James Monroe:The Quest for National Identity by Harry Ammon

Category : History
Pages : 706

James Monroe was the last of the Revolutionary Presidents. He served the United States during the War of Independence being wounded while scouting for the Battle of Trenton, and during Washington's administration served in the US Senate and State Department. He represented the United States in France and Spain as he continued his diplomatic career (assisting in the negotiations regarding the Louisiana Purchase). He was also the Governor of Virginia and during the Madison Administration served as both the Secretary of State and the Secretary of War. With his election to the Presidency, Monroe's political career was complete.

Monroe was a very analytical man, who gathered all the information available before making momentous decisions. He regularly held meetings with all of his advisors (Cabinet members) and then would reflect on their viewpoints and analyze the ramifications of the proposed actions.Perception was that Monroe was indecisive, however, it appears that he mainly used a delaying tacit to allow time for others to arrive at the same conclusions. He preferred unanimity within his Cabinet.It was also assumed that because of John Quincy Adams' extensive diplomatic experience that Monroe allowed him to set the foreign policy, but it is shown in Adams' diaries that Monroe controlled the foreign policy and the direction of proposed discussions with foreign ministers of the time. One must remember that he too had diplomatic experience and had served 8 years as the Secretary of State.

Monroe questioned himself and wrote to Jefferson" Was it not proper for the US to encourage nations seeking their freedom while condemning those seeking to deprive others of their liberty?"

Monroe made the conscious decision that it was time for the United States to take a bolder stand on the international front and in 1823 during his annual "State of the Union" address, revealed several paragraphs which stated that
1) "the occasion has been judged proper for asserting, as a principle in which the rights and interest of the United States are involved, that the American continents, by the free and independent condition which they have assumed and maintain, are henceforth not to be considered as the subjects for future colonization by any European powers." and
2) "We owe therefore, to candor and to the amicable relations existing between the United States and those powers to declare that we should consider any attempt on their part to extend their system to any portion of this hemisphere as dangerous to our peace and safety."
At the time, it was referred to as the "American System". Now we know it as the Monroe Doctrine. This moral standing had no "imperial mission" behind it but served notice to all the nations of the world that the Americas were not to trifled with.

This is a very detailed biography of the 5th President. The author makes every effort to inform the reader of the accomplishments of the man as well as show his shortcomings.

On a personal note, I was not particular impressed with Monroe until I realized all that he had been through and accomplished in his lifetime. He reminds me a good deal of Washington in that he felt that the Constitution was to be adhered to fanatically and that the good of the Nation was more important than the good of his party. I was unaware that the "Monroe Doctrine" was actually part of the annual address to Congress in 1823. It was not a separate document but several separate paragraphs in his State of Union address and yet made such a definitive statement that it still serves as part of the United States foreign policy standards. It is sad that this man who put forth the policy that "protected" the Americas also was partially responsible for the Missouri Compromise that put us on the road to war.

How ironic, that the last of the Revolutionary Presidents also died on the 4th of July.

1 comment:

Eva said...

I'm impressed you read that long of a book on one president! :) I don't think I'd have the attention span.