The 5thAmerican Presidentwas James Monroe, serving from 1817–1825. He was the last president from the original Founding Fathers of the United States.
The Early Times of James Monroe
James Monroe was born in Westmoreland County, Virginia in 1758. He attended the College of William and Mary, fought with distinction in the Continental Army, and practiced law in Fredericksburg, Virginia.
As an eager, young politician, he joined the anti-Federalists at the Virginia Convention which ratified the Constitution. In 1790, as an advocate of Jeffersonian policies, James Monroe was elected to fill the office of a United States senator.
Four years later, he was appointed Minister to France where he displayed strong sympathies for the French cause. Later, he worked with Robert R. Livingston to help negotiate the Louisiana Purchase with Napoleon.
Even though he was backed by President Madison, his energy and ambition made him the Republican choice as the American President in 1816. With little Federalist opposition, he also easily won re-election in 1820.
James Monroe’s Tenure as an American President
James Monroe proved to be more than “tall and well formed…quiet and dignified mannerisms”, when he made unusually diverse Cabinet choices, naming John C. Calhoun, a southerner, as Secretary of War, and a northerner, John Quincy Adams, as Secretary of State. Henry Clay’s refusal prevented Monroe from adding a prominent Westerner as well.
Even though the country was still showing its renewed nationalistic pride, weaknesses were beginning to appear. The depression that began during James Madison’s term helped lead to unhappiness for the settlers in the Missouri Territory. Their application to be added to the Union as a slave state was denied during an already difficult time.
Two years of congressional debate led to an amended petition that included a gradual elimination of slavery. The result was the Missouri Compromise, which paired the slave state of Missouri with the free state of Maine. Slavery was also prohibited in any territory either north or west of Missouri indefinitely.
Spanish Florida and the Monroe Doctrine
President James Monroe sent General Andrew Jackson to Spanish Florida to overcome the Seminole Indians, in 1818, because they were raiding American settlements. Jackson led his troops deep into areas of Florida under the control of Spain and captured two Spanish forts, using a liberal interpretation of his orders.
This helped to secure greater protection for the American settlements, and it showed the weakened state of Spanish rule in Florida. James Monroe and his Secretary of State, John Quincy Adams, used that knowledge to pressure Spain into allowing the United States to purchase Florida.
As Spain’s hold in the Americas continued to diminish, revolutions throughout its colonies brought independence to Argentina, Peru, Chile, Colombia, and Mexico. When European powers threatened to form an alliance to help Spain regain its lost domains, Ex-Presidents Jefferson and Madison encouraged Monroe to accept the offer, but Secretary Adams counseled, “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.”
James Monroe, acting as American President and in agreement with Secretary of State Adams, declared that the country would not participate in the European intervention in the Western Hemisphere.
Not only must Latin America be allowed to flourish, he warned, but Russia must not look 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.” This statement was used in the President’s message to Congress on December 2, 1823, and the Monroe Doctrine has since become a cornerstone of American foreign policy.
Leaving Washington after a lifetime of public service, Monroe and his wife retired to their estate in Loudoun County, Virginia. Monroe returned to private life deeply in debt and spent many of his later years trying to resolve his financial problems.
He petitioned the government to repay him for past services, with the government eventually providing a portion of the amount he sought. After his wife died in 1830, Monroe moved to New York City to live with his daughter. He died there on July 4, 1831.
The following poster provides an attractive and concise summary of James Monroe’s achievements throughout his lifetime: