January in History: Monroe at Valley Forge

In 1777, Monroe was promoted to major and assigned to the staff of Major General William Alexander, Lord Stirling. Starting in January of 1778, he was encamped with the Revolutionary Army at Valley Forge in Pennsylvania. The spot was selected by George Washington as a secure location to house the troops for the winter because it was close enough to keep tabs on the British but far enough away that a surprise attack would be unlikely. The weather that winter wasn't extremely cold, but mainly wet and damp, which made it hard for the soldiers to stay dry and easy for disease to spread. They received irregular supplies of food, sometimes living on "fire cake," which was a mixture of flour and water. Around 2,500 soldiers died of disease and exposure, and Washington worried that the entire army would either starve to death or have to be dissolved. However, Monroe and the men persevered, and emerged in the spring, having been well-drilled by Prussian-born General von Steuben, to win a … [Read more...]

Today in History: Monroe begins first term as Governor of Virginia

On December 17, 1799, Monroe began the first of four terms as Governor of Virginia. (He was nominated a fifth time, but declined!) He was the first governor to administer from the brand-new (Jefferson-designed) state capitol building in Richmond. William Wirt wrote of Monroe at this time: "The [Governor] of this Commonwealth is the same [man] who was, not many years ago, the [minister] at Paris. His present office is sufficient evidence of the estimation in which he is held by his native state ... His countenance, when grave, has rather the expression of sternness and irascibility; a smile, however (and a smile is not unusual with him in a social circle), lights it up to a very high advantage, and gives it a most impressive and engaging air of suavity and benevolence." (From The Letters of a British Spy.) … [Read more...]

October 20 in History: Treaty of 1818 Signed

Today in History, 20 October 1818: Under Monroe's first term as president, Britain and the U.S. signed the Treaty of 1818, which established the boundary between U.S. and Canadian territories at the 49th parallel. Also known as the "Convention respecting fisheries, boundary and the restoration of slaves," the Treaty secured fishing rights for U.S. fishermen along Newfoundland and Labrador, provided for joint control of Oregon territory, and marked the beginning of better relations between Britain and the U.S. (although a later struggle for control of Oregon would cause some strife). It also paved the way for smooth relations between the U.S. and Canada. This was the last major permanent loss of territory for the U.S., as it ceded the northernmost tip of the Louisiana Territory. Find out more about the Treaty of 1818 here. … [Read more...]

October 17 in History: Monroe Writes a Letter to Thomas Jefferson

On October 17, 1823, Monroe wrote a letter to his former teacher and good friend, Thomas Jefferson. Not an usual occurrence, but in this case, Monroe was asking for advice on a foreign policy matter he was considering. That foreign policy matter would become the Monroe Doctrine, which Monroe delivered in his annual message to Congress on December 2, 1823. This article from Politico will tell you what Jefferson's advice was. You can read the text of the Doctrine in the Research section of our website. … [Read more...]