Madison Vs Monroe
Madison Vs. Monroe
James Madison , the fourth president of the United States, is perhaps best remembered as one of the founders of the United States and as the Father of the Constitution. This title refers to the leading part he played in framing the charter under which the American people have been governed since 1789. Madison was only 36 years old when that work was completed, but he had been in public life for eleven years and was unsurpassed in his knowledge of government. His long public career, which eventually spanned some forty years, included four terms in Congress and eight years as secretary of state, in addition to his two terms as president.
Madison was born on March 16, 1751, in Port Conway, Virginia, the eldest of twelve children. His great-great-grandfather, a ship carpenter, had emigrated from England in 1653 and become a tobacco farmer in the Virginia tidelands. James Madison’s grandfather and father built up a farm of more than 5,000 acres (2,000 hectares) in what is now Orange County, Virginia. This great farm, Montpelier (then spelled Montpellier), remained James Madison’s home throughout his 85 years.
James was taught to read and write by his mother and grandmother. Soon after his 11th birthday he was sent to boarding school, where he studied English, mathematics, French, Spanish, and Latin. After two years of additional tutoring, the 18-year-old Madison entered the College of New Jersey (now Princeton University), where he completed the four-year course in two years, sleeping only five hours a night and considerably damaging his health. For five years after his graduation in 1771, he continued his extensive studies at home, which included training in the law. At the same time, he was teaching his younger brothers and sisters.
In 1774, as the Revolutionary War with Britain approached, Madison enlisted for military service. But he was forced to drop out, because of the physical strain, before his company was called to active duty. He turned, instead, to public service.
Entry into Politics
Madison served on the Orange County Committee of Safety until 1776, when he was elected to the Virginia Revolutionary Convention. There he wrote the strong guarantee of religious freedom in the Virginia Declaration of Rights and helped pass a resolution asking the Continental Congress to issue the Declaration of Independence. Madison then served a 1-year term in the Virginia legislature but was defeated for re-election in 1777 because he refused to follow the custom of furnishing whiskey to the voters. He was immediately appointed to the governor’s council, which managed the state’s war efforts. In 1780 he was elected to the Continental Congress, where he quickly rose to a position of leadership, despite being one of its youngest members and boyish in appearance.
With the coming of peace in 1783, Madison devoted his efforts to strengthening the weak national government that had been set up under the Articles of Confederation. Elected again to the Virginia legislature, he persuaded his state to issue a call for a convention of the states to establish a more effective form of government. He attended the Annapolis Convention in 1786, and in 1787 he was sent as a delegate to the Constitutional Convention at Philadelphia.
The essential problem facing the framers of the Constitution was to find a way to establish governmental authority and yet maintain liberty. Up to Madison’s time, most scholars had assumed that small republics were freer than large ones. But Madison observed that the opposite was true in America. Tyrannical majorities often ruled in the smaller states, while in the larger ones, the greater diversity of interests prevented one faction, or interest group, from acquiring undue power.
Madison’s plan, which became the basis for the government of the United States, called for a strong chief executive (the president), a legislature composed of two houses, and an independent judiciary, or court system. Each state would have control of its local affairs. The larger such a federal republic became, Madison reasoned, the more liberty it could safely enjoy, for the different interests of the various sections of the country would divide the factions that might otherwise produce tyranny.
After the Constitution was adopted, Madison joined Alexander Hamilton and John Jay in writing The Federalist papers, in order to secure its ratification by the states. Madison also led the supporters of the Constitution at the Virginia ratifying convention. See the articles on the United States Constitution and The Federalist.
Congressional Career and Marriage
In 1789, Madison was elected to the House of Representatives in the First Congress of the United States. There he proposed and took a leading role in the passage of the first ten amendments to the Constitution, known as the Bill of Rights. Madison may therefore be called the Father of the Bill of Rights as well as of the Constitution. See the article on the Bill of Rights.
