For other people named James Monroe, see James Monroe (disambiguation).
James Monroe
James Monroe White House portrait 1819.gif
Portrait by Samuel Morse, c. 1819
5th President of the United States
In office
March 4, 1817 – March 4, 1825
Vice President Daniel D. Tompkins
Preceded by James Madison
Succeeded by John Quincy Adams
8th United States Secretary of War
In office
September 27, 1814 – March 2, 1815
President James Madison
Preceded by John Armstrong Jr.
Succeeded by William H. Crawford
7th United States Secretary of State
In office
April 6, 1811 – March 4, 1817
President James Madison
Preceded by Robert Smith
Succeeded by John Quincy Adams
12th and 16th Governor of Virginia
In office
January 16, 1811 – April 2, 1811
Preceded by George W. Smith (Acting)
Succeeded by George W. Smith
In office
December 28, 1799 – December 1, 1802
Preceded by James Wood
Succeeded by John Page
United States Minister to the United Kingdom
In office
August 17, 1803 – October 7, 1807
President Thomas Jefferson
Preceded by Rufus King
Succeeded by William Pinkney
United States Minister to France
In office
August 15, 1794 – December 9, 1796
President George Washington
Preceded by Gouverneur Morris
Succeeded by Charles Cotesworth Pinckney
United States Senator
from Virginia
In office
November 9, 1790 – May 27, 1794
Preceded by John Walker
Succeeded by Stevens Thomson Mason
Delegate to the Congress of the Confederation
from Virginia
In office
November 3, 1783 – November 7, 1786
Preceded by Constituency established
Succeeded by Henry Lee III
Personal details
Born (1758-04-28)April 28, 1758
Monroe Hall, Colony of Virginia, British America
Died July 4, 1831(1831-07-04) (aged 73)
New York City, New York, U.S.
Resting place Hollywood Cemetery
Political party Democratic-Republican
Spouse(s) Elizabeth Kortright (m. 1786; d. 1830)
Children 3
Education College of William and Mary
Signature Cursive signature in ink
Military service
Allegiance  United States
Service/branch Continental Army
Virginia Militia
Years of service 1775–1777 (Army)
1777–1780 (Militia)
Rank US-O4 insignia.svg Major (Army)
US-O6 insignia.svg Colonel (Militia)
Battles/wars American Revolutionary War
 • Battle of Trenton

James Monroe (/mənˈr/; April 28, 1758 – July 4, 1831) was an American statesman who served from 1817 to 1825 as the fifth President of the United States. Monroe was the last president among the Founding Fathers of the United States as well as the Virginian dynasty; he also represented the end of the Republican Generation in that office.[1] Born in Westmoreland County, Virginia, Monroe was of the planter class and fought in the American Revolutionary War. He was wounded in the Battle of Trenton with a musket ball to his shoulder. After studying law under Thomas Jefferson from 1780 to 1783, he served as a delegate in the Continental Congress.

As an anti-federalist delegate to the Virginia convention that considered ratification of the United States Constitution, Monroe opposed ratification, claiming it gave too much power to the central government. He took an active part in the new government, and in 1790 he was elected to the Senate of the first United States Congress, where he joined the Democratic-Republicans. He gained experience as an executive as the Governor of Virginia and rose to national prominence as a diplomat in France, when he helped negotiate the Louisiana Purchase in 1803. During the War of 1812, Monroe served in critical roles as Secretary of State and the Secretary of War under President James Madison.[2]

Facing little opposition from the fractured Federalist Party, Monroe was easily elected president in 1816, winning over 80 percent of the electoral vote and becoming the last president during the First Party System era of American politics. As president, he sought to ease partisan tensions, embarking on a tour of the country that was well received. With the ratification of the Treaty of 1818, under the successful diplomacy of his Secretary of State John Quincy Adams, the United States extended its reach from the Atlantic to the Pacific, by acquiring harbor and fishing rights in the Pacific Northwest; the United States and Britain jointly occupied the Oregon Country. In addition to the acquisition of Florida, the 1819 Adams–Onís Treaty secured the border of the United States along the 42nd Parallel to the Pacific Ocean and represented America's first determined attempt at creating an "American global empire".[3] As nationalism surged, partisan fury subsided, and the "Era of Good Feelings" ensued, until the Panic of 1819 struck, and a dispute over the admission of Missouri embroiled the country in 1820. Nonetheless, Monroe won near-unanimous reelection.

Monroe supported the founding of colonies in Africa for freed slaves that would eventually form the nation of Liberia, whose capital, Monrovia, is named in his honor. In 1823, he 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. His presidency concluded the first period of American presidential history before the beginning of Jacksonian democracy and the Second Party System era. Following his retirement in 1825, Monroe was plagued by financial difficulties. He died in New York City on July 4, 1831. He has been ranked in the aggregate by scholars as the 16th most successful president.


Early lifeEdit

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

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 (1730–1774) married Spence Monroe in 1752 and they had several children.[4]

His paternal great-grandfather Patrick Andrew Monroe emigrated to America from Scotland in the mid-17th century. In 1650 he patented a large tract of land in Washington Parish, Westmoreland County, Virginia. Also among James Monroe's ancestors were French Huguenot immigrants, who came to Virginia in 1700.[4]


First tutored at home by his mother Elizabeth, between the ages of 11 and 16, the young Monroe studied at Campbelltown Academy, a school run by Reverend Archibald Campbell of Washington Parish. There he excelled as a pupil and progressed through Latin and mathematics faster than most boys his age. John Marshall, later Chief Justice of the United States, was among his classmates.[citation needed]

Upon the death of his father in 1774, Monroe inherited his small plantation and slaves, officially joining the ruling class of planter-slaveholders of Virginia.[5] Sixteen years old, he began forming a close relationship with his maternal uncle, the influential Judge Joseph Jones, who had been educated at the Inns of Court in London and was the executor of his father's estate. That same year, Monroe enrolled in the College of William and Mary. At the time, most students were inspired by the prospect of rebellion against King George III.[citation needed]

