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James Monroe

( Originally Published Early 1900's )



In the useful, liberty-loving and amiable career of James Monroe, we have the history of the third in the succession of Presidents from Jefferson, the founder, teacher, mentor, friend. For a parallel in the lives of these three statesmen, we must seek another race and religion. The Companions of the Prophet Mohammed one after another succeeded (for Caliph means "successor") as rulers because they had been with Mohammed every day, and had benefited most by his instruction. In the previous articles we have seen how implicitly Madison relied on Jefferson; we should now begin the life of Monroe by stating that he was a student in the law office of Jefferson. It was Jefferson's hope that Madison, Monroe, and Clinton should in turn fol-low him as President. The people faithfully carried out his wishes as to Madison and Monroe, but Clinton headed a defection against Madison in his second election. The judgment of Jefferson that his scholars in democracy would not desert the cause of popular government, was proved by time to be entirely correct, and the second Presidential election of Monroe was the near-est to a unanimous choice that is recorded of any Chief Magistrate outside the Father of His Country himself.

It was the glorious fortune of the subject of this notice to be the author of the Monroe Doctrine, a matter of prime importance in this world. The Monroe Doctrine has many literatures, in many languages. Beginning with the Panama Congress, it has interposed in the discussion of Yucatan (1845-8), the Clayton-Bulwer Treaty (1850), the Nicaragua Canal (beginning 1846), Cuba (beginning 1850), the French in Mexico (beginning 1864), the De Lesseps Canal (beginning 1879), the Russian Purchase, etc. (beginning 1790), and Venezuela. No other President's name has figured so often in the archives of other nations or in the theses of publicists and writers on international law. An exemplary "Life of Monroe" has been written by Daniel C. Gilman, wherein the voluminous bibliography growing out of Monroe's public services and his celebrated mandate is outlined with fidelity.

James Monroe was born in Westmoreland County, near the head of Monroe's Creek, which empties into the Potomac River, April 28, 1758. Not far away was the birthplace of George Washington. During Monroe's boyhood the county was stirred with discussions of the Stamp Act, and his neighbors nearly all followed the lead of Patrick Henry. Monroe entered the college of William and Mary at Williamsburg, and was at school there when the Revolutionary War broke out. He, with thirty other students, among whom was John Marshall, at once enlisted, and Monroe entered the ser-vice of Washington near New York as a Lieutenant in the Third Virginia Regiment of Colonel Mercer. He was in the engagements of Harlem and White Plains. At Trenton he was wounded in the shoulder, and carried the bullet in his body till he died. He was promoted to the rank of Major by securing a place as a staff officer with Lord Stirling, but this preferment took him out of the line, and when he was next out of service, it seems that he could not be provided for—so great was the supply of officers and so few the private soldiers. Meanwhile he had taken the part of a staff officer in the battles of Brandywine, Germantown, and Monmouth. In 1778 General Washington gave him a high recommendation to his State, reciting the fact that the General had appointed him a Captain after his wound, but the additional regiment had failed in recruit-ing. "He has in every instance maintained the reputation of a brave, active, and sensible officer." But it seems that "brave and sensible officers" were so plentiful in the Revolution that they could not all be utilized, and James Monroe went home, where Governor Jefferson appointed him a Lieutenant-Colonel largely as a matter of honor, and he thus attained his common title of Colonel Monroe, by which the books make early notice of him.

It was at this time that he chose to enter the law office of Jefferson rather than to visit Dr. Franklin at Paris. "I submitted the direction of my time and plan to my friend, Mr. Jefferson," Monroe writes to Lord Stirling, "one of our wisest and most virtuous Republicans, and, aided by his advice, I have hitherto, of late, lived." This friendship of Monroe and Jefferson ended only with death. The three ex-Presidents—Jefferson, Madison, Monroe—half a century later, repeatedly met in council as Regents of the University of Virginia.

Colonel Monroe was chosen a member of the Assembly two years after he began studying law with Jefferson, and in the same year entered the State Senate. At the age of twenty-five he was sent as a delegate to Congress, where he sat for three years, following that peripatetic body to Annapolis, Trenton, and New York. During the summer of 1784 he ascended the Hudson River to Albany, went westward to the lakes, and down the Ohio River; thence homeward over the mountains. In the same year he visited Fort Pitt on another journey. He had a statesman's desire to inspect the land he lived in, and in early life, after he had seen a portion of it, he became an earnest advocate of free soil for the parts yet to be settled. This sentiment he modified in later years.

