James Monroe

James Monroe
James Monroe White House portrait 1819.jpg
5th President of the United States
In office
March 4, 1817 – March 4, 1825
Vice PresidentDaniel D. Tompkins
Preceded byJames Madison
Succeeded byJohn Quincy Adams
8th United States Secretary of War
In office
September 27, 1814 – March 2, 1815
PresidentJames Madison
Preceded byJohn Armstrong Jr.
Succeeded byAlexander Dallas (Acting)
7th United States Secretary of State
In office
April 6, 1811 – March 4, 1817
PresidentJames Madison
Preceded byRobert Smith
Succeeded byJohn Quincy Adams
12th and 16th Governor of Virginia
In office
January 16, 1811 – April 2, 1811
Preceded byGeorge W. Smith (acting)
Succeeded byGeorge W. Smith
In office
December 28, 1799 – December 1, 1802
Preceded byJames Wood
Succeeded byJohn Page
4th United States Minister to the United Kingdom
In office
August 17, 1803 – October 7, 1807
PresidentThomas Jefferson
Preceded byRufus King
Succeeded byWilliam Pinkney
5th United States Minister to France
In office
August 15, 1794 – December 9, 1796
PresidentGeorge Washington
Preceded byGouverneur Morris
Succeeded byCharles Cotesworth Pinckney
United States Senator
from Virginia
In office
November 9, 1790 – May 27, 1794
Preceded byJohn Walker
Succeeded byStevens Thomson Mason
Delegate to the
Congress of the Confederation
from Virginia
In office
November 3, 1783 – November 7, 1786
Preceded byConstituency established
Succeeded byHenry Lee III
Personal details
Born(1758-04-28)April 28, 1758
Monroe Hall, Virginia, British America
DiedJuly 4, 1831(1831-07-04) (aged 73)
New York City, New York, U.S.
Resting placeHollywood Cemetery
Political partyDemocratic-Republican
Elizabeth Kortright
(m. 1786; died 1830)
Children3, including Eliza
EducationCollege of William and Mary
SignatureCursive signature in ink
Military service
Branch/service Continental Army
Virginia Militia
Years of service1775–1777 (Army)
1777–1780 (Militia)
RankUS-O4 insignia.svg Major (Army)
US-O6 insignia.svg Colonel (Militia)
Battles/warsAmerican Revolutionary War
 • Battle of Trenton (WIA)

James Monroe (/; April 28, 1758 – July 4, 1831) was an American statesman, lawyer, diplomat and Founding Father who served as the fifth president of the United States from 1817 to 1825. A member of the Democratic-Republican Party, Monroe was the last president of the Virginia dynasty; his presidency coincided with the Era of Good Feelings. He is perhaps best known for issuing the Monroe Doctrine, a policy of opposing European colonialism in the Americas. He also served as the governor of Virginia, a member of the United States Senate, the U.S. ambassador to France and Britain, the seventh Secretary of State, and the eighth Secretary of War.

Born into a planter family in Westmoreland County, Virginia, Monroe served in the Continental Army during the American Revolutionary War. After studying law under Thomas Jefferson from 1780 to 1783, he served as a delegate in the Continental Congress. As a delegate to the Virginia Ratifying Convention, Monroe opposed the ratification of the United States Constitution. In 1790, he won election to the Senate, where he became a leader of the Democratic-Republican Party. He left the Senate in 1794 to serve as President George Washington's ambassador to France, but was recalled by Washington in 1796. Monroe won election as Governor of Virginia in 1799 and strongly supported Jefferson's candidacy in the 1800 presidential election.

As President Jefferson's special envoy, Monroe helped negotiate the Louisiana Purchase, through which the United States nearly doubled in size. Monroe fell out with his long-time friend, James Madison, after the latter rejected the Monroe–Pinkney Treaty that Monroe negotiated with Britain. He unsuccessfully challenged Madison in the 1808 presidential election, but in April 1811 he joined Madison's administration as Secretary of State. During the later stages of the War of 1812, Monroe simultaneously served as Madison's Secretary of State and Secretary of War. His war-time leadership established him as Madison's heir apparent, and he easily defeated Federalist Party candidate Rufus King in the 1816 presidential election.

Monroe's presidency was coterminous with the Era of Good Feelings, as the Federalist Party collapsed as a national political force. As president, Monroe signed the Missouri Compromise, which admitted Missouri as a slave state and banned slavery from territories north of the parallel 36°30′ north. In foreign affairs, Monroe and Secretary of State John Quincy Adams favored a policy of conciliation with Britain and a policy of expansionism against the Spanish Empire. In the 1819 Adams–Onís Treaty with Spain, the United States secured Florida and established its western border with New Spain. In 1823, Monroe 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. Monroe was a member of the American Colonization Society, which supported the colonization of Africa by freed slaves, and Liberia's capital of Monrovia is named in his honor. Following his retirement in 1825, Monroe was plagued by financial difficulties, and died on July 4, 1831 in New York City. He has been generally ranked as an above-average president by historians.

