From: "Biographical Review of Cass, Schuyler and
Brown Counties, Illinois 1892", by Biographical Review Publishing
Company, Chicago, Illinois; pages 32-37, a reprinted by Stevens
Publishing Co., Astoria, Ill., 1971, is sold by the Schuyler County
Historical Society, Rushville, Illinois.
JAMES MONROE, the fifth President of the United States, 1817-'25, was
born in Westmoreland County Virginia, April 28, 1758. He was a son of
Spence Monroe, and a descendant of a Scottish cavalier family. Like all
his predecessors thus far in the Presidential chair, he enjoyed all the
advantages of education which the country could then afford. He was
early sent to a fine classical school, and at the age of sixteen
entered William and Mary College. In 1776, when he had been in
college but two years, the Declaration of Independence was adopted, and
our feeble militia, without arms, ammunition or clothing, were
struggling against the trained armies of England. James Monroe left
college, hastened to General Washington's headquarters at New York and
enrolled himself as a cadet in the army.
At Trenton Lieutenant Monroe so distinguished himself, receiving
a wound in his shoulder, that he was promoted to a Captaincy. Upon
recovering from his wound, he was invited to act as aide to Lord
Sterling, and in that capacity he took an active part in the battles of
Brandywine, Germantown and Monmouth. At Germantown he stood by the side
of Lafayette when the French Marquis received his wound. General
Washington, who had formed a high idea of young Monroe's ability, sent
him to Virginia to raise a new regiment, of which he was to be Colonel;
but so exhausted was Virginia at that time that the effort proved
unsuccessful. He, however, received his commission.
Finding no opportunity to enter the army as a commissioned
officer, he returned to his original plan of studying law, and entered
the office of Thomas Jefferson, who was then Governor of Virginia. He
developed a' very noble character, frank, manly and sincere. Mr.
Jefferson said of him: "James Monroe is so perfectly honest that if his
soul were turned inside out there would not be found a spot on it."
In 1782 he was elected to the Assembly of Virginia, and was also
appointed a member of the Executive Council. The next year he was
chosen delegate to the Continental Congress for a term of three years.
He was present at Annapolis when Washington surrendered his commission
With Washington, Jefferson and Madison he felt deeply the
inefficiency of the old Articles of Confederation, and urged the
formation of a new Constitution, which should invest the Central
Government with something like national power. Influenced by these
views, he introduced a resolution that Congress should be empowered to
regulate trade, and to lay an impost duty of five per cent. The
resolution was referred to a committee of which he was chairman. The
report and the discussion which rose upon it led to the convention of
five States at Annapolis, and the consequent general convention at
Philadelphia, which, in 1787, drafted the Constitution of the United
At this time there was a controversy between New York and
Massachusetts in reference to their boundaries. The high esteem in
which Colonel Monroe was held is indicated by the fact that he was
appointed one of the judges to decide the controversy. While in New
York attending Congress, he married Miss Kortright, a young lady
distinguished alike for her beauty and accomplishments. For nearly
fifty years this happy union remained un-broken. In London and in
Paris, as in her own country, Mrs. Monroe won admiration and affection
by the loveliness of her person, the brilliancy of her intellect, and
the amiability of her character.
Returning to Virginia, Colonel Monroe commenced the practice of
law at Fredericksburg. He was very soon elected to a seat in the State
Legislature, and the next year he was chosen a member of the Virginia
convention which was assembled to decide upon the acceptance or
rejection of the Constitution which had been drawn up at Philadelphia,
and was now submitted to the several States. Deeply as he felt the
imperfections of the old Confederacy, he was opposed to the new
Constitution, thinking, with many others of the Republican party, that
it gave too much power to the Central Government, and not enough to the
In 1789 he became a member of the United States Senate, which
office he held acceptably to his constituents, and with honor to
himself for four years.
Having opposed the Constitution as not leaving enough power with
the States, he, of course, became more and more identified with the
Republican party. Thus he found himself in cordial co-operation with
Jefferson and Madison. The great Republican party became the dominant
power which ruled the land.
George Washington was then President. England had espoused the
cause of the Bourbons against the principles of the French Revolution.
President Washington issued a proclamation of neutrality between these
contending powers. France had helped us in the struggle for our
liberties. All the despotisms of Europe were now combined to prevent
the French from escaping from tyranny a thousandfold worse than that
which we had endured. Colonel Monroe, more magnanimous than prudent,
was anxious that we should help our old allies in their extremity. He
violently opposed the President's proclamation as ungrateful and
wanting in magnanimity.
Washington, who could appreciate such a character, developed his
calm, serene, almost divine greatness by appointing that very James
Monroe, who was denouncing the policy of the Government, as the
Minister of that Government to the republic of France. He was directed
by Washington to express to the French people our warmest sympathy,
communicating to them corresponding resolves approved by the President,
and adopted by both houses of Congress.
Mr. Monroe was welcomed by the National Convention in France
with the most enthusiastic demonstrations of respect and affection. He
was publicly introduced to that body, and received the embrace of the
President, Merlin de Douay, after having been addressed in a speech
glowing with congratulations, and with expressions of desire that
harmony might ever exist between the two nations. The flags of the two
republics were intertwined in the hall of the convention. Mr. Monroe
presented the American colors, and received those of France in return.
The course which he pursued in Paris was so annoying to England and to
the friends of England in this country that, near the close of
Washington's administration, Mr. Monroe, was recalled.
After his return Colonel Monroe wrote a book of 400 pages,
entitled "A View of the Conduct of the Executive in Foreign Affairs."
