James Monroe

James Monroe by Samuel Finley Breese Morse, circa 1819

James Monroe by Samuel Finley Breese Morse, circa 1819

James Monroe, born April 28, 1758, was the fifth President of the United States in Virginia. He attended the College of William & Mary before serving in the Continental Army. Later he practiced law, a field he was particularly suited to, and one which made his parents – Spence Monroe and Elizabeth Jones – very proud.

Monroe’s service in the military was highlighted by a wound he received in Trenton. Later in 1777 he was commissioned as a Major, and later as an Aide-de-camp to William Alexander, Lord Sterling. He was further involved in battles at Brandywine and Germantown. He resigned from the army in 1778.

In 1780, he returned to Virginia to study law under Thomas Jefferson, who eventually became his mentor. He was subsequently elected to the House of Delegates in 1782 and was involved in the Congress under the Articles of Confederation. Monroe, in spite of being a good friend of Madison and Jefferson, sided with George Mason and Patrick Henry in terms of speaking against the ratification of the Constitution as he believed it gave too much power to a central government. After the ratification of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, Monroe was chosen to be a Senator and continued to work closely with Madison and Jefferson to organize the Republican Party.

Along with Thomas Jefferson, he helped to negotiate the Louisiana Purchase. After completing this purchase, Jefferson had to put aside his principles because the allowance for this type of transaction was not expressly listed in the Constitution. Waiting for a Constitutional amendment might cause the deal to fall through. Therefore, Jefferson decided to go through with the purchase. Luckily, the people of the United States basically agreed that this was an excellent move.

After the War of 1812, Monroe served two full terms as President of the United States – from 1816 to 1824. He was the last veteran of the Revolution to serve as President.

Monroe was very much a man who believed in balance and consensus. He pulled in people from all walks of life and tried to implement plans that were best for all involved – instead of the then common practice of riding a wave of support to do whatever you felt was personally best for your country.

At the time, many of the biggest parties had died out or split, leaving one largely joint Democratic-Republican Party.

James Monroe by Gilbert Stuart

James Monroe by Gilbert Stuart

Many called the time the ‘era of good feelings’, though those good feelings did not last very long. Economic depression, the rejection of Missouri as a Union state and a large struggle over slavery marred Monroe’s presidency as a tumultuous time fraught with conflict and infighting.

During the spring of 1819, the economic state reached a breaking point when several banks declared bankruptcy which dragged down the nation as a whole. Unemployment soared and the overall mood of the nation soured. The economic issues were large and complex as there was no simple solution to what ailed the country – however the population felt that Monroe should do something, even though it was largely recognized that the President was practically powerless to effect economic change.

Eventually Missouri was allowed into the Union when the Missouri Compromise bill passed – in spite of Missouri’s ongoing struggle with slavery.

Monroe’s most recognized accomplishment was the Monroe Doctrine, which he presented to Congress in 1823 – proclaiming that America should be self sustaining and free from European interests, colonization and interference. He further proclaimed that the United States would stay neutral between Europe’s superpowers.

James Monroe William James Hubbard, ca. 1832

James Monroe William James Hubbard, ca. 1832

Monroe’s ongoing quest to bring peace and unity to the United States was often expressed through his ‘for the good of the people’ statement: ‘The best form of government is that which is most likely to prevent the greatest sum of evil.’

Monroe’s struggle was personified in Spain’s desire to reclaim the Latin American colonies, a move of which the more conservative governments in Europe were supportive. Monroe did not truly recognize the sister republics until 1822, after Congress allowed various diplomatic missions. Together with John Quincy Adams, his Secretary of State, Monroe attempted to walk a tight line as he worked to convince Spain to cede the Floridas = which eventually happened in 1821.

Monroe’s terms as President were remarkable because he ran virtually uncontested in his re-election bid – such was his level of support during the election process. A man of compromise and consensus, he was often reluctant to increase the power of the centralized government. Many have called him the father of modern libertarianism.

Libertarians, by and large, believe in a policy of non-intervention, a dedication to civil liberties and the free market economy. Monroe’s beliefs were in many ways the popularization of those beliefs and values.

James Monroe died on July 4, 1831.

James Monroe Facts

  • President No.: 5th
  • When did James Monroe serve? 1817-1825
  • What was James Monroe’s party? Democratic-Republican
  • Where was James Monroe from? Virginia
  • Who was James Monroe’s wife? Elizabeth Kortright Monroe
  • When was James Monroe born? April 28th, 1758
  • Where was James Monroe born? Westmoreland County, Virginia
  • When did James Monroe die? July 4, 1831
  • Where did James Monroe die? New York, New York
  • Which college did James Monroe attend? College of William and Mary
  • What was James Monroe’s Jobs Before President? Lawyer, Ambassador to France, Governor of Virginia, represented Virginia in the Continental Congress, U.S. Senator, Secretary of State, Secretary of War
  • What was James Monroe’s height? 6 feet
  • What was the population when James Monroe was president? 9,638,453
  • What pets did James Monroe keep? His daughter had a Spaniel
  • What transportation did James Monroe use? Steamboat, horse and carriage
  • How did James Monroe communicate? Letter


James Monroe Inaugural Addresses

James Monroe State of the Union Addresses

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