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James Monroe Facts and Biography

The Presidency of James Monroe is often referred to as the “Era of Good Feelings.” During this time America enjoyed relative peace and prosperity. Taxes were lower, income was higher and there was little threat from Europe. America began building a standing army to defend its borders from Europe and other countries in the Western Hemisphere began to break off and declare Independence from their European counterparts.

The Federalist party which dominated the early years of the republic was not fading quickly and irrelevant. America now had one dominant party and James Monroe easily won the first election and then ran unopposed in the second election. Monroe won all but one electoral vote which kept George Washington as the only President of the United States to be elected unanimously.

Presidency (1817 – 1825)

Monroe was different from James Madison and Thomas Jefferson in that he employed the ablest people at their positions, regardless of their political affiliations.  Monroe was a staunch Anti-Federalist, but in order to organize the demise of the party, he practiced patience and a willingness to work with other parties. In his speeches, he never mentioned the Federalist party and spoke as the head of the “Union” and not the head of the Republican party. This presented Monroe as a unifier and not a divider. The Federalist party would continue to fade and by the time the Election of 1824 came they did not have a nominee.

James Monroe placed able men in his cabinet and also his political rivals. His cabinet was made up of John Quincy Adams (son of John Adams), John C. Calhoun, William H. Crawford, and Andrew Jackson. By placing these men in the cabinet it nullified their chances of running against him for President. It also gave rise to the modern Democratic Party under which Andrew Jackson would lead. Regardless of the after-effects the men worked well together during the James Monroe Presidency. John Quincy Adams was highly influential in the formation of the Monroe Doctrine.

In 1817, James Monroe made two long national tours. These tours built national trust in him personally and in the office of President of the United States.

A small hiccup in the Era of Good Feeling happened with the Panic of 1819 when Missouri came close to entering the union. The nation was already divided into the Slave States and the Free States and when another stated joined the union it threatened the balance of power in Congress. The Panic of 1819 was resolved with the Missouri Compromise that allowed Missouri to enter the union as a slave state and Maine to enter the union as a free state. It also barred slaver north of the 36/30 latitude permanently.

Monroe vetoed the Cumberland Road Bill which gave federal funding to build a road from Cumberland across Virginia, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois state lines.  Monroe believed that it was unconstitutional for the Federal Government to get involved in what he believed was a state-by-state issue.

James Monroe’s cabinet was made up of some of the brightest minds of the time. In an effort to unify the political parties he chose John Quincy Adams of Massachusetts, New England as his Secretary of State and John C. Calhoun of South Carolina. While it was a political move to choose these men, both were highly effective. John Quincy Adams was the greatest diplomat in American History with the possible exception of Benjamin Franklin. John C. Calhoun was named his Secretary of War and went on to reorganize the entire military system and rid it of the problems that ailed the United States during the War of 1812. Ironically, the two would become political enemies later in life due to John Quincy being a staunch abolitionist and John C. Calhoun being pro-slavery.

Foreign Policy

James Monroe’s greatest accomplishments during his presidency came from his foreign policy. Under the guidance of his brilliant Secretary of State, John Quincy Adams, Monroe successfully expanded the United States and created the Monroe Doctrine.

His first significant accomplishment in Foreign Policy was settling outstanding disputes with Great Britain. He successfully settled the issue of the Oregon Territory with joint occupation (The Oregon Territory would not be completely settled until James K. Polk was president).  The Rush-Bagot Agreement of 1817 imposed a limitation of armaments on the Great Lakes, and a mutually satisfactory fisheries treaty was negotiated in 1818.

The issue of Spanish Florida was also settled during his Presidency. Since the Napoleonic Wars, the global empires of Spain and Portugal began to diminish. The Age of the Spanish Conquistadors and the brave Portuguese Explorers had passed and now the natives were taking control of their lands be declaring Independence. Even-so the Seminoles of Florida were attacking American citizens and then quickly returning into Spanish jurisdiction. Monroe entered into negotiations with the Spanish to settle the dispute, but these talks were hindered when General Andrew Jackson attacked the Seminoles inside Florida. John Quincy Adams moved quickly and skillfully. The dispute was settled and the United States paid Spain $5,000,000 for Florida. Florida was ceded into the Union in 1821.

Monroe’s greatest accomplishment in foreign policy came with the Monroe Doctrine. The Monroe Doctrine was crafted by one of the most skillful diplomats America has ever had, John Quincy Adams.

The Monroe Doctrine came about for a few reasons. Many European colonies were now declaring Independence, the problems America was having with Spanish Florida, and the Russian claim for the Pacific coast of America. While the Monroe Doctrine was aimed primarily at Russia it became the central piece of American isolationism that still survives to this day. It draws its influence on the Farewell Address of George Washington in which he warned of entangling foreign alliances.

The Monroe Doctrine stated that the United States of America 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. Therefore the United States promised to refrain from intervention in European affairs and demanded Europe to abstain from interfering with American matters. In the event there were few serious European attempts at intervention.

States Admitted to the Union

  • Mississippi – December 10, 1817
  • Illinois – December 3, 1818
  • Alabama – December 14, 1819
  • Maine – March 15, 1820
  • Missouri – August 10, 1821

James Monroe Quotes

“A little flattery will support a man through great fatigue.”

“At no period of our political existence had we so much cause to felicitate ourselves at the prosperous and happy condition of our country.”

“By the last returns to the Department of War, the militia force of the several States may be estimated at 800,000 men – infantry, artillery, and cavalry.”

“By these purchases, the Indian title, with moderate reservations, has been extinguished to the whole of the land within the limits of the State of Ohio, and to a part of that in the Michigan Territory and of the State of Indiana.”

“From several of the Indian tribes inhabiting the country bordering on Lake Erie purchases have been made of lands on conditions very favorable to the United States, and, as it is presumed, not less so to the tribes themselves.”

“I have great satisfaction in stating that our relations with France, Russia, and other powers continue on the most friendly basis.”

“If we look to the history of other nations, ancient or modern, we find no example of a growth so rapid, so gigantic, of a people so prosperous and happy.”

“In the wars of the European powers in matters relating to themselves we have never taken any part, nor does it comport with our policy so to do. It is only when our rights are invaded or seriously menaced that we resent injuries or make preparation for our defense.”

“It is only when the people become ignorant and corrupt, when they degenerate into a populace, that they are incapable of exercising their sovereignty.”

“National honor is the national property of the highest value.”

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