James Monroe and a Nation’s Call to Greatness (2009)
Monroe was still bitter from his experiences as a US diplomat in Europe under SecStates Edmund Randolph, Timothy Pickering, and James Madison . . . Monroe would not accept the post unless Madison addressed the unfair treatment he received while in England. Also, Monroe wouldn't accept the position if he was to be Madison's puppet. Madison, in another letter, admitted that there were unfavorable circumstances that led to Monroe's troubles in Great Britain . . . Monroe knew that would be the best response he would get from the President. As a result, James Monroe became President Madison's Secretary of State, and it is not and overstatement that Monroe saved Madison's Presidency, and perhaps the nation.
But trade with Europe was down significantly, and a political coalition of Republicans, Federalists, and those focused on states rights had enough votes to block the renewal of the bank. Without a National Bank, the federal government was entirely dependent on Congress for money, and there was no longer a way to borrow in an emergency. Then the nation plunged into a currency nightmare, with far too many state banks issuing their own money, which led to high inflation.
Monroe was elated to be a significant figure in national and international politics, despite again being away from his family. By necessity, foreign affairs was the most vital concern in the early years of the federal government, and Monroe was in charge. Monroe played diplomatic hardball with France and Great Britain, so much so that Napoleon actually stopped taking American ships on the Atlantic, and even partially resumed trade.
By the end of June 1812, the combination of the Embargo Act and Napoleon's blockade on British goods in Europe brought US trade to the abyss, in that unemployment and inflation soared. June 1812 was also the month that Madison asked Congress for a declaration of war on Great Britain. America was unprepared for a war with a world power, in that the Navy only had 16 ships, and the Army only had 7000 soldiers, which were led by third-tier Revolutionary War era officers. And, to make the situation even more dire, the federal government no longer had a National Bank to finance the war.
SecState Monroe was beyond-horrified and upset with the lack of strategy, tactics, and leadership that led to military disaster in Canada. British soldiers and allied Native warriors swarmed into Illinois and Indiana, with Ohio and Kentucky on alert. Monroe convinced Madison to keep their small-but-maneuverable ships at sea instead of recalling them to port. Monroe feared that if their Navy was in port, the British would be able to bottle-up the harbors, trapping what there was of the US Navy. But with the ships of the US Navy on the loose, they could at least harass the Royal Navy.
Madison nominated Brigadier General John Armstrong as the new SecWar, and he was easily confirmed by the Senate. It soon became clear that Armstrong's main goal was to destroy Monroe's political career. Armstrong had married a sister of
Robert Livingston, who still seethed with venom that Monroe had "stole his thunder" in France with the Louisiana Purchase. In trying to stay in favor with his father-in-law, Armstrong wound up almost destroying the nation.
Monroe told Armstrong that protecting Washington, D.C. should be the main military priority, but Armstrong scoffed at the suggestion. Armstrong also brainwashed President Madison and the citizens of D.C. into a false sense of security, which resulted in Washington, D.C. being undefended against the British.
Monroe advised Madison to follow the advice of America's chief diplomat, John Quincy Adams, and send diplomats for peace talks with the British in St. Petersburg, Russia. But the British refused to show up at the peace talks because the British government believed they were about to win the war with America. Britain had reason to think so: the Royal Navy had contained the US Navy, Britain had won significant battles on land and at sea, and was poised to seize all the territory between the Appalachian Mountains and the Mississippi River.
In 1813, the Duke of Wellington told the British government that the war with America was unwinnable. Wellington argued that there was far-too-much territory to control, and trying to do so would sap British resources to the point where it would be likely that the current government would collapse. Finally, the British were in the mood for diplomacy, and on 4 November 1813, SecState Monroe received official communications that signaled Britain's desire for negotiations at a neutral site in Ghent, Belgium.
The British government believed itself to be invincible, and it's insatiable appetite for empire was rekindled. Ignoring Wellington's advice, Britain sent 14,000 troops to America, believing an onslaught by land-and-sea would lead to a decisive and victorious end to the war. The US seemed helpless and unable to respond to Britain's version of "Shock and Awe" . . .