In this work he very ably advocated his side of the question; but, with
the magnanimity of the man, he recorded a warm tribute to the
patriotism, ability and
spotless integrity of John Jay, between whom and himself there was
intense antagonism ; and in subsequent years he expressed in warmest
terms his perfect veneration for the character of George Washington.
Shortly after his return to this country Colonel Monroe was
elected Governor of Virginia, and held that office for three years, the
period limited by the Constitution. In 1802 he was an Envoy to France,
and to Spain in 1805, and was Minister to England in 1803. In 1806 he
returned to his quiet home in Virginia, and with his wife and children
and an ample competence from his paternal estate, enjoyed a few years
of domestic repose.
In 1809 Mr. Jefferson's second term of office expired, and many
of the Republican party were anxious to nominate James Monroe as his
successor. The majority were in favor of Mr. Madison. Mr. Monroe
withdrew his name and was soon after chosen a second time Governor of
He soon resigned that office to accept the position of Secretary
of State, offered him by President Madison. The correspondence which he
then carried on with the British Government demonstrated that there was
no hope of any peaceful adjustment of our difficulties with the cabinet
of St. James. War was consequently declared in June, 1812. Immediately
after the sack of Washington the Secretary of War resigned, and Mr.
Monroe, at the earnest request of Mr. Madison, assumed the additional
duties of the War Department, without resigning his position as
Secretary of State. It has been confidently stated, that, had Mr.
Monroe's energies been in the War Department a few months earlier, the
disaster at Washington would not have occurred.
The duties now devolving upon Mr. Monroe were extremely arduous.
Ten thousand men, picked from the veteran armies of England, were sent
with a powerful fleet to New Orleans to acquire possession of the
mouths of the Mississippi. Our finances were in the most deplorable
condition. The treasury was exhausted and our credit gone. And yet it
was necessary to make the most rigorous preparations to meet the foe.
In this crisis James Monroe, the Secretary of War, with virtue
unsurpassed in Greek or Roman story, stepped forward and pledged his
own individual credit as subsidiary to that of the nation, and thus
succeeded in placing the city of New Orleans in such a posture of
defense, that it was enabled successfully to repel the invader.
Mr. Monroe was truly the armor-bearer of President Madison, and
the most efficient business man in his cabinet. His energy in the
double capacity of Secretary, both of State and War, pervaded all the
departments of the country. He proposed to increase the army to 100,000
men, a measure which he deemed absolutely necessary to save us from
ignominious defeat, but which, at the same time, he knew would render
his name so unpopular as to preclude the possibility of his being a
successful candidate for the Presidency.
The happy result of the conference at Ghent in securing peace
rendered the increase of the army unnecessary; but it is not too much
to say that James Monroe placed in the hands of Andrew Jackson the
weapon with which to beat off the foe at New Orleans. Upon the return
of peace Mr. Monroe resigned the department of war, devoting himself
entirely to the duties of Secretary of State. These he continued to
discharge until the close of President Madison's administration, with
zeal which was never abated, and with an ardor of self-devotion which
made him almost forgetful of the claims of fortune, health or life.
Mr. Madison's second term expired in March, 1817, and Mr. Monroe
succeeded to the Presidency. He was a candidate of the Republican
party, now taking the name of the Democratic Republican. In 1821 he was
re-elected, with scarcely any opposition. Out of 232 electoral votes,
he received 231. The slavery question, which subsequently assumed such
formidable dimensions, now began to make its appearance. The State of
Missouri, which had been carved out of that immense territory which we
had purchased of France, applied for admission to the Union, with a
slavery Constitution. There were not a few who foresaw the evils
impending. After the debate of a week it was decided that Missouri
could not be admitted into the Union with slavery. This important
question was at length settled by a compromise proposed by Henry Clay.
The famous "Monroe Doctrine," of which so much has been said,
originated in this way: In 1823 it was rumored that the Holy Alliance
was about to interfere to prevent the establishment of Republican
liberty in the European colonies of South America. President Monroe
wrote to his old friend Thomas Jefferson for advice in the emergency.
In his reply under date of October 24, Mr. Jefferson writes upon the
supposition that our attempt to resist this European movement might
lead to war: "Its object is to introduce and establish the American
system of keeping out of our land all foreign powers; of never
permitting those of Europe to intermeddle with the affairs of our
nation. It is to maintain our own principle, not to depart from it."
December 2, 1823, President Monroe sent a message to Congress,
declaring it to be the policy of this Government not to entangle
ourselves with the broils of Europe, and not to allow Europe to
interfere with the affairs of nations on the American continent; and
the doctrine was announced, that any attempt on the part of the
European powers "to extend their system to any portion of this
hemisphere would be regarded by the United States as dangerous to our
peace and safety."
March 4, 1825, Mr. Monroe surrendered the presidential chair to
his Secretary of State, John Quincy Adams, and retired, with the
universal respect of the nation, to his private residence at Oak Hill,
Loudoun County, Virginia. His time had been so entirely consecrated to
his country, that he had neglected his pecuniary interests, and was
deeply involved in debt. The welfare of his country had ever been
uppermost in his mind.
For many years Mrs. Monroe was in such feeble health that she
rarely appeared in public. In 1830 Mr. Monroe took up his residence
with his son-in-law in New York, where he died on the 4th of July,
1831. The citizens of New York conducted his obsequies with pageants
more imposing than had ever been witnessed there before. Our country
will ever cherish his memory with pride, gratefully enrolling his name
in the list of its benefactors, pronouncing him the worthy successor of
the illustrious men who had preceded him in the presidential chair.