James Monroe
James Monroe Portrait

In office
March 4, 1817 – March 4, 1825
Vice President Daniel D. Tompkins
Preceded by James Madison
Succeeded by John Quincy Adams

In office
April 2, 1811 – September 30, 1814
February 28, 1815 – March 4, 1817
President James Madison
Preceded by Robert Smith
Succeeded by John Quincy Adams

In office
September 27, 1814 – March 2, 1815
President James Madison
Preceded by John Armstrong, Jr.
Succeeded by William H. Crawford

In office
January 16, 1811 – April 5, 1811
Preceded by George William Smith
Succeeded by George William Smith

In office
December 19, 1799 – December 1, 1802
Preceded by James Wood
Succeeded by John Page

In office
November 9, 1790 – March 29, 1794
Preceded by John Walker
Succeeded by Stevens T. Mason

In office
1794 – 1796
President George Washington
Preceded by Gouverneur Morris
Succeeded by Charles C. Pinckney

In office
1803 – 1807
President Thomas Jefferson
Preceded by Rufus King
Succeeded by William Pinkney

Born April 28, 1758(1758-04-28)
Westmoreland County, Virginia
Died July 4, 1831 (aged 73)
New York, New York
Nationality American
Political party Democratic-Republican
Spouse Elizabeth Kortright Monroe
Alma mater The College of William and Mary
Occupation Lawyer Farmer/Planter
Religion Episcopalian
Signature James Monroe's sig
Military service
Service/branch Continental Army
Rank Major
Battles/wars American War of Independence

James Monroe (April 28, 1758 – July 4, 1831) was the fifth President of the United States (1817–1825). His administration was marked by the acquisition of Florida (1819); the Missouri Compromise (1820), in which Missouri was declared a slave state; the admission of Maine in 1820 as a free state; and the profession of the Monroe Doctrine (1823), declaring U.S. opposition to European interference in the Americas, as well as breaking all ties with France remaining from the War of 1812.

Early yearsEdit

James Monroe was born on April 28, 1758, in a wooded area of Westmoreland County, Virginia. The site is marked and is one mile from what is known today as Monroe Hall, Virginia.

Monroe's father, Spence Monroe (1727–1774) was a moderately prosperous planter who also learned the carpentry trade. His mother, Elizabeth Jones Monroe (1730–1774), married Spence Monroe in 1752. They had four children live to maturity:

  • Elizabeth Monroe Buckner - of Caroline County, Virginia
  • James Monroe
  • Spence Monroe, Jr. - Died at age 1
  • Andrew Monroe - of Albemarle County, Virginia
  • Joseph Jones Monroe - clerk of the District Court of Northumberland County, Virginia; private secretary to President Monroe; later settled in Missouri.


Between the ages of 11 and 16, Monroe studied at Campbelltown Academy, a school run by the Reverend Archibald Campbell of Washington Parish. There he excelled as a prodigious pupil and progressed through Latin and mathematics at a rate faster than that of most boys his age. John Marshall, later Chief Justice of the United States, was among his classmates. At the age of 16, Monroe enrolled in the College of William and Mary. However in 1774, the atmosphere on the Williamsburg campus was not conducive to study, and the prospect of rebellion against King George charged most of the students, including Monroe, with patriotic fervor. In June 1775, after the battles of Lexington and Concord, Monroe joined 24 older men in raiding the arsenal at the Governor's Palace. The 200 muskets and 300 swords they appropriated helped arm the Williamsburg militia. The following spring, Monroe dropped out of college and joined the Continental army. He never returned to earn a degree. Between 1780-1783, he studied law under Thomas Jefferson.

Monroe fought in the War of Independence, serving with distinction at the Battle of Trenton, where he was shot in his left shoulder. He spent three months in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, recuperating from his wound.

He is depicted holding the flag in the famous painting of Washington Crossing the Delaware. Following his war service, he practiced law in Fredericksburg, Virginia.

