The Presidency of James Monroe
Born on April 28, 1758, in Westmoreland County, Virginia, James Monroe embarked on a political journey that would see him serve as the fifth president of the United States from 1817 to 1825. A prominent figure of the early 19th century, Monroe’s tenure was marked by a blend of nationalist fervor and diplomatic prowess. Before ascending to the presidency, he wore multiple hats—soldier, senator, diplomat, and governor, among others. His rich tapestry of experiences helped shape his presidential vision and leadership style.
This examination of Monroe’s presidency ventures beyond a mere recounting of historical events. It seeks to delve deep into the intricacies of Monroe’s policies, offering insights into the motivations behind them and their ramifications on the fledgling nation. As the country was finding its footing on the global stage, it was crucial for leadership to make decisions that not only preserved the young nation’s sovereignty but also established it as a formidable entity in international geopolitics.
The hallmark of Monroe’s presidency was the “Era of Good Feelings,” a period marked by a sense of national unity and pride, largely devoid of the bitter partisan infighting that had characterized earlier administrations. This era, however, was not without its challenges. From internal debates about slavery and statehood to defining America’s role in the Western Hemisphere, Monroe’s presidency was pivotal in laying the groundwork for America’s trajectory through the 19th century.
Through the lens of historical scrutiny, it becomes apparent that Monroe’s contributions were foundational in molding the ethos of early American diplomacy and politics. His doctrine of hemispheric defense and non-colonization, his stance on slavery in newly admitted states, and his vision for westward expansion — all of these policies had a profound influence on the nation’s course. This essay endeavors to unpack the nuances of Monroe’s presidency and reflect upon its significance in shaping the early American narrative.
Background and Ascension to Presidency
To fully appreciate the scope and magnitude of James Monroe’s presidency, it’s imperative to understand the journey that led him to the Oval Office. His political ascension, much like the early story of America itself, was a blend of determination, circumstance, and serendipity.
James Monroe’s foray into the political landscape began amid the backdrop of the American Revolution. As a young man, he dropped out of the College of William & Mary to join the Continental Army, showcasing an early inclination towards duty and service. His military tenure, although brief, was marked with distinction. He fought under General George Washington, and notably, was wounded during the pivotal Battle of Trenton. This experience in the tumultuous theater of war gave Monroe a firsthand understanding of the sacrifices and stakes involved in carving out a new nation.
Post-war, Monroe’s transition into the political realm was relatively seamless. He studied law under Thomas Jefferson, a relationship that would greatly influence his political ideology and serve as a cornerstone throughout his career. By the late 1780s, Monroe had marked his presence on the national stage, serving in the Continental Congress. His inclination towards anti-federalist sentiments became evident when he opposed the ratification of the Constitution, voicing concerns over the potential concentration of federal power.
Monroe’s political journey was interspersed with multiple roles. He served as a U.S. Senator in the early 1790s, governor of Virginia for several terms, and took on various diplomatic assignments in Europe. Notably, he co-negotiated the Louisiana Purchase in 1803 alongside Robert R. Livingston, a testament to his diplomatic acumen.
The presidential election of 1816 marked a significant shift in American politics. The Federalist Party, once a dominant force, was waning, both in terms of influence and public appeal. James Monroe, representing the Democratic-Republican Party, emerged as a uniting figure, capturing the presidency with a commanding electoral victory. This win and the subsequent one in 1820 — where he ran virtually unopposed — signaled the onset of the “Era of Good Feelings.”
This era, though termed as such, was not without its political undercurrents. Monroe’s presidency, while characterized by relative unity and absence of major party conflicts, faced substantive challenges. The aftermath of the War of 1812, economic considerations, territorial expansions, and the ever-looming shadow of slavery were pressing issues. Yet, Monroe’s diverse experiences, ranging from military service to diplomacy, provided him with a unique toolkit to navigate these challenges. His leadership was not just a reflection of personal prowess but was deeply rooted in the crucible of experiences that had shaped his journey to the presidency.