Revolutionary War serviceEdit

In early 1776, about a year and a half after his enrollment, Monroe dropped out of college and joined the 3rd Virginia Regiment (established December 28, 1775) in the Continental Army where his background as a college student and son of a well-known planter enabled him to obtain an officer's commission. He never returned to earn a degree.[6] In June 1775, after the battles of Lexington and Concord, Monroe, and some other William and Mary students joined 24 older men in raiding the arsenal at the Governor's Palace in Williamsburg. They used the loot of 200 muskets and 300 swords to arm the Williamsburg militia.[citation needed]

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

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. With the rest of General George Washington's army, following its defeat at the Battle of Long Island on August 27, Monroe's regiment was chased off of Long Island in the fall of 1776 and down the length of New Jersey crossing the Delaware River in December 1776. Down to mere days before their enlistments expired, Washington decided that only a bold step could save the Army and the revolutionary cause from oblivion. Washington ordered his force, that had shrunk 90% since the Battle of Long Island, down to under 3,000 effective soldiers, to cross the Delaware River on the evening of December 25 and attack a detachment of Hessian soldiers on the morning of December 26, thus leading to the Battle of Trenton.[citation needed]

Monroe and his regiment crossed over and marched through a Nor'easter snow storm north and then east towards Trenton. Along the way, the soldiers were spotted by a young patriot doctor, John Riker, whose dogs had been awakened in the pre-dawn early morning. Riker volunteered to lend his medical bag to the efforts saying that as many doctors as possible would be needed fearing severe casualties from a clash with the battle-tested Hessian professional mercenary soldiers of Germany. Avoiding detection, the Americans approached the center of Trenton from north and south. When the Hessians sounded the alarm, they tried to get several of their artillery pieces in action to pour grapeshot into the Americans marching down towards the homes they had commandeered. Knowing that this would slow the assault, after a volley of artillery fire, Lieutenant Monroe and General Washington's cousin, Captain William Washington and their men rushed to seize the guns before they could fire.[citation needed]

Both young officers were severely wounded. Captain Washington was badly wounded in both hands, and young Lieutenant James Monroe was carried from the field bleeding badly after he was struck in the left shoulder by a musket ball, which severed an artery. It would be the young volunteer doctor, John Riker, who clamped the artery, keeping him from bleeding to death and saving his life.[7] Monroe was sent home to Virginia to nurse his injuries; the Battle of Trenton was Monroe's only battle as he spent the next three months recuperating from his wound. In John Trumbull's painting The Capture of the Hessians at Trenton, December 26, 1776, Monroe can be seen lying wounded at left center of the painting. In the famous painting by Emanuel Leutze, Washington Crossing the Delaware, Monroe is depicted holding the American flag.[8]

After recuperating from his wound, he was appointed lieutenant colonel in the Virginia militia, and tasked to recruit and lead a regiment, but the regiment was never raised. He returned to Williamsburg in September 1779 and studied law with George Wythe, then moved to Richmond to study law with Thomas Jefferson. In 1780 the British invaded Richmond, and as Governor, Jefferson commissioned Monroe as a colonel to command the militia raised in response and act as liaison to the Continental Army in North Carolina.[9][10]

Monroe resumed studying law under Thomas Jefferson, and continued until 1783.[11][12] 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.[12] After passing the bar, he practiced law in Fredericksburg, Virginia.[13]

Marriage and familyEdit

On February 16, 1786 Monroe married Elizabeth Kortright (1768–1830) in New York City;[14] she was the daughter of Laurence Kortright and Hannah Aspinwall Kortright. He had met her while serving with the Continental Congress, which then met in New York, the temporary capital of the new nation. After a brief honeymoon on Long Island, New York, the Monroes returned to New York City to live with her father until Congress adjourned. The Monroes had the following children:

  • Eliza Kortright Monroe Hay (1786–1840): Eliza was born in Fredericksburg, Virginia, in 1786, and was educated in Paris at the school of Madame Campan during the time her father was the United States Ambassador to France. In 1808 she married George Hay, a prominent Virginia attorney who had served as prosecutor in the trial of Aaron Burr and later U.S. District Judge.[15]
  • James Spence Monroe (1799–1800): a son who died 16 months after birth.[16]
  • Maria Hester Monroe (1804–1850): married her cousin Samuel L. Gouverneur on March 8, 1820, in the first wedding of a president's child in the White House.[17][18]

Plantations and slaveryEdit

Oak Hill Mansion

Monroe sold his small inherited Virginia plantation in 1783 to enter law and politics. He later fulfilled his youthful dream of becoming the owner of a large plantation and wielding great political power, but his plantation was never profitable. Although he owned much more land and many more slaves, and speculated in property, he was rarely on-site to oversee the operations. Overseers treated the slaves harshly to force production, but the plantations barely broke even. Monroe incurred debts by his lavish and expensive lifestyle and often sold property (including slaves) to pay them off.[19] Overseers moved or separated slave families from different Monroe plantations in accordance with production and maintenance needs of each satellite plantation.[20] One of Monroe's slaves named Daniel often ran away from his plantation in Albermarle County, to visit other slaves or separated family members.[20] Monroe commonly referred to Daniel as a "scoundrel" and described the "worthlessness" of Daniel as a runaway slave.[20] The practice of moving and separating slave families was common treatment of slaves in the South.[20]

Early political careerEdit

Virginia politicsEdit

Monroe was elected to the Virginia House of Delegates in 1782. After serving on Virginia's Executive Council,[21] he was elected to the Congress of the Confederation in November 1783 and served in Annapolis until Congress convened Trenton, New Jersey in June 1784. He had served a total of three years when he finally retired from that office by the rule of rotation.[22] By that time, the government was meeting in the temporary capital of New York City. While serving in Congress, Monroe became an advocate for western expansion, and played a key role in the writing and passage of the Northwest Ordinance. The ordinance created the Northwest Territory, providing for federal administration of the territories West of Pennsylvania and North of the Ohio River. During this period, Jefferson continued to serve as a mentor to Monroe, and, at Jefferson's prompting, he befriended another prominent Virginian, James Madison.[23]