Madison at first strongly supported the administration of President George Washington. But he came to oppose the financial policies of Alexander Hamilton, Washington’s secretary of the treasury, because he felt they favored commercial interests at the expense of the country’s agriculture and gave special privileges to persons of wealth. As political parties began to form, Madison and Thomas Jefferson became leaders of the Republicans (later called Democratic-Republicans), who represented the interests of the ordinary people. They were the opposition to Hamilton’s Federalists.
In 1794, Madison married Dolley Payne Todd, a 26-year-old widow. Dolley Madison was especially noted for her graciousness and charm as a hostess during her husband’s years in the presidency.
Madison left Congress in 1797 and returned home, discouraged by his party’s failure against the dominant Federalists. In 1798 he drafted the Virginia Resolutions in protest against the Alien and Sedition Acts, enacted during President John Adams’ administration. See the article on John Adams (The Alien and Sedition Acts).
Secretary of State
Madison served two more terms in the Virginia legislature. He was then appointed secretary of state by Thomas Jefferson, who had succeeded Adams as president in 1801. In this capacity, Madison helped promote the purchase of the vast Louisiana Territory from France in 1803. See the article on the Louisiana Purchase.
His most vexing problems in foreign affairs arose from the hostilities between Britain and France during the Napoleonic Wars. Both countries, in the course of the war, interfered with U.S. trade, although Britain, with its more powerful fleet, was the greater offender. Public opinion in the United States was outraged, in particular, by the British practice of stopping American ships and impressing their seamen–that is, forcing them to serve in the British navy.
Madison strongly upheld the right of neutral countries like the United States to trade with nations at war, free from the threat of blockade or other interference. But all his protests were ignored. He supported Jefferson’s attempt to preserve peace by passage of the Embargo Act in 1807, which forbade all exports and prohibited American ships from leaving port, but this proved unsuccessful and only served to damage U.S. trade.
With Jefferson’s support, Madison easily won election as president in 1808. He received 122 electoral votes to 47 for his Federalist opponent, Charles C. Pinckney.
Madison’s immediate concern on taking office in 1809 was the continuing crisis with Britain and France. Earlier that year, Congress had replaced the Embargo Act with the Non-Intercourse Act, which permitted trade with all countries except Britain and France, but this was also a failure. In 1810, Congress repealed the remaining restrictions, but it authorized the president to again cut off trade with either country if the other agreed to end its oppressive practices. An agreement to do so by the French, which proved false, led to a commercial break with Britain in 1811 and to war in 1812.
A few months after the declaration of war, Madison was re-elected president, receiving 128 electoral votes. The Federalist candidate, DeWitt Clinton, received 89 votes.
War of 1812.
With only a small army and navy, the United States was ill prepared for war. The navy won some brilliant battles at sea early in the conflict, but the raw American troops met with successive defeats. Washington, D.C., itself, was captured by the British in 1814. Part of the city, including the White House, was burned, and Madison was forced to flee with other members of the government. But eventually the American soldiers, gaining experience and discipline, were able to drive the veteran British troops from the battlefield, and a reasonable peace treaty was achieved in 1814.
Throughout the war, the Federalists of New England, which was severely affected by the collapse of trade, had opposed what they called “Mr. Madison’s war.” Amid the rejoicings over peace, the Federalist Party broke down and soon vanished from existence. For a complete account of the war, see the article on the War of 1812.
The years following the war were marked by a spirit of optimism, economic growth, and westward expansion. Responding to the nationalistic mood, Madison proposed an ambitious domestic program to Congress. Its measures included a rechartering of the national bank, the Bank of the United States; government support for the building of roads and canals to link the various parts of the nation; and a tariff, or tax on imports, to protect new industries.
After leaving the presidency in 1817, Madison returned to Montpelier, where he engaged in scientific farming, originating methods of agriculture that did not become common until a century later. With his wife, Dolley, he welcomed visitors from all over the United States and Europe. Equally welcome were the children of relatives, for the Madisons had none of their own. After Jefferson’s death in 1826, Madison succeeded his old friend as head of the new University of Virginia.
Madison died at Montpelier on June 28, 1836. His last thoughts were for the country he had so long served: “The advice nearest to my heart and deepest in my convictions,” he wrote, “is that the Union of the States be cherished and perpetuated.”
