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James Monroe

5th President of the United States (1817-1825)

James Monroe portrait
James Monroe, 5th President of the United States
White House Collection: White House Historical Association

The President of the United States serves as the head of the Executive Branch of our United States Government. Over forty men have been privileged to serve in this role.

Samuel F.B. Morse's first portrait of James Monroe was executed in 1818 at the request of the Charleston Common Council of Charleston, South Carolina. This full length portrait of President Monroe hangs in Charleston City Hall.

The Monroe family was so impressed with the first portrait, that they asked Mr. Morse to paint another. The portrait of James Monroe to the right was painted by Samuel F.B. Morse in 1819-1920.

President Monroe is sixty-one years old in this portrait, and appears as the confident leader of a time described as the “era of good feeling.”

The original portrait belongs to the White House Historical Association and is part of their White House Collection.

In addition to painting portraits and historic scenes, Samuel Morse was the creator of a single wire telegraph system and co-inventor, with Alfred Vail, of the Morse Code.

James Monroe (1758-1831)
Date of birth: April 28, 1758
Birth place: Westmoreland County, Virginia
Mother: Elizabeth Jones Monroe
Father: Spence Monroe
Education: College of William and Mary (graduated 1776)
Profession: Lawyer
Religion: Episcopalian
Marriage: February 16, 1786, to Elizabeth Kortright (1768-1830)
Children: Eliza Kortright (1786-1835), James Spence (1799-1800), Maria Hester (1803-1850)
Political party: Democratic-Republican
Presidential term: 1817-1825 (two terms)
Nickname(s): "The Last Cocked Hat," "Era-of-Good-Feelings President"
Date of death: July 4, 1831
Place of death: New York City, New York
Resting place: Hollywood Cemetery, Richmond, Virginia
Source: The Whitehouse, www.whitehouse.gov, January 12, 2008
Source: Miller Center of Public Affairs, The University of Virginia, www.millercenter.virginia.edu, January 12, 2008
Source: The White House Historical Association, www.whitehousehistory.org, January 12, 2008