In 1786, Monroe won election to another term in the Virginia House of Delegates, and in 1788 he became a delegate to the Virginia Ratifying Convention.[24] In Virginia, the struggle over the ratification of the proposed Constitution involved more than a simple clash between federalists and anti-federalists. Virginians held a full spectrum of opinions about the merits of the proposed change in national government. Washington and Madison were leading supporters; Patrick Henry and George Mason were leading opponents. Those who held the middle ground in the ideological struggle became the central figures. Led by Monroe and Edmund Pendleton, these "federalists who are for amendments," criticized the absence of a bill of rights and worried about surrendering taxation powers to the central government. Virginia ratified the Constitution in June 1788, largely because Monroe, Pendleton, and followers suspended their reservations and vowed to press for amendments after the new government had been established.[25]

Monroe unsuccessfully opposed Madison in a race for a House seat to represent Virginia in the First Congress; the two remained on good terms while Monroe pressed for a bill of rights and Madison supported the constitution as written. In 1790, he was elected by the Virginia legislature as one of the state's two United States Senators. He became an important lieutenant to Jefferson and Madison, who founded the Democratic-Republican faction in opposition to Treasury Secretary Alexander Hamilton's policies, which included a national bank and federal assumption of state debt. Emerging as a leader of the Senate Democratic-Republicans, Monroe continued to champion western expansionism and became a prominent supporter of close ties with France.[26]

Ambassador to FranceEdit

The earliest preserved portrait of James Monroe as Minister Plenipotentiary to France in 1794.

In 1794, Monroe resigned his Senate seat in order to accept President Washington's appointment of him as Minister to France. Washington hoped that Monroe, a strong supporter of France and the French Revolution, would strengthen relations between France and the United States. Months after Monroe arrived in France, the U.S. and Great Britain concluded the Jay Treaty, outraging both the French, who were at war with the British, and Monroe—not fully informed about the treaty prior to its publication. Despite the undesirable effects of the Jay Treaty on Franco-American relations, Monroe won French support for U.S. navigational rights on the Mississippi River—the mouth of which was controlled by Spain—and in 1795 the U.S. and Spain signed Pinckney's Treaty. The treaty granted the U.S. limited rights to use the port of New Orleans.[27]

Monroe arranged to free all the Americans held in French prisons. Among those released was Thomas Paine—arrested for opposition to the execution of Louis XVI. The government insisted that Paine be deported to the United States.[28] He also gained the freedom of Adrienne de La Fayette and issued passports for her and family—they had been granted citizenship by the U.S. government for contributions during the Revolution.[29]

Frustrated by Monroe's inability to convince the French of the benign nature of the Jay Treaty, Washington recalled Monroe in November 1796. He returned to the United States, where he wrote a 400-page defense of his tenure as ambassador, criticizing Washington's desire to pursue closer relations with Britain at the expense of relations with France.[30]

Governor of Virginia and diplomatEdit

Out of office, Monroe returned to practicing law in Virginia until elected governor there as a Democratic-Republican, serving his first term from 1799 to 1802—he was reelected in 1811.[31] He called out the state militia to suppress Gabriel's Rebellion. Gabriel and 26 other enslaved people who participated were all hanged for treason. Monroe thought that foreign and Federalist elements had created the Quasi War of 1798–1800 and were behind efforts to prevent the election of Thomas Jefferson as president in 1800. As governor he considered using the Virginia militia to force the outcome in favor of Jefferson.[32] Federalists were likewise suspicious of Monroe, some viewing him at best as a French dupe and at worst a traitor.[33]

Shortly after the end of Monroe's gubernatorial tenure, President Jefferson sent Monroe back to France to assist Ambassador Robert R. Livingston in negotiating the Louisiana Purchase. While Livingston originally sought to acquire only New Orleans (which France had acquired in the 1800 Treaty of San Ildefonso), Monroe and Livingston accepted Napoleon's offer to buy the entire Louisiana Territory. Monroe also tried to buy East Florida and West Florida from Spain, but numerous U.S.-Spanish territorial disputes and a lack of support from France made the Spanish unwilling to sell the territories.[34]

Monroe served as Minister to the Court of St. James's from 1803 to 1807. In 1806 he negotiated the Monroe–Pinkney Treaty with Great Britain. It would have extended the Jay Treaty of 1794 which had expired after ten years. Jefferson had fought the Jay Treaty intensely in 1794–95 because he felt it would allow the British to subvert American republicanism. The treaty had produced ten years of peace and highly lucrative trade for American merchants, but Jefferson was still opposed. When Monroe and the British signed the new treaty in December 1806, Jefferson refused to submit it to the Senate for ratification. Although the treaty called for ten more years of trade between the United States and the British Empire and gave American merchants guarantees that would have been good for business, Jefferson was unhappy that it did not end the hated British practice of impressment of American sailors, and refused to give up the potential weapon of commercial warfare against Britain. The president made no attempt to obtain another treaty, and as a result, the two nations drifted from peace toward the War of 1812.[35] After the failure of the treaty, Monroe returned to the United States in 1807. Monroe was severely pained by the administration's repudiation of the treaty, and Monroe fell out with Secretary of State James Madison.[36]

1808 election and the QuidsEdit

The Democratic-Republican Party was increasingly factionalized, with "Old Republicans" or "Quids" denouncing the Jefferson administration for abandoning true republican principles. The Quids, seeing that Monroe's foreign policy had been rejected by Jefferson, tried to enlist Monroe in their cause. The plan was to run Monroe for president in the 1808 election in cooperation with the Federalist Party, which had a strong base in New England. John Randolph of Roanoke led the Quid effort to stop Jefferson's choice of James Madison. However, the regular Democratic-Republicans overcame the Quids in the nominating caucus, kept control of the party in Virginia, and protected Madison's base. Monroe was not a candidate for president, and Madison was elected.[37] After the election Monroe quickly reconciled with Jefferson, but did not speak with Madison, a former friend, until 1810.[36]

