05 James Monroe


  • Explain the issues America faced as the nation grew
  • Discuss the historical circumstances surrounding the Missouri Compromise
  • Discuss the historical circumstances surrounding the Monroe Doctrine
  • Identify the impact of the Supreme Court rulings McCullough v. Maryland and Gibbons v. Ogden

President Madison was succeeded by another Democratic-Republican, his Secretary of War during the War of 1812, James Monroe.  Unlike the elections before, the partisan politics and bitter fighting between the Federalists and Democratic-Republicans had given way to “the Era of Good Feelings.”  Monroe, the last of the founding fathers to become president.

Domestically—or within the country—the issue of slavery still dominated politics.  As the westward expansion became a focus after the acquisition of the Louisiana Territory, the addition of new states to the Union presented a problem.   When the country was founded there was a balance between free and slave states.   Adding new states could ruin the balance. Southern states, in particular, were worried that if non-slave states got an advantage in Congress they would outlaw slavery.

When Missouri applied for statehood, the issue erupted. Southern states, driven by their fear of abolition, threatened to secede—or quit being a part of the United States if the balance was upset.  President Monroe, on the other hand, threatened to veto any acts of Congress that didn’t allow the territory to use self-determination—the practice of letting people in a territory vote on an issue directly instead of letting Congress decide on it—to settle the issue.

A compromise was reached.  To maintain the balance, Missouri was added as a slave state and Maine was added as a free state.  In addition, slavery was prohibited north of the 36’ 30° parallel in the Louisiana Territory.  This was called the Missouri Compromise.

The Compromise only settled the issue for a while.  In 1854, Congress passed the Kansas-Nebraska Act, which repealed the Missouri Compromise.  That act established popular sovereignty as the way it would be decided if new states would have slavery.  While it seemed like a logical and reasonable way to decide things, it turned into a disaster as anti- and pro-slavery factions flooded into the territory in anticipation of the vote.  Violence erupted so frequently, the territory became known as Bleeding Kansas.  And even later–in 1857–in the landmark Supreme Court case known as the Dred Scott case (Dred Scott v. Sanford), the Court declared the limits set on the expansion of slavery in the Compromise unconstitutional.  But until that time, all new states north of the line were free and those below it were added as slave states.  But it would prove to only be a temporary solution to the fight over slavery.

Foreign policy decisions were also made during Monroe’s terms in office.  The Spanish Territory of Florida created one foreign policy crisis.  Florida was a problem for the United States for three reasons because while Spain owned the land, they did little to control it.  As a result, Florida was a hotbed of British pirate activity.  Also, runaway slaves kept escaping from plantations in the South into Florida, where American authorities could not legally go after them. The third reason Florida was a problem was that a Native-America tribes called Seminoles living in Georgia and Florida were being encouraged by the British privateers to committing raids in Georgia.

To deal with the Seminoles, Monroe sent General Andrew Jackson into Georgia.  Jackson, true to his reputation, went beyond the President’s order and invaded Florida and captured the British responsible for encouraging the raids and hanged them.  This creating a diplomatic crisis as both Spain and Britain had reason to be upset.  Secretary of State John Quincy Adams argued that Jackson did the right thing because Spain wasn’t doing enough to control its colony.

This caused Monroe to authorize negotiations with Spain about ceding—or adding—Florida to the United States.  The Spanish agree and America added the area to the Union.  This is called the Spanish Cession.

During Monroe’s second term, the landmark foreign policy known as the Monroe Doctrine was established.  The Monroe Doctrine was part of Monroe’s annual address to Congress.  Following the Florida crisis, the United States found itself in another border dispute with Russia over Alaska.  In his speech, Monroe stated that the western hemisphere was off-limits to European colonization.  The policy, suggested by Secretary of State and son of the second President John Quincy Adams, was motivated by fears of European powers trying to reassert their control over colonies that were slipping away.

At the time, Monroe’s threat of U.S. intervention was laughed off by Europe. The country didn’t have a credible military to back it up.  Over time, however, the Monroe Doctrine became a cornerstone of American foreign policy. It was later reasserted by Teddy Roosevelt’s “Roosevelt Corollary” to the Monroe Doctrine during the Age of Imperialism.

During James Monroe’s presidency, the Supreme Court made two important rulings in the McCulloch  v. Maryland (1819) and Gibbons v. Ogden (1824) cases, both of which asserted the power of the national government over the states.  In the McCulloch v. Maryland case, the Supreme Court ruled that states  could not pass laws that are in conflict with laws passed by the national government.  In the Gibbons v. Ogden case, the Supreme Court asserted that Congress, not the states, had the power to regulate interstate trade.

Monroe, like those before him, strengthened the federal government while dealing with international crises.  He added territory to the country, adding to the growing feeling of Manifest Destiny.  He also made the bold move telling European nations to stay out of the western hemisphere, which will become important as the country become more powerful.

BEFORE: 4 – Madison          AFTER: 6 – Quincy Adams

United States History & Government

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