In essence, Monroe’s ascension to the presidency was a confluence of his steadfast service, keen diplomatic skills, and the political zeitgeist of the times. As America transitioned from its post-revolutionary phase into a more mature polity, Monroe stood at the helm, ready to steer the nation through uncharted waters.
The Monroe Doctrine
Few foreign policy pronouncements have had as enduring an impact on American diplomacy as the Monroe Doctrine. Announced in 1823, during Monroe’s annual message to Congress, this doctrine was more than a mere statement of intent; it was a clear delineation of the United States’ stance in the Western Hemisphere and its approach to the broader world.
The early 1820s presented a geopolitical tableau characterized by flux. In Europe, the Holy Alliance—comprising Russia, Austria, and Prussia—was determined to stifle the waves of revolution and restore monarchies wherever they had been displaced. Simultaneously, many Latin American nations had achieved, or were on the cusp of, independence from Spanish rule. The nascent republics were vulnerable, and there was a palpable fear that European powers might attempt to reassert control over their former colonies or extend their influence in the region.
It was in this context that the Monroe Doctrine was born. The doctrine had three primary tenets:
- The Western Hemisphere was no longer open to colonization by European powers.
- Any attempt by a European power to interfere in the affairs of nations in the Americas would be viewed as an act of aggression, requiring U.S. intervention.
- The U.S. would abstain from participation in European wars and would not interfere in the internal concerns of European countries.
At its core, the Monroe Doctrine was a bold assertion of American dominance in the Western Hemisphere. It proclaimed, in no uncertain terms, that the Americas were the United States’ sphere of influence, and European powers would do well to steer clear. However, it’s crucial to understand that the doctrine was as much a product of domestic considerations as it was of international dynamics.
The hand of John Quincy Adams, then serving as Secretary of State, was evident in the crafting of the doctrine. Adams recognized the strategic importance of asserting America’s primacy in the hemisphere. By positioning the U.S. as the protector of Latin American republics, Adams and Monroe aimed to curtail any European ambitions in the region, thereby safeguarding American interests.
Critically, the doctrine was more of an aspiration than an actionable policy at the time of its announcement. The United States, still in its infancy, lacked the military might to enforce such a doctrine against major European powers actively. However, with the British sharing similar sentiments — primarily driven by their trade interests in Latin America and their desire to keep other European powers at bay — the doctrine found a tacit ally in the British navy, the most formidable naval force of the time.
Over the decades, the Monroe Doctrine has undergone various reinterpretations and expansions, especially during the era of Theodore Roosevelt’s “Big Stick” diplomacy and the Cold War period. Its essence, however, has remained consistent: the assertion of American dominance and interests in the Western Hemisphere.
Reflecting on its long-term implications, the Monroe Doctrine was a foundational stone in America’s journey towards becoming a global superpower. It marked the country’s departure from its earlier isolationist tendencies and set the stage for its assertive role in global geopolitics. The doctrine did not merely respond to the geopolitical realities of the 1820s; it shaped American foreign policy for centuries to come.
V. Westward Expansion and Native American Relations
The early 19th century in America was a period characterized by rapid westward expansion. Fueled by a combination of Manifest Destiny – the belief that the U.S. was destined to span the continent from coast to coast – and the economic opportunities that new lands presented, Americans moved west in droves. However, this migration and expansion came at a significant cost, particularly for the Native American tribes that had long inhabited these lands.
James Monroe’s presidency was pivotal in this narrative of westward movement. The acquisition of vast territories, both through purchase and treaties, meant that federal and state governments were constantly grappling with questions of land distribution, territorial governance, and Native American relations.
Monroe, influenced by the prevalent beliefs of his time, saw westward expansion as both inevitable and beneficial for the nation. The fertile lands of the Midwest and the vast territories in the West promised agricultural prosperity and furthered the country’s economic ambitions. Yet, the presence of Native American tribes in these territories posed what was perceived by many settlers and government officials as an “obstacle” to this progress.