Secretary of State and Secretary of WarEdit

Monroe returned to the Virginia House of Burgesses and was elected to another term as governor in 1811, but served only four months. In April 1811, Madison appointed Monroe as Secretary of State in hopes of shoring up the support of the more radical factions of the Democratic-Republicans.[36] Though Monroe had sought long-term peace between the U.S. and Britain during much of Jefferson's presidency, as Secretary of State he increasingly pressed for war against Britain, which had continued the impressment of U.S. sailors. The War of 1812 began after the U.S. declared war on Britain in June 1812.[38] The war went very badly, and when the British burned the U.S. Capitol and the White House on August 24, 1814, Madison removed John Armstrong as Secretary of War and turned to Monroe for help, appointing him Secretary of War on September 27.[39] Monroe resigned as Secretary of State on October 1, 1814, but no successor was ever appointed and thus from October 1, 1814 to February 28, 1815, Monroe effectively held both Cabinet posts.[40] Monroe formulated plans for an offensive invasion of Canada to win the war, but a peace treaty was ratified in February 1815, before any armies moved north. Monroe therefore resigned as Secretary of War on March 15, 1815 and was formally reappointed Secretary of State. Having served in two key cabinet posts, Monroe established himself as Madison's likely successor.[41] He remained at the State Department until March 4, 1817, when he began his term as the new President of the United States.[42]

Presidential electionsEdit

Election of 1816Edit

The Congressional nominating caucus experienced little opposition during the administrations of Jefferson and Madison, but this situation changed in the election year of 1816. An indeterminate number of anti-Virginia Republicans, led by the New York delegation, objected to the caucus system along with the Federalists. Disorganization and failure to agree on William H. Crawford, Daniel Tompkins, Henry Clay or another possible contender weakened opposition to Monroe. The boycott by Virginia delegates of the March 12 caucus removed the chances of Monroe's opponents, and he received the caucus nomination four days later.[43] With the Federalist Party in disarray due to the unpopularity of their opposition to the War of 1812, Monroe easily won the election.[44] The Federalists did not even name a candidate, though Rufus King of New York did run in opposition to Monroe under the Federalist banner.[44] As a result, King won only three states: Connecticut, Delaware, and Massachusetts. The total Electoral College vote came in at 183 for Monroe and 34 for King.[44]

Election of 1820Edit

The collapse of the Federalists left Monroe with no organized opposition at the end of his first term, and he ran for reelection unopposed,[44] the only president other than Washington to do so. A single elector from New Hampshire, William Plumer, cast a vote for John Quincy Adams, preventing a unanimous vote in the Electoral College.[44] He did so because he thought Monroe was incompetent. Later in the century, the story arose that he had cast his dissenting vote so that only George Washington would have the honor of unanimous election. Plumer never mentioned Washington in his speech explaining his vote to the other New Hampshire electors.[45]


BEP engraved portrait of Monroe as President.

Domestic affairsEdit

Democratic-Republican Party dominanceEdit

Monroe largely ignored old party lines in making federal appointments, which reduced political tensions and augmented the sense of "oneness" that pervaded the nation. He made two long national tours to build national trust. At Boston, his 1817 visit was hailed as the beginning of an "Era of Good Feelings." Frequent stops on these tours included ceremonies of welcome and expressions of good will. The Federalist Party continued to fade during his administration; it maintained its vitality and organizational integrity in Delaware and a few localities, but lacked influence in national politics. Lacking serious opposition, the Democratic-Republican Party's Congressional caucus stopped meeting, and for practical purposes the Party stopped operating.[46]

Missouri CompromiseEdit

Main article: Missouri Compromise

In February 1819, a bill to enable the people of the Missouri Territory to draft a constitution and form a government preliminary to admission into the Union came before the House of Representatives. During these proceedings, Congressman James Tallmadge, Jr. of New York "tossed a bombshell into the Era of Good Feelings"[47] by offering amendments (known collectively as the Tallmadge Amendment) prohibiting the further introduction of slaves into Missouri, and requiring that all future children of slave parents therein should be free at the age of twenty-five years. After three days of rancorous and sometimes bitter debate, the bill, with Tallmadge’s amendments, passed. The measure then went to the Senate, where both amendments were rejected.[48] A House -Senate conference committee was unable to resolve the disagreements on the bill, and so the entire measure failed.[49]

The amendment instantly exposed the polarization among Jeffersonian Republicans over the future of slavery in the nation.[a] Northern Jeffersonian Republicans formed a coalition across factional lines with remnants of the Federalists. Southern Jeffersonians united in almost unanimous opposition. The ensuing debates pitted the northern "restrictionists" (antislavery legislators who wished to bar slavery from the Louisiana territories) and southern "anti-restrictionists" (proslavery legislators who rejected any interference by Congress inhibiting slavery expansion).[52]

During the following session (1819–1820), the House passed a similar bill with an amendment, introduced on January 26, 1820, by John W. Taylor of New York, allowing Missouri into the union as a slave state. The question had been complicated by the admission in December of Alabama, a slave state, making the number of slave and free states equal. In addition, there was a bill in passage through the House (January 3, 1820) to admit Maine as a free state.[53] The Senate decided to connect the two measures. It passed a bill for the admission of Maine with an amendment enabling the people of Missouri to form a state constitution. Before the bill was returned to the House, a second amendment was adopted on the motion of Jesse B. Thomas of Illinois, excluding slavery from the Louisiana Territory north of the parallel 36°30′ north (the southern boundary of Missouri), except within the limits of the proposed state of Missouri. The House then approved the bill as amended by the Senate.[54]

The two houses were at odds not only on the legality of slavery, but also on the inclusion of Maine and Missouri within the same bill. The committee recommended the enactment of two laws, one for the admission of Maine, the other an enabling act for Missouri. They opposed restrictions on slavery except for the Thomas amendment. Both houses agreed, the measures were passed on March 5, 1820, and were signed by the president on March 6.[citation needed]

