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James Monroe: American Statesman


Part 2: A Popular President

President James Madison named Monroe Secretary of State in 1812, and Monroe tried desperately to avoid war with Great Britain. When the war began, Monroe sought to command the army. Madison, however, convinced Monroe to stay on as Secretary of State. When the White House was burned in 1814, Monroe took over the job of Secretary of War as well. That year, the American army and navy won several important victories.

This success coupled with his tremendous political experience made Monroe an overwhelmingly popular candidate for the presidency in 1816. He won easily and ushered in the "Era of Good Feeling," a unique time in American history in which every facet of society was improving and expanding. The American people felt so good about the country's prosperity that Monroe won every state in his re-election bid. Out of respect for George Washington's unanimous elections, a New Hampshire elector voted for John Quincy Adams, giving Monroe 231 of 232 possible electoral votes.

Monroe's two terms in office were dominated by sectional politics. Henry Clay pushed his American System, an expansion of the federal government's powers over the settlement of the West. Monroe distrusted the American System and did what he could to block it. In 1818, Missouri applied to be admitted as a slave state. The resulting political battle between North and South was stopped by the Missouri Compromise, which said Missouri could be a slave state but that slavery would be outlawed in the rest of the Louisiana Territory.

Monroe's greatest successes were in foreign policy. First and foremost was the Monroe Doctrine, a presidential proclamation declaring that other countries in the Western Hemisphere were under the protection of the United States. This discouraged European powers from interfering in the new governments of several Latin American countries. Monroe also concluded treaties with Britain, Spain, and Russia for setting boundaries from Oregon to Minnesota. Lastly, Monroe sent Andrew Jackson, hero of the War of 1812 Battle of New Orleans, into Florida to secure that territory from the Spanish. Jackson was successful, and the whole of Florida became American for a price of $5 million.

James Monroe stepped down from the presidency in 1825. He served in Virginia politics for a short time but soon retired. He died in 1831.

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