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James Monroe: The Quest for National Identity
The Last Founding Father: James Monroe and a Nation's Call to Greatness
1816 Election Monroe(183 electoral votes) vs. King (34)
1820 Election Monroe(231 electoral votes) vs. JQ Adams(1)
Monroe's daughter, Maria Monroe, was the first person ever to be married in the White House.
In the election of 1820, Monroe received every electoral vote except one. A New Hampshire delegate wanted Washington to be the only president elected unanimously.
Monroe's inauguration in 1817 was the first to be held outdoors.
Monroe was the only president to serve in two different cabinet posts. He was secretary of state and war.
James Monroe was the first president to tour the country.
No one ran against Monroe when he ran for his second term in 1820.
Monroe was the first U.S. senator to be elected president.
Monroe was wounded during the Revolutionary War.
Monroe's favorite foods were chicken, breads, and biscuits.
Author: Noble Cunningham
Category : History
Pages : 246
This book centers mainly on the Presidency of James Monroe rather than a complete biography. The early years are summarized to give the reader an understanding of his qualifications and where he was coming from.
From the information in the book it appears that James Monroe was probably the first president to realize that the good will of the people could keep him in office. During his administrations, he undertook several long trips to see how the nation and its people faired. The first trip was to what was then called the East - what we now call the north - New England, New York, and Pennsylvania. By making this his first priority in his travels he was able to consolidate his position by befriending the Federalists even though he was a southern Republican. His second trip was to the South and western reaches of the Ohio Valley.
Conditions were not financial good during the first administration due to recovery from the war. Congressman Richard Johnson of Kentucky is quoted "the times for money are alarming and frightful. I have never seen a time before but when I could raise $1000 with less difficulty than I can now raise $100" "It is impossible to describe to you the distress in this country on account of circulating medium. Loans cannot be obtained from banks or individuals - both are calling in their debts by wholesale, and nothing can be purchased on credit."
The National intelligencer published "our markets are deluged with merchandise from foreign nations, while thousands of our citizens, able and willing to work, and capable of furnishing similar articles, are unable to procure employment." (Does any of this sound familiar?)
Besides the domestic issues of the day, Monroe also had to keep a wary eye open at the revolutions that were in progress in the areas to the south of the USA. These were what led to the Monroe Doctrine. I don't feel that 1 chapter is sufficient to cover that, so I will be reading a book dedicated to this aspect of his presidency.
Overall, a good basic book for a President that I don't think received enough credit for what he had to handle.
In spite of being the author of the Monroe doctrine (and, yes, there's some debate about that), James Monroe isn't usually high in the rankings of US Presidents. The last of the Virginian revolutionary-era Presidents, he falls under some pretty big shadows and so tends to get short-changed a bit. Gary Hart's study of Monroe helps to fill in the gaps in the life of a President that isn't so well known these days.
Hart's theme is that Monroe should be considered our first "national security President". Certainly, his administration during aftermath of the Louisiana Purchase and the War of 1812 concentrated on issues of national boundaries and border protection - some themes that resonate today. This is the era when, especially in South America, colonies in the Western Hemisphere were shucking off European control. Monroe had to deal with how to support these new states without ruining relations with Spain and other European nations, making the spread of democracy a foreign policy agenda even through today's events. Out of these considerations came the Monroe doctrine, that the Western Hemisphere is closed to European colonization and influence and that the US would treat European meddling as an attack while remaining neutral in European affairs. While there's been a lot of debate about the source of the doctrine, what it means, and how (or even whether) it should be implemented, this foreign policy approach was the guiding principle for the US response to the Soviet Union as it acted in Central and South America during the Cold War, and continues to be implemented today.
James Monroe is a good discussion of the Monroe Presidency as relates to issues of national security. It isn't a general biography, so there are gaps in the history and discussion of other aspects of his career are missing. In spite of the somewhat narrow focus of the book, it was well worth the time spent for a new look at an interesting man.