While he was attending Congress at New York, in 1786, he married Miss Eliza Kortwright, a young woman of admitted beauty, and the pair moved to Fredericksburg, Va., where the husband began the practice of law. There were two children, both daughters, by this marriage. The next year (1787) he was chosen to the Assembly, and was in the celebrated convention of the next year, when Patrick Henry came so near compelling Virginia to reject the new Federal Constitution. Monroe followed the lead of Henry, and opposed Madi-son, with whom he was afterward to labor during so many years in perfect harmony. When Patrick Henry punished Madison by excluding him as United States Senator, Monroe was given the coveted place. As a constitutional critic, Monroe viewed the Presidency with suspicion, believing that the Chief Magistrate could be elected forever. Under the shadow of the great Washington, unable to see the power that would sometime come to his own friend, Jefferson, how little could Mon-roe guess that he himself would be the fourth patriot to enact into custom what the makers of the great ordinance had failed to write down into law—that the people refuse to any one man more than eight years of the power necessarily attaching to an effective and useful central office.

Here began the national career of Monroe under the new Constitution. He sat quietly in the United States Senate for over three years, being a youthful Senator, but as a voter for Virginia he was uninterruptedly hostile to Hamilton and the foreign policy of the Nation, which was one of illogical subserviency to England and ingratitude to France. He was therefore surprised to receive from General Washington an appointment to France as Minister. It was well known that Monroe was an ardent democratic-Republican, and an admirer of the French Revolutionists. What could have been the object of Hamilton in allowing Monroe to go to France, cannot be opined, unless it were to remove a persistent opponent of the local financial measures. Very fine instructions were issued, to judge by their reading. France was to be our first and natural ally (so said the instructions); we were to enter-tain a grateful sense of past services; above all, we were to obtain the mouth of the Mississippi. Mr. Monroe could not suspect, from this, that Jay was to negotiate with England a treaty that would be in contravention of the French agreement of 1778 which saved America. But such was the fact.

The French Revolution had gone past the Reign of Terror. There was not an accredited Ambassador at Paris before Monroe arrived. He took his daughter to the establishment of Madame Campan, at St. Germain, where Hortense, the daughter of Josephine, was at school, and thereafter waited for ten days at the Foreign Office, the Committee of Public Safety deeming it unwise to receive him. He then addressed himself directly to the President of the Convention, who read the letter to the Convention, and a decree passed immediately that the Minister of the United States be introduced next day. Accordingly, August 15, 1794, he personally presented an address, which was read by a translator. This address was replete with the true sentiments of Jeffersonian democracy, and was not lacking in just compliments to the hopes and deeds of the French people.

The official notes of the Convention show that "the Citizen Monroe was received"; that his expressions of fraternity were "heard with the liveliest sensibility and covered with applause"; "in witness, the President of the Convention gave the accolade (fraternal embrace) to Citizen Monroe"; the Convention then decreed his full recognition, with the publication of his address, etc., in both languages; and the flags of the two Nations were ordered to be joined and displayed at the sittings of the Convention. Such a flag as was needed Monroe at once presented to France. When the National Convention visited the Pantheon to complete the services over the body of Rousseau, Monroe, with his suite, was the only officer not a French delegate who was permitted to enter the temple.

The popularity of Monroe in France, and the cordiality of the relations that were thus rendered possible between ancient friends, created the bitterest disappoint-ment to the English party at Philadelphia. They privately condemned Monroe, and pushed the English treaty. On learning that France was again abandoned by America, the President of the Convention addressed a sharp letter of just criticism to Monroe, asking for a copy of the English treaty. "There ought not to subsist between two free peoples," said the Frenchman, "the dissimulation which belongs to courts." When Monroe himself read Jay's English treaty he wrote in chagrin: "Jay's treaty surpasses all that I feared, great as my fears were of his mission. Indeed, it is the most shameful transaction I have ever known of the kind."

