James Monroe, 5th President "When the people become ignorant & corrupt ..."

Bill Federer

James Monroe was born APRIL 28, 1758, the son of Colonel Andrew Spence Monroe.

As a youth, he was tutored at home by Scottish Rev. William Douglas, who also tutored Thomas Jefferson.

James Monroe then attended Campbellton Academy, run by Scottish Rev. Archibald Campbell of Washington Parish.

His classmate was John Marshall, the future Chief Justice of the Supreme Court.

At the age of 16, James ' father died, leaving him the family plantation.

Monroe attended the College of William and Mary, but dropped out at age 17 to join the Continental Army.

In June of 1775, Monroe, along with 24 others, raided the Virginia Governor's arsenal, carrying away 200 muskets and 300 swords to arm the Williamsburg Militia.

James Monroe was part of General Washington's crossing of the Delaware River the night of December 25, 1776.

He is portrayed in Emanuel Leutze's famous painting "Washington Crossing the Delaware" as standing behind Washington holding the flag.

At the age of 18, Monroe helped lead the charge at the Battle of Trenton, where he was struck by a musket ball in his shoulder, rupturing an artery.

He was cited for his bravery by General Washington.

In John Trumbull's famous painting "Capture of the Hessians at the Battle of Trenton," James Monroe is portrayed center left, wounded, lying on the ground.

Monroe returned to the front lines, serving on the staff of Scottish American General William Alexander, Lord Sterling, noted for helping to stop the Conway Caba l to replace General Washington.

While on there, Monroe became friends with French officer Marquis de Lafayette, who was six months older.

In 1777-1778, Monroe fought in the Philadelphia Campaign, and spent the freezing winter with the army at Valley Forge, sharing a log shelter with John Marshall.

He fought in the Battle of Monmouth, June 28, 1778, and after the British captured Savannah, Georgia, he was promoted to lieutenant colonel, but was unable to recruit a regiment.

Having never fully recovered from his wounds, on the advice of his uncle, Virginia House of Burgesses member Joseph Jones, Monroe returned to Williamsburg in 1779 to study law with George Wythe, a signer of the Declaration of Independence and America's first university law professor.

Wythe had been a notable leader in the Virginia House of Burgesses and Mayor of Williamsburg. In his Remonstrance to the Stamp Act of 1765, George Wythe wrote:

"it is essential to British liberty that laws imposing taxes on the people ought not to be made without the consent of representatives chosen by themselves ...

British patriots will never consent to the exercise of anti-constitutional power."

James Monroe moved to Richmond in 1780, to study law under Virginia Governor Thomas Jefferson, selling his family's small plantation to pay for it.

After the Revolution, Monroe was elected as a delegate to the Virginia House of Delegates in 1782.

The next year, he was elected to the U.S. Congress.

In 1786, James Monroe married Elizabeth Kortright, the daughter of a wealthy merchant from Holland, Netherlands, who helped found the New York Chamber of Commerce.

In 1790, he was elected a U.S. Senator, where he served till he was appointed Minister to France in 1794.

Being in France during the Reign of Terror, James Monroe's wife, Elizabeth, helped secure the release of Madame Lafayette, the wife of Marquis de Lafayette, who was threatened with death by guillotine like Queen Marie Antoinette.

Monroe was elected Governor of Virginia, serving 1799-1802.

In 1803, Monroe was made Ambassador to Britain and Spain.

On April 30, 1803, Monroe and Robert Livingston negotiated the Louisiana Purchase, doubling the size of the United States.

James and his wife, Elizabeth, were invited to Napoleon's coronation in Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, December 2, 1804.

Monroe was again Governor of Virginia in 1811, then later that year he was Secretary of State.

At the end of the War of 1812, he was made Secretary of War in 1814.

Elected the 5th U.S. President, James Monroe sent General Andrew Jackson to Florida in 1817, resulting in it being acquired from Spain in 1819.

States that were added to the Union during Monroe's administration were:

  • Mississippi, 1817;

  • Illinois, 1818;

  • Alabama, 1819;

  • Maine, 1820; and

  • Missouri, 1821.

President Monroe proclaimed the Monroe Doctrine, 1823, authored by Secretary of State John Quincy Adams, which forbade European powers from interfering with the independent nations of the Western Hemisphere.

