The extraordinary life of James Monroe: soldier, senator, diplomat, and the last Founding Father to hold the presidency, a man who helped transform thirteen colonies into a vibrant and mighty republic.
“A first-rate account of a remarkable life.” —Jon Meacham, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Soul of America
Monroe lived a life defined by revolutions. From the battlefields of the War for Independence, to his ambassadorship in Paris in the days of the guillotine, to his own role in the creation of Congress's partisan divide, he was a man who embodied the restless spirit of the age. He was never one to back down from a fight, whether it be with Alexander Hamilton, with whom he nearly engaged in a duel (prevented, ironically, by Aaron Burr), or George Washington, his hero turned political opponent.
This magnificent new biography vividly recreates the epic sweep of Monroe’s life: his near-death wounding at Trenton and a brutal winter at Valley Forge; his pivotal negotiations with France over the Louisiana Purchase; his deep, complex friendships with Thomas Jefferson and James Madison; his valiant leadership when the British ransacked the nation’s capital and burned down the Executive Mansion; and Monroe’s lifelong struggle to reckon with his own complicity in slavery. Elected the fifth president of the United States in 1816, this fiercest of partisans sought to bridge divisions and sow unity, calming turbulent political seas and inheriting Washington's mantle of placing country above party. Over his two terms, Monroe transformed the nation, strengthening American power both at home and abroad.
Critically acclaimed author Tim McGrath has consulted an extensive array of primary sources, many rarely seen since Monroe's own time, to conjure up this fascinating portrait of an essential American statesman and president.
In this dense, painstaking biography, historian McGrath (Give Me a Fast Ship) credits James Monroe (1758 1831) with "creat the presidency as Americans have come to know it." Wounded in the Battle of Trenton during the Revolutionary War, Monroe returned to Virginia, where he studied law under Thomas Jefferson. Though "bitterly disappointed" not to have been selected as a delegate to the 1787 Constitutional Convention, he played a decisive role in Virginia's ratifying convention as a voice of compromise. He went on to serve as ambassador to France, governor of Virginia, negotiator of the Louisiana Purchase, and secretary of state and secretary of war simultaneously during the War of 1812. After entering the White House in 1816, Madison became the first president to tour the country, earning praise from journalists for inaugurating the "Era of Good Feelings." In an 1823 address to congress, he issued what would later become known as the "Monroe Doctrine" a foreign policy marked by opposition to European colonization of the Western Hemisphere and neutrality in European conflicts. McGrath makes a convincing case for Monroe's pivotal role in American history, but occasionally grinds the narrative to a halt with accounts of endless partisan debates, political bickering, and diplomatic maneuvers. This exhaustive deep-dive corrects the record on one of America's most overlooked founding fathers.