During Monroe’s tenure, the U.S. government adopted a dual approach to Native American relations: negotiation and forced removal. On one hand, treaties were negotiated, often under duress, to purchase lands from tribes. The Treaty of Fort Jackson (1814) and the Treaty of St. Louis (1824), among others, led to significant territorial cessions by the Creek and various other tribes. However, these treaties often favored American interests, providing the U.S. with vast swaths of land in exchange for comparatively paltry sums and promises of non-interference.
Simultaneously, the seeds of the forced removal policy, which would reach its zenith during Andrew Jackson’s presidency with the Trail of Tears, were sown during Monroe’s tenure. The idea was straightforward, albeit morally and ethically questionable: relocate Native American tribes to lands west of the Mississippi River, thereby freeing up lands in the East for American settlers. Monroe, in his address to Congress in 1825, articulated his support for this policy, arguing that it would be more beneficial for the tribes to be away from the influence and encroachment of American settlers.
Monroe’s stance, while seemingly benevolent in his articulation, overlooked the profound cultural, social, and spiritual ties that Native American tribes had to their ancestral lands. Uprooting entire communities, often through coercion or outright force, had long-lasting negative repercussions. These actions precipitated cultural dislocation, loss of traditional lifestyles, and introduced a myriad of challenges in the new lands, which were often less hospitable than their original territories.
In retrospect, the westward expansion policies and Native American relations during Monroe’s presidency are emblematic of the broader struggles and contradictions inherent in the American story. The pursuit of national progress and prosperity came at a significant human cost. While Monroe’s policies might have been reflective of the dominant sentiments of his era, they left an indelible mark on the nation’s conscience and shaped the trajectory of Native American-U.S. relations for decades to come.
The legacy of this period is complex. While westward expansion undoubtedly propelled the U.S. into becoming an agrarian and economic powerhouse, it also sowed the seeds of dispossession and displacement that would haunt the nation’s relationship with its indigenous populations for centuries.
Economic and Infrastructure Policies
James Monroe’s presidency spanned a transformative period in American economic history. As the nation recovered from the economic downturn caused by the War of 1812, there was an emergent realization of the need to strengthen the nation’s economic foundations and develop its infrastructure. Monroe’s approach to these challenges was rooted in a blend of nationalistic fervor and practical necessity.
A foundational component of the economic landscape during Monroe’s tenure was the “American System,” championed by Henry Clay. While Monroe was not its architect, his administration was crucial in its implementation. The American System was a three-pronged economic strategy:
- A strong protective tariff to shield and nurture American industries from foreign competition.
- A national bank to stabilize the currency and provide a reliable source of credit.
- Federal investment in transportation infrastructure, particularly roads and canals.
Each of these components was aimed at fostering inter-regional commerce, solidifying economic independence from Europe, and promoting rapid economic growth.
In 1816, under Monroe’s guidance, Congress passed the Tariff of 1816, the first genuinely protective tariff in American history. By imposing higher duties on certain imported goods, it aimed to protect burgeoning American industries, particularly in the North, from the influx of cheaper European goods. While the tariff was controversial, especially in the South where it was seen as benefiting the North at their expense, it was a clear statement of the country’s intent to become an industrial power.
Concurrently, the Second Bank of the United States was chartered in 1816. In the aftermath of the War of 1812, it became evident that a stable national currency and a centralized source of credit were essential for economic stability. The bank, although controversial due to debates about its constitutionality and fears of centralized power, played a pivotal role in stabilizing the American economy.
However, it was perhaps in the realm of infrastructure development that Monroe’s economic vision truly came to life. Recognizing the vast potential of a nation connected by roads and canals, Monroe endorsed federal investment in major infrastructure projects. One of the most significant projects from this era was the Erie Canal, completed in 1825. While it was funded by the state of New York, the canal’s success underscored the transformative potential of such endeavors. It not only slashed transportation costs but also fostered economic ties between the Midwest and the Eastern Seaboard.