The question of the final admission of Missouri came up during the session of 1820–1821. The struggle was revived over a clause in Missouri's new constitution (written in 1820) requiring the exclusion of "free negroes and mulattoes" from the state. Through the influence of Kentucky Senator Henry Clay "The Great Compromiser", an act of admission was finally passed, upon the condition that the exclusionary clause of the Missouri constitution should "never be construed to authorize the passage of any law" impairing the privileges and immunities of any U.S. citizen. This deliberately ambiguous provision is sometimes known as the Second Missouri Compromise.[55]

Internal improvementsEdit

As the United States continued to grow, many Americans advocated a system of internal improvements to help the country develop. Monroe agreed the young nation needed an improved infrastructure, including a transportation network in order to grow and thrive economically. However, he discerned no Constitutional authority to build, maintain, and operate a national transportation system. He therefore urged Congress to introduce a constitutional amendment granting it such power. Congress never acted on his suggestion because many legislators thought they already had the implied authority to enact such measures.[56]

In 1822, a bill to authorize the collection of tolls on the Cumberland Road (which provided for yearly improvements to the road) was vetoed by the President. In an elaborate essay, Monroe set forth his views on the constitutional aspects of a policy of internal improvements. Congress might appropriate money, he admitted, but it could not undertake the construction of national works nor assume jurisdiction over them. For the moment, the drift toward a larger participation of the national government in internal improvements was stayed.[citation needed] Two years later, Congress authorized the President to institute surveys for such roads and canals as he believed to be needed for commerce and military defense. No one pleaded more eloquently for a larger conception of the functions of the national government than Henry Clay. He called the attention of his hearers to provisions made for coast surveys and lighthouses on the Atlantic seaboard and deplored the neglect of the interior of the country. Of the other presidential candidates, Jackson voted in the Senate for the general survey bill; and Adams left no doubt in the public mind that he did not reflect the narrow views of his section on this issue. Crawford felt the constitutional scruples which were everywhere being voiced in the South, and followed the old expedient of advocating a constitutional amendment to sanction national internal improvements.[57]

Panic of 1819Edit

Two years into his presidency, Monroe faced an economic crisis known as the Panic of 1819, the first major depression to hit the country since the 1780s. The panic stemmed from declining imports and exports, and sagging agricultural prices[56] as global markets readjusted to peacetime production and commerce in the aftermath of the War of 1812 and the Napoleonic Wars.[58][59] The severity of the economic downturn in the U.S. was compounded by excessive speculation in public lands,[60][61] fueled by the unrestrained issue of paper money from banks and business concerns.[62][63] The resulting high unemployment and an increase in bankruptcies and foreclosures provoked popular resentment against banking and business enterprises.[64][65] It also exacerbated tensions within the Democratic-Republican Party and aggravated sectional tensions as northerners pressed for higher tariffs while southerners abandoned their support of nationalistic economic programs.[citation needed]

Foreign affairsEdit

Bilateral TreatiesEdit

The Rush-Bagot Treaty with Great Britain was signed April 20, 1817; it regulated naval armaments on the Great Lakes and Lake Champlain, and demilitarized the border between the U.S. and British North America.[66]

The Treaty of 1818, also with Great Britain, was concluded October 20, 1818, and fixed the present Canada–United States border from Minnesota to the Rocky Mountains at the 49th parallel. The accords also established a joint U.S.–British occupation of Oregon Country for the next ten years.[67]

The Russo-American Treaty of 1824 with Russia, dated April 17, 1824, set the southern limit of Russian sovereignty on the Pacific coast of North America at the 54°40′ parallel. (the present southern tip of the Alaska Panhandle).[68]

Spanish FloridaEdit

Main article: Seminole Wars

Spain had long rejected American efforts to purchase Florida. But by 1818, Spain was facing a troubling colonial situation in which the cession of Florida made sense. Spain had been exhausted by the Peninsular War in Europe and needed to rebuild its credibility and presence in its colonies. Revolutionaries in Central America and South America were beginning to demand independence. Spain was unwilling to invest further in Florida, encroached on by American settlers, and it worried about the border between New Spain (a large area including today's Mexico, Central America, and much of the current US Western States) and the United States. With minor military presence in Florida, Spain was not able to restrain the Seminole warriors who routinely crossed the border and raided American villages and farms, as well as protected southern slave refugees from slave owners and traders of the southern United States.[citation needed]

To stop the Seminole Indians based in East Florida from raiding Georgia settlements and offering havens for runaway slaves, the U.S. Army led increasingly frequent incursions into Spanish territory. This included the 1817–1818 campaign led by General Andrew Jackson that became known as the First Seminole War. Jackson and a force of Tennessee Militia, under federal orders, attacked Pensacola, and captured forts, such as St. Marks, and the so-called "Negro Fort" (an abandoned British fort manned by escaped slaves and Seminoles), in Florida that he thought were assisting the raids into American territory. As a result, the U.S. effectively seized control of Northeastern Florida; albeit for purposes of lawful government and administration (in the state of Georgia); but not for the outright annexation.[citation needed]

Secretary of State John Quincy Adams said the US had to take control because Florida (along the border of Georgia & Alabama Territory) had become "a derelict open to the occupancy of every enemy, civilized or savage, of the United States, and serving no other earthly purpose than as a post of annoyance to them."[69] Spain asked for British intervention, but London declined to assist Spain in the negotiations. Some in Monroe's cabinet demanded Jackson's immediate dismissal for invading Florida, but Adams realized that his success had given the U.S. a favorable diplomatic position. Adams was able to negotiate very favorable terms. In 1819 Spain and the United States signed the Adams–Onís Treaty, that ceded Florida to the United States in return for the assumption of $5,000,000 (about $92,592,593 in 2014 dollars) in claims and the relinquishment of any claims to Texas.[70] The treaty became effective on February 22, 1821.