After the French saw the treaty itself, they were still more angry, and while General Washington's Secretary of State seems to have blamed Monroe for making such good friends with the French in the first place, he was blamed still more for not keeping them better friends after they had been deserted by America. The angry recall of Monroe took place in August, 1796, but he did not reach America till the spring of 1797. He passed through Alexandria on his way home, and General Washington noted (evidently hurt, in his own turn) that Colonel Monroe did not call at Mt. Vernon. The country was in political turmoil over the French question, and Monroe entered upon the most comprehensive justification of a political course that is on record. He wrote a book of 500 pages entitled "A View of the Con-duct of the Executive." This work enumerates the appointment of Morris, Monroe's predecessor, a known enemy of France; the appointment of Monroe, a known friend; the concealment from Monroe of what Jay was about to do in England; the deceptive instructions of amity and alliance; the resentment of the administration when those instructions were made public; advances to England without corresponding advances to France; the irritating bearing of America toward France and her conciliatory attitude toward England, a nation that would yield nothing essential.

We may best view this episode through the eyes of Thiers, the French historian, who wrote after all parties to the cause were dead : "In the French Government there were persons in favor of a rupture with the United States. Monroe, who was Ambassador to Paris, gave the Directory the most prudent advice on this occasion. War with France, said he, will force the American Government to throw itself into the arms of England and to submit to her influence. Aristocracy will gain supreme control in the United States, and liberty will be compromised. By patiently enduring, on the contrary, the wrongs of the present President, you will leave him with-out excuse, you will enlighten the Americans, and decide a contrary choice at the next election. All the wrongs of which France will have to complain will then be repaired. This wise and provident advice had its effect on the Directory. Rewbell, Barras, and Larévčillere had caused it to be in opposition to the opinion of the systematic Carnot, who, though in general favorably dis-posed to peace, insisted on the cession of Louisiana, with a view to attempt the establishment of a republic there."

To oppose the success of French ideas, which would be fatal to the Federalist party, the Alien and Sedition acts were passed by Congress, which only hastened the downfall of the English party. On this wave of popular fury, Monroe became Governor of Virginia, and was twice reelected to that office, going to the constitutional limit. This period carried him past the death of Washington and the election of Jefferson as President. William Wirt described him, at this time, as follows : "In his stature he is about the middle height of men, rather firmly set, with nothing further remarkable in his per-son, except his muscular compactness and apparent ability to endure labor. His countenance, when grave, has rather the expression of sternness and irascibility; a smile, however (and a smile is not unusual with him in a social circle), lights it up to very high advantage, and gives it a most impressive and engaging air of suavity and benevolence. His dress and personal appearance are those of a plain and modest gentleman. He is a man of soft, polite, and even assiduous attentions; but these, although they are always well-timed, judicious, and evidently the offspring of an obliging and philanthropic temper, are never performed with the striking and captivating graces of a Marlborough or a Bolingbroke. To be plain, there is often in his manner an inartificial and even an awkward simplicity, which, while it provokes the smile of a more polished person, forces him to the opinion that Mr. Monroe is a man of a most sincere and artless soul." During the most disturbing stages of the French mission he was unceasing in his letters to his brothers Andrew and Joseph and to his sister. His interest in a nephew and another American lad who were also at Madame Campan's school, was paternal. His agricultural tastes, not less than his political tendencies, threw him into a most perfect harmony with Jefferson, and their letters were on topics that formed an Arcadian combination of patriotism and pastoral affairs.