These infrastructural developments were not without challenges. The debate over who should fund such projects – the federal government, states, or private entities – was a contentious one. The constitutional limits of federal involvement in internal improvements also posed dilemmas. Monroe, while appreciating the value of federal investment, was often cautious due to these constitutional concerns.
Reflecting on Monroe’s economic and infrastructure policies, it is evident that his administration was a period of laying foundational stones for America’s economic ascent. While some policies were more successful than others, and debates raged over the nuances of implementation, Monroe’s era solidified the belief that a strong, interconnected, and self-reliant America was not just a vision but a tangible goal.
Monroe’s economic legacy is thus one of foresight and ambition, recognizing the intertwined destinies of infrastructure, industry, and national prosperity.
Foreign Affairs and Treaties
Under James Monroe’s stewardship, American foreign policy witnessed significant developments, reflective of the nation’s growing confidence and stature on the international stage. Monroe’s presidency, bolstered by his extensive diplomatic experience and the guidance of his Secretary of State, John Quincy Adams, navigated a series of international challenges and opportunities, leaving an indelible mark on American foreign relations.
One of the most significant foreign policy achievements of this era was the Adams-Onís Treaty of 1819, also known as the Transcontinental Treaty. Negotiated between the United States and Spain, this treaty ceded Florida to the U.S. and defined the western boundary of the Louisiana Purchase. Spain, weakened and preoccupied with its colonies’ revolts, recognized the futility of holding onto Florida, which had become a refuge for runaway slaves and a source of border disputes. In exchange for Florida, the U.S. renounced any territorial claims to Texas. This treaty not only expanded American territory but also helped reduce tensions along the frontier.
Alongside territorial acquisitions, Monroe’s administration was keenly aware of the geopolitical shifts happening across the Atlantic. With the Napoleonic Wars over, the Holy Alliance of European monarchies was increasingly eyeing opportunities to restore monarchic order in the Americas, particularly in the newly independent Latin American nations. This posed a direct challenge to American interests and the broader ideals of republicanism.
This European interest in the Western Hemisphere culminated in the Monroe Doctrine of 1823, which, while addressed in an earlier section, deserves reiteration here due to its profound impact on American foreign policy. By declaring the Americas off-limits for European colonization and pledging not to interfere in European affairs, Monroe effectively positioned the U.S. as the dominant power in the Western Hemisphere. This doctrine, rooted in both national interest and the desire to protect republicanism in the Americas, solidified the U.S.’s role as a protector of the hemisphere.
Monroe’s foreign policy also navigated the complexities of relations with the British Empire. The Rush-Bagot Treaty of 1817, negotiated with Britain, was a landmark agreement that significantly demilitarized the Great Lakes and Lake Champlain. Both nations agreed to limit naval armaments on these waters, ushering in a long era of peaceful relations along the U.S.-Canada border. This treaty was symbolic of the transition from adversarial relations, as seen in the War of 1812, to a more collaborative and peaceful coexistence.
Furthermore, the Convention of 1818 with Britain established the 49th parallel as the official boundary between U.S. territories and British North America (present-day Canada) from the Lake of the Woods to the Rocky Mountains. It also allowed for joint occupancy and settlement of the Oregon Territory. These agreements with Britain reflected a pragmatic approach, emphasizing compromise and mutual interests over conflict.
In summation, Monroe’s approach to foreign affairs was characterized by a blend of assertiveness and diplomacy. His administration adeptly navigated a complex international landscape, securing territorial gains, establishing clear boundaries, and positioning the United States as a dominant force in the Western Hemisphere. These achievements, built on the principles of national interest and strategic diplomacy, laid the groundwork for America’s growing influence in global affairs in the subsequent decades.
The Legacy of James Monroe
James Monroe’s presidency stands as a seminal chapter in the tapestry of American history. His leadership, set against a backdrop of national growth and international assertiveness, laid many of the foundational principles and policies that would guide the nation through the 19th century and beyond. To grasp the full measure of Monroe’s legacy, one must examine both his immediate impact and the lasting reverberations of his tenure.
