James Monroe: The Fifth President (1817-1825)

An outgoing and friendly man from Virginia, President Monroe was also a Revolutionary War hero, former diplomat for George Washington, former law clerk for Thomas Jefferson, and James Madison's secretary of state during Madison's hight years as president. He was so popular that when he became president, he won 232 out of 233 possible electoral votes!


NICKNAME: The Last of the Cocked Hats

BIRTH: April 28, 1758; Westmoreland County, VA

DEATH: July 4, 1831; New York, NY


SPOUSE: Elizabeth Kortright (1768–1830)

VICE PRESIDENT: Daniel D. Tompkins of New York (1817–1825)

Early Days

James Monroe's father was a plantation owner who was also a skilled carpenter, and his mother was well educated, which was not very common at the time. Monroe and his four younger siblings lost their parents when Monroe was still young. His father died when young James was only sixteen! When James's parents died, he inherited all of his father's possessions (as was the custom of the time), but he also was expected to take responsibility for the care and education of his younger brothers and sisters.

Professional Career Before Becoming President

Monroe was only eighteen years old and a student at the College of William and Mary when the American Revolution started. He immediately left school and joined a regiment of Virginia volunteers, serving in the Continental army for the entire war. By the end of the war Monroe had been wounded at the battle of Trenton and was commended for his bravery. He left the army with the rank of major.

During the 1790s Monroe served first as a member of Congress and later as the American ambassador to France. When he returned to America in 1799, he was elected governor of Virginia (he served as governor twice, first from 1799 to 1802 and then again for eleven months in 1811). After Monroe's first term as governor of Virginia, President Thomas Jefferson sent him back to France where he helped negotiate the Louisiana Purchase.

Instead of coming home from France once the United States had bought the Louisiana Territory from the French, Monroe was sent to England to serve as the American ambassador there. He came home in 1807.

Monroe was secretary of state for President James Madison from 1811 to 1817. He also served as secretary of war from 1814 to 1815 (at the same time he was secretary of state).

Monroe's Presidency

President Madison chose James Monroe to be his successor — or the person who would become president after him. Madison was also a personal friend of former president Thomas Jefferson. He easily won the election in 1816, and the years that he was president (1817 to 1825) were called the Era of Good Feeling.

While James Monroe was president, the United States bought Florida from Spain and tried to buy Texas (also from Spain). In his State of the Union address, Monroe stated what we know today as the Monroe Doctrine, which said that European nations should not be allowed to get involved in the business of countries in our part of the world, the Western Hemisphere. The Monroe Doctrine has been very important ever since.

Another important event in Monroe's administration was the passage of the Compromise of 1820. Also known as the Missouri Compromise, this allowed slavery in some of America's newly acquired territories (southern ones) and banned it in others (northern ones).



On March 9, 1820, President Monroe's younger daughter Maria became the first White House bride. She was the first relative of a president to be married in what Americans then called the Executive Mansion. There have been many White House weddings since!

Retirement and Death

After his term of office ended in 1825, Monroe retired to his estate at Oak Hill, Virginia. His wife suffered from poor health and died there in 1830. Monroe could not bear to live on his estate without his wife, so he moved to New York City where he lived with his daughter Maria and her husband. He died there in 1831.

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