James Monroe was the last of the Founding Fathers, fighting and bleeding in the American Revolution and then devoting the next forty years of his life to serving the nation. He assumed more public posts than any American in history – congressman, senator, ambassador, four-term governor of Virginia, Secretary of State, Secretary of War and, finally, America’s fifth president for two successive terms. Almost as beloved as Washington, Monroe was the only president to win election without opposition.
Monroe’s beautiful wife Elizabeth was as courageous a patriot as her husband. When her husband was American ambassador to France, Elizabeth rode through the mobs to the Paris prison to win the release of Lafayette’s wife, saving her and her children from death on the guillotine. The first First Lady to live in the White House after the British had burned it in the War of 1812, Elizabeth Monroe refurbished and refurnished the interior, turning it into the glittering American Mansion we know today.
James Monroe climaxed his presidency by issuing the most important American manifesto after the Declaration of Independence: the Monroe Doctrine. Unprecedented in world history, Monroe unilaterally extended America’s sphere of influence over one-third of the globe, warning that the United States would no longer permit foreign incursions in the Americas. He told the world’s nations they would profit more by trading with the Americas than trying to conquer them. In effect, he reiterated the words of the coiled rattlesnake on the Virginia flag he carried into battle in the Revolutionary War: “Don’t Tread on Me!”
About the author: Harlow Unger is the author of The Last Founding Father: James Monroe and a Nation’s Call to Greatness (Da Capo Press).