Monroe: A Decent Man
Commentator Thea Marshall celebrates the 252nd birthday of Northern Neck native son, James Monroe. Monroe, the last of our early presidents to have been born in Virginia, was both popular and underrated, and his two terms have become known for idealism and integrty.
It’s been said by some historians that the man considered to have been the most qualified in his time to become President has been the most underrated. He was a Northern Neck native son. Other than George Washington he was the only early patriot who would become president to have fought in the Revolutionary War. And he was the last of our early Presidents who have been born in Virginia.
He was James Monroe, born in Westmoreland County in the Northern Neck, where folks will celebrate his 252nd birthday this coming Saturday, April 24th, at the annual James Monroe Day ceremonies at the James Monroe birthplace in Colonial Beach.
Many of Monroe’s achievements during his presidency are well known. Some, not so. Here are a few: Congress decided on 13 as the number of stripes on the flag representing the original colonies; the boundary between Canada and the United States was fixed at the 49th parallel; Spain ceded Florida to the United States in exchange for the cancellation of a five million dollar debt.
By the end of his first term, scholars tell us, Monroe’s administration was well-known for its idealism and integrity, his personal popularity was at an all-time high, so high that running for his second term was a cakewalk. He carried every state and received every electoral vote except one, cast by a New Hampshire elector for John Quincy Adams.
In spite of his enormous popularity, he did have an especially virulent enemy, Aaron Burr. According to historians, Monroe was merely one of many on Burrs enemy list. Why? Well, some historians believe that Burr had come to a time in his life when he seemed to have hated and distrusted just about everyone.
President James Monroe is probably most remembered for the Monroe Doctrine, the doctrine that proclaimed that foreign powers were no longer to colonize or interfere with the affairs of our newly-independent nation.
The subject of slavery and early Presidents’ attitudes towards has to be addressed. Harry Ammon, who was a noted Monroe scholar, has said that Monroe and the others had two views on slavery. Well, they were at odds with each other: a public view for the reduction of slavery and a private world that depended on it. Monroe was a supporter of colonization for freed American slaves, and he was honored for this when the capitol of Liberia, Monrovia, was named for him. It’s probable that Monroe was as tormented by the slavery issue as were the Presidents who preceded him, because he was first and foremost a decent man. Thomas Jefferson said of him, “Monroe was so honest that if you turned his soul inside out there’d not be a spot on it.”
This is Thea Marshall.