Founding Father James Monroe and the Monroe Doctrine
James Monroe (/mənˈroʊ/; April 28, 1758 – July 4, 1831) was an American statesman who served from 1817 to 1825 as the fifth President of the United States. Monroe was the last president among the Founding Fathers of the United States as well as the Virginian dynasty; he also represented the end of the Republican Generation in that office. Born in Westmoreland County, Virginia, Monroe was of the planter class and fought in the American Revolutionary War. He was wounded in the Battle of Trenton with a musket ball to his shoulder. After studying law under Thomas Jefferson from 1780 to 1783, he served as a delegate in the Continental Congress.
As an anti-federalist delegate to the Virginia convention that considered ratification of the United States Constitution, Monroe opposed ratification, claiming it gave too much power to the central government. He took an active part in the new government, and in 1790 he was elected to the Senate of the first United States Congress, where he joined the Democratic-Republicans. He gained experience as an executive as the Governor of Virginia and rose to national prominence as a diplomat in France, when he helped negotiate the Louisiana Purchase in 1803. During the War of 1812, Monroe served in critical roles as Secretary of State and the Secretary of War under President James Madison.
Facing little opposition from the fractured Federalist Party, Monroe was easily elected president in 1816, winning over 80 percent of the electoral vote and becoming the last president during the First Party System era of American politics. As president, he sought to ease partisan tensions, embarking on a tour of the country that was well received. With the ratification of the Treaty of 1818, under the successful diplomacy of his Secretary of State John Quincy Adams, the United States extended its reach from the Atlantic to the Pacific, by acquiring harbor and fishing rights in the Pacific Northwest; the United States and Britain jointly occupied the Oregon Country. In addition to the acquisition of Florida, the 1819 Adams–Onís Treaty secured the border of the United States along the 42nd Parallel to the Pacific Ocean and represented America’s first determined attempt at creating an “American global empire”. As nationalism surged, partisan fury subsided, and the “Era of Good Feelings” ensued, until the Panic of 1819 struck, and a dispute over the admission of Missouri embroiled the country in 1820. Nonetheless, Monroe won near-unanimous reelection.
Monroe supported the founding of colonies in Africa for freed slaves that would eventually form the nation of Liberia, whose capital, Monrovia, is named in his honor. In 1823, he announced the United States’ opposition to any European intervention in the recently independent countries of the Americas with the Monroe Doctrine, which became a landmark in American foreign policy. His presidency concluded the first period of American presidential history before the beginning of Jacksonian democracy and the Second Party System era. Following his retirement in 1825, Monroe was plagued by financial difficulties. He died in New York City on July 4, 1831. He has been ranked in the aggregate by scholars as the 16th most successful president.
Revolutionary War service
In early 1776, about a year and a half after his enrollment, Monroe dropped out of college and joined the 3rd Virginia Regiment in the Continental Army. As the fledgling army valued literacy in its officers, Monroe was commissioned with the rank of lieutenant, serving under Captain William Washington. After months of training, Monroe and seven hundred Virginia infantrymen were called north to serve in the New York and New Jersey campaign. Shortly after the Virginians arrived, Washington led the army in a retreat from New York City into New Jersey and then across the Delaware River into Pennsylvania. In December, Monroe took part in a surprise attack on a Hessian encampment. Though the attack was successful, Monroe suffered a severed artery in the battle and nearly died. In the aftermath of the battle, Washington cited Monroe and Washington for their bravery, and promoted Monroe to the rank of captain. After his wounds healed, Monroe returned to Virginia to recruit his own company of soldiers. Monroe’s participation in the battle was memorialized in John Trumbull‘s painting, The Capture of the Hessians at Trenton, December 26, 1776, as well as Emanuel Leutze‘s Washington Crossing the Delaware.
After the Napoleonic wars (which ended in 1815), almost all of Spain’s and Portugal’s colonies in Latin America revolted and declared independence. Americans welcomed this development as a validation of the spirit of Republicanism. Secretary of State John Quincy Adams suggested delaying formal recognition until Florida was secured. The problem of imperial invasion was intensified by a Russian claim to the Pacific coast down to the fifty-first parallel and simultaneous European pressure to have all of Latin America returned to its colonial status.
Monroe informed Congress in March 1822 that permanent stable governments had been established in the United Provinces of the River Plate (the core of present-day Argentina), Colombia, Chile, and Mexico. Adams, under Monroe’s supervision, wrote the instructions for the ministers (ambassadors) to these new countries. They declared that the policy of the United States was to uphold republican institutions and to seek treaties of commerce on a most-favored-nation basis. The United States would support inter-American congresses dedicated to the development of economic and political institutions fundamentally differing from those prevailing in Europe. The articulation of an “American system” distinct from that of Europe was a basic tenet of Monroe’s policy toward Latin America. Monroe took pride as the United States was the first nation to extend recognition and to set an example to the rest of the world for its support of the “cause of liberty and humanity”.
Monroe formally announced in his message to Congress on December 2, 1823, what was later called the Monroe Doctrine. He proclaimed that the Americas should be free from future European colonization and free from European interference in sovereign countries’ affairs. It further stated the United States’ intention to stay neutral in wars amongst European powers and their colonies, but to consider new colonies or interference with independent countries in the Americas as hostile acts toward the United States.[b]
Although it is Monroe’s most famous contribution to history, the speech was written by Adams, who designed the doctrine in cooperation with Britain. Monroe and Adams realized that American recognition would not protect the new countries against military intervention to restore Spain’s power. In October 1823, Richard Rush, the American minister in London, advised that Foreign Secretary George Canning was proposing that the U.S. and Britain jointly declare their opposition to European intervention. Britain, with its powerful navy, also opposed re-conquest of Latin America and suggested that the United States join in proclaiming a “hands off” policy. Galvanized by the British initiative, Monroe consulted with American leaders and then formulated a plan with Adams. Ex-Presidents Jefferson and Madison counseled Monroe to accept the offer, but 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’ 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.”
The Monroe Doctrine at the time of its adoption thus pertained more to the Russians in North America than to the former Spanish colonies. The result was a system of American isolationism under the sponsorship of the British navy. The Monroe Doctrine held that the United States considered the Western Hemisphere as no longer a place for European colonization; that any future effort to gain further political control in the hemisphere or to violate the independence of existing states would be treated as an act of hostility; and finally that there existed two different and incompatible political systems in the world. The United States, therefore, promised to refrain from intervention in European affairs and demanded Europe to abstain from interfering with American matters. There were few serious European attempts at intervention.[