Monroe helped freed slaves found the nation of Liberia on west coast of Africa. In 1823, their capital city was named in his honor - Monrovia. It is the only foreign capital named after a U.S. President.

In his First Inaugural Address, March 4, 1817, President James Monroe warned:

"What raised us to the present happy state?...

The Government has been in the hands of the people. To the people, therefore ... is the credit due ...

It is only when the people become ignorant and corrupt, when they degenerate into a populace, that they are incapable of exercising the sovereignty.

Usurpation is then an easy attainment, and an usurper soon found.

The people themselves become the willing instruments of their own debasement and ruin ..."

Monroe continued:

"If we persevere ... we can not fail, under the favor of a gracious Providence ...

My fervent prayers to the Almighty that He will be graciously pleased to continue to us that protection which He has already so conspicuously displayed in our favor."

When Muslim Barbary Pirates committed terrorist attacks, President James Monroe refused appeasement and instead deployed the U.S. Navy, as he stated, March 5, 1821:

"Our relations with the Barbary Powers are preserved ... by the same means that were employed when I came into this office.

As early as 1801 it was found necessary to send a squadron into the Mediterranean for the protection of our commerce."

In his 5th Annual Message, December 3, 1821, President James Monroe reiterated:

"A squadron has been maintained in the Mediterranean, by means whereof peace has been preserved with the Barbary Powers ...

From past experience ... it is distinctly understood that should our squadron be withdrawn they would soon recommence their hostilities and depredations upon our commerce."

President Monroe, with the U.S. Congress, ordered a city to be founded in 1823 in honor of Commodore Stephen Decatur - the city is Decatur, Alabama.

Stephen Decatur was the renowned U.S. Naval officer who helped force the Muslim pirates to surrender, thus ending the Barbary Wars.

In his First Annual Message, December 2 1817, President James Monroe stated:

"In grateful acknowledgments to that Omnipotent Being ... in unceasing prayer that He will endow us with virtue and strength."

On November 16, 1818, in his 2nd Annual Message, President Monroe stated:

"For these inestimable blessings we can not but be grateful to that Providence which watches over the destiny of nations ...

When we view the blessings with which our country has been favored ...

Let us then, unite in offering our most grateful acknowledgments for these blessings to the Divine Author of All Good."

On November 14, 1820, in his 4th Annual Message, President Monroe stated:

"When ... we take into view the prosperous and happy condition of our country ... it is impossible to behold ... without being penetrated with the most profound and grateful acknowledgments to the Supreme Author of All Good for such manifold and inestimable blessings ...

especially ... our most excellent system of government, the powerful instrument in the hands of our All-merciful Creator in securing to us these blessings."

On March 5, 1821, in his 2nd Inaugural Address, President Monroe stated:

"The liberty, prosperity, and happiness of our country will always be the object of my most fervent prayers to the Supreme Author of All Good ...

With a firm reliance on the protection of Almighty God."

On December 3, 1821, in his 5th Annual Message, Monroe stated:

"Deeply impressed with the blessings which we enjoy ... my mind is irresistibly drawn to that Almighty Being, the great source from whence they proceed and to whom our most grateful acknowledgments are due."

James Monroe, who was a member of the Episcopalian Church, admonished:

"The establishment of our institutions forms the most important epoch that history hath recorded ...

To preserve and hand them down in their utmost purity to the remotest ages will require the existence and practice of the virtues and talents equal to those which were displayed in acquiring them."

James Monroe wrote (James Monroe Papers, New York Public Library, Miscellaneous Papers and Undated Letters):

"Of the liberty of conscience in matters of religious faith, of speech and of the press; of the trial by jury; ... of the benefit of the writ of habeas corpus; of the right to keep and bear arms ...

If these rights are ... secured against encroachments, it is impossible that government should ever degenerate into tyranny."

Monroe died July 4, 1831, being the third President to die on July 4th, following Jefferson and Adams in 1826.

On December 7, 1824, in his 8th Annual Message, President James Monroe stated:

"For these blessings we owe to Almighty God, from whom we derive them, and with profound reverence, our most grateful and unceasing acknowledgments ...

Having commenced my service in early youth, and continued it since with few and short intervals, I have witnessed the great difficulties to which our Union has been exposed, and admired the virtue and intelligence with which they have been surmounted ...

That these blessings may be preserved and perpetuated will be the object of my fervent and unceasing prayers to the Supreme Ruler of the Universe."