James Monroe (1758-1831)/Biography

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James Monroe

In office
March 4, 1817 – March 4, 1825
Vice President Daniel D. Tompkins
Preceded by James Madison
Succeeded by John Quincy Adams

In office
April 2, 1811 – September 30, 1814
February 28, 1815March 4, 1817
President James Madison
Preceded by Robert Smith
Succeeded by John Quincy Adams

In office
September 27, 1814 – March 2, 1815
President James Madison
Preceded by John Armstrong
Succeeded by William H. Crawford

In office
January 16, 1811 – April 5, 1811
Preceded by George William Smith
Succeeded by George William Smith

In office
December 19, 1799 – December 1, 1802
Preceded by James Wood
Succeeded by John Page

Born April 28, 1758(1758-04-28)
Westmoreland County
Died July 04, 1831 (age 73)
New York, New York
Nationality American
Political party Democratic-Republican
Spouse(s) Elizabeth Kortright Monroe
Occupation Farmer (Planter)
Religion nominal Episcopal [1]
Signature James Monroe Signature.png

James Monroe (April 28, 1758July 4, 1831) was the fifth President of the United States (1817-1825), and the fourth Virginian to hold the office. Monroe, a close ally of Thomas Jefferson, was a diplomat who supported the French Revolution. He played a leading role in the War of 1812 as secretary of war and secretary of state under James Madison. Elected in 1816, his administration was marked by the acquisition of Florida (1819); the Missouri Compromise (1820), in which Missouri was declared a slave state; and the profession of the Monroe Doctrine (1823), declaring U.S. opposition to European interference. Although a long-time Democratic-Republican, Monroe deemphasized partisanship during his presidency, which became known as the Era of Good Feelings.

Early YearsEdit

James Monroe was born in Westmoreland County, Virginia on April 28, 1758, the son of a modest planter. He entered the College of William and Mary in July 1774, but, caught up by the fervor of the revolutionary spirit, he enlisted in the Third Virginia Regiment in the spring of 1776. As a lieutenant he saw action in the battles in New York preceding Washington's retreat into New Jersey, and he distinguished himself in a vanguard action at Trenton, where he was seriously wounded. For two years he served as an aide with the rank of colonel to Gen. William Alexander (Lord Stirling). He was present during the winter of Valley Forge (1777-1778) and participated in the Battle of Monmouth.

In 1780, Monroe returned to Virginia to study law under Thomas Jefferson, who became a lifelong friend, patron, and major influence on his intellectual development. Monroe was elected to the Virginia House of Delegates in 1782, and his abilities and total dedication to public service won him election in 1783 to the Confederation Congress, where he sat until 1786. Here he organized the opposition to the Jay-Gardoqui proposals, by which the United States would have yielded to Spain its claim to the free navigation of the Mississippi River. He also helped lay the groundwork for territorial government embodied in the Northwest Ordinance of 1787. While in Congress, Monroe joined the advocates of a stronger government, continuing the work of his friend James Madison. Yet as a member of the Virginia ratifying convention he joined Patrick Henry and George Mason in opposing the ratification of the U.S. Constitution. He considered it defective in the excessive power granted the Senate and in authorizing direct taxes.

In 1789, now a married man, he settled in Albemarle County to be close to Jefferson. Monroe's wife, the former Elizabeth Kortright of New York, was regarded as one of the great beauties of the day. Reserved and rather cold in her manner, she was to bring to the White House a formality not always relished by Washingtonians. There in Albemarle County their two daughters, Eliza and Maria Hester, were born. His only son, James Spence, died in infancy.

Opponent of the FederalistsEdit

Elected to the United States Senate in 1790, James Monroe joined James Madison (then in the House of Representatives) in combating Hamilton's domestic measures, which emphasized centralization of powers in the federal government. He also opposed Washington's seemingly pro-British foreign policy. Monroe worked with Jefferson and Madison in organizing the Democratic-Republican Party. His contribution lay in the realm of political strategy and in establishing liaison with anti-Hamilton forces in other states. He also ably assisted Madison in defending the Democratic-Republican position in the press.

