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James Monroe

5th President - 1817-1825


The continuing growth of the domestic economy – combined with satisfaction at the perceived "victory" over the British, led to the Monroe era being known as "The Era of Good Feelings". Monroe himself was sturdy and charismatic, and, as the last major political figure to have fought in the war of independence (hence the "Last Cocked Hat" nickname), he proved a popular president; his popularity even survived a serious recession in 1819. In 1820 he was re-elected with all but one of the electoral college votes.

Apart from his purchase from Spain of the rest of Florida in 1819, he is best-known for the Monroe Doctrine, which he articulated in 1823 in response to fears that the European powers would help Spain to reconquer her former colonies in South America. "The American continents," he stated, "by the free and independent condition which they have assumed and maintain, are henceforth not to be considered as subjects for future colonisation by any European Power."

He also signed the Missouri Compromise (1820), whereby the balance between slave and non-slave states was maintained despite the admission of Missouri to the Union and the 36°30' parallel was established as the boundary above which slavery would not be permitted.

He oversaw the lavish refurbishment of the White House (burnt in 1814), helped by a $50,000 grant from Congress. But the budget ran out of control, as did Monroe's personal finances; and the two became unfortunately mixed. Monroe remained in financial dispute with Congress for much of the rest of his life. He was $75,000 in debt when he left office, went to live with his daughter, and died a virtual pauper in 1831. But he did choose (like Adams and Jefferson before him) an auspicious date on which to die: 4 July.

In his own words

"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 than is necessary for their own support and comfort."

In others' words

"A man whose soul might be turned wrong side outwards without discovering a blemish to the world."

Thomas Jefferson

"Naturally dull and stupid; extremely illiterate; indecisive to a degree that would be incredible to one who did not know him; pusillanimous, and of course hypocritical... and will always be under the government of the worst of men." Aaron Burr


Monroe once chased William Crawford, Secretary of the Treasury, from the White House, while brandishing a pair of fire tongs.

At a dinner for foreign dignitaries, he broke up a duel between the French and British ministers by stepping between them with his own sword.