Who: James Monroe
What: 5th President of the United States, last president to have been a Founding Father
Where: Born Monroe Hall, Virginia; died New York City, New York
Why: Presided over the First Seminole War, the Missouri Compromise and the Monroe Doctrine and America’s first economic depression
When: Born April 28, 1758; died July 4, 1831
“Our country may be likened to a new house. We lack many things, but we possess the most precious of all – liberty!” – James Monroe
James Monroe, the last of the ‘Virginia dynasty’ presidents, was born into the planter class in 1758. He joined the College of St William and Mary, but dropped out and enlisted in the Continental Army. Although Andrew Jackson served as a courier at thirteen, Monroe is regarded as the last presidential Revolutionary War veteran, having seen combat serving under George Washington. He eventually rose to the rank of major, and joined the Continental Congress in 1783, leaving to practise law. He became a senator, Minister to France and Governor of Virginia, and in 1803 was sent to negotiate the Louisiana Purchase. He became minister to Britain and served as James Madison’s Secretary of State and Secretary of War. His election in 1816 proved fatal for the ailing Federalist Party, and his re-election in 1820 was effectively unopposed.
While president, he sent General Andrew Jackson to suppress Seminole Indians in Florida. Jackson effectively invaded the weakly held Spanish Florida, and Monroe pressured Spain to sell Florida to the U.S. He created the Missouri Compromise in an attempt to alleviate the fractious issue of slavery; he allowed Missouri to enter the Union as a slave state so long as Maine entered it free. The Compromise also prohibited slavery’s expansion north of the parallel 36⁰30’. Monroe is most famous for his Monroe Doctrine, declaring that the U.S. would resist any European intervention and colonization in the Americas, and in return would stay neutral in European wars. This set the precedent for America’s isolationist foreign policy that would last for nearly a century.
Fun facts about James Monroe
Monroe crossed the Delaware with George Washington and is featured as the man holding the flag in Emanuel Gottlieb Leutze’s famous painting Washington Crossing the Delaware – though he had crossed earlier with Washington’s cousin, William.
He was also seriously wounded at the Battle of Trenton, when a musket ball struck him in the left shoulder, severing an artery. A young volunteer doctor, John Riker, clamped the artery, saving his life. He is shown lying wounded in John Trumbull’s painting Capture of the Hessians at the Battle of Trenton, just left of center.
He never completed his degree, but instead studied law under Thomas Jefferson.
Monroe initially opposed the Constitution, favouring states’ rights, but relented when the Bill of Rights was included.
Monroe is the third President to have died on July 4, after Thomas Jefferson and John Adams.
Monroe was the last president never to have been photographed in his lifetime.
His daughter Maria married her father’s private secretary in 1820, the first presidential child to marry in the White House.