Monday, April 12, 2010
James Monroe (1758-1831) was born in Westmoreland County, Virginia, on April 28, 1758. His father's family was Scottish and settled in Virginia in the mid-1600s. His mother's family came from Wales and had lived in Virginia for many years. James was the eldest of our sons and one daughter. James was tutored at home until age 12 and went to a school taught by a parson until he entered the College of William and Mary at age 16. He did not stay at the college long before he entered the army during the Revolutionary War. He was commissioned as a lieutenant at age 18 and fought at Harlem Heights and White Plains in 1776. He was wounded in the shoulder in the Battle of Trenton but praised by his superiors for his gallantry. He fought at Brandywine, Germantown and Monmouth during the next couple of years. He was promoted to Lieutenant Colonel in 1778 and sent to raise troops in Virginia where he met Thomas Jefferson, the governor of the state. Monroe studied law under Jefferson and became one of his political followers as well as becoming a friend for life. Monroe served in the Virginia Assembly (1782) and the Congress of the Confederation (1783-85). He practiced law in Fredericksburg, Virginia, in 1786 but went back to politics when he was elected to the Virginia Assembly where he served for another four years. He served in the Virginia convention to ratify the United States Constitution in 1788. He distrusted a strong federal government but accepted ratification. Monroe married 17-year-old Elizabeth Kortright, daughter of a New York City merchant, in 1786. They were blessed with two daughters and one son, but the son died at age 2. Monroe admired Thomas Jefferson so much that he moved to Charlottesville, Virginia, in 1789 where he built Ash Lawn not far from Jefferson's Monticello. Monroe lost a campaign for the first United States House of Representatives against James Madison. In 1790 he was elected to fill a vacancy in the United States Senate. Along with Madison in the House and Jefferson as secretary of state, Monroe was vigorous in opposing the Federalist program of Alexander Hamilton. The three Virginians were among the group who founded the Democratic-Republican Party, which is believed to have developed into the modern-day Democratic Party. Monroe was appointed by George Washington in 1794 as minister to France with the belief that he could improve relations with France. He was recalled by Washington after expressing criticism about the Jay Treaty between America and Britain. Soon after returning from France, he was nearly in a duel with Hamilton because of a personal problem between them. Monroe was elected governor of Virginia in 1799 and played an important role in preserving the democratic process during a series of problems in the nation at that time. President Thomas Jefferson sent Monroe to Paris in early 1803 to assist in the purchase of New Orleans. Before Monroe arrived in France, Napoleon offered the entire Louisiana Territory to Robert R. Livingston. Monroe urged Livingston to accept without waiting for approval from Jefferson. The President was so pleased with Monroe's willingness to make that decision that he sent him to Madrid to help with the purchase of Florida from Spain. The purchase of Florida failed, but the President sent Monroe to Great Britain as minister. Monroe was a reluctant candidate to succeed Jefferson as President. After Madison was elected, Monroe served in the Virginia Assembly until being elected governor in 1811. He served there only three months before resigning to become Madison's secretary of state. He tried to solve the problem of Great Britain impressing American sailors but concluded that war could not be avoided. Monroe wanted to be in control of the Army when the War of 1812 started, but Madison convinced him to stay in the Cabinet. Madison asked Monroe to be both secretary of state and secretary of war after the previous secretary of war was forced to resign during the burning of Washington, D.C. He remained in both offices for the remainder of the war and gained in popularity after the American armies won several victories. While still serving as secretary of state, he was elected President in 1816. Monroe's Administration is known as "the era of good feeling." After the election of 1816, the Federalist Party nearly disappeared as most people joined the Democratic-Republican Party. The country prospered except for a temporary setback caused by a depression in 1818-1819. The major issue for Monroe was the "American System," which Monroe distrusted. He doubted that the federal government had the power to build new roads and canals to open the West and/or to enact a protective tariff to encourage manufacturers and develop home sales. The White House was burned by the British during the War of 1812 and was not ready for occupancy until nine months after Monroe became President. He and Mrs. Monroe held a public open house to officially celebrate the reopening of the White House on New Year's Day, 1818. Congress agreed on the Missouri Compromise, which permitted slavery in Missouri but banned it in the rest of the Louisiana Territory. Monroe refused to sign the bill because it placed special restraints on Missouri becoming a state. Bands of Indians in Spanish Florida harassed Americans in Georgia after the War of 1812. Monroe sent Major General Andrew Jackson to put down the rebellion. Jackson and his militia chased the Indians into the Everglades of Florida and captured Pensacola, the Spanish capital of Florida. The Spanish were convinced by this action that they could not defend Florida and agreed to sell it to the United States in 1819 in return for canceling $5 million in American claims against Spain. Monroe was unopposed for the presidency in 1820 and received every vote in the electoral college except one for John Quincy Adams. While the Spaniards were involved in affairs in Europe during the Napoleonic Wars, their colonies in the Western Hemisphere declared independence from Spain, which aroused great sympathy in the United States. Monroe recommended they be recognized in March 1822. He proclaimed the Monroe Doctrine in a message to Congress in December 1823. This doctrine is still a basic American policy. At the time that Monroe finished his two terms in office, there was no outstanding person to replace him. Four men vied for the office, but none won a majority of votes. The House of Representatives chose John Quincy Adams. Monroe retired to Oak Hill, his estate near Leesburg, Virginia. He was a regent for the University of Virginia for five years and became presiding officer at the Virginia Constitutional Convention in 1829. Mrs. Monroe died in 1830 and was buried at Oak Hill. Monroe was a poor man by then and too old to resume his law practice. He was forced to move to New York City to live with his daughter in late 1830. He died there on July 4, 1831. In 1858 his remains were moved to Hollywood Cemetery in Richmond. His law office in Fredericksburg was preserved as a memorial. Facts for this post came from an article by Ralph Ketcham in the World Book Encyclopedia, Vol. 13, pp 734-738.