James Monroe Biography

James Monroe was born on 28 April, 1758, Westmoreland County, Va. Attended the College of William and Mary. Monroe studied law under Thomas Jefferson. Married Elizabeth Kortright in 1786. In 1790, he was elected to the United States Senate. Monroe served as governor of Virginia from 1799 to 1802. Served as Secretary of War during the War of 1812. Monroe was elected to President. Died July 4, 1831.

James Lawrence Monroe (April 28, 1758 - July 4, 1831) was the fifth President of the United States (1817-1825). His administration was marked by the acquisition of Florida (1819); the Missouri Compromise (1820), in which Missouri was declared a slave state; the admission of Maine in 1820 as a free state; and the profession of the Monroe Doctrine (1823), declaring U.S. opposition to European interference in the Americas, as well as breaking all ties with France remaining from the War of 1812.

The presidentís parents, father Spence Monroe (ca. 1727-1774), a woodworker and tobacco farmer, and mother Elizabeth Jones Monroe, had significant land holdings but little money. Like his parents, he was a slaveholder. Born in Westmoreland County, Virginia, Monroe went to school at Campbelltown Academy and then the College of William and Mary, both in Virginia. After graduating from William and Mary in 1776, Monroe fought in the Continental Army, serving with distinction at the Battle of Trenton, where he was shot in his left shoulder. He is depicted holding the flag in the famous painting of Washington Crossing the Delaware. Following his war service, he practiced law in Fredericksburg, Virginia. James Monroe married Elizabeth Kortright on February 16, 1786 at the Trinity Church in New York. Monroe was elected to the Virginia House of Delegates in 1782 and served in the Continental Congress from 1783 to 1786. As a youthful politician, he joined the anti-Federalists in the Virginia Convention which ratified the Constitution, and in 1790, was elected United States Senator. After his term in the Senate, Monroe was appointed Minister to France from 1794 to 1796. His appointment there was made difficult as he had strong sympathies for the French Revolution, but dutifully maintained President Washington's strict policy of neutrality between Britain and France. Out of office, Monroe returned to practicing law in Virginia until elected governor there, serving from 1799 to 1802. Under the first Jefferson administration, Monroe was dispatched to France to assist Robert R. Livingston to negotiate the Louisiana Purchase. Monroe was then appointed Minister to the Court of St. James (Britain) from 1803 to 1807. In 1806 he negotiated a treaty with Britain to replace the Jay Treaty of 1794, but Jefferson rejected it as unsatisfactory, as the treaty contained no ban on the British practice of impressment of American sailors. As a result, the two nations moved closer toward the War of 1812. Monroe returned to the Virginia House of Delegates and was elected to another term as governor of Virginia in 1811, but he resigned a few months into the term. He then served as Secretary of State from 1811 to 1814. When he was appointed to the post of Secretary of War in 1814, he stayed on as the Secretary of State ad interim. At the war's end in 1815, he was again commissioned as the permanent Secretary of State, and left his position as Secretary of War. Thus from October 1, 1814, to February 28, 1815, Monroe effectively held both cabinet posts. Monroe stayed on as Secretary of State until the end of the James Madison Presidency, and the following day Monroe began his term as the new President of the United States.

In both the presidential elections of 1816 and 1820 Monroe ran nearly unopposed. Attentive to detail, well prepared on most issues, non-partisan in spirit, and above all pragmatic, Monroe managed his presidential duties well. He made strong Cabinet choices, naming a southerner, John C. Calhoun, as Secretary of War, and a northerner, John Quincy Adams, as Secretary of State. Only Henry Clay's refusal to accept a position kept Monroe from adding an outstanding westerner. Most appointments went to deserving Democratic-Republicans, but he did not try to use them to build the party's base. Indeed, he allowed the base to decay, which reduced anxiety and led to the naming of his period as the "Era of Good Feelings". To build good will, he made two long tours in 1817. Frequent stops allowed innumerable ceremonies of welcome and good will. The Federalist Party dwindled and eventually died out, starting with the Hartford Convention. Practically every politician that held a Federal office belonged to the Democratic-Republican Party, but the party maintained its vitality and organizational integrity at the state and local level but dwindled at the federal level due to redistricting. The party's Congressional caucus stopped meeting, and there were no national conventions. During his presidency, Congress demanded high subsidies for internal improvements, such as for the Cumberland Road. Monroe vetoed the Cumberland Road Bill, which provided for yearly improvements to the road, because he believed it to be "unconstitutional" for the government to pass such a bill. These "good feelings" endured until 1824, when John Quincy Adams was elected President by the House of Representatives in what Andrew Jackson alleged was a "corrupt bargain." Monroe's popularity, however, was undiminished. Monroe followed nationalist policies. Across the commitment to nationalism, sectional cracks appeared. The Panic of 1819 caused a painful economic depression. The application for statehood by the Missouri Territory, in 1819, as a slave state failed. An amended bill for gradually eliminating slavery in Missouri precipitated two years of bitter debate in Congress. The Missouri Compromise bill resolved the struggle, pairing Missouri as a slave state with Maine, a free state, and barring slavery north and west of Missouri forever. Monroe began to formally recognize the young sister republics (the former Spanish colonies) in 1822. He and Secretary of State John Quincy Adams had wished to avoid trouble with Spain until it had ceded the Floridas to the U.S., which was done in 1821. Monroe is probably best known for the Monroe Doctrine, which he delivered in his message to Congress on December 2, 1823. In it, he proclaimed 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 European wars and wars between European powers and their colonies, but to consider any new colonies or interference with independent countries in the Americas as hostile acts toward the United States. Britain, with its powerful navy, also opposed re-conquest of Latin America and suggested that the United States join in proclaiming "hands off."

When his presidency was over on March 4, 1825, James Monroe lived at Monroe Hill on the grounds of the University of Virginia. This university's modern campus was Monroe's family farm from 1788 to 1817, but he had sold it in the first year of his presidency to the new college. He served on the college's Board of Visitors under Jefferson and then under the second rector and another former President James Madison, until his death. Monroe had racked up many debts during his years of public life. As a result, he was forced to sell off his Highland Plantation. Throughout his life, he was not financially solvent, and his wife's poor health made matters worse. For these reasons, he and his wife lived in Oak Hill, Virginia, until Elizabeth's death on September 23, 1830.

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 first White House wedding. Monroe died there from heart failure and tuberculosis on July 4, 1831, becoming the third president to die on the 4th of July. His death came 55 years after the U.S. Declaration of Independence was proclaimed and 5 years after the death of the Presidents John Adams and Thomas Jefferson. He 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 he was re-interred to the President's Circle at the Hollywood Cemetery in Richmond, Virginia.

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