What did James Monroe Accomplish?

Instructor: Mark Koscinski

Mark has a doctorate from Drew University and teaches accounting classes. He is a writer, editor and has experience in public and private accounting.

In this lesson, you will learn about the diplomatic accomplishments and domestic shortcomings of President James Monroe. You will also learn about the Monroe Doctrine and The Missouri Compromise.

Last of the Old Guard

James Monroe served as the fifth President of the United States, from 1817 to 1825. He was the last President who was also a Founding Father. George Washington recognized Monroe for serving so well during the American Revolution, suffering an almost life-ending wound at the Battle of Trenton. Monroe was also a close associate of Thomas Jefferson. He served as Minister to France, Secretary of State and Secretary of War, all of which are considered steppingstones to the Presidency of the United States. It was therefore not surprising when he was elected to the Presidency in 1816, succeeding James Madison. He was then re-elected almost unanimously in 1820.

James Monroe, Fifth President of the United States
James Monroe Fifth President of the United States

Diplomatic Achievements

Monroe achieved his greatest successes through his foreign policy. This included the annexation of Florida, several important bilateral treaties, and finally, the Monroe Doctrine. His Secretary of State, John Quincy Adams, who would later succeed him as president, assisted him in achieving these policies.

Secretary of State, John Quincy Adams
Secretary of State, John Quincy Adams

Florida was home to the Seminole Indians who frequently raided United States territory. Spain, who owned Florida at the time, could not afford to police or protect the territory. The costs of European wars and Central and South American colonial uprisings had spread Spanish resources very thin. Monroe ordered a military expedition, headed by General Andrew Jackson, into Florida to suppress the attacks. Jackson battled the Seminoles to capture the Spanish capital of Pensacola for the United States.

Andrew Jackson, Hero of the Battle of New Orleans
Portrait of Andrew Jackson, the seventh president of the United States

Having no other recourse, Spain signed the Adams-Onis Treaty of 1819. This treaty ceded Florida to the United States, and fixed the boundaries between other Spanish land claims in North America. For the time being, the United States gave up any potential claim on Texas and lands further west, while Spain surrendered any potential claims to the Oregon Territory. However, this treaty would end after Mexican Independence and the Texas War for Independence.

Monroe and Adams also negotiated United States borders with other nations. The Rush-Bagot Treaty of 1817 with Great Britain demilitarized the Great Lakes and the border between the U.S. and British Canada. A subsequent treaty in 1818 fixed the Canadian border from Minnesota to the Rockies and established joint occupation of the Oregon Territory for ten years. Finally, the U.S. signed a treaty with Russia in 1824, fixing the southern border of Alaska.

Monroe Doctrine

Many of the Spanish colonies in Central and South America eventually achieved their independence. The United States was the first country to offer diplomatic recognition to them. In his annual message to Congress in 1823, Monroe stated the new U.S. policy towards these newly independent countries, which is now known as the Monroe Doctrine. He pledged the United States would not interfere with any current European colony in the Western Hemisphere, but also declared the United States would not tolerate European efforts to expand their colonies or retake the newly independent countries in South America. Monroe also reiterated American neutrality towards any conflict in Europe. The Monroe Doctrine continues to be a cornerstone of U.S. foreign policy today.

Domestic Policy

Monroe had considerably less impact on domestic affairs. This was principally due to the constitutional structure of the Presidency and the perception of the powers of the federal government. For instance, Monroe opposed a bill to collect tolls on the Cumberland Turnpike, a vital trade route, because he believed the federal government had no such authority.

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