JAMES MONROE | 1817-1825

Thomas Jefferson reportedly said of James Monroe that he ” …was so honest that if you turned his soul inside out there would not be a spot on it.”

Born in Westmoreland County, Virginia, on April 28, 1758, Monroe attended the College of William and Mary, fought with distinction in the Continental Army, and practiced law.

As a youthful politician, he joined the anti-Federalists in the Virginia Convention that ratified the Constitution, and in 1790 was elected to the Senate. As minister to France in 1794-1796, he displayed strong sympathies for the French cause. Later, with Robert R. Livingston, he helped negotiate the Louisiana Purchase.

His ambition and energy, together with the backing of President Madison, made him the Republican choice for the presidency in 1816. He easily won re-election in 1820.

Early in his administration, Monroe undertook a goodwill tour. But “goodwill” did not endure. Across the facade of nationalism, ugly sectional cracks appeared. Economic depression increased the dismay of the Missouri Territory in 1819 when its application for admission to the Union 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.

In foreign affairs Monroe proclaimed the policy that bears his name. Responding to the threat that conservative European governments might help Spain win back former Latin American colonies, Monroe did not recognize the young sister republics until he could ascertain that Congress would vote appropriations for diplomatic missions.

Britain also opposed re-conquest of Latin America and suggested that the United States join in proclaiming “hands off.” Ex-Presidents Jefferson and Madison counseled Monroe to accept the offer, but Secretary of State John Quincy Adams advised that doing so would be “to come in as a cock-boat in the wake of the British man-of-war.”

Monroe took Adams’ advice. Not only must Latin America be left alone, he warned, but the American continents “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.” Some 20 years after Monroe died in 1831, this became known as the Monroe Doctrine.

Permission granted to re-post by The White House Historical Association