In 1794, when Washington dispatched Federalist John Jay on a mission to Turkey, Monroe was named minister to France in the hope that this would appease Democratic-Republican critics of the administration who feared a diplomatic rupture with France. Because Monroe conceived the purpose of his mission as the preservation of Franco-American amity in the face of Washington's pro-British stance, he acted more as a Democratic-Republican party spokesman than as the representative of his government. Dissatisfaction with his conduct led to his recall in 1797, engineered by Secretary of State Timothy Pickering. Monroe defended himself by publishing a harsh attack on Washington's foreign policy.

From 1799 to 1802, Monroe served as governor of Virginia, demonstrating great administrative ability and winning praise for his decisive action to suppress a slave uprising (Gabriel's Insurrection) in 1800.

Diplomat for JeffersonEdit

Concerned because Spain was closing the Mississippi River to American navigation in preparation for the recently negotiated retrocession of Louisiana to France, President Jefferson sent Monroe to France in 1803 as a special envoy to assist Minister Robert R. Livingston in purchasing a port of deposit on the lower Mississippi River. On his arrival Napoleon presented Livingston and Monroe with the choice of buying all of Louisiana or nothing. Although not authorized by their instructions they promptly accepted, a decision approved by Jefferson in spite of his doubts about the constitutionality of such an extensive territorial acquisition. Popular approval of the Louisiana Purchase established Monroe securely as a national figure, whose elevation to the presidency was but a matter of time.

From 1803 to 1807, Monroe served as minister to Britain. In 1805 he went to Madrid in a fruitless attempt to persuade Spain to acknowledge the American claim that West Florida should be included in the Louisiana Purchase. In 1806 he and William Pinkney (sent as a special envoy) negotiated a treaty providing for some relaxation of Britain's commercial restrictions. Because the treaty lacked provisions for ending the impressment of American seamen, Jefferson did not submit it to the Senate for ratification. Monroe, convinced that the treaty contained the best obtainable terms, was deeply offended. In 1808, Monroe ran against Madison, whom he blamed for the rejection of the treaty, for the presidency in Virginia, more as a protest than as a serious candidate. He received little support, and Madison was elected president.

Madison's cabinetEdit

Monroe served in the Virginia assembly in 1810 and again in 1811.In the latter year President Madison, facing a Federalist resurgence and divisions in the Democratic-Republican party, appointed Monroe secretary of state. The appointment restored Monroe's friendship with Jefferson and Madison.

Admired as a practical man by younger congressmen, Monroe formed excellent working relations with Congress and obtained the cooperation of the so-called War Hawks in advancing administration programs. After the outbreak of the War of 1812 with Britain, Monroe's desire for a military command was frustrated by Secretary of War John Armstrong. The latter believed that Monroe had deprived Robert R. Livingston, Armstrong's brother-in-law, of his rightful claim to be the negotiator of the Louisiana Purchase.

In 1814, after the British invasion of Washington, which was widely laid to Armstrong's failure to mount a proper defense of the city, President Madison replaced the disgraced secretary of war with Monroe, who thus held two cabinet posts. A capable and active administrator, Monroe restored the morale of Washingtonians. The war ended, however, before the full effect of his reorganization of the War Department could be felt.

His service in the cabinet had made Monroe an obvious choice for president in 1816. The Democratic-Republican congressional caucus chose him as the party's candidate over William H. Crawford, who had succeeded Monroe as secretary of war. The Federalist Party had been badly damaged--fatally, as it turned out--by its opposition to the War of 1812. In the election Monroe easily defeated New York Senator Rufus King, the last Federalist candidate for president, by 183 to 34 in the voting of the Electoral College.

Presidency 1817-1825: The Era of Good FeelingsEdit


James Monroe, oil on canvas, c. 1820 by Gilbert Stuart, the Metropolitan Museum of Art.


White House state china service, Monroe administration, c. 1817 by P.L. Dagoty, Paris, France. James Monroe came into the White House amidst reconstruction following the British burning of the house in August 1814. The Monroe service features a polychromed enamel American eagle in a more naturalistic representation than that on the Great Seal. The five outer allegorical cartouches illustrate Strength, the Arts, Commerce, the Sciences, and Agriculture.


The new president adopted a conciliatory policy toward the Federalist critics of the war. Immediately after his inauguration, Monroe toured the New England states, where there had been talk of brief unity and secession.

