James Monroe , U.S. Governor, Government Official, Diplomat, Military Leader, U.S. Representative, U.S. President (1758–1831)
“It is only when the people become ignorant and corrupt, when they degenerate into a populace, that they are incapable of exercising their sovereignty.”
“The public lands are a public stock, which ought to be disposed of to the best advantage for the nation.”
“Never did a government commence under auspices so favorable, nor ever was success so complete.”
Born on April 28, 1758, in Westmoreland County, Virginia, James Monroe fought under George Washington and studied law with Thomas Jefferson. He was elected the fifth president of the United States in 1817. He is remembered for the Monroe Doctrine, as well as for expanding U.S territory via the acquisition of Florida from Spain. Monroe, who died in 1831, was the last of the Founding Fathers.
James Monroe was the last American president of the "Virginia Dynasty," so named because four of the first five presidents were from Virginia. He was born on April 28, 1758, in Westmoreland County, Virginia, to Spence Monroe and Elizabeth Jones Monroe. Spence was a moderately prosperous planter and carpenter whose family emigrated from Scotland in the mid-1600s. First tutored by his mother at home, James attended Campbelltown Academy between 1769 and 1774, and was an excellent student.
As the eldest of several children, James was expected to inherit his father's estate, but the events of 1774 turned his life in new directions. His father died that year, and young James soon enrolled at Virginia's College of William & Mary with intentions of studying law, but dropped out just months later to fight in the American Revolution. His first act of rebellion was to join several classmates and raid the arsenal of the British royal governor, escaping with weapons and supplies that they turned over to the Virginia militia. He soon joined the Continental Army, becoming an officer in 1776, and was part of General George Washington's army at the Battle of Trenton, where he was severely wounded.
Political Career Beginnings
After the war, James Monroe studied law under the tutorage of Thomas Jefferson, beginning a life-long personal and professional relationship. In 1782, he was elected to the Virginia House of Delegates, and from 1783 to 1786, he served in the Continental Congress, then meeting in New York. While there, he met and courted Elizabeth Kortright, the daughter of a prosperous New York merchant. The couple married on February 16, 1786, and moved to Fredericksburg, Virginia. Monroe proved to not be as successful a farmer as his father and, in time, sold his property to practice law and enter politics.
After the 1787 Federal Convention, Monroe initially joined the anti-Federalists in opposing ratification of the new constitution because it lacked a bill of rights. However, he and several key figures withheld their reservations and vowed to push for changes after the new government was established. Virginia narrowly ratified the Constitution, paving the way for a new government.
In 1790, James Monroe ran for a House seat but was defeated by James Madison. Monroe was quickly elected by the Virginia legislature as a United States senator, and soon joined the Democratic-Republican faction led by Jefferson and Madison opposing the Federalist policies of Vice President John Adams and Secretary of the Treasury Alexander Hamilton. Within a year of his election, Monroe rose to become his party's leader in the Senate.