#5 James Monroe:The Quest for National Identity
Author: Harry Ammon
Category : History
Pages : 706
James Monroe was the last of the Revolutionary Presidents. He served the United States during the War of Independence being wounded while scouting for the Battle Trenton, and during Washington's administration served in the US Senate and State Department. He represented the United States in France and Spain as he continued his diplomatic career (assisting in the negotiations regarding the Louisiana Purchase). He was also the Governor of Virginia and during the Madison Administration served as both the Secretary of State and the Secretary of War. With his election to the Presidency, Monroe's political career was complete.
Monroe was a very analytical man, who gathered all the information available before making momentous decisions. He regularly held meetings with all of his advisors (Cabinet members) and then would reflect on their viewpoints and analyze the ramifications of the proposed actions.
Perception was that Monroe was indecisive, however, it appears that he mainly used a delaying tacit to allow time for others to arrive at the same conclusions. He preferred unanimity within his Cabinet.
It was also assumed that because of John Quincy Adams' extensive diplomatic experience that Monroe allowed him to set the foreign policy, but it is shown in Adams' diaries that Monroe controlled the foreign policy and the direction of proposed discussions with foreign ministers of the time. One must remember that he too had diplomatic experience and had served 8 years as the Secretary of State.
Monroe questioned himself and wrote to Jefferson" Was it not proper for the US to encourage nations seeking their freedom while condemning those seeking to deprive others of their liberty? "
Monroe made the conscious decision that it was time for the United States to take a bolder stand on the international front and in 1823 during his annual "State of the Union" address, declared several paragraphs which stated that
1) "the occasion has been judged proper for asserting, as a principle in which the rights and interest of the United States are involved, that the American continents, by the free and independent condition which they have assumed and maintain, are henceforth not to be considered as the subjects for future colonization by any European powers." and
2) "We owe therefore, to candor and to the amicable relations existing between the United States and those powers to declare that we should consider any attempt on their part to extend their system to any portion of this hemisphere as dangerous to our peace and safety."
At the time, it was referred to as the "American System". Now we know it as the Monroe Doctrine. This moral standing had no "imperial mission" behind it but served notice to all the nations of the world that the Americas were not to trifled with.
This is a very detailed biography of the 5th President. The author makes every effort to inform the reader of the accomplishments of the man as well as show his shortcomings.
On a personal note, I was not particular impressed with Monroe until I realized all that he had been through and accomplished in his lifetime. He reminds me a good deal of Washington in that he felt that the Constitution was to be adhered to fanatically and that the good of the Nation was more important than the good of his party. I was unaware that the "Monroe Doctrine" was actually part of the annual address to Congress in 1823. It was not a separate document but several separate paragraphs in his State of Union address and yet made such a definitive statement that it still serves as part of the United States foreign policy standards. It is sad that this man who put forth the policy that "protected" the Americas also was partially responsible for the Missouri Compromise that put us on the road to war.
How ironic, that the last of the Revolutionary Presidents also died on the 4th of July.
I would definitely recommend this book for thos e that are looking for a detailed bio of Monroe.
Looking back, I read it in the mid 1990s, my main memory of the man is one of him riding furiously around the Capital area assisting and advising President Madison on what was actually going on with the British on the Patuxent and the Potomac as they neared Washington with destruction in mind. He was probably at his best in that "War of 1812" situation.
The Monroe Doctrine was, in my opinion, one of the more imortant executive issuances of any presidency. It was enunciated during Monroe's administration but my mind is remembering it as JQA's draft rather than a Monroe initiative. I'm probably wrong about that but my gut feeling and emotional response to all my presidential biography reading puts JQA at the top of my favorites list, so I am surely erring on his side of this issue.
Like Cheli, I recommend the book for readers who want a detailed bio of Monroe.
I wasn't sure from your comments thread if you wanted to count that book from the 90's or not. Just let me know one way or the other. I thought it was a great book and I agree with you that I think that JQA was totally behind of the Monroe Doctrine especially after reading JQA's bio.
I checked Amazon, and the book comes out on the 29th. Here are two review excerpts:
“A cogent reexamination of a relatively neglected American icon…Unger makes a solid and cohesive argument for Monroe’s importance in the early years of the United States…A worthy attempt to rescue Monroe from obscurity for a mainstream audience.”