Acquisition of FloridaEdit

Monroe's greatest achievements as president lay in foreign affairs. Ably supported by Secretary of State John Quincy Adams, he made substantial territorial additions and gave American policy a distinctly national orientation. Monroe welcomed an opportunity to press Spain to cede Florida and define the boundaries of Louisiana. His chance came when Gen. Andrew Jackson invaded Florida in 1818. In pursuit of hostile Indians, Jackson seized the posts of St. Marks and Pensacola, acts that many regarded as violations of congressional war powers. In the cabinet, Adams, an expansionist, urged Jackson's complete vindication, while Crawford and Calhoun demanded that he be reprimanded for exceeding his instructions.

Monroe chose a middle course; the posts were restored to Spain, but the administration accepted Jackson's explanation that his action had been justified by conditions in Florida. The incident led Spain to cede Florida and define, favorably to American claims, the boundary of the Louisiana Purchase in the Adams-Onís Treaty negotiated in 1819.

The Monroe DoctrineEdit

The revolutions in Spain's American colonies, which had begun in the Napoleonic era, had aroused great sympathy in the United States. Monroe, however, held back recognition, in spite of congressional pressure exerted by Henry Clay until 1822, after Spain had ratified the Adams-Onís Treaty. The South American revolutions raised the possibility of intervention by the European powers linked in an alliance--commonly, but erroneously, known as the Holy Alliance--to suppress these revolutions as they had done in Europe. Britain, prospering from newly opened Latin American trade, opposed this move. In 1823, Foreign Minister George Canning proposed, through Richard Rush, the American minister, that the two nations jointly express their hostility to intervention. Monroe consulted Jefferson and Madison, who favored acceptance. The cabinet was divided, with only Adams strongly opposed.

Anxious to assert American independence in foreign policy, Monroe rejected the British offer, opting for a policy statement in his annual message of December 1823. In this statement, subsequently known as the Monroe Doctrine, he declared that the United States would regard any interference in the internal affairs of American states as an unfriendly act. At Adams' suggestion, Monroe included a declaration aimed at Russia that the United States considered the American continents closed to further colonization. While greeted with enthusiasm by Americans, Monroe's statement received little notice in Europe or South America, and it had no effect on European policy. England's declared opposition blocked intervention by other nations.

One of his most famous lines is, "National honor is national property of the greatest value."

Domestic policiesEdit

In an administration committed to limited government, domestic policies received less attention. Monroe's most positive program was the construction of a network of coastal fortifications to guard against future invasions. Although extensive construction was begun, the program was drastically reduced after the Panic of 1819, when government revenues fell sharply. The panic of 1819 was considered the first major depression in U.S. history. The Panic of 1819 was largely caused by overspeculation in the western frontier. Monroe, interpreting the economic crisis in the narrow monetary terms then current, limited governmental action to economizing and to ensuring fiscal stability. Although he agreed to the need for improved transportation facilities, he refused to approve appropriations for internal improvements without prior amendment of the Constitution.

The calm of the Era of Good Feelings was permanently shattered by the Missouri crisis of 1819-1820, which exposed an unsuspected depth of sectional hostility. Monroe's role in the conflict was peripheral, because it was contrary to Democratic-Republican doctrine for the executive to exert direct pressure on Congress. Once the compromise was worked out, Monroe gave it his full support. It admitted Maine as a free state and Missouri without restriction on slavery, barring slavery north of the 36 degrees 30' line of latitude within the Louisiana Territory.This later became a part of the Louisiana Purchase.

Monroe shared the widely held view that the effort to restrict slavery in Missouri sprang not from a selfless concern for the welfare of the slaves but from the ambitions of ex-Federalists and discontented Democratic-Republicans, notably Gov. DeWitt Clinton of New York, to revive the two-party system on a sectional basis. The Missouri crisis had no effect on the presidential election of 1820. The Federalist party had disappeared as a force in national politics, and Monroe, unopposed, got all of the electoral votes but one.

Monroe's second term was rendered uncomfortable by the bitterness created by the Missouri debates and by the rivalry of the aspirants to succeed him as president. In the absence of party machinery, they sought to advance their individual candidacies by attacking administration policies. The activities of Crawford's supporters seeking to damage Secretary of State Adams caused a major setback in foreign policy in 1824, when the Senate so amended an Anglo-American agreement to suppress the international slave trade that the British government refused to ratify. As a result, hopes for an Anglo-American rapprochement were crushed. Calhoun's rivals also blocked administration efforts (Indian affairs were then under the War Department) to begin a more generous policy toward Indians.

