James Monroe is born in Virginia, April 28, 1758

James Monroe, the nation’s future fifth president, was born on this day in 1758 in Westmoreland County, Virginia. A contemporary of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and James Madison, Monroe was the last of the Founding Fathers to ascend to the presidency.

Monroe was elected to the Senate in the 1st Congress, where he joined the Jeffersonian faction. He rose to national prominence when he resigned his Senate seat to become President Jefferson’s minister to France and helped negotiate the Louisiana Purchase in 1803. During the War of 1812, Monroe served as both secretary of war and secretary of state under President James Madison.

In 1816, Monroe decided to seek the presidency. His wartime leadership had established him as Madison’s heir apparent and the front-runner. Monroe received 183 of 217 electoral votes, winning every state but Massachusetts, Connecticut and Delaware.

In 1820, Monroe, a slaveholder, signed into law the Missouri Compromise, which sought to ease tensions over slavery by promising to admit slave-holding and nonslave-holding states into the Union in equal numbers. He supported founding colonies in Africa for repatriated free African-Americans who would eventually form the nation of Liberia. (Its capital, Monrovia, is named in his honor.)

Enactment of the Missouri Compromise contributed to the “Era of Good Feelings” over which Monroe presided and facilitated his election to a second term. In his second inaugural address, Monroe noted that while the nation had struggled in its infancy, it had emerged in good shape.

As president, Monroe had to contend with the First Seminole War (1817-18). When Seminole Indians and escaped slaves raided Georgia from Spanish Florida. Monroe sent Gen. Andrew Jackson to deal with the problem. Despite being told not to invade Spanish-held Florida, Jackson did so and deposed the military governor. This eventually led to the Adams-Onis Treaty of 1819 under which Spain ceded Florida to the United States.

Monroe was the first U.S. senator to become president and the first president to ride on a steamboat. In 1823, he declared his opposition to European intervention in the Western Hemisphere. In ensuing decades, the Monroe Doctrine became a key facet of U.S. foreign policy.

Monroe was the last U.S. president to wear a powdered wig, a tricorn hat, and knee-breeches in keeping with late 18th-century fashions. That earned him the nickname “The Last Cocked Hat.”

After leaving office, Monroe sought in vain to persuade Congress to reimburse him for the personal funds he spent to furnish the executive mansion. His debts forced him to sell his Virginia estate and move in with his daughter in New York City, where he died on July 4, 1831 at age 73.

Historians and political scientists have tended to rank Monroe as an above-average chief executive. Political scientist Fred Greenstein has argued that Monroe was a better executive than some of his more renowned predecessors, including Madison and John Adams.

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