Marriage and FamilyEdit

James Monroe married Elizabeth Kortright (1768-1830), daughter of Laurence Kortright and Hannah Aspinwall Kortright, on February 16, 1786 in New York City. After a brief honeymoon on Long Island, the Monroes returned to New York to live with her father until Congress adjourned. The Monroes had the following children:


Marker designating the site of James Monroe's birthplace in Monroe Hall, Virginia

Elective OfficeEdit

Monroe was elected to the Virginia House of Delegates in 1782 and served in the Continental Congress from 1783 to 1786. He ran for a seat on the 1st Congress but was defeated by future President James Madison. As a youthful politician, he joined the anti-Federalists in the Virginia Convention which ratified the Constitution, and in 1790, was elected United States Senator.[1]

Ambassador to FranceEdit

Monroe resigned his Senate seat after being appointed Minister to France in 1794.[2] As ambassador, Monroe was able to secure the release of Thomas Paine when the latter was arrested for his opposition to the execution of Louis XVI. His task of reassuring France that Washington's policy of strict neutrality did not favor Britain was sabotaged, however, by the signing of the Jay Treaty, particularly as Monroe had not been provided with a copy and thus was unable to respond to French requests to see its contents. He was recalled in 1796 due to Federalist discontent with deteriorating French relations.[3]

Governor of Virginia and DiplomatEdit

Out of office, Monroe returned to practicing law in Virginia until elected governor there, serving from 1799 to 1802. He called out the state militia to suppress Gabriel's Rebellion. Gabriel and 26 other enslaved people who participated were hanged. In reaction, the Virginia and other legislatures passed restrictions on free blacks, as well as the education, movement and hiring out of the enslaved.

Under the first Jefferson administration, Monroe was dispatched to France to assist Robert R. Livingston to negotiate the Louisiana Purchase. Monroe was then appointed Minister to the Court of St. James (Britain) from 1803 to 1807. In 1806 he negotiated a treaty with Britain to replace the Jay Treaty of 1794, but Jefferson rejected it as unsatisfactory, as the treaty contained no ban on the British practice of impressment of American sailors. As a result, the two nations moved closer toward the War of 1812.

Cabinet SecretaryEdit

Monroe returned to the Virginia House of Delegates and was elected to another term as governor of Virginia in 1811, but he resigned a few months into the term. He then served as Secretary of State from 1811 to 1814. When he was appointed to the post of Secretary of War in 1814, he stayed on as the Secretary of State ad interim. At the war's end in 1815, he was again commissioned as the permanent Secretary of State, and left his position as Secretary of War. Thus from October 1, 1814, to February 28, 1815, Monroe effectively held both cabinet posts. Monroe stayed on as Secretary of State until the end of the James Madison Presidency, and the following day Monroe began his term as the new President of the United States.

Presidency 1817–1825: The Era of Good FeelingsEdit


In both the presidential elections of 1816 and 1820 Monroe's run for office was difficult to oppose. Attentive to detail, well prepared on most issues, non-partisan in spirit, and above all pragmatic, Monroe managed his presidential duties well. He made strong Cabinet choices, naming a southerner, John C. Calhoun, as Secretary of War, and a northerner, John Quincy Adams, as Secretary of State. Only Henry Clay's refusal to accept a position kept Monroe from adding an outstanding westerner. Most appointments went to deserving Democratic-Republicans, but he did not try to use them to build the party's base. Indeed, he allowed the lower posts to take on diverse political appointees, which reduced anxiety and led to the naming of this period in American history as the "Era of Good Feelings". To build national trust, he made two long national tours in 1817. Frequent stops allowed innumerable ceremonies of welcome and good will. All the while the Federalist Party was diminishing. The party maintained its vitality and organizational integrity at the state and local level but dwindled at the federal level due to redistricting. The party's Congressional caucus stopped meeting, and there were no notable national conventions after Monroe's last term.

