There is an interesting new biography out on: The Last Founding Father, James Monroe
. The following is excerpted from Presidential Temperament
, by David Keirsey and Ray Choinere.James Monroe
Born: April 28, 1758
Died: July 4, 1831
The year was 1816; the United States was thirty-seven years old. After George Washington the people of the United States had elected three consecutive Rational Presidents, had already endured bloody episodes with France and Spain, and had gone through its second war with England. Now the most immediate pressures had abated, and there was time to salve the nation’s wounds and to consolidate its very significant gains. The atmosphere in the year 1816 was bright and warm with peace and prosperity and good feeling. James Monroe, Secretary of State at the time of the election, was the favorite of the highly respected Thomas Jefferson and James Madison, and was easily elected to the presidency. Now was the time for the last of the Revolutionary Presidents, the last representative of that extraordinary group of men who had been directly involved in the formulation of the Declaration of Independence, the agonies of the Revolutionary War, the creation of a new nation, of a new Constitution, and of a new government.
James Monroe did not present the image of a great revolutionary hero. He was tall and plain and rather awkward in appearance. Though his behavior was formal and well-starched, he was always gentle and courteous and, as one observer noted, “not displeasing to the ladies.”
A bust of him shows a clean firm jaw, a cleft chin, a pleasant mobile mouth, a prominent nose, and deeply hollowed eyes. It is the head of a responsible, thoughtful, but agreeable young man, sure of himself and ready for an important place in the world.
Monroe like Madison before him was something of a throwback to Revolutionary days. He was one of the few men who still wore the traditional knee britches and long hose, and he was the last President to wear the old-fashioned tricorne hat, a habit that won him the sobriquet, “the Last of the Cocked Hats.” Monroe was fond of recalling his Revolutionary background, and certainly he had a background worthy of remembering. He quit college when the Revolutionary War broke out, joined the Continental Army and was soon commissioned a lieutenant. He participated in Washington’s famous attack across the Delaware River on the bitterly cold Christmas Day of 1776 when the Continentals surprised and defeated the Hessian mercenaries. He was with Washington’s Continental Army during its long retreat and desperate encampment in the fall and the terrible winter of 1777. He was at that time not yet nineteen years old and already a veteran of some of the worst days of the Revolutionary War.
Also unlike his Proactive Guardian predecessor Washington, Monroe had strongly egalitarian convictions, insisting that everyone, regardless of rank, should be treated with “friendly, republican, and unassuming manners.” Egalitarianism is not especially common in the Guardian, who has a temperamentally given respect for hierarchy and authority. Monroe’s egalitarianism may have been in part a reflection of Thomas Jefferson’s intellectual leadership. Jefferson had a powerful faith in the ability of the average citizen to choose and to act wisely, and Monroe’s egalitarian stance was in part a reflection of the temper of the times, but was also something adopted almost whole cloth from his friend and mentor Jefferson.
Not that Monroe was a gullible man, or one easily persuaded to unfamiliar views. This Monitor (Proactive Guardian), like most of his kind, was always steady and careful in his actions. Like Washington before him he wouldn’t be stampeded into hurried judgments or rash actions by anyone or anything. Monroe had, as John Quincy Adams later wrote, “a mind sound in its ultimate judgments, and firm in its final conclusions.” One can hardly avoid noticing the similarity of Adams’ description of the Monitor Monroe with Thomas Jefferson’s earlier description of the Monitor George Washington: “As far as he saw, no judgment was ever sounder. It was slow in operation, being little aided by invention or imagination, but sure in conclusion.”
The Constitutional Convention of 1787 was one situation in which Monroe’s measured steadiness and sound judgment were of extraordinary importance. The country’s original constitution, the Articles of Confederation, was a painfully defective document and in 1787 a new convention of representatives of the states was called to remedy the problem. An alternative Constitution was hammered out to replace the Articles at the Constitutional Convention and the new document had great appeal for most of the delegates. The delegation included some very intelligent and articulate men, men who strongly approved of the new instrument, but the wary James Monroe fought vigorously against its adoption. He was convinced, as were several others, that the proposed Constitution as it stood would enable the government to undermine the rights of citizens, and perhaps eventually destroy their freedom. It was not until Monroe was assured that a Bill of Rights would be added to the Constitution to prevent such abuse that he relinquished his opposition to it.
It was of course inevitable that people would compare Monroe with his four presidential predecessors. Perhaps partly because he simply was not an extraordinary man, or perhaps simply because he was being compared with an extraordinary group, James Monroe did not seem to register very favorably. His contemporaries saw him as plain and modest, a decent and sincere person who was free of any guile or insincerity. He was admirable in these respects, but to most observers he was still a rather dull, conventional man, slow and unoriginal and lacking in polish. His conservative sagacity, his sensible prudence, was quite undramatic, as is so often the case with the strengths of the Guardians, and its value to the country was little recognized or appreciated.