POTUS Fact 5: Father of Liberia, last President never to be photographed

James Monroe (April 28, 1758 – July 4, 1831) was an American statesman and Founding Father who served as the fifth President of the United States from 1817 to 1825.

In 1824, the capital of Liberia was named Monrovia after Monroe, because he allowed black slaves in America to return home to Africa. They settled in Liberia. Monrovia is the only non-American capital city named after a U.S. President.

Monroe was a hero of the American Revolutionary War. He attended the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, Virgina, but dropped out in 1776 to join the Continental Army and fight in the American Revolution. He rose from Lieutenant to Lieutenant Colonel during the war. He was involved in many key events of the war. He crossed the Delaware with General George Washington. He was wounded and commended for bravery at the Battle of Trenton. He then became aide-de-camp to Lord Stirling and served under him at Valley Forge. He fought at the Battles of Brandywine and Germantown. At the Battle of Monmouth, he was a scout for Washington. In 1780, Monroe was made the military commissioner of Virginia by his friend and mentor, Virginia Governor Thomas Jefferson.

Monroe was a law apprentice for Thomas Jefferson. Monroe studied under the third President, but he wasn’t an outstanding lawyer. Monroe was more interested in politics in his native Virginia and served in the Continental Congress at the age of 25.

Image of President James Monroe
James Monroe (1758-1831), 5th President of the United States (1817-1825)/MagazineUSA.

On February 16, 1786 Monroe married Elizabeth Kortright (1768–1830) in New York City. She was the daughter of Hannah Aspinwall Kortright and Laurence Kortright, a wealthy trader and former British officer. He met her while serving in the Continental Congress. They had 3 children.

In 1816, Monroe ran for president, as a Democratic-Republican, and handily defeated Federalist candidate Rufus King (1755-1827). When he was sworn into office on March 4, 1817, Monroe became the first U.S. president to have his ceremony outdoors and give his inaugural address to the public. The new president and his family could not take up immediate residence in the White House, because it had been destroyed by the British in 1814. Instead, they lived in a home on Washington, until the rebuilt White House was ready for occupancy in 1818.

Monroe was the first President to serve in the White House when it was actually white-painted. The previous white of the White House came from a lime whitewash originally meant to protect the stone from freezing and cracking. As it wore off, it filled any cracks left in the stone. It was frequently whitewashed to maintain the building until the decision was made to paint it white. The home of the President had been nicknamed the “White House” for some time, but it did not become official until 1901, thanks to President Theodore Roosevelt.

Image of Elizabeth Kortright Monroe
Elizabeth Kortright Monroe (1768-1830), First Lady of the United States (1817-1825)/Wikipedia.

Apart from George Washington who was voted into office unanimously, he was the most dominant American President of all time winning the 1820 elections unopposed, capturing all electoral votes except one which was cast by an elector from New Hampshire for John Q. Adams. This was the last time the United States saw a candidate run without serious opposition. His period was known as “Era of Good Feelings“. No scandal, no political battle, nothing.

He was the last of the so-called Virginia dynasty of U.S. presidents. The last Founding Father in the White House and also the last President that was never photographed.

Monroe was the only President in the 19th century to complete two full terms with the same Vice President, Daniel D. Tomkins (June 21, 1774 – June 11, 1825).

He was the first President to ride in a steamboat and his inauguration was the first held outdoors.

“A little flattery will support a man through great fatigue.”- James Monroe (1758-1831), 5th President of the United States (1817-1825).

One of Monroe’s presidential portraits was painted by Samuel Morse, the inventor of the Morse Code. Morse had an established career as an artist before contributing to the telegraphic invention. He also painted John Adams in the former president’s old age.

Monroe owned dozens of slaves. He took several slaves with him to Washington to serve at the White House from 1817 to 1825. This was typical of other slaveholders, as Congress did not provide domestic staff for presidents at that time.

James Monroe remains the only man in American history to serve both as Secretary of State and Secretary of War at the same time and also the only President to occupy every public office of his time. He held more elected offices than any President before him or after him.

Image of Monroe Doctrine
A 1912 painting of the birth of the Monroe Doctrine showing, left to right, John Quincy Adams, William Harris Crawford, William Wirt, President James Monroe, John Caldwell Calhoun, Daniel D. Tompkins and John McLean/WSJ.

Monroe was able to buy Florida for $5 million. Monroe had started talks with Spain about Florida while he was James Madison’s Secretary of State in 1815. After violence in the region and a flurry of diplomacy, Secretary of State, John Quincy Adams, helped negotiate a deal for Monroe where the U.S. would pay off damage claims made by Spain during the violence. The U.S. got Florida and promised that it would recognize Spain’s sovereignty over Texas.

Monroe was the last President to wear a powdered wig tied in a queue, a tricorne hat and knee-breeches according to the style of the late 18th century. This old-fashioned style of dressing earned him the nickname “The Last Cocked Hat“.

He was responsible for the Monroe Doctrine; the principle that the U.S. would not tolerate new colonies in the New World or interference by outside powers in the internal affairs of nations in the New World.

Monroe became the third President to have died on Independence Day, the Fourth of July in 1831, five years after Thomas Jefferson and John Adams had died and 55 years after the signing of the Declaration of Independence. He was 73.

In 1931, the 100th anniversary of his birth, his body was moved from New York City and re-interred at the Hollywood Cemetery in Richmond, Virginia.




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Ayomide Akinbode

Ayomide Akinbode holds a degree in Chemistry but has a passion for History and Classics. When he is not writing, he’s either sleeping or playing Scrabble.

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