As soon as Jefferson became President it gave him pleasure to vindicate Governor Monroe by an appoint-ment once more to France, with letters also to Spain and England. This time Monroe's mission, though no more creditable to the heart, was crowned with a success that in the end has added thirteen commonwealths to our Nation. In a word, Louisiana was purchased. The main negotiators were, for America, Jefferson, Monroe, Livingston; for France, Bonaparte, Talleyrand, Marbois. Following the successful issue of this mission, Monroe waited officially upon the English Foreign Minister at London. There the rancor and ill-will of the Government were still apparent. Not a civil remark escaped the receiving official. Monroe was glad to go to Madrid, to see if he could purchase Florida. There he stayed without considerable progress till May, 1805. He afterward resided mainly at London, and looked after the local interests of some of the States. In May, 1806 he was empowered, with Pinckney, to make a treaty with England, and, although he had been filled with prejudice toward England, Lord Holland succeeded in getting a treaty from the Americans which overlooked the outrageous search of the English ships, and Jefferson, as President, would not consider it. Thus Monroe's good fortune at Paris was again dampened under English fogs, and when he returned home Virginia chose Madison rather than Monroe for Presidential candidate, but softened Monroe's rebuke by electing him Governor for the fourth time, he having meanwhile occupied a seat in the Assembly. This great office he laid down to accept the portfolio of State under Madison, who had been President for about two years. The War of 1812 came on. He was Secretary of State for six years, and at one time filled also the position of Secretary of War. He could not remain quiet under the surrender of Hull and the misfortunes of Van Rensselaer and Smyth, and though the union of the executive and military arms in one person was a matter to be deplored by so pronounced a Democrat, he still desired to secure a more active hold on public operations than President Madison had achieved. His views were forwarded by a continuation of disastrous events, and when the city of Washington was raided, he secured the dismissal of Armstrong as Secretary of War, took up the burden himself, and infused no little energy into the military affairs of the Republic. He wrote cheering letters to General Jackson, in the southwest, and mandatory dispatches to the Governors : "Hasten your militia to New Orleans. Do not wait for this Govern-ment to arm them. Put all the arms you can find into their hands. Let every man bring his rifle with him. We shall see you paid." At one time Monroe was in his clothes for ten days, with almost no repose. The war closed with the downfall of Napoleon, in Europe, American hostilities having been a harmonic vibration at best—an auxiliary action, a play within the play—and America shared, in a release from urgent troubles, the good fortune of the world.

President Madison having reached the limit of official tenure as exemplified by the withdrawals of Washington and Jefferson, James Monroe, his chief Secretary, became the fitting candidate for President, and with Daniel D. Tompkins as Vice-President, received 183 electoral votes, to only thirty-four for Rufus King, the Federalist. During the eight years of Monroe's Presidency—renowned, at last, in political history as "the era of good feeling Florida was pur-chased, Missouri admitted, Mexico recognized, Lafayette welcomed, and the Monroe doctrine expounded. He became President at fifty-nine. He had for impartial advisers two ex-Presidents, whose only desire was to see him succeed. He took into his Cabinet, as Secretary of State, John Quincy Adams, at that time a man of extraordinary distinction. Calhoun was appointed Secretary of War, Crawford Secretary of the Treasury, Wirt Attorney-General, and Meigs Postmaster-General. Andrew Jackson was a popular hero. Webster, Clay, and Benton were well upon the scene of public events. Henry Clay resented the appointment of Mr. Adams, but General Jackson was directly in the Jeffersonian line of faith, and a firm upholder of Monroe. The first thing the new President did was to make a tour of both sections of the Nation. The northern tour extended to Portland, Me., west to Detroit, east to Washington by way of Zanesville and Pittsburg. In the southern tour, two years later, the President visited Augusta, the Cherokees, Nashville, Louisville, and Lexington. There was no little Democratic criticism, largely inspired by the satirical Federalists, who called the pageantry "man-worship" and revamped all the Jacobin phrases of "equality and fraternity." But it is evident that Monroe, from the beginning of his career, desired to keep in mind a National rather than a State or sectional view of the country. In this ambition he cannot be too highly extolled, nor can the faintest doubt be cast on the lifelong consistency of his democratic principles.

February 22, 1819, Spain sold to the United States the territory of Florida for $5,000,000. Henry Clay unsuccessfully opposed the ratification of the treaty. The United States now owned a strip across the Continent, from ocean to ocean, not well defined on the north. West of the Mississippi River Mexico extended northward to the parallels of California, including what are to-day Nevada, Utah, Colorado (in part), Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas. Jefferson added Louisiana; Monroe added Florida. Monroe had a potent hand in both purchases.