During his presidency, Congress demanded high subsidies for internal improvements, such as for the improvement of the Cumberland Road.[4] Monroe vetoed the Cumberland Road Bill, which provided for yearly improvements to the road, because he believed it to be unconstitutional for the government to have such a large hand in what was essentially a civics bill deserving of attention on a state by state basis. This sort of defiance underlined Monroe's populist ideals and added credit to the local offices that he was so fond of visiting on his speech trails. [5]

The era of "good feelings" endured until 1824, and carried over, albeit some what convexly, to John Quincy Adams who was elected President by the House of Representatives in what Andrew Jackson alleged to be a "corrupt bargain." Monroe's popularity, however, was undiminished even when following difficult nationalist policies as the country's commitment to nationalism was starting to show serious fractures. The Panic of 1819 caused a painful economic depression. The application for statehood by the Missouri Territory, in 1819, 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. The Missouri Compromise lasted until 1857, when it was declared unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court as part of the Dred Scott decision.

Through it all, Monroe is probably best known for the Monroe Doctrine, which he delivered in his message to Congress on December 2, 1823. In it, he proclaimed the Americas should be free from future European colonization and free from European interference in sovereign countries' affairs. It further stated the United States' intention to stay neutral in European wars and wars between European powers and their colonies, but to consider any new colonies or interference with independent countries in the Americas as hostile acts toward the United States. Although it is Monroe's most famous contribution to society, it is important to note that the speech was written by Secretary of State John Quincy Adams. Monroe began to formally recognize the young sister republics (the former Spanish colonies) in 1822. He and John Quincy Adams had wished to avoid trouble with Spain until it had ceded the Floridas to the U.S., which was done in 1821.

Britain, with its powerful navy, also opposed re-conquest of Latin America and suggested that the United States join in proclaiming a "hands off" policy. Ex-Presidents Jefferson and Madison counseled Monroe to accept the offer, but Quincy Adams advised, "It would be more candid ... to avow our principles explicitly to Russia and France, than to come in as a cock-boat in the wake of the British man-of-war." Monroe accepted Adams' advice. Not only must Latin America be left alone, he warned, but also Russia must not encroach southward on the Pacific coast. "... the American continents," he stated, "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.

Native American PoliciesEdit

Main article: Seminole Wars

James Monroe in December 1817 ordered Andrew Jackson to lead a campaign in Georgia against the Seminole and Creek Indians. Jackson was also charged with preventing Spanish Florida from becoming a refuge for runaway slaves. Critics later alleged that Jackson exceeded orders in his Florida actions. His directions were to "terminate the conflict."

In October 1820, Andrew Jackson and Thomas Hinds were sent as commissioners representing the United States in an action to conduct a treaty that would require the Choctaw to surrender to the United States a portion of their country located in present day Mississippi. They met with chiefs, mingos (leaders), and headsmen such as Colonel Silas Dinsmore and Chief Pushmataha at Doak's Stand on the Natchez Trace.[citation needed]

The convention began on October 10 with a talk by Andrew Jackson to more than 500 Choctaws. Pushmataha accused Jackson of deceiving them about the quality of land west of the Mississippi. Pushmataha responded to Jackson's retort stating that he knew the land they were being offered was inferior to the land they were being asked to give up. Andrew Jackson resorted to threats, which pressured the Choctaws to sign the Doak's Stand treaty. Historian Anna Lewis stated that Apuckshunubbee, a Choctaw district chief, was blackmailed by Jackson to sign the treaty.[6] On October 18, the Treaty of Doak's Stand was signed.[7]

(In 1824) Apuckshunubbee, Pushmataha, and Mosholatubbee, the principal leaders of the Choctaws, went to Washington City (the 19th century name for Washington, D.C.) to discuss European-Americans' squatting on Choctaw lands. They sought either expulsion of the settlers or financial compensation for the loss of their lands.[8] The group also included Talking Warrior, Red Fort, Nittahkachee; Col. Robert Cole and David Folsom, both half-breed (mixed-race) Indians; Captain Daniel McCurtain, and Major John Pitchlynn, the U.S. interpreter, who also was mixed-race, with European ancestry.[9]