Monroe DoctrineEdit

Main article: Monroe Doctrine

After the Napoleonic wars (which ended in 1815), almost all of Spain's and Portugal's colonies in Latin America revolted and declared independence. Americans welcomed this development as a validation of the spirit of Republicanism. Secretary of State John Quincy Adams suggested delaying formal recognition until Florida was secured. The problem of imperial invasion was intensified by a Russian claim to the Pacific coast down to the fifty-first parallel and simultaneous European pressure to have all of Latin America returned to its colonial status.[citation needed]

Monroe informed Congress in March 1822 that permanent stable governments had been established in the United Provinces of the River Plate (the core of present-day Argentina), Colombia, Chile, and Mexico. Adams, under Monroe's supervision, wrote the instructions for the ministers (ambassadors) to these new countries. They declared that the policy of the United States was to uphold republican institutions and to seek treaties of commerce on a most-favored-nation basis. The United States would support inter-American congresses dedicated to the development of economic and political institutions fundamentally differing from those prevailing in Europe. The articulation of an "American system" distinct from that of Europe was a basic tenet of Monroe's policy toward Latin America. Monroe took pride as the United States was the first nation to extend recognition and to set an example to the rest of the world for its support of the "cause of liberty and humanity".[citation needed]

Monroe formally announced in his message to Congress on December 2, 1823, what was later called the Monroe Doctrine. He proclaimed that the Americas should be free from future European colonization and free from European interference in sovereign countries' affairs. It further stated the United States' intention to stay neutral in wars amongst European powers and their colonies, but to consider new colonies or interference with independent countries in the Americas as hostile acts toward the United States.[b]

Although it is Monroe's most famous contribution to history, the speech was written by Adams, who designed the doctrine in cooperation with Britain.[72] Monroe and Adams realized that American recognition would not protect the new countries against military intervention to restore Spain's power. In October 1823, Richard Rush, the American minister in London, advised that Foreign Secretary George Canning was proposing that the U.S. and Britain jointly declare their opposition to European intervention. Britain, with its powerful navy, also opposed re-conquest of Latin America and suggested that the United States join in proclaiming a "hands off" policy. Galvanized by the British initiative, Monroe consulted with American leaders and then formulated a plan with Adams. Ex-Presidents Jefferson and Madison counseled Monroe to accept the offer, but Adams advised, "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." Monroe accepted Adams' advice. Not only must Latin America be left alone, he warned, but also Russia must not encroach 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."[citation needed]

The Monroe Doctrine at the time of its adoption thus pertained more to the Russians in North America than to the former Spanish colonies. The result was a system of American isolationism under the sponsorship of the British navy. The Monroe Doctrine held that the United States considered the Western Hemisphere as no longer a place for European colonization; that any future effort to gain further political control in the hemisphere or to violate the independence of existing states would be treated as an act of hostility; and finally that there existed two different and incompatible political systems in the world. The United States, therefore, promised to refrain from intervention in European affairs and demanded Europe to abstain from interfering with American matters. There were few serious European attempts at intervention.[72]

Administration and CabinetEdit

Monroe made balanced Cabinet choices, naming a southerner, John C. Calhoun, as Secretary of War, and a northerner, John Quincy Adams, as Secretary of State. Both proved outstanding, as Adams was a master diplomat[73] and Calhoun completely reorganized the War Department to overcome the serious deficiencies that had hobbled it during the War of 1812.[74] Monroe decided on political grounds not to offer Henry Clay the State Department, and Clay turned down the War Department and remained Speaker of the House, so Monroe lacked an outstanding westerner in his cabinet. Monroe was the only president in the 19th century to complete two full terms with the same Vice President.

The Monroe Cabinet
Office Name Term
President James Monroe 1817–1825
Vice President Daniel D. Tompkins 1817–1825
Secretary of State John Quincy Adams 1817–1825
Secretary of Treasury William H. Crawford 1817–1825
Secretary of War John C. Calhoun 1817–1825
Attorney General Richard Rush 1817
William Wirt 1817–1825
Secretary of the Navy Benjamin Crowninshield 1817–1818
Smith Thompson 1819–1823
Samuel L. Southard 1823–1825

Judicial appointmentsEdit

Monroe appointed one justice to the Supreme Court of the United States, Smith Thompson. He appointed 21 other federal judges, all to United States district courts, as no vacancies occurred on the one circuit court existing at the time.[citation needed]

States admitted to the UnionEdit

Five new states were admitted to the Union while Monroe was in office:


Monroe once owned a farm at the location of the University of Virginia in Charlottesville

When his presidency ended on March 4, 1825, James Monroe resided at Monroe Hill, what is now included in the grounds of the University of Virginia. He had operated the family farm from 1788 to 1817, but sold it in the first year of his presidency to the new university. He served on the Board of Visitors under Jefferson and under the second rector James Madison, both former presidents, almost until his death.

Monroe incurred many unliquidated debts during his years of public life. He sold off his Highland Plantation (now called Ash Lawn-Highland). It is now owned by his alma mater, the College of William and Mary, which has opened it to the public as a historic site. Throughout his life, he was financially insolvent, and this was exacerbated by his wife's poor health.[81]

Monroe was elected as a delegate to the Virginia Constitutional Convention of 1829-1830. He was one of four delegates elected from the senatorial district made up of his home district of Loudoun and Fairfax County.[82] In October 1829, he was elected by the Convention to serve as the presiding officer, until his failing health required him to withdraw on December 8, after which Philip Pendleton Barbour of Orange County was elected presiding officer.

He and his wife lived in Oak Hill, Virginia, until Elizabeth's death on September 23, 1830. In August 1825, the Monroes had received the Marquis de Lafayette and President John Quincy Adams as guests there.[83]


Monroe's grave at Hollywood Cemetery. John Tyler's grave is visible in the background.

Upon Elizabeth's death in 1830, Monroe moved to New York City to live with his daughter Maria Hester Monroe Gouverneur who had married Samuel L. Gouverneur in the White House. Monroe's health began to slowly fail by the end of the 1820s and John Quincy Adams visited him there in April 1831.[84] Adams found him alert and eager to discuss the situation in Europe, but in ill health. Adams cut the visit short when he thought he was tiring Monroe.

