James Monroe

James Monroe

5th President, 1817-1825

Early Life and Pre-presidency

James Monroe Portrait by Samuel Morse, ca. 1819

James Monroe Portrait by Samuel Morse, ca. 1819

  • Born on April 28, 1758 in Westmoreland County, Virginia.
  • Parents: Spence Monroe and Elizabeth Jones; Brothers: Spence, Andrew, and Joseph; Sister: Elizabeth.
  • His father died in 1774, leaving Monroe their plantation and slaves.
  • Enrolled in the College of William and Mary in 1774 but dropped out in 1775 to join the American Revolution.
  • Became an officer in the Continental Army in 1776 and was severely wounded at the Battle of Trenton where he was part of George Washington’s army.
  • Studied law under Thomas Jefferson after the war.
    Elected to the Virginia House of Delegates in 1782.
    Served In the Continental Congress from 1783 to 1786.
  • Married Elizabeth Kortright (1768–1830) on February 16, 1786. Children: Eliza (1786–1840), James Spence (1799–1801), and Maria Hester (1803–1850).
  • Ran for a seat in the House representing Virginia, but was defeated by James Madison in 1790. He was elected by the Virginia legislature to the U.S. Senate in the same year and joined the Democratic–Republican Party.
  • Served as Minister to France from 1794 to 1795.
    He returned to private life and practiced law in Virginia for several years, but returned to politicis when he was electerd Governor of Virginia. He served from 1799 to 1802.
  • Appointed Minister to the Court of St. James from 1803 to 1807. Before this appointment, he was in France with Robert R. Livingston to help negotiate the Louisiana Purchase.
  • Was appointed Secretary of State by President Madison in 1811, but in 1814 he was appointed Secretary of War. He resigned his previous post but since nobody took over, he essentialy did the work of both posts.
  • After the War of 1812, Monroe was reappointed Secretary of State and served in that position until he began his term as the fifth President of the United States in 1817.

Presidency

James Monroe Portrait by Gilbert Stuart, ca. 1820-1822

James Monroe Portrait by Gilbert Stuart, ca. 1820-1822

  • Took his oath of office in front of the Old Brick Capitol, now the site of the Supreme Court building, on March 4, 1817.
  • Vice President: Daniel D. Tompkins (two terms)
    Toured the Northern States at the beginning of his Presidency as a goodwill outreach. He toured other parts of the country in 1818 and 1819.
  • The Rush–Bagot Treaty of 1817 that was negotiated by the Monroe administration with Britain demilitarized the Great Lakes.
  • The Convention of 1818 delineated the western boundary between the United States and British North America (later Canada) from the 49th parallel up to the Rocky Mountains. The agreement also stipulated that the Oregon Territory would be jointly occupied by the U.S. and Britain for the next ten years.
  • Sent his Secretary of State John Quincy Adams to negotiate the purchase of Florida from Spain in 1819. The Florida Treaty also set new boundaries between the U.S. and New Spain (now Mexico). Florida was formally ceded in 1821.
  • He faced an economic crisis known as the Panic of 1819 when depression struck the country due to a decline in imports and exports and falling agricultural prices. It ended in 1823.
  • In 1819, the Missouri Territory applied to join the Union as a slave state, but amendments to the statehood bill required that the territory would only be admitted as a free state. This caused a divide in Congress between those in favor of the amendments and those against. Monroe felt such restrictions unconstitutional and threatened to veto any bill with such restrictions.
  • Monroe signed the Missouri Compromise bill in 1820, which allowed Missouri to join as a slave state by allowing Maine to join as a free state. The bill also outlawed slavery in western territories above the 36/30′ north latitude.
  • Five states were admitted to the Union during Monroe’s two terms: Mississippi on December 10, 1817; Illinois on December 13, 1818; Alabama on December 14, 1819; Maine on March 15, 1820; and Missouri on August 10, 1821.
  • The Cabinet that Monroe created is, to this day, recognized as balanced and smart. He named John Quincy Adams, a southerner, his Secretary of State and John C. Calhoun, a northerner, his Secretary of War.
  • The Monroe Doctrine was a policy announced by Monroe on December 2, 1823 after several Latin American countries declared independence from Spain. It stated that independent countries in the Americas should not be colonized by European powers in the future and doing so would be considered an act of hostility towards the United States.
  • Although the Monroe Doctrine bears the President’s name, it was not referred to by that term until 1853. It was largely authored by John Quincy Adams, who would succeed Monroe as President.
  • Monroe supported the emancipation of freed black slaves to Africa. In 1822, a ship carrying freed slaves arrived in Cape Mesurado. In 1824, the area was renamed Monrovia in honor of the President. It became the capital of the Republic of Liberia in 1845.
  • Monroe’s two terms as President are referred to as the “Era of Good Feelings,” as it began after the U.S. victory in the War of 1812. Euphoria over the victory and nationalism was high among the people during this period.

Post-presidency

James Monroe Portrait by Rembrandt Peale, ca. 1817-1825

James Monroe Portrait by Rembrandt Peale, ca. 1817-1825

  • Stayed at the White House for three weeks after the inauguration of President John Quincy Adams because his wife was too ill to travel.
  • Lived at Monroe Hill after leaving the White House. The property is now part of the University of Virginia.
  • Was appointed to the Board of Visitors of the University of Virginia in 1826.
  • Became the President of the Virginia Constitutional Convention in 1829.
  • In 1827, he and his wife moved to another estate, Oak Hill, in Loudoun County, Virginia; he had inherited the property from an uncle in 1808. Their mansion was constructed in 1820. They lived there until his wife’s death in 1830. The estate was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1960.
  • After his wife died in 1830, he sold Oak Hill and Monroe Hill and moved to New York City to live with his daughter Maria Hester and her husband.
  • Considered the last U.S. President to be a veteran of the Revolutionary Army.
  • Pressed the federal government to repay him the expenses he incurred while in service. When the government eventually paid him, he used the money to pay off his debts and leave some for his children.
  • Monroe purchased land adjacent to his friend Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello estate in 1793 and named it Highland. He and his family lived there for 24 years, but in 1825, he was forced to sell the property to pay off his debts. It is now owned by the College of William and Mary, Monroe’s alma mater.
  • He attempted to write his autobiography but never finished it.
  • Died on July 4, 1831 from heart failure and tuberculosis.
  • Only the third President to die on Independence Day, July 4th. The other two were also Founding Fathers: Thomas Jefferson and John Adams, who both died hours apart in 1826.
  • He was first interred at the New York City Marble Cemetery. In 1858, he was moved to the President’s Circle at the Hollywood Cemetery in Richmond, Virginia.
  • The James Monroe Tomb was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1971 for its intricate design and execution.
  • Last of the “Virginia Dynasty,” the term referring to the four out of the first five U.S. Presidents who were from Virginia.