“A better man cannot be.” Those are the words Thomas Jefferson used to describe James Monroe in 1785, and most scholars of our country’s fifth president would probably agree.
Born in Westmoreland County, Virginia in 1758, Monroe attended the College of William and Mary for a year before dropping out to join the Continental Army, where he was commissioned a lieutenant in the 3rd Virginia Regiment. He joined a small party of men to raid the arsenal at the Governor’s Palace in Williamsburg, Virginia, where they seized 200 muskets and 300 swords to help arm the local militia. At the Battle of Trenton he was wounded by a musket ball to his shoulder that severed an artery and took him out of the rest of the war.
With the British defeated and independence won, Monroe turned to politics, and in 1790 he was elected to the United States Senate, where he helped negotiate the Louisiana Purchase. He followed that with an appointment as ambassador to France, then served as both Secretary of State and Secretary of War under President James Madison. In 1816, with the backing of outgoing President Madison, he was elected president, and easily won re-election in 1820.
Monroe was a popular president, and during his two terms in office he acquired Florida from Spain and helped establish the United State’s role in international affairs. In December, 1823, he introduced to Congress what would become the Monroe Doctrine, proclaiming that the sovereign countries of the Americas should be free from European colonization and any European interference in their affairs. It also stated that the United States would stay neutral in European wars and conflicts between European powers and their colonies. The Doctrine also made it clear that the establishment of new European colonies or outside interference with existing sovereign countries in the Americas would be considered hostile acts toward the United States.
Six years after leaving the White House, James Monroe died in New York City on July 4, 1831, making him the third president to have died on Independence Day. He was originally buried in New York City’s Marble Cemetery, but in 1858, Monroe was re-interred in the President’s Circle at Hollywood Cemetery in Richmond, Virginia.
Today visitors to the James Monroe Museum and Memorial Library in Fredericksburg, Virginia can see the country’s largest collection of artifacts and documents related to Monroe’s life and political career. Now administered by the University of Mary Washington, the museum was opened in 1927 by descendants of James Monroe as a place to house their personal collections of family heirlooms handed down through generations. Until then, many of the items had been stored in closets and attics, never to see the light of day.
Visitors to the museum can take guided tours of five galleries, where displays include a tea box that belonged to Monroe and his wife Elizabeth, a tea table that Monroe purchased while in Paris as an ambassador, a vest and pair of breeches worn by Monroe during his years as a young lawyer in Fredericksburg, and a unique flintlock lighter that family tradition says Monroe used as a young officer during the Revolutionary War.
One of the most impressive items on display is a scale model bas relief of a temporary panel displayed during the 1904 St Louis World’s Fair. Created by sculptor Karl Bitter, the scene re-creates the signing of the Louisiana Purchase Treaty and includes James Monroe, Robert Livingston, and Francis Barbe-Marbois, and served as the template for a larger bronze sculpture that can be found at the Missouri State Capitol.
Visitors will also see the desk that family legend says President Monroe was sitting at when he wrote the Monroe Doctrine. In the early part of the 20th century a secret compartment was discovered in the desk, containing letters exchanged by Monroe and other notables, including Thomas Jefferson and James Madison. Those letters are now included in the museum’s archives.
It is believed that at one time the handsome building that houses the museum was James Monroe’s law office. Back in the 1920s, when Monroe’s great granddaughter, Rose deChine Gouverneur Hoes learned that it was going to be demolished and a gas station built on the site, she purchased the property and opened the James Monroe Law Office Shrine, which has evolved into the museum we see today. I’m glad she had the foresight to save such an important building, and that we got to tour the museum. It has a fine collection of exhibits and helped us learn more about one of our presidents who is sometimes overlooked on the pages of history.
Located at 908 Charles Street in Fredericksburg, the museum is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday, and from 1 to 5 p.m. on Sunday. December – February the museum closes at 4 p.m. daily. Admission is $6 for adults, $5 for seniors age 65 and over, $2 for visitors ages 6 -17. AAA, and group rates are available. For more information, call (540) 654-1043 or visit the museum’s website at www.jamesmonroemuseum.org
Today is your last chance to enter our Free Drawing for an RV camping journal donated by Barbara House. Barbara makes several variations of these, and they all have pages where you can list the date, weather, where you traveled to and from that day, beginning and ending mileage, campground information including amenities at RV sites, a place for a campground reviews, room to record activities, people met along the way, reminders of places to see and things to do the next time you’re in the area, and a page for notes for each day. To enter, click on this Free Drawing link or the tab at the top of this page and enter your name (first and last) in the comments section at the bottom of that page (not this one). Only one entry per person per drawing please, and you must enter with your real name. To prevent spam or multiple entries, the names of cartoon or movie characters are not allowed. The winner will be drawn this evening.
Thought For The Day – I posted a selfie and people told me to get well soon.