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James Monroe, Our 5th President

By Ruth Browning

James Monroe, who served as United States President from March 4, 1817, to March 4, 1825, was born in Westmoreland County, Virginia, in 1758. He attended the College of William and Mary and was elected to the U.S. Senate in 1790 at the age of 32. Monroe served with honor in the Third Virginia Regiment during the Revolutionary War, crossed the Delaware with George Washington and was even present as an aide-de-camp during the winter of Valley Forge. He studied law in 1780 under Thomas Jefferson who once said that Monroe was so honest that if you turned his soul inside out there would not be a spot on it. Monroe married Elizabeth Kortright of New York, who was regarded as one of the great beauties of that day. They lived in Albemarle County where two daughters and a son were born; the son died in infancy. Monroe served as Secretary of War and Secretary of State under James Madison. With the support of Madison, he was elected to the Presidency in 1816. His administration earned the nickname of “The Era of Good Feelings.” He had no opponent to reelection as President in 1820. The famous Monroe Doctrine came from his administration. In a speech to Congress in 1823, Monroe warned the European powers against expansion and intervention in the newly independent Latin American nations and warned Russia not to encroach southward on the Pacific Coast. He stated: “…the American continents, by the free and independent condition which they have assumed and maintain, are henceforth not to be considered as subjects for future colonization by any European power.” Great Britain supported the U.S. in this statement. A crisis arose in 1819 when Missouri requested admission as a state. The famous Missouri Compromise of 1820 admitted Maine as a free state and Missouri without restriction on slavery and barred slavery north and west of Missouri forever. When his wife Elizabeth died in 1830, Monroe went to live with a daughter in New York City. There he died from heart failure and tuberculosis on July 4, 1831, becoming the third President to die on July 4. Former Presidents John Adams and Thomas Jefferson had died on July 4 in 1826. Besides George Washington (Washington, D.C.), James Monroe is the only U.S. President to have a country’s national capital named after him-Monrovia in Liberia which was founded by the American Colonization Society in 1822 as a haven for freed slaves.