Library Journal, 9/1/09
“A well-written biography…Unger presents the fifth president as a man of independence and initiative rather than merely a disciple of Jefferson, Madison, and John Quincy Adams…Will appeal to a more popular audience, especially those who enjoy presidential history or studying the Founding Fathers. Historians and history students should read as well.”
That would indeed be nice! I looked at their website and there is a spot to request teacher review copies, but that's it. I think I'll wait to see if they make a Kindle version available (no indication yet), and in the meantime I've requested a copy of Hart's book via ILL.
Monroe had fought and bled at Trenton as a youth, suffered the pangs of hunger and the bite of winter at Valley Forge, galloped beside Washington at Monmouth. And when the Revolution ended, he gave himself to the nation....
Washington's three successors ... were mere caretaker presidents who left the nation bankrupt, its people deeply divided, its borders under attack, its capital city in ashes. Monroe took office determined to lead the nation to greatness by making the United States impregnable to foreign attack and ensuring the safety of Americans across the face of the continent. He expanded the nation's military and naval power, then sent American troops to rip Florida and parts of the West from the Spanish, extending the nation's borders to the natural defenses of the Rocky Mountains in the West and the rivers, lakes and oceans of the nation's other borders. Secure that they and their families and properties would be safe, Americans streamed westward to claim their share of America, carving farms out of virgin plains, harvesting furs and pelts from superabundant wildlife, culling timber from vast forests, and chiseling ore from rich mountainsides....
Hundreds of exhausted militiamen limped home to their farms to embrace their wives and children and plant their fields - hoping, praying that their part of the war had ended....
The Monroes had emerged from one of the ancient Scottish clans that hurtled across highland slopes savaging rival clansmen...
Everything is in superlatives. I'm numb already.
The book did not delve that deeply in to his private life but like several of the presidents before him, he seemed to have sacrificed his personal finances to serve his country.
This is a brand new publication, and I'd hoped for a thoughtful treatment of Monroe's life and career such as McCullough or Ellis might offer. Instead, the book earned just 3½ stars. My main complaints are that the author appears overly enamored with his subject, using effusive and extravagant descriptions of him at every opportunity, and that Monroe never quite stands out as the main character in his own story. I can't quite put my finger on why this is so, unless the author meant the book less as a biography and more as a history of the times.
There is little analysis, just many quotes and bald statements strung together. The Louisiana Purchase is dealt with summarily, and no case is made for Monroe's ownership of its success. Madison is portrayed largely as a fool, with Monroe the genius behind the throne for much of Madison's second term.
*1809: ..., Madison - perhaps forgetting earlier Monroe-Jefferson correspondence on the subject - made what he thought was a peace offering to Monroe by reiterating Jefferson's offer of the governorship of Louisiana. Monroe took it as an insult, and the incompetent Madison was left to totter in his rickety presidential chair, with an equally incompetent secretary of state beside him.
*1814: The explosion at Fort Washington left Madison shaking - emotionally spent. A tiny man, only slightly more than five feet tall, he had been subject of seizures much of his life that left him sickly and often rather weak. He winced at the destruction that surrounded him and all but shrank behind Monroe at the approach of angry citizens who cursed him for permitting the destruction of their city.
*And again, In fact, Madison had lost all credibility as a national leader, and Monroe was acting as the nation's commander in chief and president.
And yet, this is what Unger has to say about Monroe himself when his own abilities are questioned: Contrary to the writings of some historians, Monroe's proclamation was entirely his own creation - not Adams's. The assertion that Adams authored the "Monroe Doctrine" is not only untrue, it borders on the ludicrous by implying that President Monroe was little more than a puppet manipulated by another's hand. Such assertions show little insight into the presidency itself and the type of man who aspires to and assumes that office; indeed, they denigrate the character, the intellect, the intensity, and the sense of power that drive American presidents (emphasis mine).
The subject of slavery is barely mentioned except for this: As for his personal views, Monroe had no strong objections to slavery, saying only, "The God who made us, made the black people, and they out not to be treated with barbarity." In almost all cases, servants are referred to as such, not as slaves, although I suppose it's possible he had no house slaves.