In the second half of the first term of President Monroe, Missouri was admitted into the Union as a State, and the heated debates on slavery, slumbering since 1787, were resumed with increasing fervor on both sides. They are treated in the books of Benton, Greeley, and Henry Wilson, public men of vast influence, whose careers were devoted largely to a solution of the questions involved. Monroe, as a slaveholder, took a deep interest in the question of the right of Congress to prohibit slavery in new States, and now leaned visibly to the slave-holding side, yet held the integrity of the Union far above the matter of slavery. The question was put to sleep for thirty years by the Missouri Compromise, which yielded Missouri as a slave State, but denied slavery to all territory north of parallel 36 degrees 30 minutes. Political parties are seldom strictly aligned on any question save offices, and the Missouri Compromise was effected merely by a general accommodation of North to South. Monroe seems to have been deeply sensible of the multiplying characteristics of the colored race, and felt that a territorial restriction would soon prove a burden on the Old States. At this time in a showing of physical force the superiority would have been on the side of the North. Henry Clay, Speaker of the House, gained great popularity in the South by favoring the Compromise. At its conclusion came the renowned "era of good feeling," and Mr. Mon-roe's reelection found no opponent. He was inaugurated President the second time March 5, 1821. Then began the first protracted debates on protection and free trade, and the Whig party took shape, with Henry Clay as the advocate of a protective tax on imports, in order to place a bounty on the manufacture of goods at home. President Monroe leaned toward the Protectionists, out of a feeling that he must requite the North for slavery. But it should be understood that 10 percent was then regarded as protection, where sixty years later 200 percent was considered necessary by interested parties, and 6o per cent a too moderate impost.

The Monroe Doctrine was revealed as the true animus of the American people in the following manner : Simon Bolivar, Liberator of Bolivia and ex-President, addressed to the United States art invitation to send delegates to a Congress at Panama, which should institute measures to defend Spanish-American States against Spain, whose Government refused to recognize their independence. This question being before the Nation, President Monroe sent to Congress, at its opening, December 2, 1823, an executive message covering the usual matters. In its paragraphs relating to foreign affairs, it contained the following sentence, destined, on account of the promptitude with which it was uttered, to meet the full approval of a growing people, and to become a cardinal principle of National and patriotic belief, with one of the most populous Nations on earth : "We owe it, therefore," said the President, "to candor, and to the amicable relations existing between the United States and those (old world) 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." The message went on to state that while States (like Bolivar's) were at war for independence the United States declared its neutrality, and only recognized their independence "on great consideration." Any attempt to re-subject them to old-world rule, on the old-world principles of govern-ment, would be regarded by the President "as the manifestation of an unfriendly disposition toward the United States." Daniel Webster came boldly to the defense of the Monroe Doctrine. With the years that have passed it has gained in strength, and although Europe had previously debated it with curiosity rather than with regard to its serious side, the Venezuelan message of President Cleveland in his second term, together with the war preparations which that document inspired, left no ground for Europe to hope that the Nation had in the slightest degree reduced the magnitude of its pretensions.

In May, 1824, Lafayette accepted the invitation of Congress to become the Nation's guest, and arrived in October. Monroe and Lafayette had been young officers together near General Washington, and were ancient friends. Monroe had labored diligently to secure Lafayette's release from prison in Austria. The two veterans therefore anticipated and realized a happy reunion. Monroe writes to the celebrated visitor that his "arrival has given rise to a great political movement which has so far taken the direction and had the effect among us, and I presume in Europe, which the best friends to you and to sound principles, could desire." On leaving America Lafayette addressed the President in endearing terms—"from your old, affectionate, obliged brother-soldier, and friend." After his arrival in France, learning that Monroe was in an embarrassed financial condition, Lafayette suggested that the ex-President should place a mortgage for a large amount on the Louisiana lands of Lafayette, and in other ways the distinguished Frenchman evidenced his warm affection for the companion of his youth and fellow-soldier in the cause of liberty.

With Monroe's second term came to an end the twenty-four years' period of Jefferson's direct personal influence. Monroe seems to have had no desire or no power to maintain the succession in statesmen remark-able for their simplicity of deportment and radical democratic tendencies. The Vice-President had been set aside as a successor to the Presidency, and the Secretary of State substituted, foreign relations still appearing the most important factor in Government. On this argument John Quincy Adams, Secretary of State, won the election, but entirely without Monroe's help, the President remaining neutral. There were other candidates—Crawford, Calhoun, Clay, and Jackson, with twenty-four States in the Union. The House of Representatives made the final choice. It was also considered - well that the Presidency should return to a Northern State.

