 he patented a large tract of land in Washington Parish, Westmoreland County, Virginia. Among James Monroe's ancestors were French Huguenot immigrants, who came to Virginia in 1700.

First tutored at home by his mother Elizabeth, between the ages of 11 and 16, the young Monroe studied at Campbelltown Academy, a school run by the Reverend Archibald Campbell of Washington Parish. There he excelled as a pupil and progressed through Latin and mathematics at a rate faster than that of most boys his age. John Marshall, later Chief Justice the United States, was among his classmates.

Upon the death of his father in 1774, Monroe inherited his small plantation and slaves, officially joining the ruling class of the planter elite in what had become the slave society of Virginia. Sixteen years old, he began forming a close relationship with his maternal uncle, the influential Judge Joseph Jones, who had been educated at the Inns of Court in London and was the executor of his father's estate.

That same year, Monroe enrolled in the College of William and Mary. But in 1774, most students were charged with excitement over the prospect of rebellion against King George. The following spring, Monroe dropped out of college and joined the 3rd Virginia Regiment in the Continental Army where, as a planter, he was commissioned as an officer. He never returned to earn a degree. In June 1775, after the battles of Lexington and Concord, Monroe joined 24 older men in raiding the arsenal at the Governor's Palace. They used the loot of 200 muskets and 300 swords to arm the Williamsburg militia.

Although Andrew Jackson served as a courier in a militia unit at age thirteen, Monroe is regarded as the last U.S. President who was a Revolutionary War veteran, since he served as an officer of the Continental Army and took part in combat. He served with distinction at the Battle of Trenton, where he was shot in his left shoulder. He spent three months recuperating from his wound.

He left the war and, between 1780 and 1783, Monroe studied law as a legal apprentice under Thomas Jefferson. Monroe was not particularly interested in legal theory or practice, but chose to take it up because he thought that it offered the most immediate rewards and could ease his path to wealth, social standing, and political influence. After passing the bar, he practiced law in Fredericksburg, Virginia.

James Monroe married Elizabeth Kortright Monroe, daughter of Laurence Kortright and Hannah Aspinwall Kortright, on February 16th, 1786, in New York City. He had met her while serving with the Continental Congress, which then met in New York, the temporary capital of the new nation. After a brief honeymoon on Long Island, New York, the Monroes returned to New York City to live with her father until Congress adjourned. The Monroes had three kids: Eliza, James Spencer, and Maria Hester.

Monroe was elected to the Virginia House of Delegates in 1782. After serving for the Continental legislature, he was elected to the Fourth Continental Congress in November 1783. He was also elected to and served in the Fifth and Sixth Congresses, serving for a total of three years where he finally retired from that office by the rule of rotation. In those years, the government was meeting in the temporary capital of New York City.

In Virginia, the struggle in 1788 over the ratification of the proposed new Constitution involved more than a simple clash between federalists and anti-federalists. Virginians held a full spectrum of opinions about the merits of the proposed change in national government. George Washington and James Madison were leading supporters; Patrick Henry and George Mason were leading opponents. Those who held the middle ground in the ideological struggle became the central figures. Led by Monroe and Edmund Pendleton, these "federalists who are for amendments," criticized the absence of a bill of rights and worried about surrendering taxation powers to the central government. Virginia ratified the Constitution in June 1788, largely because Monroe, Pendleton and followers suspended their reservations and vowed to press for changes after the new government had been established.

Virginia narrowly ratified the Constitution. Monroe ran for a House seat in the 1st Congress but was defeated by Madison. In 1790 he was elected by the Virginia legislature as United States Senator. He soon joined the “Democratic-Republican” faction led by Jefferson and Madison, and by 1791 was the party leader in the Senate.

Monroe resigned his Senate seat after being appointed Minister to France in 1794. As ambassador, Monroe secured the release of Thomas Paine in revolutionary France after his arrest for opposition to the execution of Louis XVI. The government insisted that Paine be deported to the United States.

Monroe arranged to free all the Americans held in French prisons. He also gained the freedom of Madame Adrienne Lafayette and issued her and her family American passports (they had been granted citizenship by the US government for contributions during the Revolution.) She used that for travel to her husband, imprisoned in Olmutz.

A strong friend of the French Revolution, Monroe tried to assure France that Washington’s policy of strict neutrality did not favor Britain. But American policy had come to favor Britain, and Monroe was stunned by the United States' signing of the Jay Treaty in London. With France and Britain at war, the Jay Treaty alarmed and angered the French. Washington had differences with Monroe and discharged him as Minister to France, claiming his inefficiency, disruptive maneuvers, and failure to safeguard the interests of his country.


Monroe had long been concerned about foreign influence on the presidency. He was alarmed by the Spanish diplomat Don Diego de Gardoqui, who in 1785 tried to convince Congress to allow Spain to close the Mississippi River to American traffic for 30 years. Spain controlled much of the Mississippi since taking over former French territory, including the important port of New Orleans. Monroe thought that Spain could have endangered the US retention of its Southwest and caused the dominance of the Northeast. Monroe believed in both a strong presidency and the system of checks and balances.