The over-the-top language isn't confined just to describing Monroe. Here's an example of his treatment of those he perceives as hurting Monroe: When Elizabeth was physically able or in the mood to entertain, however, she continued to shine. "On these occasions," Louisa Adams caterwauled to her father-in-law, "we all endeavor to look well but even when looking our best...we are certain of being always eclipsed by the Sovereign lady of the mansion."
On the other hand, Monroe seems to have been a really nice person, kind to relatives, friendly to all he met, unwilling to think badly of his Cabinet members when they turned on him, and a determined and self-sacrificing patriot.
And there were a few interesting tidbits:
*Of New York City: Free-roaming pigs cleaned streets of garbage.
*And who knew Antarctica would come up?: To thwart British plans to claim Antarctica, Monroe ordered a Navy frigate to sail around Cape Horn in December 1821 to claim Graham Land, an island that American hunters had discovered rich in seals, on the northern section of the Antarctic Peninsula in the Pacific Ocean.
OTOH, I bought a print copy in error (forgot to return a book club response) and gave it to my local library, which needed a bio of Monroe. It's not a total loss....
I'll be interested to hear from someone else who reads it.
The overview biography of our fifth president is part of the American Presidents series. I've now read about a half dozen books in this series and this is one of the better ones, keeping in mind it is what it is, that is, a brief, 150 page overview of a given president.
Monroe was an interesting guy, a transitional president who was also the first "national security president." After being Revolutionary War soldier, the chief negotiator of the Louisiana Purchase, a cabinet member under Madison, Monroe was the president of our westward expansion who, in his annual message to Congress, announced the Monroe Doctrine. (Note to self: read more about the Monroe Doctrine.)
He was molded by Washington, Jefferson, and Adams, which is pretty interesting in itself.
Hart does a good job of getting into Monroe's character--thin-skinned and quick to take offense, not brilliant but a man who did a lot with the intelligence he was given.
My only gripe is that Hart quotes way too much from other Monroe biographers, particularly Harry Ammon and Noble Cunningham. However, I suspect that I got the best of those biographers while saving myself 500+ pages' worth of reading.
Last year, I read quite a few presidential biographies early in the year but nothing during the second half of 2009 but I'm glad to be back to reading presidential biographies, in order. Glad to be moving on to John Quincy Adams. Sometime soon, I will be reading the American Presidents series book about JQA, a book about JQA's post-presidency, and a book about the election of 1828 between JQA and Andrew Jackson.
I liked this book, very good read.
Ah, my presidential perusal of U.S. history is beginning to lose its appeal. I don't know if it's the repetition of events in each biography or if this latest subject, James Monroe, is not as interesting as his predecessors. The author of this book states up front that little is known about Monroe's personal life. Apparently the man was all business--at least in his writings. His early life is pretty much glossed over up until he signs up for the Revolutionary army. Then it's all politics. But still, it wasn't totally boring. It was intersting to see the transition from the Reveloutionary era to its successor. (I don't have a convenient label for it.) The "triumph" of the Republican party over the Federalists was a bit ironic, knowing that the two party system would be returning. It was also intriguing that the coming division was forming along geographic lines rather than ideological ones. I also found the details of the Louisiana purchase informative. In my ignorance, I had assumed that the transaction was straightforward, little realizing the years of negotiation required to determine where the borders actually were. Of course, I suppose conquering powers don't usually dwell on such details. Anyway, if you want to read about our fifth president and his times, this is a book worth checking out.
This one by Unger is a well-written, well researched, and richly documented story of our 5th president. In addition to his personal accomplishments, many of which I was only slightly aware of, we get a broad picture of a very interesting period in our nation's history as the US bloomed from the 13 original colonies to the vast expanse of land added in the Louisiana purchase. In this bicentennial year of the War of 1812, I actually got a much clearer picture of what the war was all about, who the players were, and what the results were.
It's not an overly engaging read, and there are probably areas that could have born more scrutiny, e.g., Monroe's attitude about slavery which is given just a few scattered mentions here and there, but on the whole, it does give us a much more fleshed out character than most of us had from school, where he seems to have been known as "the 5th President of the United States."
In addition to the well researched text, the book has a wealth of illustrations, adding to our understanding of the period. These pictures are even well portrayed in the e-book format I got from Barnes and Noble for my Nook. If you're reading presidents, this is probably the best one available for Monroe.