Pushmataha met with President James Monroe and gave a speech to Secretary of War John C. Calhoun, reminding him of the longstanding alliances between the United States and the Choctaws. He said, "[I] can say and tell the truth that no Choctaw ever drew his bow against the United States ... My nation has given of their country until it is very small. We are in trouble."[10] On January 20, 1825, the Treaty of Washington City was signed, by which the Choctaw ceded even more territory to the United States.[citation needed]

Administration and CabinetEdit

The Monroe Cabinet
Office Name Term
President James Monroe 1817–1825
Vice President Daniel D. Tompkins 1817–1825
Secretary of State John Quincy Adams 1817–1825
Secretary of Treasury William H. Crawford 1817–1825
Secretary of War John C. Calhoun 1817–1825
Attorney General Richard Rush 1817
William Wirt 1817–1825
Secretary of the Navy Benjamin W. Crowninshield 1817–1818
Smith Thompson 1819–1823
Samuel L. Southard 1823–1825

Supreme Court appointmentsEdit

Monroe appointed Smith Thompson to the Supreme Court of the United States.

States admitted to the UnionEdit

Later lifeEdit

When his presidency was over on March 4, 1825, James Monroe lived at Monroe Hill on the grounds of the University of Virginia. This university's modern campus was Monroe's family farm from 1788 to 1817, but he had sold it in the first year of his presidency to the new college. He served on the college's Board of Visitors under Jefferson and then under the second rector and another former President James Madison, until his death.

Monroe had racked up many debts during his years of public life. As a result, he was forced to sell off his Highland Plantation (now called Ash Lawn-Highland; it is owned by his alma mater, the College of William and Mary, which has opened it to the public). Throughout his life, he was not financially solvent, and his wife's poor health made matters worse. [1] For these reasons, he and his wife lived in Oak Hill, Virginia, until Elizabeth's death on September 23, 1830.


Upon Elizabeth's death in 1830, Monroe moved to New York City to live with his daughter Maria Hester Monroe Gouverneur who had married Samuel L. Gouverneur in the first White House wedding. Monroe died there from heart failure and tuberculosis on July 4, 1831, becoming the third president to die on the 4th of July. His death came 55 years after the U.S. Declaration of Independence was proclaimed and 5 years after the death of the Presidents John Adams and Thomas Jefferson. He was originally buried in New York at the Gouverneur family's vault in the New York City Marble Cemetery. Twenty-seven years later in 1858 the body was re-interred to the President's Circle at the Hollywood Cemetery in Richmond, Virginia. The James Monroe Tomb is a U.S. National Historic Landmark.

Religious beliefsEdit

"When it comes to Monroe's ...thoughts on religion", Bliss Isely comments in his The Presidents: Men of Faith, "less is known than that of any other President." He burned much of his correspondence with his wife, and no letters survive in which he might have discussed his religious beliefs. Nor did his friends, family or associates write about his beliefs. Letters that do survive, such as ones written on the occasion of the death of his son, contain no discussion of religion.

Monroe was raised in a family that belonged to the Church of England when it was the state church in Virginia and as an adult frequently attended Episcopalian churches, though there is no record he ever took communion.[citation needed] He has been classified by some historians as a Deist, and he did use deistic language to refer to God. Jefferson had been attacked as an atheist and infidel for his deistic views, but never Monroe. Unlike Jefferson, Monroe was not anticlerical. [Holmes 2003]


Since its 1824 renaming in his honor, the capital city of the West African country of Liberia has been named Monrovia. It is the only non-American capital city named after a U.S. President.


James Monroe Presidential $1 Coin obverse

Presidential Dollar of James Monroe


Statue of Monroe at Ash Lawn-Highland

"It is only when the people become ignorant and corrupt, when they degenerate into a populace, that they are incapable of exercising their sovereignty. Usurpation is then an easy attainment, and an usurper soon found. The people themselves become the willing instruments of their own debasement and ruin."

"The best form of government is that which is most likely to prevent the greatest sum of evil."

