PR5 James Monroe At a Glance Term: 5th President of the United States (1817-1825) Born

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James Monroe

At a Glance

Term: 5th President of the United States (1817-1825)

Born: April 28, 1758, Westmoreland County, Virginia

Nickname: "The Last Cocked Hat," "Era-of-Good-Feelings President"

Formal Education: College of William and Mary (graduated 1776)

Religion: Episcopalian

Marriage: February 16, 1786, to Elizabeth Kortright (1768-1830)

Children: Eliza Kortright (1786-1835), James Spence (1799-1800), Maria Hester (1803-1850)

Career: Lawyer

Political Party: Democratic-Republican

Writings: Writings, ed. by S. M. Hamilton; Autobiography, ed. by Stuart G. Brown and Donald G. Baker

Died: July 4, 1831, New York City, New York (yet another president dies on July 4th)

Buried: Hollywood Cemetery, Richmond, Virginia

Presidential Life in Brief: James Monroe was the last American President of the 'Virginia Dynasty' -- of the first five men who held that position, four hailed from Virginia. Monroe also had a long and distinguished public career as a soldier, diplomat, governor, senator, and cabinet official. His presidency, which began in 1817 and lasted until 1825, encompassed what came to be called the 'Era of Good Feelings.' One of his lasting achievements was the Monroe Doctrine, which became a major tenet of U.S. foreign policy in the Western Hemisphere.

When President Madison announced his decision to continue the custom of serving only two terms, Monroe became the logical candidate for the Democratic-Republicans. After some maneuvering within the party, Monroe prevailed to win the nomination. He had little opposition during the general election campaign. The Federalists were so out of favor with the public that a majority had abandoned the party name altogether. They ultimately nominated New York's Rufus King, but the result was a foregone conclusion. In the Electoral College, Monroe carried sixteen states to King's three.

Monroe began his presidency by embarking on a presidential tour, a practice initiated by George Washington. His trip through the northern states took fifteen weeks, by which time more Americans had seen him than they had any other sitting President. A newspaper in Boston described Monroe's reception there as the beginning of a new "Era of Good Feelings" for the nation. The President later made two similar tours, one of the Chesapeake Bay area in 1818 and one of the South and West in 1819.

At the beginning of Monroe's presidency, the nation had much to feel good about. It had declared victory in the War of 1812 and its economy was booming, allowing the administration to turn its attention toward domestic issues. The economy was booming. The organized opposition, in the form of the Federalists, had faded largely from sight, although the government had adopted many Federalist programs, including protective tariffs and a national bank. The President, moreover, was personable, extremely popular, and interested in reaching out to all the regions of the country.

Monroe faced his first crisis as President with the Panic of 1819, which resulted in high unemployment as well as increased foreclosures and bankruptcies. Some critics derided Monroe for not responding more forcefully to the depression. Although he believed that such troubles were natural for a maturing economy and that the situation would soon turn around, he could do little to alleviate their short-term effects.
Monroe's second crisis came the same year, when the entrance of Missouri to the Union as a slave state threatened to disrupt the legislative balance between North and South. Congress preserved that equilibrium, negotiating a compromise in which Massachusetts allowed its northernmost counties to apply for admission to the Union as the new free state of Maine. The Missouri Compromise also called for the prohibition of slavery in the western territories of the Louisiana Purchase above the 36/30' north latitude line. Monroe worked in support of the compromise and, after ascertaining that the provisions were constitutional, signed the bill.

In trying to sustain the 'Era of Good Feelings,' Monroe had hoped to preside over the decline of political parties. However, his administration offered only a brief respite from divisive partisan politics. The rancor surrounding the 1824 presidential election was a reminder that strong feelings still animated American political life even without the existence of two distinct parties. In fact, the Monroe presidency stood at the forefront of a transition from the first party system of the Democratic-Republicans and the Federalists to the second party system of the Democrats and the Whigs.

In 1818, President Monroe sent General Andrew Jackson to Spanish Florida to subdue the Seminole Indians, who were raiding American settlements. Liberally interpreting his vague instructions, Jackson led his troops deep into areas of Florida under the control of Spain and captured two Spanish forts. In addition to securing greater protection for American settlements, the mission pointed out the vulnerability of Spanish rule in Florida. Monroe and his secretary of state, John Quincy Adams, used that vulnerability to pressure Spain into selling Florida to the United States.

As Spain's dominion in the America's continued to disintegrate, revolutions throughout its colonies brought independence to Argentina, Peru, Chile, Colombia, and Mexico. When European powers threatened to form an alliance to help Spain regain its lost domains, Monroe, with the prodding of Secretary of State Adams, declared that America would resist European intervention in the Western Hemisphere. Announced in the President's message to Congress on December 2, 1823, the Monroe Doctrine thus became a cornerstone of American foreign policy.

Memorable Moments

  1. The Era of Good Feelings (1817–25) describes a period in United States political history in where political party bitterness lessened. It followed the success of the War of 1812 and encompassed the presidency of Monroe.

  2. The Monroe Doctrine was a United States policy that was introduced by James Monroe on December 2, 1823, which said that further efforts by European governments to colonize land or interfere with states in the Americas would be viewed by the United States of America as acts of aggression requiring US intervention. Monroe first stated the doctrine during one of his annual State of the Union Addresses to Congress. It became a defining moment in the foreign policy of the United States and one of its longest-standing philosophies, invoked by U.S. presidents Theodore Roosevelt, Calvin Coolidge, Herbert Hoover, John F. Kennedy, and others.

  3. The American System (tied into the idea of American Nationalism) was a plan to strengthen and unify the nation. It was promoted by a number of leading politicians especially Henry Clay during the Monroe (and JQA) administration. It included:

  • Support for a high tariff to protect American industries and generate revenue for the federal government (it also made European goods more expensive and encouraged consumers to buy relatively cheap American-made goods)

  • Preservation of the Bank of the United States to stabilize the currency and rein in risky state and local banks

  • Development of a system of internal improvements (such as roads and canals) which would tie the nation together

Although the American System only enjoyed partial success, it remains one of the most historically significant examples of a government-sponsored program to harmonize and balance the nation's agriculture, commerce, and industry.

  1. The Missouri Compromise was an agreement passed in 1820 between the pro-slavery and anti-slavery factions in the United States Congress, largely involving the regulation of slavery in the western territories. It prohibited slavery in the Louisiana Territory north of the parallel 36°30' north except within the boundaries of the proposed state of Missouri. The act, although temporarily settling a dispute over slavery, only put off the issue further thereby causing even greater controversy to follow.

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