James Monroe & American Foreign Policy

A peaceful presidency. Over-shadowed by his predecessors. A quiet, determined man. These are words I use to describe the Virginian holding the executive office between the years 1817 and 1825. James Monroe, the 5th President of the United States.

James Monroe (Public Domain image)

James Monroe (Public Domain image)

Highlights of Monroe’s Presidency

James Monroe held office during “the era of good feelings” in American history. It was a time of prosperity –  the national government was running smoothly, three years before America had once again asserted the right to be free by winning the War of 1812 (fought between 1812-1814) against Great Britain, and pioneers where beginning to look toward the western territories for new lands to explore.

Probably the most memorable event of Monroe’s presidency was the Monroe Doctrine in 1823, which laid the foundation of American Foreign Policy. During this period of American history, neutrality was the widely accepted view on foreign affairs. (Note: the author is not promoting any political views, simply sharing the historical facts; everyone will have their own opinion on political policies and topics). However, the Monroe Doctrine, although fitting into the popular neutrality ideas, laid an important precedent. It stated that European nations could not colonize or interfere in political affairs of the nations in the Western Hemisphere. The doctrine was prompted by South American countries declaring their independence and the United States wishing to preserve the independence of all former European colonies. It was like saying (very nicely, of course) “European Countries: Stay Out! You have the Old World; the New World wants independence.” Although it was fortunate none of the European powers decided to seriously test the United States’ strength on this doctrine, it set a precedent that later presidents upheld.

James Monroe’s Legacy

This is my personal opinion here. (Take it, or leave it, as you like…) Although Monroe did not “break-out” of the neutrality mentality of American foreign policy during his era, his doctrine was the framework for the United States to later step into the world as a power. The Monroe Doctrine said, “Stop, don’t come here; we’re protecting something.”

Later, in American history, we see American leaders (political and military) stepping forward to defend a nation, people group, or area.

Therefore, although the Monroe Doctrine was a message to keep European nations out of the Americas, it was also one of the first times, the United States sent a clear message to the world about where we stood and what we would defend.

Inspirational Quotes by James Monroe

“The right of self-defense never ceases. It is among the most sacred, and alike necessary to nations and to individuals.” James Monroe, 2nd Annual Message to Congress, November 16, 1818

“A virtuous people may and will confine themselves within the limit of a strict neutrality, but it is not in their power to behold a conflict so vitally important to their neighbors without the sensibility and sympathy which naturally belong to such a case.” James Monroe, 3rd Annual Message to Congress, December 7, 1819

“Great calamities make appeals to the benevolence of mankind, which ought not to be resisted. Good offices in such emergencies exalt the character of the party rendering them. By exciting grateful feelings, they soften the intercourse between nations, and tend to prevent war.” James Monroe, Message to Congress, May 4, 1822

Why I Like James Monroe

Once upon a time I was in Charlottesville, Virginia. I’d visited Monticello (Thomas Jefferson’s home) and then took a little drive down the country road to a place called Ash Lawn Highland. Having seen the grandeur of Monticello, I’m not exactly sure what I expected at Ash Lawn, but it certainly wasn’t what I saw: a simple, quaint country house. And I loved it!

Ash Lawn Highland

Ash Lawn Highland

I toured the home and learned a lot about the Monroe family. I appreciated the humble home and the stories of the devoted family. Even now, several years later, I clearly remember the peaceful, comfortable feeling at Ash Lawn. It was truly the feeling of “common citizen.”

I think many people tend to overlook James Monroe; his presidency was comparatively uneventful: no war, no crisis, no great drama on the world stage. However, when I think about James Monroe, I’m reminded of the American ideal – that a common citizen can lead a nation. This is not a place where royal blood guarantees power. James Monroe served his nation during the War for Independence and during the formative years of the American government; he served quietly, responsibly, and was greatly respected.

Monroe Statue at Ash Lawn Highland

Monroe Statue at Ash Lawn Highland

In later decades, people remembered James Monroe’s presidency as an “era of good feelings”…a time when Americans prospered in safety with a humble, quiet, yet decisive man in the executive office.

Your Historian,

Miss Sarah

P.S. What do you think about precedent of the Monroe Doctrine? Leave a comment.

Don’t forget to the check the Facebook Page for additional information about James Monroe and other presidents.

And…lastly…there’s Civil War Living History at the Lincoln Memorial Shrine. See ya’ll there?

11 thoughts on “James Monroe & American Foreign Policy

  1. Hey Sarah,
    While I tend to agree with you that Monroe was an excellent president that is often overlooked by history (he was actually almost unanimously reelected president and only had one dissenting vote because that electoral college member felt that the legacy of unanimity ought to be reserved for George Washington alone), I disagree to an extent regarding the Monroe Doctrine. Although it bears Monroe’s name it was really the brainchild of John Quincy Adams who in many ways was one of the best policy minds of his times and who is largely overshadowed because of the feud he had with Andrew Jackson. Monroe was certainly an intelligent man but he was more of an intellectual than an administrator.

    • Thank you for pointing out the details of Monroe’s re-election.

      I am aware that John Quincy Adams suggested the Monroe Doctrine and that James Monroe basically used the exact wording suggested by Adams. Perhaps I should have been more clear on this topic.

      However, I find it significant that Monroe actually put forth the document. He took good advice, made a decision, and acted upon what he believed right.

      Maybe an additional principle here is to listen to wise council of those around you…like Monroe taking Adam’s advice.

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