James Monroe's presidency

  • March 4, 1817: President James Monroe is sworn in as the fifth President of the United States and delivers his first inaugural address.
  • April 28, 1817: Britain’s minister to the United States, Charles Bagot, agrees to the conditions of the Rush-Bagot Agreement. Following negotiations, acting Secretary of State Richard Rush sends the document to Britain in August 1816. This is the final version of a treaty that Monroe, while secretary of state under Madison, negotiated with British foreign minister Robert Stewart Castlereagh. The agreement limits naval capacity on the Great Lakes; in doing so, it alleviates possible tension between the two nations following the War of 1812. Each country is held to one ship on Lakes Champlain and Ontario, and two ships on all the other lakes. Limits are also placed on ship tonnage and armaments.
  • June – September, 1817: Monroe embarks on a lengthy, sixteen-week tour of New England. In the absence of his major cabinet appointees, Monroe uses the tour to foster a sense of national unity through local political contact, public appearances, and private meetings with opposing Federalists. The tour gives birth to the designation of Monroe’s administration as the "Era of Good Feelings."
  • December, 1817: Monroe enunciates a policy of neutrality towards the Latin American colonies seeking independence. He also advocates a controversial fact-finding mission, the Aguirre Mission, to Buenos Aires that could be construed as recognition for the colony’s sovereignty.
  • December 10, 1817: Mississippi becomes the twentieth state in the Union.
  • December 26, 1817: Secretary of War John C. Calhoun orders General Andrew Jackson to quell Seminole Indian uprisings in the Floridas and southern Georgia; Jackson also receives a private letter from Monroe urging such action. In March 1818, Jackson pursues the Seminoles into Spanish Florida -- where he suspects they are receiving assistance -- takes the fort of St. Marks on March 6, forces the surrender of Fort Carlos de Barrancas, and executes, among others, a Scot Indian trader and a British lieutenant. After capturing the Spanish capital in May, Jackson returns to Tennessee.
  • June 18, 1818: Monroe learns of Jackson’s exploits and, along with his cabinet (except John Quincy Adams), disapproves of Jackson’s actions. Following protests from the ministers of Britain, Spain, and France, Monroe concedes that Jackson’s behavior in Pensacola amounted to acts of war. The President repudiates Jackson and orders that Pensacola be handed back to Spain. Meanwhile, Adams, in a July letter, supports Jackson’s tactics, blaming Spain for its inability to control the Indians. Despite his concession, Monroe recognizes that Jackson’s activities in the Floridas provide the United States with a favorable strategic position for negotiations with Spain.
  • October 20, 1818: British and American diplomats meet at the Anglo-American Convention and conclude a treaty resolving some, but not all, of the outstanding issues from the War of 1812. The nations agree on a northern border of the Louisiana Purchase, fixed at the 49th parallel, from the Lake of the Woods to the Rocky Mountains. Britain also acknowledges U.S. fishing rights off Newfoundland and provides compensation for slaves who fled to British lines. The Rush-Bagot Agreement is formally signed.
  • December 3, 1818: Illinois is admitted as the twenty-first state of the Union.
  • December 14, 1818: Alabama becomes the twenty-second state of the Union.
  • January, 1819: The Panic of 1819 begins to take shape. A sharp decline in real estate values and a severe credit contraction (an inability to secure bank loans) inflates the currency and causes imports and prices to fall. In March, the price of cotton collapses in the English market. The conservative policies of the Second Bank of the United States, founded in 1816, accelerates the crisis, which ends around 1823.
  • February 15, 1819: Debates over Missouri’s admission to the Union are triggered in February by New York Republican congressman James Tallmadge, Jr. Tallmadge introduces an amendment to the Missouri statehood bill prohibiting further introduction of slavery in Missouri, despite the fact that 2,000 slaves already reside in the territory. He also proposes a gradual emancipation in the Louisiana territory north of 36 degrees, 30’. Currently, the United States has eleven slave and eleven free states. Missouri’s population, meanwhile, surpasses 60,000, the minimum for a state constitution.
  • February 22, 1819: he Transcontinental Treaty, also known as the Adams-Onis treaty, is resolved in February after the conclusion of negotiations dating back to July 1818. The treaty transfers the Floridas from Spain to the United States for $5 million, and advances the U.S. border across Mexico to the Pacific Ocean. Spain also relinquishes claims to the Oregon Territory. Secretary of State John Quincy Adams orchestrates the proceedings with the Spanish minister to Washington, Luis de Onis.
  • March 6, 1819: Under Chief Justice John Marshall, the United States Supreme Court rules against the state of Maryland in McCulloch v. Maryland. In a unanimous decision, the Court finds that states cannot tax federal agencies. The ruling establishes a precedent of broad federal power, marking a blow to states’ rights.
  • March 3, 1820: After months of fierce debate, Congress agrees to the first Missouri Compromise, addressing congressional jurisdiction over the conditions of statehood. After Maine petitions Congress for statehood, the balance of free and slave states in Senate will be maintained with a free Maine and a slave Missouri. The Compromise also addresses all land in the Louisiana Purchase territory and establishes that land north of the 36 degree, 30’ line – with the exception of Missouri -- will be free, while territory below the line will be slave. In February 1821, Congress admits Maine and Missouri as states, formalizing the Missouri Compromise. Henry Clay, "the Great Pacificator," is by and large the architect of the Compromise.
  • March 15, 1820: Maine is admitted as the twenty-third state of the Union.
  • December 6, 1820: As expected, Monroe secures re-election as President of the United States, receiving 231 electoral votes to John Quincy Adams’s 1. Vice President Tompkins will also serve a second term.
  • March 2, 1821: Monroe signs the Military Establishment Act, forwarded by Secretary of War Calhoun, to reduce the Army’s manpower by 40 percent to 6,126 men. The move reflects a shift in national priorities toward commerce and negotiation, and away from intimidation, as the primary tool of foreign policy.
  • March 5, 1821: Monroe begins his second presidential term.
  • March 8, 1821: In his annual address, Monroe announces his intention to “formally acknowledge the newly declared, independent republics of Latin America…,” although the United States already trades freely with Brazil. The House concurs in a nearly unanimous resolution of 167-1. Following this vote, the United States begins exchanging ministers with the newly sovereign nations.
  • August 10, 1821: Missouri is admitted as the twenty-fourth state of the Union.
  • August 20, 1823: In a letter to Richard Rush, British foreign secretary George Canning discreetly contemplates recognition of what is referred to as the “no-transfer” principle advocated by the United States. This proposal requires European powers to abstain from exchanging colonies or acquiring new possessions from Spain.
  • December 2, 1823: In his annual address to Congress, Monroe formally articulates the foreign policy position that becomes known as the “Monroe Doctrine.” It meets with widespread approval and political consent. Monroe's repudiation of further American hemispheric colonization speaks to the claims of Britain and Russia, as well as Spain. The enunciation of American exclusivity and European non-interference is a seminal event in United States foreign policy.
  • January, 1824: Cherokee chiefs arrive in Washington, D.C., to object to the government’s removal policies and plead for their sovereign right to stay in Georgia. Originally siding with the Cherokee, Monroe will later reverse his stance on the issue.
  • April 30, 1824: Monroe signs the General Survey Bill, departing from his opposition to congressionally sponsored internal improvements. The United States Army Corps of Engineers prepare to produce surveys, plans, and estimates to improve navigation. Monroe subsequently purchases 1,500 shares of stock in the Chesapeake and Delaware Canal Co. for $300,000.
  • May 22, 1824: Monroe signs the Tariff of 1824 into law, implementing protectionist measures in support of local manufactures and goods. Complaints arise in the South with cotton-growers fearful of British retaliation for the increase in price. Northern manufacturers are pleased with the law.
  • August 15, 1824: Following Congress's invitation, the Marquis de Lafayette, the inspirational liberal French philosopher, makes a lengthy visit to the United States. The visit commands national attention in the press and host cities for months.
  • November, 1824: At sixty-seven, Monroe decides not to seek re-election in the presidential race -- a contest that is far more contentious than the previous one. Henry Clay, William Crawford, John Quincy Adams, Andrew Jackson, and John C. Calhoun initially vie for nominations.
  • January, 1825: Unable to alter the demands of the Georgia congressional delegation, Monroe concedes that the only way to mitigate Indian concerns is through their removal west of the Mississippi. This position conflicts with his earlier recognition of Cherokee claims.
  • March 3, 1825: In his last day in office, Monroe vetoes the Cumberland Road bill, which would extend construction of the interstate artery to Zanesville, Ohio. Monroe is concerned about the bill’s constitutionality. Construction of the first federally financed interstate road began under Jefferson in 1811 and will continue under Adams’s administration.
  • March 4, 1825: John Quincy Adams is sworn in as the sixth president of the United States.

