James Monroe was the fifth President of USA from 1817 to 1825.
His father Spence Monroe was a woodworker as well as tobacco farmer. His mother,
Elizabeth Jones Monroe had considerable landed property but not much fluid
James was born in Westmoreland County, Virginia. He too, like his
parents owned many slaves. His schooling was in Campbell town Academy and he
went too College of William and Mary – both being in Virginia.
After graduating in 1776 James Monroe joined the Continental Army
where he got injured. After his stint at military service he practiced law in
Fredricksburg, Virginia. He married Elizabeth Kortright in 1786 in New York. He
was tall and proportionate in appearance – plain and conservative in his
dress style. His manner was always quiet and dignified. There was an honest
expression on his face that immediately drew attention to his sincerity.
When young, James Monroe joined the anti-Federalists at the
Virginia Convention where the Constitution was ratified. He advocated the
policies of Jefferson and became US Senator in 1790. During 1794 to 1796 as
Minister to France he was passionately sympathetic towards the French cause.
Later with the assistance of Robert R Livingston he was instrumental in
negotiating Louisiana Purchase.
Monroe was ambitious and energetic and this won for him the
support of President Madison. He was the Republican choice for the 1816 run for
Presidency. With negligible opposition from the Federalists he won re-election
in 1820. His tenure as President was marked by unique decisions. His cabinet
consisted of Southerner John C. Calhoun (Secretary of War) as well as Northerner
John Quincy Adams (Secretary of State). He wanted to include Henry Clay, an
exceptional Westerner. The latter refused.
Monroe’s period is referred to as an age of good feelings as
he visited Boston. But unfortunately the halcyon days did not last. Nevertheless
he remained popular because of his unswerving faith in nationalist policies.
Ugly fissures appeared accompanied by economic depression.
The residents of Missouri Territory were unhappy when in 1819
their request to be included in the Union as a slave state was turned down. A
bitter debate for eradication of slavery in Missouri dragged on for two years
before the passing of an amended bill. Missouri was coupled with Maine as a free
slave state. Slavery was banned north and west of Missouri for all times to
In foreign affairs the famous Monroe Doctrine bears his stamp. At
that time there was the threat that Spain would try to get European allies to
win back former colonies. Only after cessation of Florida in 1821 did Monroe
come out with firmness. He did not give recognition to the sister republics
until the Congress voted for setting up of diplomatic missions, in 1822.
The situation was grave with Britain with her powerful navy
pitched in for re-conquest of Latin America. Ex-presidents Jefferson and Madison
pressurized Monroe but he firmly stood his ground. He even warned Russia not to
come from the Pacific and made it quite clear that they were no longer colonies
of European powers.
When Monroe’s wife Elizabeth died he moved to New York to
the house of his daughter Maria Hester Monroe Gouverneur. Her marriage to Samuel
Gouverneur had been the first White House wedding. James Monroe succumbed to
tuberculosis and heart disease on 4th of July 1831 – he being the third
president to die on that famous date. Originally buried in New York his body was
re-interred to the President’s Circle at Richmond, Virginia.