The American Cyclopædia (1879)/Monroe, James

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search
1188425The American Cyclopædia — Monroe, JamesJohn Esten Cooke

MONROE, James, fifth president of the United States, born in Westmoreland co., Va., April 28, 1758, died in New York, July 4, 1831. His father was Spence Monroe, a planter, descended from Capt. Monroe, an officer in the army of Charles I., who emigrated with other cavaliers to Virginia in 1652. He was educated at William and Mary college, which he left in 1776 to enter the army as a cadet. Soon afterward he was commissioned lieutenant, and took an active part in the campaign on the Hudson. In the attack on Trenton, at the head of a small detachment, he captured one of the British batteries. On this occasion he received a ball in the shoulder, and was promoted to a captaincy. As aide-de-camp to Lord Stirling, with the rank of major, he served in the campaigns of 1777 and 1778, and distinguished himself in the battles of Brandywine, Germantown, and Monmouth. By accepting the place of aide to Lord Stirling he lost his rank in the regular line. Failing in his efforts to reënter the army as a commissioned officer, he returned to Virginia and began to study law under the direction of Thomas Jefferson, then governor of the state. When the British appeared soon afterward in Virginia, Monroe exerted himself in organizing the militia of the lower counties; and when the enemy proceeded southward, Jefferson sent him as military commissioner to the army in South Carolina. In 1782 he was elected to the assembly of Virginia from the county of King George, and was appointed by that body, although but 23 years of age, a member of the executive council. In 1783 he was chosen a delegate to congress for three years, and took his seat on Dec. 13. Convinced that it was impossible to govern the country under the old articles of confederation, he advocated an extension of the powers of congress, and in 1785 moved to invest that body with authority to regulate trade between the states. The resolution was referred to a committee of which he was chairman, and a report was made in favor of the measure. This led to the convention at Annapolis, and the subsequent adoption of the federal constitution. Monroe also exerted himself in devising a system for the settlement of the public lands, and was appointed a member of the commission to decide upon the boundary between Massachusetts and New York. He strongly opposed the relinquishment of the right to navigate the Mississippi river, demanded by Spain. In 1785 he married a daughter of Lawrence Kortright of New York, a lady celebrated for her beauty and accomplishments. Having served out his term, and being ineligible for the next three years, Monroe settled in Fredericksburg, Va. In 1787 he was reëlected to the general assembly, and in 1788 was chosen a delegate to the Virginia convention to decide upon the adoption of the federal constitution. He was one of the minority who opposed the instrument as submitted, being apprehensive that without amendment it would confer too much power upon the general government. The course of the minority in convention was approved by the great mass of the people of Virginia, and Monroe was chosen United States senator in 1790. In the senate he became a prominent representative of the anti-federal party, and acted with it till his term expired in 1794. In May of that year he received the appointment of minister plenipotentiary to France, and was received in Paris with enthusiastic demonstrations of respect. His marked exhibition of sympathy with the French republic displeased the administration. John Jay had been sent to negotiate a treaty with England, and the course pursued by Monroe was considered injudicious and reprehensible, as tending to throw serious obstacles in the way of the proposed negotiations. On the conclusion of the treaty, his alleged failure to present it in its true character to the French government excited anew the displeasure of the cabinet; and in August, 1796, he was recalled, under an informal censure. On his return to America he published a “View of the Conduct of the Executive in the Foreign Affairs of the United States” (Philadelphia, 1798), which widened the breach between him and the administration; but Monroe remained upon good terms with both Washington and Jay. He was governor of Virginia from 1799 to 1802, and at the close of his term was appointed envoy extraordinary to the French government to negotiate, in conjunction with the resident minister, Mr. Livingston, for the purchase of Louisiana, or a right of depot for the United States on the Mississippi. Within a fortnight after his arrival in Paris the ministers secured for $15,000,000 the entire “territory of Orleans” and “district of Louisiana.” In the same year he was commissioned minister plenipotentiary to England, and endeavored to conclude a convention for the protection of neutral rights, and against the impressment of seamen. In the midst of these negotiations he was directed to proceed to Madrid, as minister extraordinary and plenipotentiary, to adjust the controversy between the United States and Spain in relation to the boundaries of the new purchase of Louisiana. In this he failed, and in 1806 he was recalled to England to act with Mr. Pinkney in further negotiation for the protection of neutral rights. On the last day of that year a treaty was concluded, but because of the omission of any provision against the impressment of seamen, and its ambiguity in relation to the other great points, the president sent it back for revisal. All efforts to attain this failed, and Monroe returned to America. The time was approaching for the election of president, and a considerable body of the republican party had brought forward Monroe as their candidate; but the preference of the president for Madison was well known. Monroe believed that the rejection of the treaty, and the predilection expressed for his rival, indicated personal hostility on the part of Mr. Jefferson, and a correspondence on the subject ensued. Jefferson candidly explained his course, and showed that his preference for Madison was solely based upon solicitude for the success of the party, the great majority of which had declared