James Monroe and a Nation’s Call to Greatness (2009)
In his Inaugural Address, Monroe outlined his priorities as President. First was to unify the nation, and second was to strengthen national defenses. Thirdly, Monroe wanted to further expand the economy featuring such aspects as roads, canals, manufacturing, and increased agricultural output. The phrase that resonated in the nation's newspapers from Monroe's 1st Inaugural Address was "National Honor is National Property".
Chief Justice John Marshall, Monroe's close friend since childhood, officiated the Oath of Office. Both men had reached the pinnacle of personal and political triumphs in the Executive and Judicial Branches of the federal government. Although Monroe disagreed with most of the Marshall Court decisions, Monroe took full advantage of them as President, doing things that the Jefferson Strict Constructionists would never have allowed, or even conceptualized. Marshall gave Monroe the tools to create the American Empire, as well as the greatest extended period of prosperity to that point in American History.
Monroe finally found (actually he settled for) John C. Calhoun, a Representative from South Carolina twenty-four years his junior, as his Secretary of War; Calhoun shared Monroe's desire for defending America's extensive borders. Monroe retained both Richard Rush of Pennsylvania as Attorney General, and Benjamin Crowninshield of Massachusetts as the Secretary of the Navy. Monroe refused to have any Federalists in his Cabinet since he was still upset-and-distrustful with Federalists after the Hartford Convention (December 1814); to Monroe, even discussing the possibility of secession equaled treason.
On 1 June 1817, Monroe set out for Baltimore, planning to use a combination of steamboats, carriages, and riding on horseback to be as anonymous as possible for his Goodwill Trip, but large crowds immediately shattered Monroe's plan of being incognito. The tour became a triumphant procession, with as many as 10,000+ waiting to see/hear the President. On 9 June 1817, Monroe reached New York City, and he traveled up the Hudson River on a Navy steam frigate to West Point. Then Monroe traveled to New England, including Boston, where he was in front of immense crowds since he was a Revolutionary War Hero.
At a dinner party in Boston, Monroe was surprised to see former (Federalist) President and First Lady, John and Abigail Adams. Also at the dinner party former Federalist Secretary of State Timothy Pickering, who had been beyond-difficult for Monroe when he was America's chief European diplomat. The sight of Monroe, the Adams, and Pickering at the same table was witnessed-and-reported by the newspaper The Chronicle and the Patriot. The editorial asserted that the last time a congenial meeting occurred among those of different parties was before 1790 . . . that editorial, among others, was the genesis of the moniker "The Era of Good Feelings".
The First Lady, Elizabeth Monroe, was a physical mess, suffering especially from rheumatoid arthritis, and she also disliked crowds. Therefore, she wasn't able to be near the public hostess as was her predecessor, Dolley Madison. However, Elizabeth did refurbish the White House, and it was "kind-of" open to the public. Elizabeth's pain-and-discomfort was such that she wasn't able to visit the wives of the DC Elite like previous First Ladies, and as a result (of course) nasty gossip at the expense of Elizabeth was spread among the Elites in D.C. Monroe helped his wife by making sure that there weren't as many Presidential galas as in previous years, and those that occurred were held only when Congress was in session.
The Monroes were accused by the gossip-mongers of turning the White House into a de facto European Court. The root of the nasty gossip among the wives of the DC Elite was simply their jealousy of the beautiful, graceful, very-well-educated, and worldly Elizabeth . . . these series of slanderous smears have sadly obscured her place among the list of our nation's outstanding First Ladies.
Monroe's first crisis (of sorts) came when constant pirate attacks kept occurring on Amelia Island on the Spanish Florida / state of Georgia coastline and also off the port of Galveston, Texas. Additionally, and of far more political significance, renegade Seminole warriors continued to raid Georgia plantations, and then retreated to the safety of Spanish East Florida. Monroe ordered General Andrew Jackson to the vicinity of Spanish East Florida (by then, West Florida had been taken by the U.S.; also by then Monroe and Jackson had become friends).
The instructions that General Jackson received from SecWar Calhoun in terms of dealing with the Seminoles in Spanish Florida were vague, as were those from President Monroe. Jackson knew that Monroe's long-term goal was to eventually take Spanish East Florida, so Jackson's response to Monroe was that if he didn't hear from his superiors in 60 days, he would take appropriate action. Monroe believed that he couldn't reply to Jackson's response for Constitutional reasons, and Monroe didn't instruct SecWar Calhoun to send a message to Jackson that prohibited him from attacking outposts occupied by Spanish troops.
So therefore, no instructions from either President Monroe or SecWar Calhoun reached Jackson within the 60 day period, so Jackson interpreted Calhoun's vague original orders as permission to invade Spanish East Florida with 1000+ men, and he "let slip the Dogs of War".
Monroe started his Southern trip in the Chesapeake Region, focusing especially on Virginia. But Monroe had to cut his trip short in that Speaker of the House Henry Clay had whipped up a "Holy War" against General Jackson on Capitol Hill and Monroe headed back to D.C. to defend his general. When it came to Jackson, Clay was out-of-step with the vast majority of Americans that saw Jackson as a national hero.
President Monroe, as well as SecState Quincy Adams, thought that Jackson had actually increased America's international standing by attacking Spanish East Florida. Monroe instructed SecState Quincy Adams to give Spain an ultimatum: cede the rest of Florida to the U.S. or keep the raids from the Seminoles from occurring. Spain had its hands full with their possessions in South America, and the Spanish government (in Madrid and in Florida) was beyond-terrified of once again facing who they called the "Napoleon of the Woods" (General Jackson) . . . so Spain capitulated to Monroe.
Adams-Onis Treaty (1819), the U.S. not only gained the rest of Florida, but the government also renounced all claims to Texas. The Adams-Onis Treaty also defined, at long last, the western border of the Louisiana Territory, reaching all the way to the Pacific Northwest (the treaty in actuality finalized the Louisiana Purchase). In sending Jackson into Spanish Florida, Monroe started a series of events that led to the Adams-Onis Treaty, which allowed the U.S. to seize control over most of what is now the 48 contiguous states.
Monroe now had what constituted meaningful national defenses, with oceans, gulfs, lakes, and rivers providing specific boundaries/buffers. General Jackson went to Washington, D.C. to deal with Clay's attempt to censure him in Congress. By then, Congress had finally realized what Clay had not: Jackson was still America's Great Hero, and Clay's motion to censure Jackson was soundly defeated (President Jackson was censured in March 1834, from a resolution by Clay). Clay went to Jackson's hotel room to apologize to the General, but Jackson had already departed for New York City . . . Clay's desire to reduce Jackson's popularity, or even to politically destroy him, continued to fester-and-grow in the years that followed.
Included in the Adams-Onis Treaty was an addendum from the Convention of 1818, that established the 49th Parallel as the border between the U.S. and Canada from what would become Minnesota to the Rockies. However, a border west of the Rocky Mountains in the Oregon Territory remained elusive for the U.S. and Great Britain, and an agreement was reached to allow open settlement for both nations for the next ten years.