James Monroe

George Washington was the first President of the United States. He was followed by John Adams of Massachusetts. Then we came three presidents, sometimes called the “Virginia Hierarchy,” who held the Presidency for 24 years in a row.

Can you name these three distinguished statesmen? The third President was Thomas Jefferson. The fourth was James Madison, and the fifth was James Monroe. Today I will talk to you about the last named—President James Monroe.

James Monroe was born in Westmoreland, Virginia, in the same area where George Washington and Robert E. Lee were born. As you drive down Highway 3, south from Fredericksburg along the Potomac River, you will see three historical markers not too far apart that inform travelers of the birthplaces of these three noted citizens of our country. This road has sometimes been referred to as “Presidential Highway.”

James Monroe was born in 1758, and at the age of sixteen, he left William & Mary College to serve in The Continental Army. After the War, he studied law under Thomas Jefferson. He also served in the Virginia House of Delegates and represented Virginia in The Continental Congress for three years. He was a United States Senator from Virginia for four years, until he was appointed Minister to France where he served for two years.

Returning to Virginia, he was elected Governor, and at the end of his term, President Thomas Jefferson sent him back to France on a special mission, which I will tell you about later. On returning from France, he was again elected Governor of Virginia, but before his term had hardly begun, he was again called to Washington by President James Madison to serve as Secretary of State for two years. After that, he was elected the fifth President of the United States.

James Monroe made a great record as President. His years in office were known as “the era of good feeling,” and he was re-elected to a second term with an almost unanimous vote of the Presidential electors. He received very vote but one. (George Washington was the only President to get a unanimous electoral vote, but Monroe had the next highest number of votes.)

James Monroe took a prominent part in three great historical events that were very important in shaping the destiny of the new nation. The event that I will talk about concerns the Louisiana Purchase. Spain owned east and west Florida from St. Augustine to New Orleans as well as the great Louisiana Territory west of the Mississippi River to the Rocky Mountains. This territory included what is now Arkansas, Missouri, Iowa, Oklahoma, Kansas, Nebraska, South Dakota, and parts of Louisiana, Minnesota, North Dakota, Colorado, Montana and Wyoming.

When George Washington was President, he signed a treaty with Spain to allow Americans living along the Mississippi River to ship their goods and produce through the port of New Orleans. Jefferson had been in office about a year when Spain notified the United States that the port of New Orleans would be closed to American shipping. To add to add to this serious situation, Spain secretly conveyed the entire Louisiana Territory to France.

Jefferson, usually a warm friend of France, had this to say about the situation: “There is on the globe one single spot, the possessor of which is our natural and habitual enemy. It is New Orleans through which the produce of 3/8’s of our territory must pass to market.” Napoleon Bonaparte and his victorious armies were riding roughshod over the continent of Europe, and Jefferson feared that Napoleon would next turn his attention to his newly acquired territory in America. Jefferson sent to France as a special presidential envoy his friend and fellow Virginian James Monroe with two million dollars and instructions to buy the city of New Orleans.

Monroe and the U.S. Minister to France, Robert Livingston, were surprised when Napoleon, who was short on finances because of his war with England, offered to sell the entire Louisiana Territory for approximately 15 million dollars. Monroe and Livingston agreed and a treaty was signed. President Jefferson approved and Congress was asked to approve the treat and appropriation. There was some discussion and some objections, but the Treaty was approved by Congress and the area of the United States more than doubled because of this courageous maneuver.

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