1902 Encyclopedia > James Monroe

James Monroe
(1758-1831)
5th president of the United States (1817-25)




JAMES MONROE, (1758-1831), fifth president of the United States, was born 28th April 1758, in the county of Westmoreland, Virginia. According to the family tradition, their ancestors are traced back to a family of Scottish cavaliers descended from Hector Monroe, an officer of Charles I. At the outbreak of the Revolutionary war, James Monroe was a student at the College of William and Mary, but left his studies in 1776 to join the continental army. He took part as lieutenant in the New Jersey campaign of that year, and was wounded at the battle of Trenton. The next year he served with the rank of captain on the staff of General William Alexander ("Lord Stirling"), but, thus being out of the line of promotion, he soon found himself without military employment. In 1780 he began the study of the law under the direction of Jefferson, then governor of Virginia. His intimacy with Jefferson at this time had probably a controlling influence upon his subse-quent political career. He continued through all vicissitudes to possess the friendship and support of both Jefferson and Madison.

In 1782 Monroe was in the State legislature, and from 1783 to 1786 was a member of Congress. On retiring from Congress he entered upon the practice of the law at Fredericksburg, and was again elected to the legislature. In the Virginia convention of 1788 for the ratification of the constitution, he was among the opponents of that instrument; but his course was approved by the legisla-ture of his State, who elected him United States senator in 1790 to fill the vacancy caused by the death of William Grayson. As senator he was a decided opponent of the Federalist administration. Nevertheless he was selected by Washington in 1794 as minister to France in place of Gouverneur Morris, a Federalist, recalled upon the request of the French Government. Being of the party who sympathized with the revolutionary struggle in France, it was expected that his appointment would be flattering to the Government of that country, and would also conciliate the French partyat home. The Governmentof theNational Convention received Monroe with open signs of favour, and on his part he expressed his own and his country's sympathy with the French Bepublic with so much enthusiasm that Washington deemed his language not in keeping with the neutral policy which the administration had recently proclaimed. At about the same time John Jay had negotiated a treaty of amity and commerce with England which gave great umbrage to France. It was alleged that the earlier treaty of 1778 with France was violated by the stipulations of the Jay treaty and the Directory seemed disposed to make of this a casus belli. In this emergency it was believed by Washington and his advisers that Monroe failed to represent properly the policy of the Government, and he was therefore recalled in 1796. In justification of his diplomatic conduct, he published the next year his View, a pamphlet of 500 pages. In 1799 he became governor of Virginia, and was twice re-elected. In the meantime the Republican party had come into power, with Jefferson as president, and Monroe was again called upon to fill an important diplomatic station. He was com-missioned on 10th January 1803 to act with Livingston, resident minister at Paris, in negotiating the purchase of New Orleans and the territory embracing the mouth of the Mississippi, which formed a part of the province of Louisiana, recently ceded by Spain to France. In view of the anticipated renewal of hostilities between England and France in 1803, Napoleon was anxious, for a consideration, to part with his new acquisition, which in the event of a war with England he would probably lose by conquest. The American commissioners met therefore with little difficulty in the accomplishment of their object. But, in the absence of instructions, they assumed the responsibility of negotiating the purchase not only of New Orleans but of the entire territory of Louisiana—an event that is hardly second in importance to any in the history of the country. Monroe wras next commissioned as minister to England, "to succeed Partus King, who had resigned. In 1804 he undertook a mission to Madrid, with the object of negotiating the purchase of the Floridas; but in this he was unsuccessful, and returned to London in 1805. The next year he was joined in a commission with William Pinkney to negotiate a treaty "with England to take the place of the Jay treaty, which expired in that year. Lords Auckland and Howick having been appointed on the part of England, a treaty was concluded on the last day oof the year, which was perhaps more favourable to the United States than the Jay treaty; but, like the latter, it contained no provision against the impressment of Ameri-can seamen. For this reason President Jefferson refused to submit it to the Senate for ratification, but sent it back for revision. In the meantime Canning had become foreign secretary in place of Fox, and refused to re-open the negotiation. Monroe returned to the United States in 1807, and, as in the case of his first French mission, he drew up a defence of his diplomatic conduct in England. In 1808 certain disaffected Republicans attempted to put Monroe forward as the candidate for the presidency, but as Virginia declared in favour of Madison Monroe withdrew his name. In 1810 he was again in the legislature of his native State, and the next year its governor. But in this year he was called from the state to the national councils, superseding Robert Smith as secretary of state in Madison's cabinet, and took an active part in precipitating the war against England in 1812. On the retirement of Armstrong, after the capture of Washington in 1814, Monroe assumed the duties of the war department in addition to those of the state depart-ment, and by his energy and decision infused something of vigour into the conduct of the war. He was elected president in 1816, and was re-elected in 1820 without opposition. The period of his administration (1817-25) has been called " the era of good feeling," for the reason that the party issues of the past were mostly dead, and new issues had not yet arisen. In the formation of his cabinet Monroe showed the soundness of his judg-ment, selecting for the leading positions J. Q. Adams, J. C. Calhoun, W. H. Crawford, and William Wirt. With these able advisers he devoted himself to the economic development of the country, which had been so long retarded by foreign complications. As president, more-over, he was able to accomplish in 1819 the acquisi-tion of the Floridas, which as minister to Spain he had failed to do in 1804, and to define the boundary of Louis-iana, which he had been the agent in purchasing in 1803. But Monroe is best known to later generations as the author of the so-called " Monroe doctrine," a declaration inserted in his seventh annual message, 2d December 1823. It was the formulation of the sentiment, then beginning to prevail, that America wras for Americans. One of the principles of the neutral policy of the country, which had been established with much difficulty, had been that the United States would not interfere in European politics; and now this policy was held to include the converse as a necessary corollary—that is, that Europe should not interfere in American politics, whether in North America or South America. The occasion of proclaiming this doctrine was the rumoured intervention of the Holy Alliance to aid Spain in the reconquest of her American colonies. President Monroe believed that such a policy entered upon by the allied continental powers of Europe would be dangerous to the peace and safety of the United States ; he therefore declared that " we would not view any intervention for the purpose of oppressing them (the Spanish American states) or controlling in any manner their destiny, by any European power, in any other light than as the manifestation of an unfriendly disposition towards the United States." This declaration, together with the known hostility of England to such a project, was sufficient to prevent further action on the part of the Alliance.

On the expiration of his presidential term Monroe retired to Oak Hill, his residence in London county, Virginia ; but at the time of his death, 4th July 1831, he was residing in New York. He was married about 1786, and left two daughters. He was a man of spotless character; and, though not possessing ability of the first order, he ranks high as a wise and prudent statesman. His Life has been written by D. C. Oilman. (F. SN.)







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