James Monroe: A Fifth Retrospective
“Whatcha got ain’t nothin new. This country’s hard on people, you can’t stop what’s coming, it ain’t all waiting on you. That’s vanity.” – Ellis, No Country for Old Men (2007)
The election of 1816 was harmonious as party politics seemingly vanished. James Monroe, another founding father was elected and would be the last of the revolutionary generation as well as the “Virginia dynasty“. Monroe was not regarded as intelligent, but rather honest and trustworthy. This was enough to get him elected twice. His presidency was known as the “Era of Good Feelings” as Monroe ran unopposed for his second term. This was a time of peace and happiness, but Americans will tell you there is always something to bitch about.
Missouri Compromise of 1820
When Missouri petitioned for statehood, instead of a cause for celebration it ignited a political debate over slavery as to whether Missouri would be admitted as a free or slave state. As Congress debated, Monroe, a slave-owner himself, made it clear that he would veto any legislation that restricted any state’s right to self determination. In response, Congress passed the Missouri Compromise of 1820. Missouri would enter the union as a slave state, and Maine would enter the union as a free state. There were further prohibitions put upon the expansion of slavery. This was wholly a temporary solution to the growing slave problem.
Go Back to Africa
Monroe proposed to return all slaves back to Africa. The American Colonization Society ferried slaves to Monrovia, Liberia, the only foreign capital named after a sitting American president. Unfortunately, this did little to solve the slavery question.
Monroe faced a border crisis in Florida, a territory owned by Spain which they hardly governed. It was a haven for outlaws, pirates, and Native American tribes.
In 1818, border incursions were common, particularly Seminole Indians raiding white settlements in Georgia. These incursions were often encouraged by British privateers operating on the Florida coast. Monroe sent troops down to the Florida region led by the hero of New Orleans, Andrew Jackson. Jackson invades Florida, captures the British, and hangs them; thus, creating an international crisis involving Spain, Great Britain and the United States.
Jackson’s actions caused uproar in Monroe’s cabinet. Secretary of War John C. Calhoun wanted to reprimand Jackson, while Secretary of State John Quincy Adams stood up for Jackson arguing that he preemptively struck the British because the Spanish had done little to govern the territory.
Monroe did not reprimand Jackson. Instead, he opened up negotiations for Florida with Spain. In 1819, Spain ceded Florida to us without a fight.
Border issues were a mainstay during the Monroe presidency. In 1823, addressing Congress over a dispute between Russia and the United States concerning Alaska, Monroe proclaimed “the American continents are henceforth not to be considered as subjects for future colonization by any European powers”. This is the Monroe Doctrine, and was our statement that we reject European countries coming in and trying to acquire further territorial gains in this hemisphere. In other words, if Europe stayed in their hemisphere, we would stay in our own. Ironically, it was not called the Monroe Doctrine until 1852, and was actually written by Secretary of State John Quincy Adams.
Monroe was the last of the revolutionary generation, the architects of American republic. These men did not see themselves as politicians, but as caretakers and leaders of the nation. They saw themselves ss good citizens and statesmen.
James Monroe is also when Americans started to bitch to the federal government to solve their issues. Questions of slavery and statehood were not solved on a citizen to citizen situational basis, but were reviewed to be ratified and codified by the government either through legislation, statehood, or often both. Monroe is the emergence of the person who bitches about wanting limited government, except for issues of great concern to themselves, in which case they want the full weight and authority of the federal government behind them.
John Quincy Adams would follow him.
James Madison preceded him.
It all started with George Washington.