James Monroe: US Presidents in History

James Monroe, a former Continental Army Major in the Revolutionary War, is considered to be the last of the "Founding Fathers" to act as a U.S. Head of State.
James Monroe, a former Continental Army Major in the Revolutionary War, is considered to be the last of the "Founding Fathers" to act as a U.S. Head of State.

5. Early Life

James Monroe was born on April 28th, 1758, in Westmoreland County, Virginia, to a family of Scottish and French descent. During his childhood, he was first tutored by his father at their home. Then, he attended Campbell Town Academy between the ages of 11 and 16. The same year, his father passed away and he inherited his father's plantation. He also enrolled in the College of William and Mary, a public university in Virginia. In 1776, halfway through his degree, Monroe joined the Virginia Regiment in the Continental Army in the American Revolutionary War. He served in the military until 1780, then he returned to Virginia to study law with George Wythe and then Thomas Jefferson. He passed the bar, and practiced law thereafter in Fredericksburg, Virginia.

4. Rise to Power

in 1782, Monroe was elected to the Virginia House of Delegates. A year later, he was elected to the Congress of the Confederation. The war had just ended, and the temporary government was taking control before the Constitution was finished being made. Monroe supported the newly proposed U.S. Constitution, and helped it get ratified by his state of Virginia. He then ran for the first U.S. Congress under the Constitution, but lost to James Madison. Then, in 1790, Monroe was elected as a U.S. Senator from Virginia. Soon thereafter, he joined the Democratic-Republican Party, led by fellow Virginians Thomas Jefferson and James Madison, in opposition to the Federalist party. He then served as a U.S. ambassador to France and the United Kingdom, the two foreign ambassador terms separated by a Governorship of Virginia. After that, he was chosen by President Madison to be his Secretary of State in 1811, as well as the Secretary of War during the War of 1812. He then ran in the 1812 Presidential Election, and was elected with success. He became the 7th President of the United States, and he was reelected once again in 1816.

3. Contributions

Monroe was a capable politician, a skilled military man, and an excellent diplomat. He resolved increasing tensions between the Democratic-Republicans and the Federalists by enabling the "Era of Good Feelings" during his administration, focusing on cultivating national unity and focusing on national developments. Monroe is also known for his proposal of the "Monroe Doctrine", declaring that the U.S. would stay away from future European countries' colonization efforts, as well as stay away from interference in sovereign countries' internal affairs. Furthermore, the U.S. would remain officially neutral in European conflicts and wars, but at the same time tend to support the struggles of independence in the Americas because of the United States' own revolutionary history.

2. Challenges

Monroe faced a series of challenges in his time at the Executive helm of the U.S., both domestically and internationally. During his Presidency, partisan tensions intensified and threatened the newly founded, and still fragile, country. A severe economic depression hit the country in 1819, and meanwhile Missouri Territory attempted to apply for admission as a slave state. Congress was split over the Missouri issue, and a debate on it lasted for two years. Finally, Congress reached a compromise, which is referred to as the "Missouri Compromise". Therein, Missouri would join the Union as a slave state, with Maine joining the state as a free state, in order to maintain some semblance of balance.

1. Death and Legacy

Monroe died on July 4th, 1831, in New York City, on the 55th Anniversary of the signing of the Declaration, 5 years to the day from the deaths of Jefferson and john Adams, who both died on the 50th Anniversary of the signing. He died from heart failure and tuberculosis at 73 years old. Monroe was the last to serve as U.S. President of all the Founding Fathers, and he left a rich legacy behind. His deft political judgement and insight helped him in making delicate decisions, many of which ultimately sustained national unity and reduced tensions within a Congress split along party lines. The Monroe Doctrine was one of the most important diplomatic declarations in U.S., as it served as official precedent for diplomatic principles of the US through the rest of the 19th Century, and has had profound political influences even since then. It helped the U.S. to focus on its own development, instead of meddling in complicated world affairs. Many schools, cities, and public places have been named in honor of James Monroe. James Monroe's Birthplace, the James Monroe Tomb, and his mansion and plantation at Oak Hill are all today listed on the U.S. National Register of Historic Places and the Virginia Landmarks Register.


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