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James Monroe: Impact and Legacy

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James Monroe came to the presidency as one of the most qualified men ever to assume the office. His resume included service in the Revolutionary War, the Continental Congress, and the U.S. Senate. Monroe also served as governor of Virginia, filled numerous diplomatic posts, and held two cabinet appointments. His success as a politician was the result of hard work and a steady and thoughtful manner. He was noted for his integrity, frankness, and affable personality, and he impressed those whom he met with his lack of pretension. As President, Monroe saw the country through a transition period in which it turned away from European affairs and toward U.S. domestic issues.

During the negotiations that resulted in the Missouri Compromise, his adroit backstage maneuverings help the country avoid a sectional crisis. His administration had a number of successes in foreign affairs, including the acquisition of Florida, the settlement of boundary issues with Britain, and the fashioning of the Monroe Doctrine. The President's relationship with his secretary of state, John Quincy Adams, was vital in each of these cases. The two men had a respect and admiration for each other that led to a successful working rapport. In fact, Monroe had an ability to assemble great minds and then allow them the freedom to work. Scholars have long regarded his cabinet as an exceptionally strong one.

As President, Monroe occasionally suffers from comparison to the other members of the Virginia Dynasty—George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and James Madison. Indeed, he was not a renaissance man like Jefferson; his overwhelming interest and passion was politics. But he was a deliberate thinker and had the ability to look at issues from all sides, encouraging debate from his advisers. President Monroe was a great advocate of nationalism and reached out to all the regions of the country. In foreign policy, he put the nation on an independent course, no longer tied to the mast of European policy. Although the nation would have to wait until Andrew Jackson (1829-1837) to see a significant increase in presidential power over domestic affairs, Monroe's aggressive and successful conduct of foreign policy undoubtedly strengthened the presidency itself.

Citation Information

Consulting Editor

Daniel Preston

Dr. Preston is the editor of The Papers of James Monroe at the University of Mary Washington. The first two volumes in that eight-volume series have been published by Greenwood Press.