Author, James Madison
James Monroe was the last of the Virginia Dynasty of U.S. presidents, which also included Thomas Jefferson and James Madison. A modest man, Monroe was overshadowed by the brilliance of his great contemporaries, but his honesty and integrity won him wide esteem and the unwavering loyalty of his friends. He spent nearly all of his adult life in the public service, steadily rising to ever higher office. As president, he is best known for his proclamation of the Monroe Doctrine, opposing European intervention in the affairs of the countries of the Western Hemisphere. His two terms in office, sometimes called the Era of Good Feelings, were generally a period of national optimism, growth, and expansion for the United States.
Monroe was born on April 28, 1758, in Westmoreland County, Virginia, the son of Spence and Elizabeth Jones Monroe. He was educated by a tutor at home and at a private school, and in 1774 he entered the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg. In 1776, at the age of 18, he left college to join the American forces in the Revolutionary War. Commissioned a lieutenant in the Third Virginia Regiment, he took part, over the next two years, in some of the momentous battles and campaigns of the American Revolution.
Returning to Virginia, Monroe studied law with the man who would help shape his career and affect his whole life–Thomas Jefferson, who was then governor. The friendship between them lasted until Jefferson’s death in 1826. Jefferson, who was Monroe’s senior by 15 years, unfailingly helped the younger man advance his political career, all the way to the presidency. His confidence in Monroe never wavered. Jefferson said of him, “He is a man whose soul might be turned wrong side outwards, without discovering a blemish[horizontal_ellipsis]”
Entry into Politics and Marriage
In 1782, Monroe won election to the Virginia House of Delegates and a year later to the Congress of the Confederation, under which the United States was governed until the adoption of the Constitution. He served in the Confederation Congress until 1786, when he returned to Virginia. In 1788, Monroe was elected to the state convention called to ratify the U.S. Constitution. Along with fellow Virginians Patrick Henry and George Mason, he opposed its adoption, feeling that it centered too much power in the federal, or central, government.
Nevertheless, he accepted the Constitution’s ratification and ran for a seat in the House of Representatives in the First Congress of the United States. He was unsuccessful, losing out to James Madison, but in 1790 he won election to the U.S. Senate. Together with Madison and Jefferson, who was then serving as secretary of state, Monroe led the fight against the policies of the Federalist Party. The three helped organize a new political party, the Republicans (also known as the Democratic-Republicans), in opposition to the Federalists.
In 1786, Monroe had married Elizabeth Kortright, the beautiful 17-year-old daughter of a wealthy New York merchant. Of the three children born to them, two daughters, Eliza and Maria Hester, survived. The third child, a son named James Spence, died in infancy.
Minister to France and Governor
In 1794, President George Washington appointed Monroe minister to France. The French had overthrown their king a few years earlier, and Washington hoped to improve relations with the country’s revolutionary leaders as well as with their sympathizers in the United States. The French government gave Monroe an enthusiastic reception. Monroe returned the enthusiasm. But his open support for the French and his criticism of a U.S. treaty with Britain (the Jay Treaty) antagonized Washington’s pro-British cabinet, and Monroe was recalled in 1796. In 1799 he was elected governor of Virginia, serving until 1802.
Diplomat for Jefferson
In 1803, Monroe was again sent on a diplomatic mission to France, this time by Jefferson, who had succeeded to the presidency. He was appointed special envoy to assist the regular U.S. minister, Robert R. Livingston. Monroe carried with him to Paris the president’s confidence and his special instructions. These were, primarily, to buy the city of New Orleans from the French and to acquire the right of free navigation on the Mississippi River. The French surprised the two diplomats by offering to sell them the whole Louisiana Territory. After some haggling, a treaty was signed in 1803, by which the United States acquired the territory for $15 million. The acquisition doubled the size of the United States and greatly enhanced Monroe’s reputation. See the article on the Louisiana Purchase.
