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Biography: James Monroe

From the Collection: The Presidents

5th President

President James Monroe. Library of Congress

Terms: 1817-1825
Political Party: Democratic-Republican
First Lady: Elizabeth Kortright Monroe
Vice President: Daniel D. Tompkins

Born: April 28, 1758, in Westmoreland County, Virginia... Monroe, a charming man admired for his honesty, presided over two decisions that presaged the rest of 19th century American history — the Missouri Compromise and the Monroe Doctrine. The first represented the growing discord within the United States over the issue of slavery and the second asserted American influence in the Western hemisphere... Died: July 4, 1831.

The Era
Mary Shelley publishes Frankenstein (1818)
The Venus de Milo is excavated (1820)
Jean-Francois Champollion deciphers the Rosetta Stone (1822)

Domestic Policy
Upon his inauguration, Monroe chose to make a presidential tour of the states, the first such tour since Washington's. The effort to connect with citizens led a journalist to dub Monroe's time in office the "Era of Good Feeling." Good feelings were strained, however, when a bill admitting Missouri to statehood was introduced in Congress. By 1820, a compromise was reached by which Missouri was accepted as a state where slavery was legal but Maine was admitted at the same time as a free state. In addition, all future states north and west of Missouri were to be free states. The Missouri Compromise was a bitter pill for many to swallow and the admission of new states as free or slave became a major issue until the abolition of slavery.

Foreign Affairs
Monroe's first great diplomatic move occurred before he was president; as special envoy for Jefferson, Monroe seized on the opportunity to make the Louisiana Purchase. As president, he introduced the Monroe Doctrine, the principle that "the American continents... are henceforth not to be considered as subjects for future colonization by any European power." Britain, profiting from trade with newly independent nations in South America, offered to present this doctrine with Monroe as partners, but he turned them down, deciding to establish a separate and individual identity for the United States in the world.

Presidential Politics
Following Federalist opposition to the War of 1812, that party fell apart, leaving only the Democratic-Republicans. Once Monroe won their nomination in 1816, the general election against Rufus King (previously a Federalist vice-presidential candidate) was a cakewalk. Monroe's reputation for honesty, and his legacy as a Revolutionary War veteran, overwhelmed King's lackluster campaigning. Monroe's popularity after his first term was such that he ran unopposed in 1820. In that election, he won all the electoral college votes but one -- a New Hampshire elector cast his ballot for Secretary of State John Quincy Adams.

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