James Monroe (1817 – 1825): The 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.
Slavery and Civil Rights
James Monroe referred to the slave trade as “an abominable practice,” yet he operated Virginia plantations with dozens of slaves for more than two decades. He personally owned as many as 75 slaves at one point.
While Monroe was governor of Virginia, the state executed roughly 35 slaves who were suspected of planning an armed revolt. Monroe also proposed several measures to prevent further uprisings, such as increasing police patrols and requiring Black people to carry passes.
Of this episode, Monroe wrote to Thomas Jefferson on September 15, 1800:
We have had much trouble with the negroes here. The plan of an insurrection was clearly proved …. We then made a display of our force and measures of defence with a view to intimidate those people. When to arrest the hand of the Executioner, is a question of great importance. It is hardly to be presumed, a rebel who avows it was his intention to assassinate his master &c. if pardoned will ever become a useful servant.
Monroe’s attitude toward Black people was equally clear in a letter he sent to the Mayor of Richmond, Virginia:
Negroes from the country have no business in town, but to attend at market; that being ended they ought to depart.
In Monroe’s view, slavery was an institution worth preserving. In his Annual Message to Congress on December 7, 1824, Monroe declared:
The situation of the United States is in the highest degree prosperous and happy …. Our institutions form an important epoch in the history of the civilized world. On their preservation and in their utmost purity everything will depend.
Hard Scrabble and Snow Town
Hard Scrabble (Addison Hollow) and Snow Town were two African American neighborhoods located in Providence, Rhode Island in the nineteenth century. They were also the sites of race riots in which working-class whites destroyed multiple black homes in 1824 and 1831, respectively.
Hard Scrabble was a predominantly black neighborhood in northwestern Providence in the early 19th century. Away from the town center, its inexpensive rents attracted working class free blacks, poor people of all races and marginalized businesses such as saloons and houses of prostitution resulting in tensions between the residents of Hard Scrabble and other residents of Providence.
Hard Scrabble was one of several similar neighborhoods in urban centers in the Northeast where free blacks gathered to further themselves socially and economically. Other African American communities created in cities with growing job markets in the same time period include the northern slope of Boston’s Beacon Hill, Little Liberia in Bridgeport, Connecticut and Sandy Ground on New York’s Staten Island.
On October 18, 1824, a white mob attacked black homes in Hard Scrabble, after a black man refused to get off the sidewalk when approached by some whites. Although the mob claimed to be targeting places of ill-repute, it destroyed buildings indiscriminately. Hundreds of whites destroyed approximately 20 black homes. Four people were tried for rioting, but only one was found guilty.
After the Hard Scrabble riot, the Snow Town neighborhood rose in roughly the same area. It was another interracial neighborhood where free blacks and poor whites lived among crime and marginal businesses.
In 1831 more riots took place in Snow Town, one triggered by the shooting death of a sailor. Once again, the mob destroyed many homes, targeting black homes even though the people living in them had no apparent ties to the shooting, spilling over into nearby Olney Street. This time, the militia was called out, and it killed four white rioters.
The Hardscrabble Riot had engendered little media sympathy for its victims. But by the time of the Snow Town riot, leading citizens and journalists took the problem far more seriously. After the Snow Town riot, written opinion approved of suppressing rioters to maintain order, and Providence voters approved a charter for a city government containing strong police powers.
States Admitted Into The Union
- MIssissippi became the 20th state on December 10, 1817 from the MIssissippi Territory
- Illinois became the 21st state on December 3, 1818 partially from the Illinois Territory
- Alabama became the 22nd state on December 14, 1819 partially from the Illinois Territory
- Maine became the 23rd state on March 15, 1820 partially from the District of Maine in Massachusetts
- Missouri became the 24th state on August 10, 1821 partially from the Missouri Territory
Monroe and The American Colonization Society
The American Colonization Society (ACS), originally known as the The Society for the Colonization of Free People of Color of America, was founded in 1816 by Robert Finley to encourage and support the migration of free African Americans to the continent of Africa.
There were several factors that led to the establishment of the American Colonization Society. The number of free people of color grew steadily following the American Revolutionary War, from 60,000 in 1790 to 300,000 by 1830; consequently, slaveowners grew increasingly concerned that free blacks might encourage or help their slaves to escape or rebel. In addition, many White Americans saw African Americans as “racially” inferior and felt that “amalgamation,” or integration, of African Americans with white American culture was impossible and undesirable. This reinforced the notion that African Americans should be relocated to somewhere they could live free of white prejudice, where they could be citizens.
The African-American community and abolitionist movement were overwhelmingly opposed to the project. In most cases, their families had lived in the United States for generations, and their prevailing sentiment was that they were no more African than white Americans were British. Contrary to stated claims that emigration was voluntary, many African Americans, both free and enslaved, were pressured into emigrating. Indeed, slaves were sometimes manumitted (freed by their owners) on condition that they leave the country immediately.
