“The best form of government is that which is most likely to prevent the greatest sum of evil.”–James Monroe
James Monroe was born on this day in Westmoreland County, Virginia, USA in 1758. Today is the 258th anniversary of his birth.
Monroe’s was born to Spence and Elizabeth Monroe a moderately well to do couple of Scottish, Welsh and French Huguenot descent. His father was a planter and carpenter. Elizabeth tutored her children at home, and James didn’t start school until he was 11, when he went to “Campbelltown Academy between 1769 and 1774,” [Biography.com]
In 1774 his father died and Monroe inherited the family’s plantation and slaves. His mother passed soon after. James and his brothers be came ward of uncle. the same year he entered the College of William and Mary. William and Mary is in Williamsburg, Virginia, which was then the capital of the colony of the State. It was quiet an interesting time to be studying in the city. The Royal Governor and his family had fled the city, the arsenal and Governor’s Palace had been looted and ‘revolution’ was in the air. Monroe was part of a group of men who raided the Governor’s Palace and liberated its cash of weapons. They used the weapons to form the Williamsburg Militia.
In Winter of 1776 he left school and volunteered with the Continental Army. He was shot in the shoulder at the Battle of Trenton, New Jersey. And he fought with distinction throughout the war.
He met Thomas Jefferson during the war, and Monroe studied law under the Virginia statesman when the Revolution drew to a close. After passing the bar he was quickly elected to the Virginia Assembly (probably through Jefferson’s influence.)
Elected to the Continental Congress in 1783, Monroe worked for expanding the power of Congress, organizing government for the western country, and protecting American navigation on the Mississippi River. [Mille Center.org]
He was initially opposed to the ratification of the Constitution and fought to have senators and the President directly elected. He also fought for the inclusion of a Bill of Rights.
As a youthful politician, he joined the anti-Federalists in the Virginia Convention which ratified the Constitution, and in 1790, an advocate of Jeffersonian policies, was elected United States Senator. [Whitehouse.gov]
He lost the 1790 race for the US House of Representatives to James Madison, but “was quickly elected by the Virginia legislature as a United States senator.” [Biography.com] Jefferson, Madision and Monroe joined forces to oppose Federalist policies of Vice President John Adams and Secretary of Treasury Alexander Hamilton.
Monroe served as Minister to France from 1794-1796 and he helped negotiate the Louisiana Purchase.
In 1816 he ran for president with the blessing of his friend and outgoing POTUS Madison. He won, becoming the 5th president of the United States. (4 of the first 5 US presidents were from Virginia, Monroe is the last of the “Virginia Dynasty”.)
His term started with a honeymoon dubbed the “Era of Good Feelings.” However, Economic depression and slavery disputes meant that the honeymoon didn’t last long.
The Monroe Doctorine is his legacy in foreign affairs. Foreign powers must leave the American continents alone and “henceforth not to be considered as subjects for future colonization by any European Power.”[Whitehouse.gov]
During his presidence five states were admitted to the Union: Mississippi (1817), Illinois (1818), Alabama (1819), Main (1820), and Missouri (1821).
Monroe died on the Fourth of July, 1831.
- Life Portraits: James Monroe (c-span.org)
- Today in History, April 28th (hankeringforhistory.com)
- James Monroe Reenactor Shares History (newsplex.com)
- Interpreting Slavery at Historic Sites (c-span.org)