Our Georgia History

James Monroe

James Monroe was the fifth President of the United States. He also served as U. S. Senator (VA), Ambassador to France and, later, England, Governor of Virginia, Secretary of State, Secretary of War, and negotiated the Louisiana Purchase.

Monroe attended Parson Campbell's school and William and Mary College, participating in Revolutionary activities while at college. He joined a group of students when they raided the royal governor's mansion, securing arms and munitions for the Virginia militia. He left William and Mary to join the Continental Army at the age of 17. At the battle of Trenton, New Jersey, he was one of only two officers to be wounded. Upon returning to the war he became Major General William Alexander's (Lord Stirling) aide-de-camp, leaving to begin a failed attempt to form a regiment of Virginia militia. He clerked for Thomas Jefferson, then governor of Virginia, beginning in July, 1780, becoming Jefferson's lifelong friend and confidant.

Becoming a member of the Continental Congress in 1783, Monroe is most noted for his opposition to the Jay-Gardoqui Treaty, which the United States walked away from in 1785. (sometimes called the Jay-Gardoqui proposals and given the date 1789). Monroe had been interested in western expansion and the proposed Jay-Gardoqui treaty with Spain took away all rights of the United States to sail the Mississippi River. The future president convinced Congress not to ratify, but Monroe and Jay would lock horns again over another ill-advised treaty.

Monroe's opposition to the U. S. Constitution centered around three major issues. He felt the lack of a Bill of Right was a major omission, the Senate was too powerful and that the document should allow for the direct election of the President (no electoral college). Monroe voted against ratification, but that didn't stop him from running for the body on three different occasions (2 wins, 1 loss). He was closely aligned with Thomas Jefferson and James Madison against the Federalist faction led by John Adams and Alexander Hamilton.

He resigned from the U. S. Senate in 1794 to become George Washington's Minister to France. He found Jay's Treaty (1794) to be ill-advised and lacking, but it solved a number of issues that concerned President Washington, who admittedly signed it with great concerns. Monroe was recalled following the treaty's ratification, successfully running for governor of Virginia. During Thomas Jefferson's term as President, Monroe returned to France, negotiating the Louisiana Purchase.

After his return the the U. S. in 1807 Monroe served as Virginia's governor for 3 one-year terms before accepting Madison's offer of Secretary of State in 1811, a position he held for the duration of the War of 1812. He became the first and only man to simultaneously hold the office of Secretary of War as well, leading a militia attack on the British during their march on Washington, D. C. He left Madison's cabinet in 1815 to run for President.

The Election of 1816 wasn't really much of a race. Monroe defeated Georgian William H. Crawford in the Democratic-Republican convention and Federalist Rufus King only managed to win 3 states, but he was an early anti-slavery candidate.

Monroe's presidency was labeled "The Era of Good Feelings" by a Boston newspaper during a visit to that city in 1817 because of little partisan opposition to Monroe and his policies. Following Washington's example, James Monroe made three major trips in the United States, one in the north, one in the South and one to the West.

In 1818 the United States tried to wage war against the Seminole Indians who were attacking the settlers on the southern frontier of Georgia. Monroe turned to Andrew Jackson, who just happened to take two Spanish forts in Florida while looking the Seminoles. The result of the invasion was the sale of La Florida by the Spanish to the United States in 1819.

Monroe's trip to the South in 1819 included Georgia, where he visited Savannah, Augusta and the new state capitol at Milledgeville before entering the Cherokee Nation -- with 3 security guards! After staying at Blackburn's Tavern, where he told guests he was a traveling salesman, Monroe journeyed to the Moravian mission at Spring Place. Dismayed with the stark accommodations afforded him by the missionaries, Monroe asked Joseph "Young Joe" Vann if he could stay at his home, the Vann House, now a Georgia State Park. Upon leaving, Monroe traveled to Nashville on the Federal Highway to visit with Andrew Jackson.

Perhaps as early as mid-1818 the United States began a major economic downturn. Banks, in response to lower earnings, began to raise interest rates. by 1819 loan defaults were rising rapidly, especially by land speculators who purchased western holdings, hoping to sell them for a profit. By the following year the full-blown Panic of 1819, although the downturn was somewhat regional in nature, affecting the South and West more than the North.

Missouri's application to join the United States was rejected in 1819 because it would allow slavery.

By the start of the election of 1820 the rejection of Missouri's application was a major campaign issue in state races, but not for Monroe, who ran unopposed. Neither was the economy, which was blamed on the banks and not on Madison, who won the electoral votes of every state. John Quincy Adams, then Secretary of State, received a single vote because a member of the Electoral College felt that the unanimous election of Monroe was wrong.

In 1821 the Missouri Compromise allowed Missouri the right to enter the Union as a slave state and Maine to enter as a free state, beginning a long chain of appeasement that ended in the American Civil War. Monroe supported the comprimise and signed the bill.

On December 2, 1823, James Monroe had the defining moment of his Presidency when he issued the Monroe Doctrine. Jackson's defeat of Spain in La Florida created a major problem for the ebbing world power. Seeing that a relatively small force of Americans defeated the Spanish, others decided to revolt. By 1822 Spain was faced with open revolts in Mexico, Chile, and Argentina. Dissidents were also gaining power in Columbia, Peru and yet to be formed Bolivia (Viceroyalty of La Plata). England wanted to end Spanish domination of Central and South America and asked the United States for support. Both Thomas Jefferson and James Madison supported England's proposal, but Secretary of State John Quincy Adams felt the United States would be better off by ending European domination of the Western Hemisphere. In the end, Monroe sided with Adams and they came up with the Monroe Doctrine, which has been used by virtually every American president since that time.

Following his presidency Monroe was faced with mounting debt. He sold his Virginia plantation and moved to New York to live with his daughter, writing a history of free governments that was published after his death.

Among the members of his cabinet who played a role in Georgia history were:

William H. Crawford, Secretary of the Treasury (18171825)
John C. Calhoun, Secretary of War (18171825)
William Wirt, Attorney General (18171825)
Return Meigs, Postmaster General (18171823)

Monroe County, Georgia and the city of Monroe, Georgia are named in his honor.

Return to Index

FrontHistory 101Early GeorgiaAmerican IndiansSearch

Golden Ink
Georgia's innovative design group

Legal Notice
Privacy Policy