Source: Miller Center of Public Affairs, The University of Virginia, www.millercenter.virginia.edu, January 15, 2008

James Monroe's cabinet
Vice President: Daniel D. Tompkins (1817-1825)
Secretary of State: Richard Rush (1817 - 1817), John Quincy Adams (1817 - 1825)
Secretary of War: George Graham (1817 - 1817), John C. Calhoun (1817 - 1825)
Postmaster General: Return J. Meigs, Jr. (1817 - 1823), John McLean (1823 - 1825)
Secretary of the Treasury: William H. Crawford (1817 - 1825)
Attorney General: Richard Rush (1817 - 1817), William Wirt (1817 - 1825)
Secretary of the Navy: Benjamin W. Crowninshield (1817 - 1818), Smith Thompson (1819 - 1823), Samuel L. Southard (1823 - 1825)
Source: Miller Center of Public Affairs, The University of Virginia, www.millercenter.virginia.edu, January 12, 2008

James Monroe Presidential $1 Coin — First President, 1817-1825

James Monroe Presidential Coin
U.S. Mint image

Virginia native James Monroe was exceptionally qualified to serve as the United States' fifth president. Not only was he a Revolutionary War soldier, he was champion of the Bill of Rights, U.S. diplomat in Europe, governor of Virginia, senator, secretary of state, secretary of war, and negotiator of the Louisiana Purchase, before being overwhelmingly elected president in 1817.

His time in office is known as the "Era of Good Feelings" for the peace and booming economy the country enjoyed.

The Monroe Doctrine, a foundation of American foreign policy introduced in an 1823 message to Congress, warned European powers against expansionism in the Western Hemisphere.

Monroe's presidency was also marked by the Missouri Compromise, which preserved a balance of free states and slave states in the United States and prohibited slavery in western territories above the 36/30' north latitude line.

Coinage Legislation under President James Monroe

Act of January 14, 1818: This Act directs the location of the United States Mint to remain in Philadelphia for another term of five years, beginning March 4, 1818.

Act of March 3, 1819: This Act continues the authorization of certain gold and silver coinage from foreign countries as current and legal tender for the payment of debts within the United States. Specific rates of exchange are enumerated for the coins of Great Britain, Portugal, France, and Spain.

Act of March 3, 1821: This Act continues the provisions of the Act of April 29, 1816, relating to the legal-tender value of French coins.

Act of March 3, 1823: This Act authorizes certain gold coinage from foreign countries as current and legal tender in all payments on account of public lands within the United States. Specific rates of exchange are enumerated for the coins of Great Britain, Portugal, France, and Spain. The Act also calls for an annual assay of such coins, and for a report to the Congress detailing the results.

Act of March 3, 1823: This Act directs the location of the United States Mint to remain in Philadelphia for another term of five years, beginning March 4, 1823.

United States Mint Directors appointed by President Washington

  • 1824: Samuel Moore — Fifth Director of the United States Mint.

Elizabeth Kortright Monroe First Spouse $10 Gold Coin - First Lady (1817-1825)

Elizabeth Monroe First Lady Coin
U.S. Mint image (obverse)
Elizabeth Monroe First Lady Coin (reverse)
U.S. Mint image (reverse)

Elizabeth Kortright was born in New York City in 1768 and married James Monroe at age 17. The family made their home in Virginia, but spent several years overseas while James Madison served as U.S. Foreign Minister to Great Britain, France, and Spain. She became a popular figure in France, where she was affectionately called la belle Americane because of her beauty and style.

Her time spent in European diplomatic circles influenced her sense of proper protocol for the White House, to which she brought a European stateliness and formality. Their youngest daughter, Maria, was the first presidential child to be married in the White House, in a small, private ceremony. When Elizabeth and James Monroe left the White House, they returned to Oak Hill, the family estate in Virginia, where she lived for the remainder of her life.

Reverse Design

On January 1, 1818, Elizabeth and James Monroe held a grand New Year’s Day reception marking the reopening of the White House, which was rebuilt after its burning at the hands of the British in 1814. The couple supplied some of their own furniture to the government because the White House was almost empty when they moved in. This French Empire style furniture imparted the feeling of formality that they considered appropriate for the Executive Mansion. Nine pieces remain in the White House today.

Source: The United States Mint, www.usmint.gov, March 11, 2008

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