"Never did a government commence under auspices so favorable, nor ever was success so complete. 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 this great nation there is but one order, that of the people, whose power, by a peculiarly happy improvement of the representative principle, is transferred from them, without impairing in the slightest degree their sovereignty, to bodies of their own creation, and to persons elected by themselves, in the full extent necessary for the purposes of free, enlightened, and efficient government."

"The earth was given to mankind to support the greatest number of which it is capable, and no tribe or people have a right to withhold from the wants of others more than is necessary for their own support and comfort."

See alsoEdit


  • Harry Ammon. James Monroe: The Quest for National Identity (1990) (ISBN 0-8139-1266-0), full length biography
  • Samuel Flagg Bemis, John Quincy Adams and the Foundations of American Foreign Policy (1949), is a standard study of Monroe's foreign policy.
  • Noble E. Cunningham, Jr. The Presidency of James Monroe (American Presidency Series.) University Press of Kansas. (1996)
  • George Dangerfield. The Era of Good Feelings (1952).
  • George Dangerfield. The Awakening of American Nationalism: 1815–1828 (1965)
  • Heidler, David S. "The Politics of National Aggression: Congress and the First Seminole War." Journal of the Early Republic 1993 13(4): 501–530. ISSN 0275-1275 Fulltext: in Jstor. Abstract: Monroe sparked a constitutional controversy when, in 1817, he sent General Andrew Jackson to move against Spanish Florida in order to pursue hostile Seminoles and punish the Spanish for aiding them. News of Jackson's exploits ignited a congressional investigation of the 1st Seminole War. Dominated by Democratic-Republicans, the 15th Congress was generally expansionist and more likely to support the popular Jackson. Ulterior political agendas of many congressmen dismantled partisan and sectional coalitions, so that Jackson's opponents argued weakly and became easily discredited. After much debate, the House of Representatives voted down all resolutions that condemned Jackson in any way, thus implicitly endorsing Monroe's actions and leaving the issue surrounding the role of the executive with respect to war powers unanswered.
  • David L. Holmes, The Faiths of the Founding Fathers, May 2006, online version
  • Ernest R. May, The Making of the Monroe Doctrine (1975), argues it was issued to influence the outcome of the presidential election of 1824.
  • Bradford Perkins, Castlereagh and Adams: England and the United States, 1812–1823 (1964)
  • Dexter Perkins, The Monroe Doctrine, 1823–1826 (1927), the standard monograph about the origins of the doctrine.
  • (it) Nico Perrone, Il manifesto dell'imperialismo americano nelle borse di Londra e Parigi, in Belfagor (an Italian review), 1977, iii. Examines the reactions of the European stock exchange markets.
  • Scherr, Arthur. "James Monroe on the Presidency and 'Foreign Influence;: from the Virginia Ratifying Convention (1788) to Jefferson's Election (1801)." Mid-America 2002 84(1-3): 145–206. ISSN 0026-2927. Abstract: Analyzes Monroe's concern over untoward foreign influence on the presidency. He was alarmed at Spanish diplomat Diego María de Gardoqui, involving a US attempt to secure the opening of the Mississippi River to American commerce. Here Monroe saw Spain overinfluencing the republic, which could have risked the loss of the Southwest or dominance of the Northeast. Monroe placed faith in a strong presidency and the system of checks and balances. In the 1790s he fretted over an aging George Washington being too heavily influenced by close advisers like Hamilton who was too close to Britain. Monroe opposed the Jay Treaty and was humiliated when Washington criticized for his support of revolutionary France while he was minister to France. He saw foreign and Federalist elements in the genesis of the Quasi War of 1798–1800 and in efforts to keep Thomas Jefferson away from the presidency in 1801. As governor he considered using the Virginia militia to force the outcome in favor of Jefferson. Federalists responded in kind, some seeing Monroe as at best a French dupe and at worst a traitor. Monroe thus contributed to a paranoid style of politics.
  • Scherr, Arthur. "Governor James Monroe and the Southampton Slave Resistance of 1799." Historian 1999 61(3): 557–578. ISSN 0018-2370 Fulltext online in SwetsWise and Ebsco. Abstract: Assesses Monroe's views on slavery as governor of Virginia from 1799 to 1802, emphasizing Monroe's moderate view of slaveholding during a slave uprising in Southampton County in October 1799. Monroe took pains to see that the charged rebels received proper legal treatment, demonstrating a marked concern for their civil rights. He conducted an exhaustive investigation into the incident and saw to it the slaves involved received a fair trial. Although he opposed abolition, Monroe supported African colonization proposals and gradual, compensated emancipation. When the occasion warranted, as in Gabriel Prosser's rebellion of 1800, Monroe took an unpopular position in supporting fair trials and attempting to explain and justify slave actions. In the final analysis, Monroe believed in the eventual demise of slavery.
  • Leonard D. White, The Jeffersonians: A Study in Administrative History, 1801–1829 (1951)
  • Arthur P. Whitaker, The United States and the Independence of Latin America (1941)
  • Wilmerding, Jr., Lucius, James Monroe: Public Claimant (1960) A study regarding Monroe's attempts to get reimbursement for personal expenses and losses from his years in public service after his Presidency ended.