Early life

James Monroe was born on April 28, 1758, in his parents' house located in a wooded area of Westmoreland County, Virginia. The marked site is one mile from the unincorporated community known today as Monroe Hall, Virginia. The James Monroe Family Home Site was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1979. His father Spence Monroe (1727–1774) was a moderately prosperous planter who also practiced carpentry. His mother Elizabeth Jones (1730–1772) married Spence Monroe in 1752 and they had five children: Elizabeth, James, Spence, Andrew, and Joseph Jones.[1][2]

Marker designating the site of James Monroe's birthplace in Monroe Hall, Virginia

His paternal great-great-grandfather Patrick Andrew Monroe emigrated to America from Scotland in the mid-17th century, and was part of an ancient Scottish clan known as Clan Munro. In 1650 he patented a large tract of land in Washington Parish, Westmoreland County, Virginia. Monroe's mother was the daughter of a wealthy immigrant by the name of James Jones, who immigrated from Wales and had settled in nearby King George County, Virginia. Jones was an architect.[1] Also among James Monroe's ancestors were French Huguenot immigrants, who came to Virginia in 1700.[2]

At age eleven, Monroe was enrolled in the lone school in the county. Monroe attended this school for only eleven weeks a year, as his labor was needed on the farm. During this time, Monroe formed a lifelong friendship with an older classmate, John Marshall. Monroe's mother died in 1772, and his father died two years later. Though he inherited property from both of his parents, the sixteen-year-old Monroe was forced to withdraw from school to support his younger brothers. His childless maternal uncle, Joseph Jones, became a surrogate father to Monroe and his siblings. A member of the Virginia House of Burgesses, Jones took Monroe to the capital of Williamsburg, Virginia and enrolled him in the College of William and Mary. Jones also introduced Monroe to important Virginians such as Thomas Jefferson, Patrick Henry, and George Washington. In 1774, opposition to the British government grew in the Thirteen Colonies in reaction to the "Intolerable Acts," and Virginia sent a delegation to the First Continental Congress. Monroe became involved in the opposition to Lord Dunmore, the colonial governor of Virginia, and he took part in the storming of the Governor's Palace.[3]

Revolutionary War service

In early 1776, about a year and a half after his enrollment, Monroe dropped out of college and joined the 3rd Virginia Regiment in the Continental Army.[4] As the fledgling army valued literacy in its officers, Monroe was commissioned with the rank of lieutenant, serving under Captain William Washington. After months of training, Monroe and seven hundred Virginia infantrymen were called north to serve in the New York and New Jersey campaign. Shortly after the Virginians arrived, George Washington led the army in a retreat from New York City into New Jersey and then across the Delaware River into Pennsylvania. In December, Monroe took part in a surprise attack on a Hessian encampment. Though the attack was successful, Monroe suffered a severed artery in the battle and nearly died. In the aftermath of the battle, George Washington cited Monroe and William Washington for their bravery, and promoted Monroe to the rank of captain. After his wounds healed, Monroe returned to Virginia to recruit his own company of soldiers.[5] Monroe's participation in the battle was memorialized in John Trumbull's painting, The Capture of the Hessians at Trenton, December 26, 1776, as well as Emanuel Leutze's Washington Crossing the Delaware.[6]

The Capture of the Hessians at Trenton, December 26, 1776, by John Trumbull, showing Captain William Washington, with a wounded hand, on the right and Lt. Monroe, severely wounded and helped by Dr. Riker, left of center

Lacking the wealth to induce soldiers to join his company, Monroe instead asked his uncle to return him to the front. Monroe was assigned to the staff of General William Alexander, Lord Stirling. During this time, Monroe formed a close friendship with the Marquis de Lafayette, a French volunteer who encouraged Monroe to view the war as part of a wider struggle against religious and political tyranny. Monroe served in the Philadelphia campaign and spent the winter of 1777–1778 at the encampment of Valley Forge, sharing a log hut with Marshall. After serving in the Battle of Monmouth, the destitute Monroe resigned his commission in December 1778 and joined his uncle in Philadelphia. After the British captured Savannah, the Virginia legislature decided to raise four regiments, and Monroe returned to his native state, hoping to receive his own command. With letters of recommendation from Washington, Stirling, and Alexander Hamilton, Monroe received a commission as a lieutenant colonel and was expected to lead one of the regiments, but recruitment again proved to be an issue. On the advice of Jones, Monroe returned to Williamsburg to study law, becoming a protege of Virginia Governor Thomas Jefferson.[7]

With the British increasingly focusing their operations in the Southern colonies, the Virginians moved the capital to the more defensible city of Richmond, and Monroe accompanied Jefferson to the new capital. As Governor of Virginia, Jefferson held command over the state's militia, and he appointed Monroe to the rank of colonel, and Monroe established a messenger network to coordinate with the Continental Army and other state militias. Still unable to raise an army due to a lack of interested recruits, Monroe traveled to his home in King George County, and thus was not present for the British raid of Richmond. As both the Continental Army and the Virginia militia had an abundance of officers, Monroe did not serve during the Yorktown campaign, and, much to his frustration, Monroe did not take part in the Siege of Yorktown.[8] 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.[9] Monroe resumed studying law under Jefferson and continued until 1783.[10][11] He was not particularly interested in legal theory or practice, but chose to take it up because he thought it offered "the most immediate rewards" and could ease his path to wealth, social standing, and political influence.[11] Monroe was admitted to the Virginia bar and practiced in Fredericksburg, Virginia.

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