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James Monroe

He was the fifth president of the United States (1817-1825) and the last of the so-called Virginia dynasty of U.S. presidents. Monroe was president during the “Era of Good Feelings.”

James Monroe was one of five children born to Spence Monroe, a carpenter, and Elizabeth Jones Monroe. In 1775 Monroe left college to go to war. Monroe served in Congress for three years. In 1784, during a congressional recess, Monroe journeyed through the Western territories.

After the Constitutional Convention drafted the new Constitution of the United States in 1787, Monroe was elected a delegate to the Virginia convention called to ratify it.

In 1789 Monroe moved to Albemarle County, Virginia, near Jefferson’s estate, Monticello. In the Senate, Monroe aligned himself with the Anti-Federalists. In September 1796, Monroe was recalled. After two years of retirement from public office, Monroe was elected governor of Virginia. In 1803 Monroe was named to be part of an “extraordinary mission” to France. In July 1805 Monroe returned to Britain to negotiate a treaty, assisted by diplomat William Pinkney.

In late 1807 Monroe left for the United States. Monroe’s old allies, Jefferson and Madison, were cool toward him after his return. This was because one faction of Jefferson’s Democratic-Republican Party wanted Monroe as a rival presidential candidate to Madison, Jefferson’s secretary of state and chosen successor, and Monroe did little to disavow the action. Moreover, Monroe’s supporters, led by Jefferson’s enemy, Congressman John Randolph, made it seem that Monroe was encouraging them. When Monroe became secretary of state, relations with Britain had worsened. Monroe nevertheless worked to prevent it. Monroe was back in uniform briefly at the time of the British attack on Washington. Monroe helped to resolve some of them.

On December 24, 1814, a peace treaty acceptable to Madison and Monroe was signed at Ghent. In 1815 Monroe returned to the normal peacetime duties of the secretary of state. Monroe received the electoral votes of all but three states: Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Delaware. The eight-year association between Adams and Monroe was marked by a growing mutual trust and respect that culminated in the Monroe Doctrine. Monroe’s first administration faced two major crises, one foreign and one domestic. Monroe sent General Andrew Jackson to drive them out. In the first years of Monroe’s administration, slavery was becoming a national issue. When Monroe took office, the states were equally divided between slave and free states. On March 6, Monroe signed the bill into law.

Monroe’s second term as president was relatively uneventful.

Monroe was 67 years old when he turned over the presidency to Adams and retired to Oak Hill in Loudoun County, Virginia. After his wife died, Monroe sold Oak Hill and moved to New York City to live with his younger daughter, Maria Hester Gouverneur, and her husband. He died on July 4, 1831, five years after Jefferson and John Adams had died and 55 years after the signing of the Declaration of Independence.


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