Mark W. Hendrickson

Monroe’s marriage was one of the great love stories in presidential history. He and Elizabeth—who might have been the only First Lady more beautiful and glamorous than Jackie Kennedy, and who displayed heroic courage by intervening in the nick of time to save Lafayette’s wife, Adrienne, from the guillotine—shared a decades-long tender and devoted mutual love.

James Monroe may hold the record for the highest number of offices held during his career in public service. He was either elected or appointed to the following offices: 1782, Virginia legislature; 1790, U.S. Senate; 1794, Minister to France; 1803, Minister to France and Spain whose initiative resulted in the Louisiana Purchase; 1803, Minister to England; 1810, elected to the Virginia legislature a third time; 1811, elected governor of Virginia a fourth time; 1811 becomes U.S. Secretary of State; 1812-13, named acting Secretary of War and in 1814, actual Secretary of War while also remaining Secretary of State; 1816, elected president; 1820, re-elected without opposition—the only American other than George Washington to stand unopposed for the presidency.

It is that last accomplishment—being elected without opposition to the presidency—that is most remarkable. After the bruising election campaign we recently passed through, we may wonder how it was possible that nobody bothered to run against Monroe. Yes, he was an exceptional man, but even great men have enemies.

I think the reason Monroe ran unopposed was that nobody at that time felt threatened by the federal government. In 1820, Uncle Sam was still confined to original duties of keeping Americans safe and upholding contracts and property rights. In other words, in the minds of free Americans, there was neither a handout to be gained from the federal government nor the threat of confiscation of a portion of one’s property for redistribution to special interests. In short, the government was limited, unobtrusive, and benign.

Today, by contrast, the federal government is a predatory aggressor against property rights, and myriad special interests engage in an angry, perpetual battle to see who can take what from whom. Monroe had the good fortune to be president when America was America and not this sorry variation of a demoralized European welfare state.

The amazing life story of James Monroe, the fifth president of the United States, would not be complete without mentioning that he passed from this world on the Fourth of July, 1831—five years to the day after his fellow presidents Adams and Jefferson. What a fitting conclusion to the life of a principled patriot who gave his whole adult life to serving his country and upholding our most noble ideals.

Mark W. Hendrickson

Dr. Mark W. Hendrickson is an adjunct faculty member, economist, and fellow for economic and social policy with The Center for Vision & Values at Grove City College.