Monroe died there from heart failure and tuberculosis on July 4, 1831, thus becoming the third president to have died on Independence Day. His death came 55 years after the U.S. Declaration of Independence was proclaimed and 5 years after the death of two other Founding Fathers who became Presidents: John Adams and Thomas Jefferson. Monroe was originally buried in New York at the Gouverneur family's vault in the New York City Marble Cemetery. Twenty-seven years later, in 1858, the body was re-interred to the President's Circle at the Hollywood Cemetery in Richmond, Virginia. The James Monroe Tomb is a U.S. National Historic Landmark.[citation needed]

Religious beliefsEdit

"When it comes to Monroe's thoughts on religion," historian Bliss Isely notes, "less is known than that of any other President." No letters survive in which he discussed his religious beliefs. Nor did his friends, family or associates comment on his beliefs. Letters that do survive, such as ones written after the death of his son, contain no discussion of religion.[85]

Monroe was raised in a family that belonged to the Church of England when it was the state church in Virginia before the Revolution. As an adult, he attended Episcopal churches. Some historians see "deistic tendencies" in his few references to an impersonal God.[86] Unlike Jefferson, Monroe was rarely attacked as an atheist or infidel. In 1832 James Renwick Willson, a Reformed Presbyterian minister in Albany, New York, criticized Monroe for having "lived and died like a second-rate Athenian philosopher."[87]

As Secretary of State, Monroe is said to have dismissed Mordecai Manuel Noah in 1815 from his post as consul to Tunis because he was Jewish.[88] Noah protested and gained letters from Adams, Jefferson, and Madison supporting church-state separation and tolerance for Jews.[89]

Monroe may have believed in an interventionist God when he said, "If we persevere...we can not fail, under the favor of a gracious Providence...My fervent prayers to the Almighty that He will be graciously pleased to continue to us that protection which He has already so conspicuously displayed in our favor."[90]


Monroe owned dozens of slaves. According to William Seale, he took several slaves with him to Washington to serve at the White House from 1817 to 1825. This was typical of other slaveholders, as Congress did not provide for domestic staff of the presidents at that time.[91]

On October 15, 1799, as some slave traders tried to transport a group of slaves from Southampton to Georgia, the slaves revolted and killed the traders.[92] According to Scheer's article on the subject, a nearby slave patrol responded and killed ten slaves on the spot in extrajudicial killings without the benefit of trial. Of the initial group, the patrol took five slaves alive. They were tried in an oyer and terminer court without the benefit of a jury,[93] and four were convicted. (The fifth pleaded benefit of clergy and was flogged and branded). Governor Monroe postponed the slaves' executions to check their identities; he granted a pardon to one, and allowed two to hang. The fourth died in jail from exposure to the cold. Scheer says that Monroe "help[ed] secure a modicum of civil protection for slaves sentenced to death for capital crimes."[94]

When Monroe was Governor of Virginia in 1800, hundreds of slaves from Virginia planned to kidnap him, take Richmond, and negotiate for their freedom. Due to a storm on August 30, they were unable to attack. What became known as Gabriel's slave conspiracy became public knowledge.[95]

In response, Governor Monroe called out the militia; the slave patrols soon captured some slaves accused of involvement. Sidbury says some trials had a few measures to prevent abuses, such as an appointed attorney, but they were "hardly 'fair'". Slave codes prevented slaves from being treated like whites, and they were given quick trials without a jury.[96] Monroe influenced the Executive Council to pardon and sell some slaves instead of hanging them.[97] Historians say the Virginia courts executed between 26 and 35 slaves. None of the executed slaves had killed any whites because the uprising had been foiled before it began.[92]

As president of Virginia's constitutional convention in the fall of 1829, Monroe reiterated his belief that slavery was a blight which, even as a British colony, Virginia had attempted to eradicate. "What was the origin of our slave population?" he rhetorically asked. "The evil commenced when we were in our Colonial state, but acts were passed by our Colonial Legislature, prohibiting the importation, of more slaves, into the Colony. These were rejected by the Crown." To the dismay of states' rights proponents, he was willing to accept the federal government's financial assistance to emancipate and transport freed slaves to other countries. At the convention, Monroe made his final public statement on slavery, proposing that Virginia emancipate and deport its bondsmen with "the aid of the Union."[98]

Monroe was part of the American Colonization Society formed in 1816, the members of which included Henry Clay and Andrew Jackson. They found common ground with some abolitionists in supporting colonization. They helped send several thousand freed slaves to the new colony of Liberia in Africa from 1820 to 1840. Slave owners like Monroe and Jackson wanted to prevent free blacks from encouraging slaves in the South to rebel. With about $100,000 in Federal grant money, the organization also bought land for the freedmen in what is today Liberia.[99] The capital of Liberia was named Monrovia after President Monroe.[100]

Honors and membershipsEdit

Monroe was elected a member of the American Antiquarian Society in April 1818.[101]

Legacy and memoryEdit

$100 silver certificate depicting Monroe 
Presidential Dollar of James Monroe 
First Monroe Postage stamp, Issue of 1904 
Statue of Monroe at Ash Lawn-Highland 
Monroe Hall at the University of Virginia; Monroe once owned the land on which the university sits. 

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ "[T]he sectional divisions among the Jeffersonian Republicans…offers historical paradoxes…in which hard-line slaveholding Southern Republicans rejected the egalitarian ideals of the slaveholder [Thomas] Jefferson while the antislavery Northern Republicans upheld them – even as Jefferson himself supported slavery's expansion on purportedly antislavery grounds."[50] "The most prominent feature of the voting at this stage was its apparently sectional character."[51]
  2. ^ "We owe it, therefore, to candor and to the amicable relations existing between the United States and those powers to declare that we should consider any attempt on their part to extend their system to any portion of this hemisphere as dangerous to our peace and safety. With the existing colonies or dependencies of any European power we have not interfered and shall not interfere, but with the Governments who have declared their independence and maintained it, and whose independence we have, on great consideration and on just principles, acknowledged, we could not view any interposition for the purpose of oppressing them, or controlling in any other manner their destiny, by any European power in any other light than as the manifestation of an unfriendly disposition toward the United States.[71]
  3. ^ Maine is one of 3 states that were set off from already existing states (Kentucky and West Virginia are the others). The Massachusetts General Court passed enabling legislation on June 19, 1819 separating the "District of Maine" from the rest of the State (an action approved by the voters in Maine on July 19, 1819 by 17,001 to 7,132); then, on February 25, 1820, passed a follow-up measure officially accepting the fact of Maine's imminent statehood.[79]


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Primary sourcesEdit

  • Monroe, James. The Political Writings of James Monroe. ed. by James P. Lucier, (2002). 863 pp.
  • Writings of James Monroe, edited by Stanislaus Murray Hamilton, ed., 7 vols. (1898–1903) online edition at Google Books
  • Richardson, James D. ed. A Compilation of the Messages and Papers of the Presidents (1897), reprints his major messages and reports.


