Monroe, James (1758–1831), fifth president of the United States. Monroe held office during the “Era of Good Feeling,” a period marked by the absence of party conflict and by exceptional national growth.
Monroe entered the College of William and Mary at age 16, but left after 2 years to fight in the American Revolution. In 1780 he began to study law under the direction of Thomas Jefferson, then governor of Virginia.
Monroe was elected to the Virginia Assembly in 1782, and he later served in the Congress of the Confederation and attended the Annapolis Convention. In 1790 the Virginia legislature chose him to fill a vacancy in the U.S. Senate.
Monroe was U.S. minister to France from 1794 to 1796, under President George Washington. He served as governor of Virginia from 1799 to 1802. In 1803, as President Jefferson's special envoy to France, he helped negotiate the Louisiana Purchase, which doubled the size of the United States.
Monroe's diplomatic service continued with a stint as U.S. minister to Great Britain (1804–7). In 1811, he was once again elected governor of Virginia. Later that year, however, President James Madison appointed Monroe secretary of state, a position he held until 1817.
In 1816 Monroe, a Democratic-Republican, ran for president and defeated his Federalist opponent easily. Four years later, with the Federalist party virtually dead, Monroe was reelected with only a single electoral vote cast against him.
Monroe believed that Congress rather than the president should have a leading role in legislative issues. But he did take a strong stand on certain matters, such as the debate over whether Missouri should be admitted to the Union as a slave or a free state. Monroe left Congress to try to resolve the issue, but he made it clear that he would veto any bill that admitted Missouri but prohibited slavery in the state.
It was in foreign affairs that Monroe's administration had the greatest impact. With the help of Secretary of State John Quincy Adams, Monroe reached an agreement with Spain that acquired Florida for the United States and recognized a U.S. border with Mexico all the way to the Pacific Ocean. Monroe also reached agreements with Great Britain banning military installations on the Great Lakes and establishing the border between the United States and Canada as far west as the Rocky Mountains. Monroe was sympathetic to the newly independent states of Latin America and urged that they be recognized. Again with Adams's help, he formulated the famous Monroe Doctrine, which stated U.S. opposition to further interference by European countries in the affairs of the Americas. The Monroe Doctrine became an important foundation for later U.S. foreign policy decisions.
Monroe left office at the height of his prestige. He retired to his Virginia estate, but in his last years financial difficulties caused him to move to New York City, where he lived with one of his daughters. He died there on July 4, 1831.