According to historian Marc Leepson, “Colonization proved to be a giant failure, doing nothing to stem the forces that brought the nation to Civil War.” Between 1821 and 1847, only a few thousand African Americans, out of the then millions in the US, emigrated to what would become Liberia. Many of them died from tropical diseases. In addition, the transportation of the emigrants to the African continent, including the provisioning of requisite tools and supplies, proved very expensive.
Starting in the 1830s, the Society was met with great hostility from white abolitionists, led by Gerrit Smith, who had supported the Society financially, and William Lloyd Garrison, author of Thoughts on African Colonization (1832), in which he proclaimed the Society a fraud. According to Garrison and his many followers, the Society was not a solution to the problem of American slavery—it actually was helping, and was intended to help, to preserve it.
The Adams–Onís Treaty of 1819, also known as the Transcontinental Treaty, the Florida Purchase Treaty, or the Florida Treaty, was a treaty between the United States and Spain in 1819 that ceded Florida to the U.S. and defined the boundary between the U.S. and New Spain. It settled a standing border dispute between the two countries and was considered a triumph of American diplomacy. It came in the midst of increasing tensions related to Spain’s territorial boundaries in North America against the United States and the United Kingdom in the aftermath of the American Revolution; it also came during the Latin American wars of independence.
Florida had become a burden to Spain, which could not afford to send settlers or garrisons, so the Spanish government decided to cede the territory to the United States in exchange for settling the boundary dispute along the Sabine River in Spanish Texas. The treaty established the boundary of U.S. territory and claims through the Rocky Mountains and west to the Pacific Ocean, in exchange for the U.S. paying residents’ claims against the Spanish government up to a total of $5 million and relinquishing the U.S. claims on parts of Spanish Texas west of the Sabine River and other Spanish areas, under the terms of the Louisiana Purchase.
The treaty remained in full effect for only 183 days: from February 22, 1821, to August 24, 1821, when Spanish military officials signed the Treaty of Córdoba acknowledging the independence of Mexico; Spain repudiated that treaty, but Mexico effectively took control of Spain’s former colony. The Treaty of Limits between Mexico and the United States, signed in 1828 and effective in 1832, recognized the border defined by the Adams–Onís Treaty as the boundary between the two nations.
Missouri Compromise of 1820
The Missouri Compromise was United States federal legislation that stopped northern attempts to forever prohibit slavery’s expansion by admitting Missouri as a slave state in exchange for legislation which prohibited slavery north of the 36°30′ parallel except for Missouri. The 16th United States Congress passed the legislation on March 3, 1820, and President James Monroe signed it on March 6, 1820.
Earlier, in February 1819, Representative James Tallmadge Jr., a Jeffersonian Republican from New York, had submitted two amendments to Missouri’s request for statehood that included restrictions on slavery. Southerners objected to any bill that imposed federal restrictions on slavery and believed that it was a state issue, as settled by the Constitution. However, with the Senate evenly split at the opening of the debates, both sections possessing 11 states, the admission of Missouri as a slave state would give the South an advantage.
Northern critics including Federalists and Democratic-Republicans objected to the expansion of slavery into the Louisiana Purchase territory on the Constitutional inequalities of the three-fifths rule, which conferred Southern representation in the federal government derived from a state’s slave population. Jeffersonian Republicans in the North ardently maintained that a strict interpretation of the Constitution required that Congress act to limit the spread of slavery on egalitarian grounds. “[Northern] Republicans rooted their antislavery arguments, not on expediency, but in egalitarian morality.” “The Constitution [said northern Jeffersonians], strictly interpreted, gave the sons of the founding generation the legal tools to hasten [the] removal [of slavery], including the refusal to admit additional slave states.”
When free-soil Maine offered its petition for statehood, the Senate quickly linked the Maine and Missouri bills, making Maine admission a condition for Missouri entering the Union as a slave state. Senator Jesse B. Thomas of Illinois added a compromise proviso that excluded slavery from all remaining lands of the Louisiana Purchase north of the 36° 30′ parallel. The combined measures passed the Senate, only to be voted down in the House by Northern representatives who held out for a free Missouri.
Speaker of the House Henry Clay of Kentucky, in a desperate bid to break the deadlock, divided the Senate bills. Clay and his pro-compromise allies succeeded in pressuring half of the anti-restrictionist House Southerners to submit to the passage of the Thomas proviso and maneuvered a number of restrictionist House northerners to acquiesce in supporting Missouri as a slave state. The Missouri question in the 15th Congress ended in stalemate on March 4, 1819, the House sustaining its northern antislavery position and the Senate blocking a slavery restricted statehood.
The Missouri Compromise was very controversial, and many worried that the country had become lawfully divided along sectional lines. The Kansas–Nebraska Act effectively repealed the bill in 1854, and the Supreme Court declared it unconstitutional in Dred Scott v. Sandford (1857), both of which increased tensions over slavery and contributed to the American Civil War.
