Inaugurating the Era of Good Feelings

Unknown artist, c. 1820 (James Monroe Museum and Memorial Library)

On an unusually warm March afternoon two hundred years ago, James Monroe took the oath of office as America’s fifth president. In a capital city still recovering from having government buildings burned to the ground three years earlier by the British, large crowds thronged the city to celebrate Monroe’s inauguration on March 4, 1817.  The planning of the ceremony itself caused a congressional squabble, the oath was taken under a temporary portico outside of a temporary capitol building, and nobody could hear Monroe’s speech.  But that day ushered in a brief era of national unity and good feeling, when Americans formed (in Monroe’s words) “one great family with a common interest.” James Monroe entered the presidency with more experience in elected or appointed office than any man before—or since. Born on Virginia’s Northern Neck in 1758, he had joined the Continental Army to fight in the Revolution as a teenager and been in public service almost continually since.  As James Madison’s … [Read more...]

The Near-Duel Between James Monroe and Alexander Hamilton

by Dr. Cassandra Good, cgood@umw.edu While Alexander Hamilton’s fatal duel with Aaron Burr in 1804 is well-known, Hamilton also came close to dueling with James Monroe several years earlier. The correspondence relating to this incident, part of a larger controversy historians call the Reynolds Affair, is published in volumes 3 & 4 of the Papers of James Monroe. In 1792, while serving as senator from Virginia, Monroe was on a committee with Frederick Muhlenberg, speaker of the House of Representatives, and Abraham Venable, a Virginia congressmen, to investigate charges of financial malfeasance against Alexander Hamilton. The committee met with the accusers, Muhlenberg’s clerk Jacob Clingman and a New York speculator named James Reynolds, to get their testimonies. When the committee met with Hamilton, he revealed that he was innocent of these charges and that his financial involvement with Reynolds was in fact to cover up an affair with Reynolds’ wife, Maria. In a subsquent … [Read more...]