Pleased with Monroe’s diplomatic efforts in France, Jefferson appointed him minister to Britain. He was then dispatched to Spain to help the American minister, Charles Pinckney, negotiate U.S. claims to West Florida, but they were unsuccessful. Returning to Britain, Monroe concluded a commercial treaty with the British in 1806. But the treaty did not resolve the main dispute with Britain–the impressment, or forcing into service, of American seamen in the British navy. Jefferson therefore decided not to submit it to the U.S. Senate for ratification.
Two Cabinet Posts
A disappointed Monroe returned home in 1807. His friends sought to promote him as a candidate for the presidency to succeed Jefferson, but the nomination and the election went to James Madison. Monroe resumed political life in Virginia, serving in the state legislature and, in 1811, as governor again.
He resigned the governorship that same year when Madison appointed him secretary of state. He held this post throughout the War of 1812 with Britain and until the end of Madison’s presidency. In 1814, Monroe was named to the additional cabinet post of secretary of war. His energetic policies as war secretary were given some of the credit for U.S. victories at the battles of Plattsburg in 1814 and New Orleans in 1815. They also helped him win his party’s nomination for the presidency in 1816. See the article on the War of 1812.
In the election of 1816, Monroe easily defeated his Federalist opponent, Rufus King of New York, winning 183 electoral votes to 34 for King. The election result emphasized the loss of political power by the Federalists, who had opposed the War of 1812.
The Era of Good Feelings.
As president, Monroe adopted a policy of tolerance toward his opponents, seeking an end to sectional and political rivalries. Soon after his inauguration, he undertook a goodwill tour of New England, a Federalist stronghold, and was so well received that a Boston newspaper acclaimed his visit as the beginning of an “era of good feelings.” The phrase stuck and became a byword for the period of Monroe’s presidency.
Monroe’s administration was especially notable for its achievements in foreign affairs. Much of this was due to the able diplomacy of Secretary of State John Quincy Adams. Three important treaties were concluded during Monroe’s first term in office. The Rush-Bagot Agreement of 1817 with Britain limited the number of naval vessels permitted on American inland waters, and the Convention of 1818 fixed the northwestern boundary between the United States and British Canada. Under the Adams-OnÃs (or Transcontinental) Treaty of 1819, the United States acquired East Florida from Spain, which also gave up its claims to West Florida.
A potentially explosive sectional dispute arose in 1819, following Missouri’s application for admission to the Union as a slave state. The United States then consisted of an equal number of free states (where slavery was prohibited) and slave states. The Missouri Compromise of 1820 provided for the admission of Missouri as a slave state and Maine as a free state, maintaining the balance. Slavery was also banned from territory north of the 36° 30′ line of latitude. See the article on the Missouri Compromise.
Monroe ran unopposed for re-election in 1820 and received all but one of the electoral votes cast. He would have received all if not for one elector, who decided that no one should share that historic honor with George Washington and cast his ballot for John Quincy Adams.
Monroe’s attitude toward domestic issues reflected his concept of limited government. He had maintained a cautious stance during the Missouri crisis, allowing it to be resolved by Congress. In 1822 he vetoed the Cumberland Road Bill as being beyond the power of Congress, but recommended a constitutional amendment that would give the federal government the authority to undertake such “great national works.”
The Monroe Doctrine.
The most memorable event connected with Monroe’s presidency was the proclamation of the doctrine that bears his name. It began as a public declaration of U.S. policy, expressed in a message to Congress in 1823. The Monroe Doctrine became a foundation of the country’s foreign policy, particularly in regard to Latin America. See the article on the Monroe Doctrine following this article.
Upon his retirement from the presidency in 1825, Monroe returned to Oak Hill, his home in Virginia. In 1826 he became a regent of the University of Virginia, and in 1829 he presided over the Virginia State Constitutional Convention. After the death of his wife in 1830, Monroe, lonely and ill, went to live with his daughter Maria Hester and her husband, Samuel L. Gouverneur, in New York City. There he died on July 4, 1831, at the age of 73. In 1858, on the 100th anniversary of his birth, his remains were moved to Richmond, Virginia.
Saul K. Padover
Author, The Genius of America