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April 28, 11 am: Memorial Service Honoring President James Monroe

  • Hollywood Cemetery

    412 South Cherry Street, Richmond, VA (map)

    37.536396 -77.455795

  • James Monroe's birthday celebration is an annual event that takes place on April 28th. A gravesite presidential wreathlaying ceremony is hosted by the James Monroe Memorial Foundation. The event will begin at 11:00 am (subject to any changes by the Army, which conducts the ceremony) and is open to the public.

    Thursday, April 28, 2017 will be Monroe's 259th birthday.

    Here's an obituary for James Monroe.

    On July 4, 1831, the 55th anniversary of the American Declaration of Independence, former president James Monroe passed away at the age of 73. The fifth President of the United States, Mr. Monroe was the third to die on the country’s birthday joining his predecessors John Adams and Thomas Jefferson who passed away exactly five years earlier. 

    President Monroe was the last “Founding Father” to hold the highest seat in the American government, serving two terms from 1817-1825. He was also the fourth Virginian to serve as Chief Executive since the establishment of the office in 1788: George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and Monroe.

    Monroe was orphaned as a teenager but ambitious enough to enroll himself at The College of William and Mary. While there he helped organize revolutionary activities including the raid of the British Governor’s Palace for muskets and swords to arm the local militia - when he was just 16 years old.

    Two years later Monroe was serving with George Washington and was injured during the Battle of Trenton. (In Emanuel Gottlieb Luetze’s famous Washington Crossing the Delaware - which happened before the surprise attack on Trenton - Monroe is depicted holding the American flag and standing directly behind General Washington. It is not historically accurate.)

    Following the war, Monroe studied law with Thomas Jefferson and was then elected to the Continental Congress in 1783. New York City was the capital at the time and that is where Monroe met his future wife Elizabeth Kortright. They married in 1785 when he was 27 and she was 17.

    In 1788 he was selected as a representative to Virginia’s convention to discuss the newly proposed U.S. Constitution. He voted against ratification believing that there should be direct popular vote for the president and U.S. senators (the former was chosen through the electoral college and the latter were selected by state legislatures until the adoption of the 17th amendement in 1913). He also demanded a bill of rights be added.

    Coincidentally, Monroe was selected by Virginia’s legislature to serve in the U.S. Senate beginning in 1790. He became the leader of the “Democratic-Republican” party (along with Thomas Jefferson and James Madison) which stood in opposition to the Federalist party led by John Adams and Alexander Hamilton.

    The next few years were filled with short-term appointments and elected offices. He was Minister to France under Washington for three years [masked]), governor of Virginia for three terms [masked], a term of office was only one year at the time), and then Minister to England under Thomas Jefferson [masked]). He did make a short trip to Paris in 1803 at the request of Jefferson to negotiate the Louisiana Purchase.

    Now a respected diplomat and politician, Monroe was asked by the President James Madison  - who defeated Monroe in an election to the House of Representatives decades earlier - to be the Secretary of State. Monroe served in that role from 1811 until the end of Madison’s second term in 1817. Interestingly enough during the midst of the War of 1812, Madison appointed Monroe to be Secretary of War, however Madison was unable to fill the position of Secretary of State. So Monroe oversaw both cabinet offices for six months. (He planned an invasion of Canada while serving in the War Department but the war ended before the plans were implemented.)

    Monroe himself was elected as President of the United States in 1816. At this point the Federalists were all but gone and Monroe was faced with little opposition winning 11 of 14 states and 68% of the popular vote. Following a tour across the eastern U.S. one journalist dubbed the peace and prosperity as Monroe took office as the “Era of Good Feelings” which became the nickname for the Monroe presidency.

    Monroe had a rather quiet two terms in office. The two biggest domestic issues were the Panic of 1817 and the admission of Missouri to the United States in 1820. The latter lay the seeds for later battles over the expansion of slavery across the country, but was resolved at the time with the famous Missouri Compromise that admitted Maine simultaneously as a free state and banned slavery from north of the southern border of Missouri.

    Slavery was also a personal issue for Monroe who owned dozens of slaves while proclaiming the evil of the institution. (He never freed his slaves, even after his death as some were in practice of doing.) Monroe was a proponent of re-colonization - sending slaves back to Africa. During his second term, with his support, the American Colonization Society created the country of Liberia for freed American blacks. Approximately 538 black men, women, and children moved there immediately. The capital city was named Monrovia making it the only world capital named for a U.S. president.

    Monroe’s greatest foreign policy achievement came late in his second term when he addressed Congress in December 1823. He established that the western hemisphere was under the watch of the United States and that all European powers were to no longer interefere in the Americas. It also promised that the U.S. would remain neutral in European wars - which held true until America’s entrance into World War I in 1917. Dubbed “The Monroe Doctrine” it was actually written by Secretary of State John Quincy Adams with the support of England.

    In 1820, Monroe became the last president to run unopposed for office. He received every electoral vote but one. (The story was that the elector wanted Washington to be the only president chosen unanimously but, in fact, he simply did not like Monroe.)

    In one odd note, Monroe continued to wear clothing appropriate to the time of the Founding Fathers, including a powdered wig and breeches, throughout his time as president. He did not want people to forget how important a time that was for the nation. For perspective, that would be the same as Barack Obama dressing in styles from the 1960s and 70s. 

    After his second term ended in 1825, Monroe retired to his farm in Virginia. Heavily in debt - as were many politicians at the time whose wealth was tied to land and slaves - Monroe petitioned the U.S. to help him using his deacdes of service as the reason for his plea. They eventually did offer to pay off a portion of his debts. 

    Moving in with his daughter Hester Maria Monroe Gouvenour (the first child of a president to be married in the White House) after the death of his wife Katherine in 1830, Monroe died only 7 months later.

    James Monroe, who preferred to be addressed as “Colonel Monroe” even as president, is buried in Hollywood Cemetery in Richmond, Virginia next to John Tyler, the 10th president of the United States.


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