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James Monroe

What Number President was He?


James Monroe served as the United States' fifth President from 1817 to 1825, representing the final President hailing from the Founding Fathers.

On January 1, 1825, during his annual White House reception, President James Monroe left a favorable impression on a lady from Virginia who shook his hand:

"Tall and well-proportioned, his attire modest and reflective of older times... His demeanor was calm and dignified. The open and sincere expression in his eyes led me to agree with the praise bestowed upon him by the esteemed Jefferson, who remarked, 'Monroe was so honest that if his soul were turned inside out, there would not be a blemish on it.'"

Born in 1758 in Westmoreland County, Virginia, Monroe attended the College of William and Mary, served with distinction in the Continental Army, and pursued a legal career in Fredericksburg, Virginia.

In his early political career, he aligned with the anti-Federalists during Virginia's Constitutional Convention, where the Constitution was ratified. He supported Jeffersonian policies and was elected as a United States Senator in 1790. As Minister to France from 1794 to 1796, he displayed strong sympathies for the French cause and played a role in negotiating the Louisiana Purchase alongside Robert R. Livingston.

Ambitious and energetic, with President Madison's backing, he became the Republican nominee for the Presidency in 1816, securing an easy re-election in 1820 due to minimal Federalist opposition.

Monroe's choices for his Cabinet were noteworthy, appointing John C. Calhoun, a Southerner, as Secretary of War, and John Quincy Adams, a northerner, as Secretary of State. Only Henry Clay's refusal prevented him from including an exceptional Westerner.

Early in his presidency, Monroe embarked on a goodwill tour, and his visit to Boston marked the start of an "Era of Good Feelings," although this unity was short-lived. Despite this, Monroe's popularity remained strong, and he pursued nationalist policies.

Beneath the surface of nationalism, divisive sectional tensions emerged. An economic depression heightened the disappointment in the Missouri Territory when their bid for statehood as a slave state failed in 1819. An amended bill led to a prolonged congressional debate over gradual slavery elimination in Missouri.

The Missouri Compromise eventually resolved the issue by pairing Missouri as a slave state with Maine as a free state and prohibiting slavery north and west of Missouri indefinitely.

In foreign relations, Monroe's doctrine, now named after him, responded to concerns that conservative European governments might assist Spain in regaining its former Latin American colonies. Monroe refrained from formally recognizing the new republics until 1822, once assured of Congressional appropriations for diplomatic missions. He and Secretary of State John Quincy Adams aimed to avoid conflict with Spain until the Floridas were ceded in 1821.

Great Britain, with its formidable navy, also rejected reconquest of Latin America and proposed a joint declaration of non-interference. While former Presidents Jefferson and Madison supported this, Secretary Adams advised pursuing a more assertive approach: "It would be more honest ... to openly communicate our principles to Russia and France, rather than trailing behind the British like a small boat."

Monroe followed Adams's counsel, asserting that not only should Latin America remain untouched but also that Russia should not expand southward along the Pacific coast. He stated that the "American continents, through their free and sovereign status, are not to be regarded as subjects for future colonization by any European Power." Roughly two decades after Monroe's passing in 1831, this became known as the Monroe Doctrine.

James Monroe

The right of self defense never ceases. It is among the most sacred, and alike necessary to nations and to individuals, and whether the attack be made by Spain herself or by those who abuse her power, its obligation is not the less strong.

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