James Monroe

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The best form of government is that which is most likely to prevent the greatest sum of evil.

James Monroe (April 28, 1758July 4, 1831) was an American statesman, lawyer, diplomat and Founding Father who served as the 5th president of the United States from 1817 to 1825. A member of the Democratic-Republican Party, Monroe was the last president of the Virginia dynasty and the Republican Generation; his presidency coincided with the Era of Good Feelings, concluding the First Party System era of American politics. He is perhaps best known for issuing the Monroe Doctrine, a policy of opposing European colonialism in the Americas while effectively asserting U.S. dominance, empire, and hegemony in the hemisphere. He also served as governor of Virginia, a member of the United States Senate, U.S. ambassador to France and Britain, the 7th Secretary of State, and the 8th Secretary of War.


  • I do therefore recommend the third Thursday in August next, as a convenient day to be set apart for the devout purposes of rendering to the Sovereign of the Universe and the Benefactor of mankind, the public homage due to his holy attributes; of acknowledging the transgressions which might justly provoke the manifestations of His divine displeasures; of seeking His merciful forgiveness, His assistance in the great duties of repentance and amendment; and especially of offering fervent supplications, that in the present season of calamity and war, He would take the American People under his peculiar care and protection; that he would guide their public councils, animate their patriotism, and bestow His blessing on their arms; that He would inspire all nations with a love of justice and of concord, and with a reverence for the unerring precept of our holy religion, to do to others as they would require others to do to them; and finally, that, turning the hearts of our enemies from the violence and injustice which sway their councils against us, He would hasten a restoration of the blessings of Peace.
  • It is only when the people become ignorant and corrupt, when they degenerate into a populace, that they are incapable of exercising their 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.
  • National honor is the national property of the highest value.
    • First Inaugural Address (4 March 1817)
  • Preservation, improvement, and civilization of the native inhabitants. The Hunter state can exist only in the vast uncultivated desert. It yields to the more dense compact form of and greater force of civilized population; and of right it ought to yield, for the earth was given to mankind to support the greatest number of which it is capable, and no tribe or people have a right to withhold from the wants of others more then is necessary for their own support and comfort.
    • Message to Congress (1817)
  • The mention of Greece fills the mind with the most exalted sentiments and arouses in our bosoms the best feelings of which our nature is capable.
    • Message to Congress (December 1822)
  • Our relation to Europe, is pretty much the same, as it was in the commencement of the French Revolution. Can we, in any form, take a bolder attitude in regard to it, in favor of liberty, than we then did? Can we afford greater aid to that cause, by assuming any such attitude, than we do now, by the form of our example?
    • Letter to Thomas Jefferson (1822)
  • What was the origin of our slave population? The evil commenced when we were in our Colonial state, but acts were passed by our Colonial Legislature, prohibiting the importation, of more slaves, into the Colony. These were rejected by the Crown. We declared our independence, and the prohibition of a further importation was among the first acts of state sovereignty. Virginia was the first state which instructed her delegates to declare the colonies independent. She braved all dangers. From Quebec to Boston, and from Boston to Savannah, Virginia shed the blood of her sons. No imputation then can be cast upon her in this matter. She did all that was in her power to do, to prevent the extension of slavery, and to mitigate its evils.

The Monroe Doctrine (2 December 1823)[edit]

  • In the wars of the European powers in matters relating to themselves we have never taken any part, nor does it comport with our policy so to do.
  • We owe it, therefore, to candor and to the amicable relations existing between the United States and those powers to declare that we should consider any attempt on their part to extend their system to any portion of this hemisphere as dangerous to our peace and safety. With the existing colonies or dependencies of any European power we have not interfered and shall not interfere. But with the Governments who have declared their independence and maintain it, and whose independence we have, on great consideration and on just principles, acknowledged, we could not view any interposition for the purpose of oppressing them, or controlling in any other manner their destiny, by any European power in any other light than as the manifestation of an unfriendly disposition toward the United States.

