Knowing the Presidents: James Monroe

James Monroe

Fifth President, 1817–1825


James Monroe was the last of the so-called Virginia Dynasty of presidents.

Like James Madison, Monroe was secretary of state before becoming president. A spirit of vigorous nationalism known as the Era of Good Feelings ushered Monroe into the White House, virtually unopposed, for two terms.


Two years into James Monroe’s presidency, a severe financial panic gripped the nation in 1819, triggering widespread unemployment through 1821.

Sectional animosities over slavery characterize bitter debates in Congress during Monroe’s tenure as president. Before now, no one had ever tried to pretend that slavery was a good thing for white or black people. New positions on slavery, however, framed a new idea that slavery was for the “positive good.”

Major Acts:

James Monroe approved the acquisition of Florida from Spain in 1819.

Monroe signed the Missouri Compromise in 1820, which allowed Missouri to enter the Union as a slave state and Maine as a free state. When the Supreme Court decided three years later that Congress did not have the authority to prohibit slavery in the territories, they repealed this act in the Dred Scott decision.

In a message to Congress in December 1823, Monroe stated that the United States would not tolerate European intervention in the Western Hemisphere. This became known as the Monroe Doctrine.


The Monroe Doctrine is James Monroe’s great legacy. It still informs U. S. foreign policy in the Americas today.