A SALUTE TO PRESIDENT MONROE ON THE OCCASION OF HIS BIRTHDAY April 28, 2012
“In this great nation there is but one order, that of the people, whose power, by a peculiarly happy improvement of the representative principle, is transferred from them, without impairing in the slightest degree their sovereignty, to bodies of their own creation, and to persons elected by themselves, in full extent necessary for the purposes of free, enlightened, and efficient government.”
These eloquent and powerful words were spoken by our fifth President, James Monroe. How prescient and eternal his message, a concept which continues to struggle for recognition in our time, a concept which tries man’s inclination to abuse power. President Monroe was born on April 28th, 1758 to Spence Monroe and Elizabeth Jones in Westmorland County, one of five, in part of what became the First District of the Commonwealth of Virginia 254 years ago.
Monroe worked on the family farm until entering the College of William and Mary at the ripe old age of 16. Shortly thereafter, the American Revolution began. He left college and enlisted in the Continental Army. He crossed the Delaware with Gen. Washington and saw action as a soldier (wounded twice). As a politician, Monroe served in the Virginia Assembly, the Continental Congress, as Governor of the Commonwealth of Virginia, as US Senator, Secretary of State and Secretary of War. A more qualified person has never risen to the Office of The President. Such a pedigree of distinguished public service may be unrivalled.
How did this remarkable Virginian leverage that experience? What is his legacy? When Monroe became President in 1816, America had just come out of a difficult War, the War of 1812, which had split the country in many ways. With policies designed to heal these wounds, Monroe ushered in a growing sense of national identity, capitalizing on the spirit shared sacrifice and nurturing the people’s feeling of patriotism. The Country’s democratic institutions and capitalist economy were taking shape. During this “Era of Good Feelings”, partisan bitterness abated. To further gain the trust and faith of the American people, he went on two long national tours of the growing Country, the foot print of which he helped increase with the purchase of Florida from Spain.
Of all his contributions, President Monroe is perhaps best remembered for his foreign policy, which came to be known as the Monroe Doctrine. This policy was intended to discourage European colonial expansion in the Western hemisphere, and to forestall European interference in the sovereign affairs of other countries in general. While the implementation of this doctrine was largely successful, when combined with that other ethos of the American experience, “manifest destiny”, it was not long before these concepts combined to give rise, later in the 19th and early 20th centuries, to a certain degree of self-serving rationalization for aggression against native Americans, Cuba and Philippines, just give a few examples.
Having observed these possibly less than proud moments in our Nation’s history, let us eschew the tendency to ascribe nefarious motives and behaviors to our Forefathers, who, while human, managed, against all odds, to champion the sacred principles of liberty enshrined in our most cherished documents, the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights.
James Monroe represents the last of the “Virginia Dynasty” of early American Presidents. In that Pantheon of peerless leadership, James Monroe alone shares that special distinction of being a soldier statesman along General Washington. The breadth and depth of experience and vision he brought to the Office of The President motivated his Countrymen to take yet another quantum leap forward in that “Great American Experiment”.
Our Nation is beset with formidable challenges. May his his legacy continue to serve as an edifying and honorable guide to our Nation as it seeks to find its way in this the third century after its birth. And, may God continue to reveal that shining light on the hill for all mankind in these difficult times.
Dr. Henry P. Williams III
Virginia Society Sons of the American Revolution, State President