Additional sourcesEdit

  1. "Biography of James Monroe". The White House. Retrieved on 2006-10-23. 
  2. "MONROE, James - Biographical Information". United States Congress. Retrieved on 2009-07-24. 
  3. "American President: James Monroe: Life Before the Presidency". Miller Center of Public Affairs, University of Virginia. Retrieved on 2009-07-24. 
  4. "The administration of James Monroe". Bancroft, Hubert H., ed. (1902). "The Great Republic by the Master Historians". 
  5. Template:Cite encyclopedia
  6. D. L. Birchfield. "Choctaws". Retrieved on 2008-05-07. 
  7. Remini, Robert. "Expansion and Removal". Andrew Jackson. History Book Club. p. 395. ISBN 0965063106. 
  8. Cushman, Horatio (1999). "The Choctaw". History of the Choctaw, Chickasaw and Natchez Indians. University of Oklahoma Press. p. 149-150. ISBN 0806131276. 
  9. White, Earl. "Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma". Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma. Retrieved on 2008-02-25. 
  10. Clarke, Hewitt (1995). "Chapter 1, "The Death of Koosa Town"". Thunder at Meridian. Lone Star Press. p. 51-52. ISBN 0964923106. 

External linksEdit

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Political offices
Preceded by
James Madison
President of the United States
March 4, 1817 – March 4, 1825
Succeeded by
John Quincy Adams
Preceded by
United States Secretary of State
Served under: James Madison

February 28, 1815 – March 4, 1817
Preceded by
John Armstrong, Jr.
United States Secretary of War
Served Under: James Madison

September 27, 1814 – March 2, 1815
Succeeded by
William H. Crawford
Preceded by
Robert Smith
United States Secretary of State
Served Under: James Madison

April 2, 1811 – September 30, 1814
Succeeded by
Preceded by
John Tyler, Sr.
Governor of Virginia
January 16, 1811 – April 5, 1811
Succeeded by
George W. Smith
Preceded by
James Wood
Governor of Virginia
December 9, 1799 – December 1, 1802
Succeeded by
John Page
United States Senate
Preceded by
John Walker
United States Senator (Class 1) from Virginia
November 9, 1790 – March 29, 1794
Served alongside: Richard H. Lee, John Taylor
Succeeded by
Stevens T. Mason
Party political offices
Preceded by
James Madison
Democratic-Republican Party presidential candidate
1816, 1820
Succeeded by
John Quincy Adams
Henry Clay
William H. Crawford
Andrew Jackson¹
Diplomatic posts
Preceded by
Rufus King
Minister Plenipotentiary to Great Britain
1803 – 1807
Succeeded by
William Pinkney
Preceded by
Gouverneur Morris
Minister Plenipotentiary to France
1794 – 1796
Succeeded by
Charles C. Pinckney
Notes and references
1. The Democratic-Republican Party split in 1824, fielding four separate candidates.
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