James Monroe: Made in the Revolution

It's easy to understand why Monroe was more of a national security president than his predecessors. He had fought as a young man in the Revolutionary War and had a very real perspective on the need for the nation to protect itself from foreign invaders.

Adams, Jefferson and Madison had their philosophy and had been the intellectual foundation of the country and it's system of checks and balances and general idea of what it was to be, but Monroe had a personal appreciation for the value of a strong military and the price paid in gold and treasure for becoming embroiled in foreign affairs.

Monroe like most of the Revolutionaries would be something of a radical in his early years and came to strive for security in his later years.

To me, he's immortalized in the painting of Washington Crossing the Delaware (he's holding the flag on the boat going through the icy waters)


James Monroe: The Monroe Doctrine

I've heard the phrase 'Monroe Doctrine' many times before reading about James Monroe, but never had a full understanding of what it meant.

In the political climate of the Cold War in the twentieth century or the current War on Terror, it was usually thrown out there to indicate the the US has a precedent for proactively attacking forces hostile to it to defend its interests.

In the Cold War, it was often used to justify invading countries that could be overthrown by our Soviet Rivals. In the War on Terror, it's been used by the Bush administration to justify overthrowing the Iraqi government to prevent that country from potentially harboring terrorist elements.

This isn't a value statement on the Cold War or the War on Terror, that's for another post, but it should be noted, that both these representations of the Monroe Doctrine are completely misguided.

The Monroe Doctrine was essentially a belief that Old World powers were no longer to be accepted in North America with the exception of British Canada. At the same time, it was a belief that America should not meddle in European affairs and wars of intrigue.

This policy of self defense at home and neutrality in abroad is the opposite from proactively attacking those hostile to us abroad that characterized the Cold War and the current War on Terror.

The Monroe Doctrine fit perfectly with protecting a still ascendant but not yet world power of America from the disastrous European wars that were tearing apart the continent and threatened to undermine our sovereignty. It was not a policy of American imposing its will on the world to protect its interests and was implemented at a time when very recently our Capital had been in flames.


James Monroe: Era of Good Feelings

Monroe was the fourth president to come from the Old Dominion state and the third in a row after Jefferson and Madison.

The country up until this time was very much regionally defined, politicians were expected to be loyal to their fellow Virginians and Monroe was no exception. As most Americans, Monroe idealized Washington who by his time had become an almost mythical figure, his mentor was Jefferson whom he studied law under and Madison was at different times was a friend and a rival.

He came to power in the midst of the War of 1812 after serving as Secretary of State in the Madison administration. Up until this point, the Secretary of State was normal successor to the current President. Jefferson, Madison and Monroe had all served in the post.

Monroe appointed John Quincy Adams of Massachusetts, signaling a major change in the regional factionalism that had defined politics up until that point.

It should be noted that John Quincy Adams actually did become President after Monroe, continuing the normal path to succession. Much is written about the era of good feelings (reduction in Partisan politics) occurring around the time of Monroe's Presidency, but I believe not enough credit is given to him personally for helping to usher in this era through his cabinet appointment of a northeasterner.


James Monroe: Practical Man for Practical Times

Up until Monroe, with the exception of Washington, the presidents tended to be more philosophical than practical.

Adams, Jefferson and Madison had all had an aversion to doing the necessary things to strengthen America's ability to defend itself.

For Adams, the country was still very much new and he had more pressing and basic things to put in place before he could think about warding off the great powers of Europe. The best he could really hope for was coexistence with the great powers of the world insofar as they would not invade the United States.

Jefferson's reason for not strengthening the military were more philosophical than the reasons John Adams had. He was a Republican in the old sense and believed in militias over professional standing armies. He feared that by creating a 'standing army', America would grow imperial ambitions and would come to be ruled by the Army and not the people.

Madison's reasons for not taking the necessary steps for increasing America's security position in the world earlier were more puzzling. He shared some of the philosophical sentiments with Jefferson on skepticism of a huge military, but he also was a co author of 'The Federalist', a publication that argued for the adoption of a National Constitution and pointed out the weaknesses of regional militias in times of war. The War of 1812 with Britain was plagued with 'faulty intelligence' and reports it would be a 'slam dunk', so that could be a reason resources weren't poured into strengthening the military sooner.

When Monroe came in, he had a clear vision for a national army and the ability to support America's desire to keep foreign governments out of the western hemisphere with action.