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Life & Contributions

James Monroe was the last of the Founding Fathers to be president and the last of the so-called Virginia dynasty, for, like Presidents George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and James Madison, he was from Virginia. As a young man he joined the Continental Army under General Washington’s command. He then studied law under Jefferson and, elected to the Confederation Congress, began a long career in public service. Monroe was a member of the Virginia convention that ratified the Constitution and subsequently served as a senator from Virginia.

Monroe’s diplomatic service began in 1794, when Washington appointed him minister to France. He arrived in Paris just after the Reign of Terror ended, the most radical phase of French Revolution. There he helped secure the release from prison of Thomas Paine, whose Common Sense had called for American independence, and of the wife of the Marquis de Lafayette, who had aided its cause. In a second assignment to France, Monroe helped negotiate the purchase of Louisiana in 1803. Next he was sent to London, to serve as minister to Great Britain. His years of diplomatic service were marked by a series of international threats to the new republic. As secretary of state in Madison’s administration, Monroe recognized that another war — to end British interference with U.S. commerce on the high seas — was necessary, and during the War of 1812 he took on the added position of acting secretary of war.

Elected president in 1816, Monroe had the good fortune to preside over what was called the Era of Good Feelings. The successful conclusion of the war prompted an outburst of patriotism and an end to the partisan divisions that had preceded it. With his secretary of state, John Quincy Adams, Monroe negotiated the acquisition of Florida from Spain and announced the Monroe Doctrine, which warned European powers to stay out of the Western hemisphere.

Monroe died on July 4, Independence Day, just as Presidents Jefferson and John Adams had before him. He was the last of their generation — the last of the presidents to wear knee-breeches in the White House.

Related Objects

Portrait of James Monroe, 7th Secretary of State under James Madison

Portrait of James Monroe, 7th Secretary of State under James Madison

Stapko, Casimir Gregory
1949
oil on canvas
James Monroe's American Classical Mahogany Side Chair

James Monroe's American Classical Mahogany Side Chair

Unknown
ca. 1815-1825
wood; mahogany; ash
Portrait Bust of James Monroe

Portrait Bust of James Monroe

Sully, Thomas
1829
oil on canvas mounted on board, in the original gilt frame
James Monroe's Silver Coffee Urn Presented to Captain Edward Howe

James Monroe's Silver Coffee Urn Presented to Captain Edward Howe

Unknown
ca. 1808
metal; silver
Paris Porcelain Dessert Plate from James Madison's Service

Paris Porcelain Dessert Plate from James Madison's Service

Dagoty
ca. 1805
ceramic; porcelain
James Monroe Coppered Bronze Indian Peace Medal [Julian IP-9]

James Monroe Coppered Bronze Indian Peace Medal [Julian IP-9]

Fuerst, Moritz
1817-1825
metal; coppered bronze