The administration of James Monroe



James Monroe was elected President in the election of 1816, with Daniel D. Tompkins for Vice-President. Among the more important of the succeeding events was the invasion of Florida by General Jackson. From 1812 difficulties had existed with the Seminole Indians, while many fugitive slaves fled to Northern Florida and amalgamated with these savages. These negroes settled along the Appalachicola River for a distance of fifty miles, defying the American and the Spanish authorities alike. They had been supplied with arms and ammunition by the British, and built a strong fort, which was attacked by Colonel Clinch in 1816. A red-hot ball from a gunboat in the river penetrated the magazine and blew up the fort, only fifty of its three hundred inmates escaping alive. This for a time broke up the negro settlements; but annoyance from the Seminoles continued. In 1818 General Jackson invaded Florida, destroyed the Indian towns, and took forcible possession of the Spanish fort of St. Marks and the city of Pensacola. The diplomatic controversy between Spain and the United States to which this gave rise resulted in the cession of the whole of Florida to the United States, on February 22, 1819. The treaty of cession was ratified on the 19th of February, 1821.

In 1817 piratical settlements which had been formed on Amelia Island, Florida, and at Galveston, Texas, were broken up by the American navy. A more dangerous haunt of pirates, in the West Indies, was attacked in 1822, and over twenty piratical vessels destroyed. In 1823 Commodore Porter sought out and broke up the retreats of the pirates. They afterwards, however, continued their depredations from other hiding-places.

The political state of the country during the Monroe administration differed from its condition before or since. The Federal party had disappeared. The Republican party was yet undivided. Practically there was but one political party in America, and what was known as "the era of good feeling" prevailed. Industrially, however, there came on the land a severe depression. The sudden prosperity that succeeded the war had vanished, and the natural revulsion from abnormally high prices had come. After a brief resumption of specie payments, the banks again suspended. Gold and silver disappeared. The Bank of the United States was in a disorganized condition. It could not collect its debts without a ruinous pressure on business. Ruin and bankruptcy prevailed everywhere. Business and employment sank to a low ebb. In all directions the distress of a financial panic prevailed, from which it took several years for the country to recover.

An interesting event of 1824 was the visit of Lafayette to this country. The venerable visitor was received with an enthusiasm which has never been surpassed in America. His movement through the country was a continual march of joy and triumph. He journeyed five thousand miles through the Union, everywhere feted and caressed. Congress voted him two hundred thousand dollars and a township of land, and on this departure from the country he was conveyed to France in an American frigate prepared specially for his accommodation.

During the period in question the problem of internal improvements came up for the serious consideration of Congress. Large subsidies were demanded from the general government for the building of roads and canals and the improvement of rivers and harbors. Jefferson, Madison, and Monroe alike denied the constitutionality of such an appropriation of the public funds, yet each of them signed many bills for this purpose. The strife finally came to depend upon the simple question whether or not a certain sum of money should be voted by Congress, the discussion of the constitutional point being avoided. At first both sections of the country favored measures of this character, but eventually the South declared against them. The remark of a Louisiana Congressman in 1817, "Louisiana wants no roads," well expressed the ruling principle of the Southern opposition to internal improvement schemes. Yet large appropriations were made for various purposes, for a canal route across Florida, for a national road from Cumberland, Maryland, to Ohio, for the improvement of the navigation of the Ohio, etc. The greatest enterprise of the time, the Erie Canal, was the work of the State of New York. This was commenced on July 4, 1817, and completed in 1825, at a cost of ten million dollars.

Of the other notable events of the period may be mentioned the founding of the Anti-Slavery Association in 1815, with the establishment of a newspaper in its interests; the formation of the first savings-bank, in Philadelphia, in 1816; the founding of colleges and universities in nearly every State; and the crossing of the ocean by the steamer Savannah, in 1819. John Fitch had operated a steam-boat on the Delaware before 1790, while Fulton, in 1807, ran a steamboat more effectively upon the Hudson. The first railroad in America was a short road at Quincy, Massachusetts, worked by horse-power. The first locomotive engine ran from the coal-mines of the Delaware and Hudson Company to Honesdale, Pennsylvania, in 1828.

During the same era began the series of rebellions of the Spanish-American colonies, which finally ended in their independence and the establishment of republican governments in them all. The revolt of Mexico against Spain broke out in 1810. It continued year after year with varying success, the revolutionists now gaining important advantages, Spain now regaining predominance. The independence of Mexico was proclaimed in 1813, while by 1819 the dominion of Spain had again become almost unquestioned. Victoria, one of the last leaders of the revolutionists, was forced to fly for refuge to the mountains, where he remained concealed for several years in a state of the utmost destitution. In 1821 a new insurrection broke out, headed by Iturbide, which was joined by Victoria, Guerrero, and others of the old revolutionists. This attempt was successful: the Spanish were driven out, and a monarchical government was formed, with Iturbide as ruler. He was forced to resign, however, in 1823, and a republican government, on the model of that of the United States, was adopted in 1824, with General Victoria as the first President.

Closely connected with this successful revolution is the famous "Monroe Doctrine." America had early in its history "declared its intention" not to interfere in European affairs. But the correlative doctrine, that Europe should not interfere in American affairs, was later in being asserted. The idea appears in the correspondence of Jefferson, but it was first stated as a principle of American politics in the message of President Monroe of 1823. The South American Spanish colonies had achieved their independence at the same time with Mexico, and there was a possibility that the combined powers of Europe might interfere with their liberties in the interest of Spain. Monroe said, in the message in question, "We owe it to candor, and to the amicable relations existing between the United States and (the allied) powers, to declare that we should consider any attempt on their part to extend their system to any part of this hemisphere as dangerous to our peace and safety. With the existing colonies or dependencies of any European power we have not interfered and shall not interfere. But with the governments who have declared their independence and maintained it, and whose independence we have, on great consideration and just principles, acknowledged, we could not view any interposition for the purpose of oppressing them, or controlling in any other manner their destiny, by any European power, in any other light than as the manifestation of an unfriendly disposition towards the United States." He further declared that the American continents "are henceforth not to be considered as subjects for future colonization by any European power."

The "Monroe Doctrine" never received the sanction of Congress. No congress of the republics of America has ever been held. Yet it holds its own as a national tradition which the people of the United States are earnest to uphold. The only decided attempt to act in opposition to its doctrines was in the effort of France to secure Maximilian a throne in Mexico. The unfortunate result of this effort will in all probability prevent any similar action from being taken at any time in the near future. "America for the Americans" is a principle of policy which all Europe is not strong enough to disdain or to subvert.





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