Monroe’s presidency is often referred to as the “Era of Good Feelings,” a period marked by relative national unity and a sense of purpose. While political and regional divisions did exist, Monroe’s ability to mitigate these tensions through inclusive governance and a focus on national interests was commendable. The absence of major party rivalry, particularly after the collapse of the Federalist Party, further solidified this era’s characterization.
The Monroe Doctrine, arguably his most enduring contribution to American foreign policy, set a precedent that would influence the nation’s stance towards European intervention in the Western Hemisphere for over a century. Rooted in the ideals of republicanism and a clear assertion of American dominance in its own backyard, the doctrine articulated the nation’s ambition and its vision for the hemisphere.
On the domestic front, Monroe’s commitment to nation-building, whether through economic policies like the American System or infrastructural projects that connected various parts of the nation, showcased a vision of a strong, interconnected, and prosperous nation. By endorsing federal investment in major projects and supporting protective tariffs, Monroe’s administration paved the way for America’s industrial and infrastructural boom in the subsequent decades.
However, Monroe’s legacy is not without its controversies. His stance on Native American relations and the policy of forced relocation casts a shadow over his tenure. While such policies were a reflection of the broader sentiments of his era, they underscore the complexities and contradictions inherent in the nation’s growth story. The Missouri Compromise, while a temporary solution to the festering issue of slavery, only postponed the inevitable confrontation that would erupt in the Civil War.
Monroe’s post-presidential years, though less active, were marked by a continued commitment to public service. His participation in the Virginia Constitutional Convention of 1829-1830 and his advocacy for various causes highlighted his unwavering dedication to the republic.
In retrospect, James Monroe’s presidency stands as a testament to visionary leadership in the face of multifaceted challenges. His ability to prioritize national unity, economic prosperity, and strategic foreign policy set the tone for the nation’s trajectory in the 19th century. While not without its blemishes, Monroe’s legacy is fundamentally one of stewardship, guiding a young republic through its formative years and setting it on a path of undeniable global significance.
James Monroe’s presidency, situated in the post-Revolutionary, pre-Civil War tapestry of American history, is a testament to the challenges and opportunities that defined the nation’s early years. Navigating a period of transformative growth, Monroe’s leadership synthesized the ambitions of a young republic with the pragmatic realities of governance. From the profound impact of the Monroe Doctrine to the intricacies of domestic infrastructure development, his presidency was marked by foresight, diplomacy, and a relentless pursuit of national unity and prosperity.
It is essential to view Monroe not merely as a product of his times, but as an active shaper of them. While his era, aptly termed the “Era of Good Feelings,” evokes a sense of national camaraderie, it was not devoid of its challenges. The looming specter of sectionalism, the nascent rumblings of industrialization, and the ever-present complexities of international diplomacy required a nuanced and adept leadership style. In Monroe, the nation found a leader equipped to navigate these waters with grace and determination.
However, like all historical figures, Monroe’s legacy is multifaceted. While his achievements in foreign affairs and economic policy are commendable, the more somber chapters of his presidency, notably his policies towards Native Americans and the temporary band-aid of the Missouri Compromise, serve as reminders of the broader societal tensions of his era. History offers us a lens to view these actions with a balanced perspective, acknowledging both the accomplishments and the imperfections.
In concluding, James Monroe’s presidency encapsulates the dynamism, potential, and challenges of early 19th century America. His leadership, a blend of vision and pragmatism, played a pivotal role in shaping the trajectory of the nation. As students and beneficiaries of history, we can glean invaluable insights from Monroe’s tenure, drawing lessons on leadership, governance, and the perpetual quest for a more perfect union.
Class Notes and Outline: The Presidency of James Monroe
The conclusion of the War of 1812 brought about a feeling altogether different than what had previously existed in America. For the first time America had fought a war as a nation, united. The
feeling that resulted from this unification of spirit marked a rise of nationalism and a shift in both foreign and domestic policy.