Administration and CabinetEdit

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The Monroe Cabinet
Office Name Term
President James Monroe1817–1825
Vice President Daniel D. Tompkins1817–1825
Secretary of State John Q. Adams1817–1825
Secretary of Treasury William H. Crawford1817–1825
Secretary of War John C. Calhoun1817–1825
Attorney General Richard Rush1817
William Wirt1817–1825
Postmaster General Return J. Meigs1817–1823
John McLean1823–1825
Secretary of the Navy Benjamin W. Crowninshield1817–1818
Smith Thompson1819–1823Samuel L. Southard1823–1825

Supreme Court appointmentsEdit

Monroe appointed the following Justices to the Supreme Court of the United States:

States admitted to the Union Edit

States admitted during Monroe's Presidency:


When leaving his presidency expired on March 4, 1825, James Monroe lived at Monroe Hill on the grounds of the University of Virginia. This university's modern campus was Monroe's family farm from 1788 to 1817, but he had sold it in the first year of his presidency to the new college. He served on the college's Board of Visitors under Jefferson and then under the second rector and another former President James Madison, until his death.

Monroe had racked up many debts during his years of public life. As a result, he was forced to sell off his Highland Plantation (now called Ash Lawn-Highland; it is owned by his alma mater, the College of William and Mary, which has opened it to the public). Throughout his life, he was not financially solvent, and his wife's poor health made matters worse. [2] For these reasons, he and his wife lived in Oak Hill until Elizabeth's death on September 23, 1830.


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 first White House wedding. Monroe died there from heart failure and tuberculosis on July 4, 1831, becoming the third president to die on the 4th of July. His death came 55 years after the U.S. Declaration of Independence was proclaimed and 5 years after the death of Presidents John Adams and Thomas Jefferson. He was originally buried in New York at the Gouverneur family vault in the New York City Marble Cemetery. Twenty-seven years later in 1858 he was re-interred to the President's Circle at Hollywood Cemetery in Richmond.


Statue of Monroe at Ash Lawn-Highland

Religious beliefs Edit

"When it comes to Monroe's ...thoughts on religion", Bliss Isely comments in his The Presidents: Men of Faith, "less is known than that of any other President." He burned much of his correspondence with his wife, and no letters survive in which he might have discussed his religious beliefs. Nor did his friends, family or associates write about his beliefs. Letters that do survive, such as ones written on the occasion of 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, and as an adult frequently attended Episcopalian churches, though there is no record he ever took communion. He has been classified by some historians as a Deist, and he did use deistic language to refer to God. Jefferson had been attacked as an atheist and infidel for his deistic views, but never Monroe. Unlike Jefferson, Monroe was not anticlerical. [Holmes 2003]

Trivia Edit


  • Harry Ammon. James Monroe: The Quest for National Identity (1990) (ISBN 0-8139-1266-0), full length biography
  • Samuel Flagg Bemis, John Quincy Adams and the Foundations of

American Foreign Policy (1949), is a standard study of Monroe's foreign policy.