In the 1790s he fretted over an aging George Washington being too much influenced by close advisers such as Alexander Hamilton, who Monroe thought too close to Britain. He was humiliated by Washington's criticism for his support of revolutionary France as minister to the nation. He thought foreign and Federalist elements created the Quasi War of 1798-1800, and were behind efforts to prevent the election of Thomas Jefferson as president in 1800. As governor he considered using the Virginia militia to force the outcome in favor of Jefferson. Federalists responded in kind, some seeing Monroe as at best a French dupe and at worst a traitor.

Out of office, Monroe returned to practicing law in Virginia until elected governor there as a Republican, his first term serving from 1799 to 1802. He was reelected Virginia's governor four times. He called out the state militia to suppress Gabriel’s Rebellion. Gabriel and 26 other enslaved people who participated were all hanged for treason.

President Jefferson sent Monroe to France to assist Robert R. Livingston to negotiate the Louisiana Purchase. Monroe was then appointed Minister to the Court of St. James (Britain) from 1803 to 1807. In 1806 he negotiated a treaty with Britain, known as the Monroe-Pinkney Treaty. It would extend the Jay Treaty of 1794 which had expired after ten years; Jefferson had fought the Jay Treaty intensely in 1794–95 because he felt it would allow the British to subvert American Republicanism. The treaty had produced ten years of peace and highly lucrative trade for American merchants, but Jefferson was still hostile. When Monroe and the British signed a renewal in December 1806, Jefferson decided to reject it, and not submit it to the Senate. Although the new treaty called for ten more years of trade between the U.S. and the British Empire, and gave American merchants certain guarantees that would have been good for business, Jefferson refused to give up the potential weapon of commercial warfare against Britain and was unhappy that it did not end the hated British practice of impressment of American sailors. Jefferson did not attempt to obtain another treaty, and as a result, the two nations moved from peace toward the War of 1812.

Monroe returned to the Virginia House of Delegates and was elected to another term as governor in 1811, but only served four months. He became Secretary of State in April of that year. He had little to do with the war of 1812, as President Madison and the War Hawks in Congress were dominant. The war went very badly, and when the British burned the capitol building on August 24, 1814, Madison removed John Armstrong as Secretary of War and turned to Monroe for help, appointing him
Secretary of War on September 27th. Monroe resigned as Secretary of State on October 1, but no successor was ever appointed, so he continued doing the work. Thus from October 1, 1814, to February 28, 1815, Monroe effectively held both cabinet posts. Monroe formulated plans for an offensive invasion of Canada to win the war, but a peace treaty was ratified in February 1815, before any armies moved north. Monroe therefore resigned as Secretary of War on March 15, 1815 and was formally reappointed Secretary of State. Monroe stayed on at State until March 4, 1817, when he began his term as the new President of the United States.

The congressional nominating caucus experienced little opposition during the administrations of Jefferson and Madison, but this situation changed in the election year of 1816. An indeterminate number of anti-Virginia Republicans, led by the New York delegation, objected to the caucus system along with the Federalists. Disorganization and failure to agree on William H. Crawford, Daniel Tompkins, Henry Clay, or another possible contender weakened opposition to Monroe. The boycott by Virginia delegates of the March 12 caucus removed the chances of Monroe's opponents, and he received the caucus nomination four days later. With the Federalist Party in disarray due to the unpopularity of their opposition to the war of 1812, he was easily elected. The Federalists did not even name a candidate, though Rufus King of New York did run in opposition to Monroe under the Federalist banner. King carried only Connecticut, Delaware, and Massachusetts and won only 34 of 217 electoral votes cast.

The collapse of the Federalists left Monroe with no organized opposition at the end of his first term, and he ran for reelection unopposed. The only president other than Washington to do so. A single elector from New Hampshire cast a vote for John Quincy Adams, preventing a unanimous vote in the electoral college.

Monroe largely ignored old party lines in making appointments to lower posts, which reduced political tensions and enabled the “Era of Good feelings”, which lasted through his administration. He made two long national tours in 1817 to build national trust. Frequent stops on these tours allowed innumerable ceremonies of welcome and expressions of good will. The Federalist Party continued to fade away during his administration; it maintained its vitality and organizational integrity in Delaware and a few localities, but was no longer a national factor. Lacking serious opposition, the Republican partys Congressional caucus stopped meeting, and for practical purposes the Republican Party stopped operating.

After the Napoleonic wars (which ended in 1815), almost all of Spain's and Portugal's colonies in Latin America revolted and declared independence. Americans welcomed this development as a validation of the spirit of Republicanism. Secretary of State John Quincy Adams suggested delaying formal recognition until Florida was secured. The problem of imperial invasion was intensified by a Russian claim to the Pacific coast down to the fifty-first parallel and simultaneous European pressure to have all of Latin America returned to its colonial status.