I. The Presidency of James Monroe
A. American respond to the end of the War of 1812?
1. A strong sense of nationalism swept the country in the years following the War of 1812.
2. This period of increased nationalism and prosperity was called the “Era of Good Feelings.”
B. Monroe Develops the American System
1. Organization of the American System
- This divided the United States into 3 sections.a) An industrial North would turn out manufactured goods
b) Farmers in the South would provided agricultural products.
c) Farmers in the West would provided agricultural products.
- The purpose of this was to develop self sufficiency. Factory workers in the North would form a market for agricultural products. Farmers in the South and West would buy manufactured goods.
2. Congress passed protective tariffs. (A tax on imports designed to protect domestic manufacturers.)
- Tariff Act of 1816–Congress adopted a mild protective tariff. Then in 1828, it significantly raised the tariffs.
3. Transportation Improvements were made.
- National Road–Federal government authorized construction of a road from Maryland to Illinois, and also of canals so goods could move to market more easily.
4. Congress chartered the Second Bank of the United States to replace the first whose charter had expired.
C. The Monroe Doctrine – Foreign Policy
1. Warned all European powers not to interfere with affairs in the Western Hemisphere.
2. The United States would consider such action “dangerous to our peace and safety.”
3. This was largely ignored but unchallenged by the Europeans so the Doctrine stood untested.
D. The Missouri Compromise
1. America needed to know whether or not there would be slaves in the new states.
2. After much debate they compromised:
- Missouri admitted as a slave state
- Maine admitted as a free state.
- All states admitted thereafter north of 36′ 30′ would after be free and those south of the line would be slaves states.
E. Federalist Court Decisions
1. Gibbons v Ogden
2. McCulloch v Maryland
Frequently Asked Questions about James Monroe
The Monroe Doctrine, introduced in 1823, stands as one of the most impactful foreign policy doctrines in U.S. history. Its primary objective was to deter European powers from further colonizing or intervening in the affairs of the newly independent nations of the Americas. The Doctrine proclaimed that any further efforts by European nations to colonize or interfere in the Western Hemisphere would be viewed as acts of aggression against the U.S. Conversely, Monroe pledged that the U.S. would stay out of European wars and not meddle in the internal affairs of European countries.
This policy was rooted in the U.S.’s desire to assert dominance in the Western Hemisphere and protect the young republics of Latin America from monarchical reconquest. It showcased America’s growing confidence and was symbolic of its transition from a young republic to a significant global player. Over the years, the Doctrine’s principles have been invoked several times, shaping U.S. foreign policy in the Americas. Although initially having little means to enforce its declarations, the Doctrine became a cornerstone for U.S. policy in the Western Hemisphere, especially as American power grew in the subsequent decades.
The issue of slavery was one of the most contentious topics during Monroe’s presidency. The Missouri Compromise of 1820 is the most notable event related to this issue during his tenure. As Missouri sought statehood as a slave state, it threatened to disrupt the balance of slave and free states in the Union. To maintain this balance, Congress, with Monroe’s endorsement, admitted Missouri as a slave state and Maine as a free state. Additionally, a line was drawn across the Louisiana Purchase, with slavery prohibited north of the 36°30′ parallel, excluding Missouri.
The Compromise was a temporary solution, postponing the larger, impending confrontation over slavery. Monroe, like many of his contemporaries, sought to maintain a delicate balance, prioritizing national unity over confronting the moral and economic intricacies of slavery. Although the Compromise brought short-term calm, the undercurrents of sectionalism it revealed foreshadowed the significant conflicts that would erupt in the following decades.
Before his presidency, James Monroe played a significant role in the American Revolution. As a young man, he dropped out of the College of William & Mary to join the Continental Army. Monroe served with distinction, participating in several key battles. He fought in the Battles of Harlem Heights and Trenton, where he was severely wounded. He later saw action at the Battles of Brandywine, Germantown, and Monmouth.
After his active service, Monroe studied law under Thomas Jefferson and began his journey into public service. His experiences during the Revolution deeply influenced his views on governance and liberty, laying the foundation for his later political career. Monroe’s dedication and service during the Revolution are a testament to his commitment to the ideals of the young republic.
