Presidents of the United States

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James Monroe

From: Portrait and Biographical record of Rockland and Orange Counties, New York
By: Chapman Publishing Company
Published: 1895


JAMES MONROE, the fifth President of the United States, was born in Westmoreland County, Va., April 28, 1758. His early life was passed at the place of his nativity. His ancestors had for many years resided in the province in which he was born. When he was seventeen years old, and in process of completing his education at William and Mary College, the Colonial Congress, assembled at Philadelphia to deliberate upon the unjust and manifold oppressions of Great Britain, declared the separation of the Colonies, and promulgated the Declaration of Independence. Had he been born ten years before, it is highly probable that he would have been one of the signers of that celebrated instrument. At this time he left school and enlisted among the patriots.

He joined the army when everything looked hopeless and gloomy. The number of deserters increased from day to day. The invading armies came pouring in, and the Tories not only favored the cause of the mother country, but disheartened the new recruits, who were sufficiently terrified at the prospect of contending with an enemy whom they had been taught to deem invincible. To such brave spirits as James Monroe, who went right onward undismayed through difficulty and danger, the United States owe their political emancipation. The young cadet joined the ranks and espoused the cause of his injured country, with a firm determination to live or die in her strife for liberty. Firmly, yet sadly, he shared in the melancholy retreat from Harlem Heights and White Plains, and accompanied the dispirited army as it fled before its foes through New Jersey. In four months after the Declaration of Independence, the patriots had been beaten in seven battles. At the battle of Trenton he led the vanguard, and in the act of charging upon the enemy he received a wound in the left shoulder.

As a reward for his bravery, Mr. Monroe was promoted to be captain of infantry, and, having recovered from his wounds, he rejoined the army. He, however, receded from the line of promotion by becoming an officer on the staff of I4ord Sterling. During the campaigns of 1777 and 1888, in the actions of Brandywine, Germantown and Monmouth, he continued aide-de-camp; but becoming desirous to regain his position in the army, he exerted himself to collect a regiment for the Virginia line. This scheme failed, owing to the exhausted condition of the State. Upon this failure he entered the office of Mr. Jefferson, at that period Governor, and pursued with considerable ardor the study of common law. He did not, however, entirely lay aside the knapsack for the green bag, but on the invasion of the enemy served as a volunteer during the two years of his legal pursuits.

In 1782 he was elected from King George County a member of the Legislature of Virginia, and by that body he was elevated to a seat in the Executive Council. He was thus honored with the confidence of his fellow-citizens at twentythree years of age, and having at this early period displayed some of that ability and aptitude foi legislation which were afterward employed with unremitting energy for the public good, he was in the succeeding year chosen a member of the Congress of the United States.

Deeply as Mr. Monroe felt the imperfections of the old Confederacy, he was opposed to the new Constitution, thinking, with many others of the Republican party, that it gave too much power to the Central Government, and not enough to the individual States. Still he retained the esteem of his friends who were its warm supporters, and who, notwithstanding his opposition, secured its adoption. In 1789 he became a member of the United States Senate, which office he held for four years. Every month the line of distinction between the two great parties which divided the nation, the Federal and the Republican, was growing more distinct. The differences which now separated them lay in the fact that the Republican party was in sympathy with France, and also in favor of such a strict construction of the Constitution as to give the Central Government as little power, and the State Governments as much power, as the Constitution would warrant; while the Federalists sympathized with England, and were in favor of a liberal construction of the Constitution, which would give as much power to the Central Government as that document could possibly authorize.

Washington was then President. England had espoused the cause of the Bourbons against the principles of the French Revolution. All Europe was drawn into the conflict. We were feeble and far away. Washington issued a proclamation of neutrality between these contending powers. France had helped us in the struggles for our liberties. All the despotisms of Europe were now combined to prevent the French from escaping from a tyranny a thousand-fold worse than that which we had endured. Col. Monroe, more magnanimous than prudent, was anxious that, at whatever hazard, we should help our old allies in their extremity. It was the impulse of a generous and noble nature, and Washington. who could appreciate such a character, showed his calm, serene, almost divine, greatness, by appointing that very James Monroe who was denouncing the policy of the Government, as the minister of that Government to the Republic of France. Mr. Monroe was welcomed by the National Convention in France with the most enthusiastic demonstration.

Shortly after his return to this country, Mr. Monroe was elected Governor of Virginia, and held the office for three years. He was again sent to France to co-operate with Chancellor Livingston in obtaining the vast territory then known as the province of Louisiana, which France had but shortly before obtained from Spain. Their united efforts were successful. For the comparatively small sum of fifteen millions of dollars, the entire territory of Orleans and district of Louisiana were added to the United States. This was probably the largest transfer of real estate which was ever made in all the history of the world.

From France Mr. Monroe went to England to obtain from that country some recognition of our rights as neutrals, and to remonstrate against those odious impressments of our seamen. But England was unrelenting. He again returned to England on the same mission, but could receive no redress. He returned to his home and was again chosen Governor of Virginia. This he soon resigned to accept the position of Secretary of State under Madison. While in this office war with England was declared, the Secretary of War resigned, and during these trying times the duties of the War Department were also put upon him. He was truly the armor-bearer of President Madison, and the most efficient business man in his cabinet. Upon the return of peace he resigned the Department of War, but continued in the office of Secretary of State until the expiration of Mr. Madison’s administration. At the election held the previous autumn, Mr. Monroe himself had been chosen President with but little opposition, and upon March 4, 1817, he was inaugurated. Four years later he was elected for a second term.

Among the important measures of his Presidency were the cession of Florida to the United States, the Missouri Compromise, and the famous “Monroe doctrine.” This doctrine was enunciated by him in 1823, and was as follows: “That we should consider any attempt on the part of European powers to extend their system to any portion of this hemisphere as dangerous to our peace and safety,” and that “we could not view any interposition for the purpose of oppressing or controlling American governments or provinces in any other light than as a manifestation by European powers of an unfriendly disposition toward the United States.”

At the end of his second term, Mr. Monroe retired to his home in Virginia, where he lived until 1830, when he went to New York to live with his son-in-law. In that city he died, on the 4th of July, 1831.

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