U.S. Presidents 101: James Monroe

February 15, 2017

James Monroe bio

James Monroe

My kids would not take a normal picture with President Monroe.


James Monroe, Our Nation’s 5th President

By: Brittany

Today we are featuring our nation’s fifth president, James Monroe. This post is part of our U.S. Presidents 101 series. If you’ve been following along with us, you may remember one of my goals this year is to learn all the U.S. Presidents, some fun facts about each one, and to teach it all to my kids. Here are our previous presidents: George Washington, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, and James Madison.

The facts: James Monroe served as president from 1817-1825. He was the last U.S. President from the Revolutionary War generation, the last of the “Virginia dynasty” (four of the first five presidents had been from Virginia), and the last of our Founding Fathers to serve as president.

He was well known for being an incredibly honest man. Thomas Jefferson once said of him, “Monroe was so honest that if you turned his soul inside out there would not be a spot on it.” Maybe that’s all America needed because he was elected twice–the first time he crushed his opponent and the second time he was unopposed. As minister to France in the late 1700s he helped negotiate the Louisiana Purchase, which doubled the size of our country. Under his presidency, Missouri became a state and the famous policy that bears his name was set up to basically tell the “other hemisphere” that they were done colonizing “our hemisphere.” It wasn’t until decades later that this policy was named “The Monroe Doctrine.”

When he took office, the nation was in a good place. The economy was booming and we had just declared victory for the War of 1812 (though it had gone terribly). The opposition political  party, the Federalists, were fading from existence and Monroe hoped to be the man to lead political parties to a thing of the past. Monroe’s time in office was dubbed “The era of good feeling” because our nation had so much good going for it at the time. The elimination of political parties was not to be, however. As the election of Monroe’s successors took place, the nation went from the end of the Democratic-Republics vs. Federalists party to a new era of the Democrats vs. the Whigs.

First Lady: Elizabeth Kortright Monroe, daughter of a wealthy New York City merchant. The two met while James Monroe was a  delegate to the Congress in New York. They married a year later. He was 27 and she was just 17. She’s said to have brought back a more formal style of “entertaining” to the White House. This is because her time in Europe, while her husband served as ministers in Britain and France, made her blatantly aware of the fact that Europeans were far more educated in the art of proper manners than Americans. She wanted Americans to be taken seriously and for European diplomats to feel at home at the White House. To make this happen, she went out of her way to make sure proper etiquette was protocol under her tenure.

Vice President: Daniel D. Tompkins (Governor of New York)

James Monroe portrait

Portrait of James Monroe

Political Party: Democratic-Republican (more on what that means here)

Why he’s cool: He had friends in high places. He was so popular that he was the only other president (George Washington, the first) to run a second term uncontested, partly because of such close friendships/associations with such high regarded officials. He served alongside George Washington in the Continental Army, for starters. He also served as a delegate to the Continental Congress, Governor of Virginia, a senator from Virginia, ministers to Great Britain and France (like today’s ambassadors), and Secretary of State under James Madison, and even briefly as Secretary of War) under James Madison, a close friend of his. He was quite good friends with Thomas Jefferson, his protoge, who he studied law under and who asked him to help negotiate the Louisiana Purchase. He was the third president to die on July 4th.

Sources: I’ve referenced The American Presidents series before. The one on Monroe in that series is an excellent one, as is The Last Founding Father: James Monroe and America’s Call to Greatness, found here.

For Kids: I couldn’t find any childrens books specific to James Monroe. However, there is a super fun book for kids with so many fun facts about each president in it and a particular fun one about James Monroe and how many crates of furniture he and his wife had shipped to the White House. It’s called So, You Want to be President? and can be found here.

Up next: In the next few weeks we will be officially venturing into the presidents nicknamed the “19th century forgettables.” Stay tuned! 🙂

Author: Brittany

Former White House and Capitol Hill staffer, wife, and mom.

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