  • Noble E. Cunningham, Jr. The Presidency of James Monroe (American Presidency Series.) University Press of Kansas. (1996)
  • George Dangerfield. The Era of Good Feelings (1952).
  • George Dangerfield. The Awakening of American Nationalism: 1815 - 1828 (1965)
  • Heidler, David S. "The Politics of National Aggression: Congress and the First Seminole War." Journal of the Early Republic 1993 13(4): 501-530. ISSN 0275-1275 Fulltext: in Jstor. Abstract: Monroe sparked a constitutional controversy when, in 1817, he sent General Andrew Jackson to move against Spanish Florida in order to pursue hostile Seminoles 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. Ulterior political agendas of many congressmen dismantled partisan and sectional coalitions, so that Jackson's opponents argued weakly and became easily discredited. 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.
  • David L. Holmes, The Faiths of the Founding Fathers, May 2006, online version
  • Ernest R. May, The Making of the Monroe Doctrine (1975), argues it was issued to influence the outcome of the presidential election of 1824.
  • Bradford Perkins, Castlereagh and Adams: England and the United States, 1812-1823 (1964)
  • Dexter Perkins, The Monroe Doctrine, 1823-1826 (1927), the standard monograph about the origins of the doctrine.
  • Scherr, Arthur. "James Monroe on the Presidency and 'Foreign Influence;: from the Virginia Ratifying Convention (1788) to Jefferson's Election (1801)." Mid-America 2002 84(1-3): 145-206. ISSN 0026-2927. Abstract: Analyzes Monroe's concern over untoward foreign influence on the presidency. He was alarmed at Spanish diplomat Diego María de Gardoqui, involving a US attempt to secure the opening of the Mississippi River to American commerce. Here Monroe saw Spain overinfluencing the republic, which could have risked the loss of the Southwest or dominance of the Northeast. Monroe placed faith in a strong presidency and the system of checks and balances. In the 1790s he fretted over an aging George Washington being too heavily influenced by close advisers like Hamilton who was too close to Britain. Monroe opposed the Jay Treaty and was humiliated when Washington criticized for his support of revolutionary France while he was minister to France. He saw foreign and Federalist elements in the genesis of the Quasi War of 1798-1800 and in efforts to keep Thomas Jefferson away from the presidency in 1801. 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. Monroe thus contributed to a paranoid style of politics.
  • Scherr, Arthur. "Governor James Monroe and the Southampton Slave Resistance of 1799." Historian 1999 61(3): 557-578. ISSN 0018-2370 Fulltext online in SwetsWise and Ebsco. Abstract: Assesses Monroe's views on slavery as governor of Virginia from 1799 to 1802, emphasizing Monroe's moderate view of slaveholding during a slave uprising in Southampton County in October 1799. Monroe took pains to see that the charged rebels received proper legal treatment, demonstrating a marked concern for their civil rights. He conducted an exhaustive investigation into the incident and saw to it the slaves involved received a fair trial. Although he opposed abolition, Monroe supported African colonization proposals and gradual, compensated emancipation. When the occasion warranted, as in Gabriel Prosser's rebellion of 1800, Monroe took an unpopular position in supporting fair trials and attempting to explain and justify slave actions. In the final analysis, Monroe believed in the eventual demise of slavery.
  • Leonard D. White, The Jeffersonians: A Study in Administrative History, 1801-1829 (1951)
  • Arthur P. Whitaker, The United States and the Independence of Latin America (1941)

Primary SourcesEdit

  • Monroe, James. The Political Writings of James Monroe. James P. Lucier, ed. Regnery, 2002. 863 pp.
  • Stanislaus Murray Hamilton, ed., Writings of James Monroe, 7 vols. (1898-1903) online edition

Additional sourcesEdit

External links Edit

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Political offices
Preceded by
James Wood
Governor of Virginia
1799 – 1802
Succeeded by
John Page
Preceded by
John Tyler
Governor of Virginia
Succeeded by
George William Smith
Preceded by
Robert Smith
United States Secretary of State
April 2, 1811 – September 30, 1814;
February 28, 1815 – March 4, 1817
Succeeded by
John Quincy Adams
Preceded by
John Armstrong
United States Secretary of War
1814 – 1815
Succeeded by
William H. Crawford
Preceded by
James Madison
President of the United States
March 4, 1817 – March 4, 1825
Succeeded by
John Quincy Adams
United States Senate
Preceded by
John Walker
Senator from Virginia (Class 1)
1790 – 1794
Served alongside: Richard H. Lee, John Taylor of Caroline
Succeeded by
Stevens T. Mason
Party political offices
Preceded by
James Madison
Democratic-Republican Party presidential candidate
1816, 1820
Succeeded by
John Quincy Adams
Henry Clay
William Harris Crawford
Andrew Jackson¹
Diplomatic posts
Preceded by
Gouverneur Morris
U.S. Minister Plenipotentiary to France
1794 – 1796
Succeeded by
Charles Cotesworth Pinckney
Preceded by
Rufus King
United States Minister to Great Britain
1803 – 1807
Succeeded by
William Pinkney
Notes & References
1. The Democratic-Republican Party split in 1824, fielding four separate candidates.

NAME Monroe, James
SHORT DESCRIPTION fifth President of the United States
DATE OF BIRTH April 28, 1758(1758-04-28)
PLACE OF BIRTH Westmoreland County
DATE OF DEATH July 4, 1831

This page uses content from the English language Wikipedia. The original content was at James Monroe. The list of authors can be seen in the page history. As with this Familypedia wiki, the content of Wikipedia is available under the Creative Commons License.

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