President James Monroe       

Dennis Bigelow, interpreter of 

The Founding Father Nobody Knows

    "A Better Man There Cannot Be," 

                                             Thomas Jefferson to James Madison of James Monroe


James Monroe’s life intertwined that of his neighbors Thomas Jefferson and James Madison for nearly 50 years. He was gravely wounded in the seven year struggle to secure Jefferson's Declaration of Independence and received a citation for valor from George Washington.  In 1788 he pressed James Madison to make the "Bill of Rights" an integral part of the Constitution.  A quarter of a century later he became President Madison's closest supporter, at one point serving simultaneously as Secretaries of State and War in America's "second war for independence," the War of 1812.  In 1803, Monroe was President Jefferson's lead negotiator in Paris for the purchase of Louisiana, which doubled the size of America, making it the largest acquisition of territory in modern history without resort to war.  To repeat, President John Quincy Adams said, “ the Louisiana Purchase was next in importance in the history of the United States after the Declaration of Independence and the adoption of the Constitution."  James Monroe is inseparable from the fulfillment of all three events.


President Monroe was the architect of our nation’s first comprehensive defense posture following the British destruction of Washington, D.C. in 1814.  The end of the War of 1812 paralleled the end of another, the first American-Moslem war with the Barbary States, 1801-1815.  After 25 years of world revolution and 75 years of global war, which never left the western hemisphere unaffected, Monroe was determined to build the defenses of the Republic.  He strengthened the army and Jefferson's initial conception of the U. S. Military Academy. He established a system of regional forts, secured our borders and effectively removed rival interests to America's continental destiny, thwarting the ambitions not only of the British, but the Spanish and Russians as well. 


The gravest danger of Monroe's presidency came from within during the 1819-1820 Missouri debates in Congress.  Monroe's quiet efforts were crucial in the passage of the Missouri Compromise of 1820, which blunted sectional strife, limited the spread of slavery and preserved the Union from war.  War, which Monroe, a wounded veteran, called "the sink for all cruelty and injustice," would eventually be the price of liberty for the enslaved.  Monroe purchased time for the Union to solidify and survive after which the children of his own slaves would taste freedom.


America's most politically seasoned president crowned his service to his country in December 1823 with the "third founding document" of the United States - after the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution -  the Monroe Doctrine, the bedrock of U.S. foreign policy for the protection of the western hemisphere.  In his seventh annual message to Congress he presented an advisory to hostile powers to beware of intrusion in the affairs of the Americas and for North Americans to exhibit restraint in internal matters of foreign countries, implicitly disavowing war not pressed upon us.  He brought to his message the virtue of years of experience in negotiation and conciliation without surrender of principle - diplomatic skills which conceivably could have prevented the War of 1812 if the Monroe - Pinkney Treaty of 1806, negotiated in London, had been ratified by the Senate. Thomas Jefferson deemed the negotiations with the British leading to the Monroe Doctrine "the most momentous contemplation since independence."  Sadly, the repeated violation of this doctrine by leaders at home and abroad would too often lead to disruption and war in the western hemisphere and throughout the world.



President James Monroe