Quotes about Monroe[edit]

  • The President while not believing it would come to war, was prepared to defend South American Liberty.
  • A plot by slaves to march on Richmond, Virginia, in 1800, the so-called Gabriel Uprising named after its lead slave, was described by then-governor James Monroe as "strange" and blamed on the French Revolution and the Hispaniola slave uprising from a few years earlier. In other words, the future president and creator of the Monroe Doctrine, which vowed to fight against outsiders trying to meddle in our hemisphere, suddenly found these outsiders useful to explain slave unrest in his own state. Blaming the French Revolution and the slave rebellion in Hispaniola is Monroe's version of blaming Marilyn Manson and violent video games. The Gabriel Uprising was finally "put down" when twenty-seven slaves were publicly hanged. The awful truth about the Gabriel Uprising is that no one even knows if a real plot existed. In fact, it probably didn't. But fear of an uprising was real, particularly among a population that refused to face the real cause. Indeed, the intense fear of insurrection seems to match the intensity of the collective denial about its cause.
    • Mark Ames, Going Postal: Rage, Murder and Rebellion: From Reagan's Workplaces to Clinton's Columbine and Beyond (2005), p. 46
  • In 1824, James Monroe stated, "There is no object which as a people we can desire which we do not possess or which is not within our reach." Here we can see the tension identified by Kotef as well as Hardt and Negri-a conception of sovereignty as "an open, expansive project operating on unbounded terrain" that exists alongside a "fantasy of closure and enclosure," involving "clearly demarcated territory, sealed within a border, which is a container of the people." Here we see that for certain subjects, movement is a manifestation of liberty that should be maximized. While for others, movement is something that must be tightly managed and regulated.
    • Cristina Beltrán Cruelty as Citizenship: How Migrant Suffering Sustains White Democracy (2020) p 39
  • The British Government under Canning offered to co-operate with the United States in stopping the extension of this threatening principle of intervention to the New World. Britain announced that she recognised the sovereignty of the Latin republics in South America. Meanwhile President Monroe acted independently and issued his message to Congress proclaiming the principles later known as the Monroe Doctrine. This famous Doctrine, as has been related, was at once a warning against interference on the part of any European Powers in the New World and a statement of the intention of America to play no part in European politics. With this valedictory message America concentrated upon her own affairs. A new generation of politicians was rising. The old veterans, of the days of the Constitution had most of them vanished from the scene, though Jefferson and Madison lingered on in graceful retirement in their Virginian homes.
    • Winston Churchill, A History of the English-Speaking Peoples Volume IV: The Great Democracies (1958), p. 102
  • Monroe's greatest asset was his disarming, warm personality. Although conceding that Monroe lacked brilliance and a nimble mind, biographer Harry Ammon pointed out that he "had a rare ability of putting men at ease by his courtesy, his lack of condescension, his frankness, and by what his contemporaries looked upon as his essential goodness and kindness of heart." Monroe at least partially overcame an early shyness but remained markedly low-key and reserved, especially among strangers. Acutely sensitive to criticism, he at times took offense where none was intended. Rather than lash back at his critics, however, he usually bottled up his feelings. "Operating as he did with such an elevated sense of his own integrity," Ammon has written, "he could not easily adjust when old friends failed to approve his conduct."
    • William A. DeGregorio, The Complete Book of U.S. Presidents (1984), p. 73
  • In 1801, President Jefferson aptly described the new settler-state's intentions for horizontal and vertical continental expansion, stating: "However our present interests may restrain us within our own limits, it is impossible not to look forward to distant times, when our rapid multiplication will expand itself beyond those limits and cover the whole northern, if not the southern continent, with a people speaking the same language, governed in similar form by similar laws." This vision of manifest destiny found form a few years later in the Monroe Doctrine, signaling the intention of annexing or dominating former Spanish colonial territories in the Americas and the Pacific, which would be put into practice during the rest of the century.

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