in his favor. The misunderstanding terminated, and Monroe withdrew from the canvass. In 1810 he was again elected to the general assembly of Virginia, and in 1811 governor of the commonwealth. In the same year he was appointed by President Madison secretary of state, and after the capture of Washington in 1814 he was appointed to the war department, which he took without relinquishing the former post. He found the treasury exhausted and the public credit at the lowest ebb; but he set about the task of infusing order and efficiency into the departments under his charge, and proposed an increase of 40,000 men in the army, by levying recruits throughout the whole country. His attention was also directed to the defence of New Orleans; and finding the public credit completely prostrated, he pledged his private means as subsidiary to the credit of the government, and enabled the city to successfully oppose the forces of the enemy. He was the confidential adviser of President Madison in the measures for the reëstablishment of public credit and the regulation of the foreign relations of the United States, and continued to serve as secretary of state to the end of Madison's administration, in 1817. In that year he succeeded to the presidency, by an electoral vote of 183 out of 217, as the candidate of the party then generally known as democratic republicans. His cabinet was as follows: John Quincy Adams of Massachusetts, secretary of state; William H. Crawford of Georgia, secretary of the treasury; John C. Calhoun of South Carolina, secretary of war; Benjamin W. Crowinshield of Massachusetts, secretary of the navy; William Wirt of Virginia, attorney general. Calhoun and Wirt were not appointed until December, 1817. On Nov. 30, 1818, Secretary Crowinshield was succeeded by Smith Thompson of New York, who on Dec. 9, 1823, was succeeded by Samuel L. Southard of New Jersey. Soon after his inauguration, President Monroe made a tour through the middle and eastern states, during which he thoroughly inspected arsenals, naval depots, fortifications, and garrisons; reviewed military companies, corrected public abuses, and studied the capabilities of the country with reference to future hostilities. On this tour he wore the undress uniform of a continental officer. In every point of view the journey was auspicious. Party lines seemed about to disappear, and the country to return to its long past state of union. The president was not backward in his assurances of a strong desire on his part that such should be the case. The course of the administration was in conformity with these assurances, and secured the support of an overwhelming majority of the people. The great body of recommendations in the president's message were approved by large majorities. The tone of debate was far more moderate; few of the bitter criminations which had been the fashion in the past were uttered; and the period became known as “the era of good feeling.” Among the important events of the first term of President Monroe were the admission into the Union of the states of Mississippi, Illinois, and Maine. In 1818 a convention was concluded between Great Britain and the United States in relation to the Newfoundland fisheries, the restoration of slaves, and other subjects; and in 1819 Spain ceded to the United States her possessions in East and West Florida, with the adjacent islands. In 1820 Monroe was reëlected president almost unanimously, receiving 231 out of 232 electoral votes. On Aug. 10, 1821, Missouri became one of the states of the Union, after prolonged and exciting debates, resulting in the celebrated “Missouri compromise,” by which slavery was permitted in Missouri, but for ever prohibited elsewhere N. of the parallel of 36° 30'. Other events of public importance during the second term of President Monroe were the recognition in 1822 of the independence of Mexico, and the provinces in South America formerly under the dominion of Spain; and the promulgation, in his message of Dec. 2, 1823, of the policy of neither entangling ourselves in the broils of Europe, nor suffering the powers of the old world to interfere with the affairs of the new, now generally known as the “Monroe doctrine.” On this occasion the president declared that any attempt on the part of the European powers to “extend their system to any portion of this hemisphere” would be regarded by the United States as “dangerous to our peace and safety,” and would accordingly be opposed. On March 4, 1825, Monroe retired from office, and returned to his residence of Oak Hill, in Loudon Co., Va. He was chosen a justice of the peace, and as such sat in the county court. In 1829 he became a member of the Virginia convention to revise the old constitution, and was chosen to preside over the deliberations of that body; but he was compelled by ill health to resign his post in the convention, and to return to Oak Hill. Pecuniary embarrassment was added to bodily infirmity, and although he had received $350,000 for his public services, he was in his old age harassed by debt. His wife died in 1830, and in the summer of that year he removed to the residence of his son-in-law, Samuel L. Gouverneur, in the city of New York, where he died. In 1858 his remains were removed with great pomp to Richmond, Va., and reinterred on July 5 in the Hollywood cemetery. — Monroe held the reins of government at an important period, and administered it with prudence, discretion, and a single eye to the general welfare. He went further than any of his predecessors in developing the resources of the country. He encouraged the army, increased the navy, augmented the national defences, protected commerce, approved of the United States bank, and infused vigor and efficiency into every department of the public service. His honesty, good faith, and simplicity were generally acknowledged, and disarmed the political rancor of his strongest opponents. Madison thought the country had never fully appreciated the robust understanding of Monroe. This may be partially accounted for by the fact that he never acquired distinction in oratory. In person, Monroe was tall and well formed, with a light complexion and blue eyes. The expression of his countenance was an accurate index of his simplicity, benevolence, and integrity.