James Monroe retired from public life March 4, 1825 after forty-three years of public service, and made his residence at Oak Hill, Loudoun County, Va., dividing his time, however, by long visits to New York, where his daughter, Mrs. Gouverneur, lived. There are in Virginia five homesteads that are dear to freemen—Mt. Vernon, Red Hill, Monticello, Montpellier, and Oak Hill—where lie the remains or linger the memories of Washington, Patrick Henry, Jefferson, Madison, and Monroe.

The aged statesman did not like solitude, nor did his financial affairs leave him free from anxiety. He had impoverished himself on his foreign missions, and made an earnest effort to obtain an accounting from Congress. He was a tall, old man, who gave evidences of having enjoyed a rugged manhood. His face was grave but most kindly. "It was his habit, in his ride of a morning or evening," says Judge Watson, "to bow and speak to the humblest slave whom he passed as respectfully as if he had been the first gentleman in the neighborhood. In his intercourse with his family he was not only unvaringly kind and affectionate, but as gentle as a woman or a child. He was wholly unselfish. The wishes, the feelings, the interest, the happiness, of others were always consulted in preference to his own. Love of country and devotion to duty appeared to me the explanation of his success in life and the honors bestowed upon him."

He believed it was his duty as ex-President to so conduct his affairs and his conversation as to pass entirely out of public events, becoming a perfectly neutral figure. While President lie had been so sensitive to public criticism that he would not appoint his own relatives to office, although President John Quincy Adams made good places for all of them. He wrote with great pains. In the last years of his life he had a voluminous correspondence. His memory of past events was remarkable. He loved Madison with touching tenderness. It was only when Monroe was at Montpellier with Madison that he threw off reserve and indulged in jest.

"I was at Oak Hill," says judge Watson, "when Mrs. Monroe died, in 183o. I shall never forget the grief manifested by the old gentleman (James Monroe) on the morning after Mrs. Monroe's death, when he sent for me to go to his room, and with trembling frame and streaming eyes spoke of the long years they had spent happily together, and expressed in strong terms his conviction that he would soon follow her."

In the spring of 1 831 he visited New York, with a view of making his home with his daughter. He wrote to Madison that a cough was giving him much annoy-ance, and that he did not expect to live much longer. There was regret that Congress had not yet settled his accounts, and he expected to be compelled to force Oak Hill to a sale. This Madison deplored.

Monroe's apprehensions touching his health were soundly taken. He grew worse and died at New York on July 4, 1831, being the third of the Presidents to leave this world on the natal day they had done so much to make historical. He was buried with appropriate ceremonies. John Quincy Adams, ex-President, delivered a glowing eulogy at Boston, August 25, 1831, pronouncing the mind of Monroe to have been "anxious and unwearied in the pursuit of truth and right, patient of injury, patient of contradiction, courteous even in the collision of sentiment, sound in its ultimate judgments, and firm in its final conclusions." Jefferson had always extolled him. Webster, Calhoun, and Benton joined their voices in praise of the dead statesman.

On the centennial of the birth of James Monroe, his remains were removed from New York City to Richmond, that Virginia, the mother of Presidents, might have her son in her own bosom. There is a book of 324 pages, by Udolpho Wolfe, with the following title: "Grand Civic and Military Demonstration in Honor of the Removal of the Remains of James Monroe, Fifth President of the United States, from New York to Virginia."

"On reviewing all that I have been able to read in print and in manuscript, and all I have been able to gather from the writings of others," says Daniel C. Gil-man, "the conclusion is forced on me that Monroe is not adequately appreciated by his countrymen." "He died poor in money, but rich in honor." "If his soul were turned inside out," said Jefferson, "not a spot would be found on it."

The picture which advocates of liberty love best to remember is that one where James Monroe, coming directly before the hearts of the French people, reunited them to the hearts of the American people, though the bureaus of both Governments were hostile and little desirous of amity. The most august spectacle connected with American statesmanship is the literature and doctrine assembling about the name of President Monroe. "He builded wiser than he knew."

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