The Monroe Doctrine was a United States policy that opposed European colonialism in the Americas. It argued that any intervention in the politics of the Americas by foreign powers was a potentially hostile act against the United States. It began in 1823; however, the term “Monroe Doctrine” itself was not coined until 1850.
The Monroe Doctrine was issued on December 2, at a time when nearly all Latin American colonies of Spain and Portugal had achieved, or were at the point of gaining, independence from the Portuguese and Spanish Empires. It stated that further efforts by various European states to take control of any independent state in the Americas would be viewed as “the manifestation of an unfriendly disposition toward the United States.” At the same time, the doctrine noted that the U.S. would recognize and not interfere with existing European colonies nor meddle in the internal affairs of European countries.
President James Monroe first stated the doctrine during his seventh annual State of the Union Address to the Congress. The doctrine asserted that the New World and the Old World were to remain distinctly separate spheres of influence. The separation intended to avoid situations that could make the New World a battleground for the Old World powers so that the U.S. could exert its influence undisturbed.
By the end of the 19th century, Monroe’s declaration was seen as a defining moment in the foreign policy of the United States and one of its longest-standing tenets. The intent and impact of the doctrine persisted more than a century, with only small variations, and would be invoked by many U.S. statesmen and several U.S. presidents, including Ulysses S. Grant, Theodore Roosevelt, John F. Kennedy, and Ronald Reagan.
After 1898, the Monroe Doctrine was reinterpreted in terms of multilateralism and non-intervention by Latin American lawyers and intellectuals. In 1933, under President Franklin D. Roosevelt, the U.S. went along with this new reinterpretation, especially in terms of the Organization of American States.
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.
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- About: American colonization society. (n.d.). DBpedia Live | DBpedia. https://live.dbpedia.org/page/American_Colonization_Society
- Adams-onís treaty | The Encyclopedia of Oklahoma history and culture. (n.d.). Oklahoma Historical Society. https://www.okhistory.org/publications/enc/entry.php?entry=AD004
- An act to authorize the manumission of slaves (1782). (n.d.). Encyclopedia Virginia – A free, reliable, multimedia resource that tells the inclusive story of Virginia. https://encyclopediavirginia.org/entries/an-act-to-authorize-the-manumission-of-slaves-1782/
- Brenton, F. (2019, August 21). American colonization society (1816-1964). BlackPast is dedicated to providing a global audience with reliable and accurate information on the history of African America and of people of African ancestry around the world. We aim to promote greater understanding through this knowledge to generate constructive change in our society. https://www.blackpast.org/african-american-history/american-colonization-society-1816-1964/
- CONTENTdm. (n.d.). CONTENTdm. https://digital.library.shsu.edu/digital/collection/p243coll3/id/2232/
- Dole, C. F. (n.d.). The right and wrong of the Monroe doctrine. The Atlantic. https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/1905/04/the-right-and-wrong-of-the-monroe-doctrine/530856/
- A founding father on the Missouri Compromise, 1819 | Gilder Lehrman Institute of American history. (n.d.). Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History |. https://www.gilderlehrman.org/history-resources/spotlight-primary-source/founding-father-missouri-compromise-1819
- Garrison’s attack on colonization. (n.d.). Uncle Tom’s Cabin & American Culture. https://utc.iath.virginia.edu/abolitn/abeswlgbt.html
- Gerrit Smith. (n.d.). NATIONAL ABOLITION HALL OF FAME AND MUSEUM. https://www.nationalabolitionhalloffameandmuseum.org/gerrit-smith.html
- James Monroe. (n.d.). UnderstandingPrejudice.org. https://secure.understandingprejudice.org/draft/slavery/presinfo.php?president=5
- Press, A. (2019, January 12). Today in history: Treaty defines US/Mexico border, US house denies women voting rights. KUTV. https://kutv.com/news/offbeat/today-in-history-treaty-defines-usmexico-border-us-house-denies-women-voting-rights
- Princeton and the colonization movement. (n.d.). Princeton & Slavery. https://slavery.princeton.edu/stories/princeton-and-the-colonization-movement
- Thomas Jr., Jesse B. (n.d.). LPAL: Search. https://www.lawpracticeofabrahamlincoln.org/Reference/html%20files%20for%20biographies/Bio_1174.html
- The Virginia dynasty: Four presidents and the creation of the American nation. (n.d.). James Madison Program. https://jmp.princeton.edu/events/virginia-dynasty-four-presidents-and-creation-american-nation
- William Lloyd Garrison — History of U.S. woman’s suffrage. (n.d.). History of U.S. Woman’s Suffrage. https://www.crusadeforthevote.org/garrison
James Madison (1809-1817) preceded James Monroe
It all started with George Washington (1789-1797).
Zachary Taylor (1849 – 1850) would assume the presidency after the Mexican War
Woodrow Wilson (1913 – 1921) would guide the United States through World War I.
Jimmy Carter (1977 – 1981) would be the only Democratic President for 25 years post Civil Rights.
George W. Bush (2000 – 2008) is the final President in our series.