Monroe’s presidency marked a period of significant tension and policy shifts concerning Native American relations. The era saw a growing push for westward expansion, which inevitably led to conflicts with Native American tribes inhabiting these lands. Monroe believed in the “civilization” of Native Americans, a policy that aimed to assimilate them into Euro-American ways of life, particularly through agriculture. However, when such efforts did not yield the desired results, they were often followed by policies of land cession and forced relocation.
Under Monroe, several treaties were signed that resulted in the cession of Native American lands to the U.S. government. The most significant policy, which would have lasting ramifications, was the push for the removal of Native American tribes from their ancestral lands to areas west of the Mississippi River. Although the large-scale removals, most notoriously the Trail of Tears, occurred after Monroe’s presidency, the seeds for such policies were sown during his tenure. These actions and policies are among the more somber legacies of Monroe’s presidency, reflecting the broader societal and expansionist pressures of the era.
Yes, James Monroe had relationships with several of the prominent Founding Fathers, which significantly influenced his political and personal life. Perhaps the most notable was his relationship with Thomas Jefferson. Monroe studied law under Jefferson’s guidance, and the two shared a close political alliance and personal friendship. Their bond was rooted in shared political ideologies, particularly their Republican values.
Monroe also had interactions with James Madison, who preceded him as President. While they faced political differences, especially during the era of the Federalist and Democratic-Republican parties’ rivalry, their relationship mellowed over time, leading to a more collaborative association during Monroe’s presidency.
His relationship with John Adams, and later with his son, John Quincy Adams, was more complex. While there were periods of political opposition, there were also moments of mutual respect and cooperation. John Quincy Adams notably served as Secretary of State during Monroe’s presidency, and together they shaped significant foreign policies, including the Monroe Doctrine.
During Monroe’s presidency, the U.S. experienced what came to be known as the “Era of Good Feelings,” a period characterized by a sense of national unity and reduced political strife. Monroe’s leadership style, his tours promoting national unity, and the absence of strong opposition parties contributed to this positive public sentiment. The collapse of the Federalist Party meant that there was less political polarization during his tenure than in previous administrations.
Monroe’s approachable nature and his commitment to the nation’s interests fostered a sense of trust among many in the public. However, it’s essential to understand that while there was a general sentiment of approval, Monroe’s presidency wasn’t without its challenges and criticisms, especially as the nation grappled with issues like slavery and Native American relations.
Monroe’s economic vision was largely influenced by the broader Democratic-Republican ideals of the time. He supported Henry Clay’s “American System,” which aimed to make the U.S. economically self-sufficient. This system advocated for protective tariffs to support domestic industries, the establishment of a national bank to stabilize the nation’s currency, and internal improvements to connect the country.
Monroe faced financial challenges, including the Panic of 1819, the first significant economic downturn in the country’s history. His response emphasized a cautious approach to federal involvement, reflecting the era’s debates on states’ rights versus federal authority. However, Monroe did see the value in federal projects and improvements, leading to infrastructural projects like roads and canals, which significantly boosted the nation’s economy and connectivity.
After serving two terms as President, James Monroe retired to his estate, Oak Hill, located in Loudoun County, Virginia. His post-presidential years, however, were not solely marked by quiet retirement. Monroe remained active in public affairs. Notably, he participated in the Virginia Constitutional Convention of 1829-1830.
Financial difficulties plagued Monroe’s later years. Many of his investments failed, and he faced significant debt. He sold his beloved Highland plantation and moved to Oak Hill. In an unfortunate parallel to Thomas Jefferson, Monroe’s financial strains meant that he had to sell personal property and lands to stay afloat.
Monroe’s health declined in the early 1830s, and he moved to New York to live with his daughter and son-in-law. He passed away there on July 4, 1831, becoming the third U.S. president to die on Independence Day. Monroe’s dedication to his country, evident throughout his life, carried through to his final moments, leaving behind a legacy of leadership and commitment to the young American republic.