James Monroe was born at Monroe’s Creek in Westmoreland County April 28, 1758 to wealthy parents who had kinship to England’s royal family.
Due to the emerging Revolutionary War engulfing the country in 1774, Monroe attended the College of William and Mary but was unable to concentrate on his education. In 1776, he dropped out of college and joined the Williamsburg militia. He and a few classmates raided the Governor’s Palace in Williamsburg and took 200 muskets and 300 swords giving them to the Virginia militia.
During that same year, Monroe found himself in the Continental Army and attained the rank of lieutenant colonel when he left the Army in 1778.
Monroe was in many battles during the Revolution; Harlem Heights, where he was wounded, Brandywine, Monmouth and Trenton, where he was wounded again. He also served with George Washington in his New York campaign.
In 1780, he was appointed by Governor Thomas Jefferson as the military commissioner from Virginia in 1780.
Monroe was elected to the Virginia General Assembly in 1782. Monroe became a member of the Continental Congress in 1783 and became nationally known for promoting the granting of western lands to Revolutionary War veterans.
He also persisted with free trade along the Mississippi River and proposed the Constitution give Congress authority to regulate foreign and interstate commerce. Monroe became a prominent citizen quickly by being admitted to the bar in 1787, selected to serve on city council, served in the Vestry at St. George’s Church and as trustee of the Fredericksburg Academy and again selected to serve in the Virginia Assembly.
In 1790 he served as U.S. senator when he was elected after the death of the incumbent senator. Monroe was re-elected in 1791 and served in this position until he resigned on May 27, 1794.
Monroe opposed President Washington’s neutrality proclamation against France and England and also opposed the creation of an army. In 1794, Washington selected Monroe as the Minister to France, (called ambassador today).
In 1803, Jefferson also selected him as minister to England and Spain, a capacity he served in until 1807. He was elected to the Virginia Assembly for the third time in 1810 when he and his family returned. However, Virginia knew he had a higher calling and elected him governor again in 1811. He served only two months and was then appointed by fellow Virginian and friend, President James Madison to be secretary of state. He served as secretary of state until the end of the Madison presidency in 1817, and was also appointed Secretary of War, in which he served concurrently from 1814-1815.
President Madison announced he would do as Washington and not seek a third term in 1816. Monroe received Madison’s endorsement to run and that of Jefferson’s. Monroe had little opposition in the Federalist Party and won election and was inaugurated March 4, 1817.
One reporter at the time said Monroe made them all feel good which caught on and labeled Monroe’s presidency to be known as “the era of good feelings” in the historical sense.
One of the most notable achievements in his eight years as chief executive was the inception of the Monroe Doctrine, which stated that European monarchies could not interfere in the affairs of countries in the Western Hemisphere. Monroe was re-inaugurated March 5, 1821.
Monroe left the presidency in March 1825 broke and returned with his wife to Virginia, moving to their estate “Oak Hill,” near Leesburg.
Monroe died in New York City, July 4, 1831 at the age of 73. Monroe was buried at Marble Cemetery in New York City and later re-interred in Hollywood Cemetery, Richmond July 4, 1858.
- Information compiled from www.whitehouse.org