  • Ammon, Harry (1971). James Monroe: The Quest for National Identity. McGraw-Hill.  706 pp. standard scholarly biography
  • Ammon, Harry. "James Monroe" in Henry F. Graff ed., The Presidents: A Reference History (3rd ed. 2002) online
  • Bemis, Samuel Flagg (1949). John Quincy Adams and the Foundations of American Foreign Policy. A. A. Knopf. 
  • Cresson, William P. James Monroe (1946). 577 pp. good scholarly biography
  • Cunningham, Noble E., Jr. The Presidency of James Monroe. 1996. 246 pp. standard scholarly survey
  • Dangerfield, George. Era of Good Feelings (1953) excerpt and text search
  • Dangerfield, George (1965). The Awakening of American Nationalism: 1815–1828. Harper and Rowe. ASIN 0881338230. 
  • Elkins, Stanley M. and Eric McKitrick. The Age of Federalism (1995). most advanced analysis of the politics of the 1790s. online edition
  • Heidler, David S. "The Politics of National Aggression: Congress and the First Seminole War," Journal of the Early Republic 1993 13(4): 501–530. in JSTOR
  • Finkelman, Paul, ed. Encyclopedia of the New American Nation, 1754–1829 (2005), 1600 pp.
  • Hart, Gary (2005). James Monroe. Henry Holy and Co. ISBN 978-0805069600.  superficial, short, popular biography
  • Haworth, Peter Daniel. "James Madison and James Monroe Historiography: A Tale of Two Divergent Bodies of Scholarship." in A Companion to James Madison and James Monroe (2013): 521-539.
  • Howe, Daniel Walker (2007). What Hath God Wrought: The Transformation of America, 1815–1848. Oxford Univ. Press.  Pulitzer Prize; a sweeping interpretation of the era
  • Holmes, David L. The Faiths of the Founding Fathers, May 2006, online version
  • Johnson, Allen (1915). Union and Democracy. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company. 
  • Kranish, Michael. "At Capitol, slavery's story turns full circle", The Boston Globe, Boston, December 28, 2008.
  • Leibiger, Stuart, ed. A Companion to James Madison and James Monroe (2012) excerpt; emphasis on historiography
  • May, Ernest R. The Making of the Monroe Doctrine (1975), argues it was issued to influence the outcome of the presidential election of 1824.
  • Perkins, Bradford. Castlereagh and Adams: England and the United States, 1812–1823 (1964)
  • Perkins, Dexter. The Monroe Doctrine, 1823–1826 (1927), the standard monograph about the origins of the doctrine.
  • (Italian) Nico Perrone, Progetto di un impero. 1823. L'annuncio dell'egemonia americana infiamma la borsa (Project of an Empire. 1823. The Announcement of American Hegemony Inflames the Stock Exchange), Naples, La Città del Sole, 2013 ISBN 978-88-8292-310-5
  • Powell, Walter & Steinberg, Richard. The nonprofit sector: a research handbook, Yale, 2006, p. 40.
  • Pulliam, David Loyd (1901). The Constitutional Conventions of Virginia from the foundation of the Commonwealth to the present time. John T. West, Richmond. ISBN 978-1-2879-2059-5. 
  • Renehan Edward J., Jr. The Monroe Doctrine: The Cornerstone of American Foreign Policy (2007)
  • Scherr, Arthur. "James Monroe and John Adams: An Unlikely 'Friendship'". The Historian 67#3 (2005) pp 405+. online edition
  • Skeen, Carl Edward. 1816: America Rising (1993) popular history
  • Scherr, Arthur. "James Monroe on the Presidency and 'Foreign Influence;: from the Virginia Ratifying Convention (1788) to Jefferson's Election (1801)." Mid-America 2002 84(1–3): 145–206. ISSN 0026-2927.
  • Scherr, Arthur. "Governor James Monroe and the Southampton Slave Resistance of 1799." Historian 1999 61(3): 557–578. ISSN 0018-2370 Fulltext online in SwetsWise and Ebsco.
  • Styron, Arthur. The Last of the Cocked Hats: James Monroe and the Virginia Dynasty (1945). 480 pp. thorough, scholarly treatment of the man and his times.
  • Unger, Harlow G. (2009). The Last Founding Father: James Monroe and a Nation's Call to Greatness. Da Capo Press.  a new biography.
  • White, Leonard D. The Jeffersonians: A Study in Administrative History, 1801–1829 (1951), explains the operation and organization of federal administration
  • Whitaker, Arthur P. The United States and the Independence of Latin America (1941)
  • White, Leonard D. The Jeffersonians: A Study in Administrative History, 1801–1829 (1951), explains the operation and organization of federal administration
  • Wilmerding, Jr., Lucius, James Monroe: Public Claimant (1960) A study regarding Monroe's attempts to get reimbursement for personal expenses and losses from his years in public service after his Presidency ended.
  • Wilentz, Sean (Fall 2004). "Jeffersonian Democracy and the Origins of Political Antislavery in the United States: The Missouri Crisis Revisited". The Journal of the Historical Society. IV (3). 
  • Wood, Gordon S. Empire of Liberty: A history of the Early Republic, 1789–1815 (2009)

External linksEdit