Monroe informed Congress in March 1822 that permanent stable governments had been established in the United Provinces of La Plata (present-day Argentina), Chile, Peru, Colombia and Mexico. Adams, under Monroe's supervision, wrote the instructions for the ministers (ambassadors) to these new countries. They 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 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 as 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 formally announced in his message to Congress on December 2, 1823, what was later called the Monroe Doctrine. He proclaimed that the Americas should be free from future European colonization and free from European interference in sovereign countries' affairs. It further stated the United States' intention to stay neutral in European wars and wars between European powers and their colonies, but to consider new colonies or interference with independent countries in the Americas as hostile acts toward the United States.

Although it is Monroe's most famous contribution to history, the speech was written by Adams who designed the doctrine in cooperation with Britain. Monroe and Adams realized that American recognition would not protect the new countries against military intervention to restore Spain's power. In October 1823, Richard Rush, the American minister in London, advised that Foreign Secretary George Canning was proposing that the U.S. and Britain jointly declare their opposition to European intervention. Britain, with its powerful navy, also opposed re-conquest of Latin America and suggested that the United States join in proclaiming a "hands off" policy. Galvanized by the British initiative, Monroe consulted with American leaders and then formulated a plan with Adams. Ex-Presidents Jefferson and Madison counseled Monroe to accept the offer, but Adams advised, "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 accepted Adams' advice. Not only must Latin America be left alone, he warned, but also Russia must not encroach southward on the Pacific coast. "...the American continents," he stated, "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.

The Monroe Doctrine at the time of its adoption thus pertained more to the Russians in North America than to the former Spanish colonies. The result was a system of American isolationism under the sponsorship of the British navy. The Monroe Doctrine held that the United States considered the Western Hemisphere as no longer a place for European colonization; that any future effort to gain further political control in the hemisphere or to violate the independence of existing states would be treated as an act of hostility; and finally that there existed two different and incompatible political systems in the world. The United States, therefore, promised to refrain from intervention in European affairs and demanded Europe to abstain from interfering with American matters. There were few serious European attempts at intervention.

Upon Elizabeth's death in 1830, Monroe moved to New York City to live with his daughter Maria Hester Monroe Gouverneur who had married Samuel L. Gouverneur in the White House. Monroe's health began to slowly fail by the end of the 1820s and John Quincy Adams visited him there in April 1831. Adams found him alert and eager to discuss the situation in Europe, but in ill health. Adams cut the visit short when he thought he was tiring Monroe.

Monroe died there from heart failure and tuberculosis on July 4th, 1831, thus becoming the third president who died on Independence Day, July 4th. His death came 55 years after the U.S. Declaration of Independence was proclaimed and 5 years after the death of two other Founding Fathers who became Presidents: John Adams and Thomas Jefferson. Monroe was originally buried in New York at the Gouverneur family's vault in the New York City Marble Cemetery. Twenty-seven years later in 1858 the body was re-interred to the President's Circle at the Hollywood Cemetery in Richmond, Virginia. The James Monroe Tomb is a U.S. National Historic Landmark.


"When it comes to Monroe's thoughts on religion," Bliss Isely notes, "less is known than that of any other President." No letters survive in which he discussed his religious beliefs. Nor did his friends, family or associates comment on his beliefs. Letters that do survive, such as ones written after the death of his son, contain no discussion of religion.

Monroe was raised in a family that belonged to the Church of England when it was the state church in Virginia before the Revolution. As an adult, he frequently attended Episcopal churches, though there is no record he ever took communion. Some historians see "deistic tendencies" in his few references to an impersonal God. Unlike Jefferson, Monroe was rarely attacked as an atheist or infidel. In 1832 James Renwick Willson, a Reformed Presbyterian minister in Albany, New York, criticized Monroe for having "lived and died like a second-rate Athenian philosopher.”


Monroe may have believed in an interactive God.


As Secretary of State, Monroe dismissed Mordecai Manuel Noah in 1815 from his post as consul to Tunis because he was Jewish. Noah protested and gained letters from Adams, Jefferson, and Madison supporting church-state separation and tolerance for Jews.

Monroe owned dozens of slaves. According to William Seale, he took several slaves with him to Washington to serve at the White House from 1817 to 1825. This was typical of other slaveholders, as Congress did not provide for domestic staff of the presidents at that time.

As president of Virginia's constitutional convention in the fall of 1829, Monroe reiterated his belief that slavery was a blight which, even as a British colony, Virginia had attempted to eradicate. "What was the origin of our slave population?" he rhetorically asked. "The evil commenced when we were in our Colonial state, but acts were passed by our Colonial Legislature, prohibiting the importation, of more slaves, into the Colony. These were rejected by the Crown." To the dismay of states' rights proponents, he was willing to accept the federal government's financial assistance to emancipate and transport freed slaves to other countries. At the convention, Monroe made his final public statement on slavery, proposing that Virginia emancipate and deport its bondsmen with "the aid of the Union.



Source: Wikipedia

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