On New Year's Day,
1825, at the last of his annual White House receptions, President James Monroe
made a pleasing impression upon a Virginia lady who shook his hand:
"He is tall and well formed. His dress plain and in the old style.... His
manner was quiet and dignified. From the frank, honest expression of his eye
... I think he well deserves the encomium passed upon him by the great
Jefferson, who said, 'Monroe was so honest that if you turned his soul inside
out there would not be a spot on it.' "
Born in Westmoreland County,
Virginia, in 1758, Monroe attended the College of William and Mary, fought with
distinction in the Continental Army, and practiced law in Fredericksburg,
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. As
Minister to France in 1794-1796, he displayed strong sympathies for the French
cause; later, with Robert R. Livingston, he helped negotiate the Louisiana
His ambition and energy, together with the backing of
President Madison, made him the Republican choice for the Presidency in 1816.
With little Federalist opposition, he easily won re-election in 1820.
Monroe made unusually 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 kept Monroe from adding an outstanding
Early in his administration, Monroe undertook a goodwill
tour. At Boston, his visit was hailed as the beginning of an "Era of Good
Feelings." Unfortunately these "good feelings" did not endure, although Monroe,
his popularity undiminished, followed nationalist policies.
facade of nationalism, ugly sectional cracks appeared. A painful economic
depression undoubtedly increased the dismay of the people of the Missouri
Territory in 1819 when their application for admission to the Union as a slave
state failed. An amended bill for gradually eliminating slavery in Missouri
precipitated two years of bitter debate in Congress.
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.
In foreign affairs Monroe proclaimed the fundamental policy that bears
his name, responding to the threat that the more conservative governments in
Europe might try to aid Spain in winning back her former Latin American
colonies. Monroe did not begin formally to recognize the young sister republics
until 1822, after ascertaining that Congress would vote appropriations for
diplomatic missions. He and Secretary of State John Quincy Adams wished to
avoid trouble with Spain until it had ceded the Floridas, as was done in
Great Britain, with its powerful navy, also opposed reconquest of
Latin America and suggested that the United States join in proclaiming "hands
off." Ex-Presidents Jefferson and Madison counseled Monroe to accept the offer,
but Secretary 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's 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.