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The Last Founding Father: James Monroe and a Nation's Call to Greatness

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In this lively and compelling biography Harlow Giles Unger reveals the dominant political figure of a generation. A fierce fighter in four critical Revolutionary War battles and a courageous survivor of Valley Forge and a near-fatal wound at the Battle of Trenton, James Monroe (1751–1831) went on to become America’s first full-time politician, dedicating his life to securi In this lively and compelling biography Harlow Giles Unger reveals the dominant political figure of a generation. A fierce fighter in four critical Revolutionary War battles and a courageous survivor of Valley Forge and a near-fatal wound at the Battle of Trenton, James Monroe (1751–1831) went on to become America’s first full-time politician, dedicating his life to securing America’s national and international durability.Decorated by George Washington for his exploits as a soldier, Monroe became a congressman, a senator, U.S. minister to France and Britain, governor of Virginia, secretary of state, secretary of war, and finally America’s fifth president. The country embraced Monroe’s dreams of empire and elected him to two terms, the second time unanimously. Mentored by each of America’s first four presidents, Monroe was unquestionably the best prepared president in our history. Like David McCullough’s John Adams and Jon Meacham’s recent book on Andrew Jackson, this new biography of Monroe is both a solid read and stellar scholarship—history in the grand tradition.


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In this lively and compelling biography Harlow Giles Unger reveals the dominant political figure of a generation. A fierce fighter in four critical Revolutionary War battles and a courageous survivor of Valley Forge and a near-fatal wound at the Battle of Trenton, James Monroe (1751–1831) went on to become America’s first full-time politician, dedicating his life to securi In this lively and compelling biography Harlow Giles Unger reveals the dominant political figure of a generation. A fierce fighter in four critical Revolutionary War battles and a courageous survivor of Valley Forge and a near-fatal wound at the Battle of Trenton, James Monroe (1751–1831) went on to become America’s first full-time politician, dedicating his life to securing America’s national and international durability.Decorated by George Washington for his exploits as a soldier, Monroe became a congressman, a senator, U.S. minister to France and Britain, governor of Virginia, secretary of state, secretary of war, and finally America’s fifth president. The country embraced Monroe’s dreams of empire and elected him to two terms, the second time unanimously. Mentored by each of America’s first four presidents, Monroe was unquestionably the best prepared president in our history. Like David McCullough’s John Adams and Jon Meacham’s recent book on Andrew Jackson, this new biography of Monroe is both a solid read and stellar scholarship—history in the grand tradition.

30 review for The Last Founding Father: James Monroe and a Nation's Call to Greatness

  1. 5 out of 5

    Martin Bihl

    As I’ve said in preface to reviews of other bios, I accept a level of bias in these things – because you can’t expect someone who has dedicated several years of their life to studying someone to remain objective. But you know you're in for an exceptionally wild ride when, in the introduction, the author refers to Adams, Jefferson and Madison as mere "caretakers" and implies that Monroe was the obvious heir to Washington’s legacy. But hey, everyone gets to have an opinion, and Unger should be no d As I’ve said in preface to reviews of other bios, I accept a level of bias in these things – because you can’t expect someone who has dedicated several years of their life to studying someone to remain objective. But you know you're in for an exceptionally wild ride when, in the introduction, the author refers to Adams, Jefferson and Madison as mere "caretakers" and implies that Monroe was the obvious heir to Washington’s legacy. But hey, everyone gets to have an opinion, and Unger should be no different. So does he make his case? And if not, does he at least justify the book’s title? Is Monroe really the last of the founding fathers? Well, no. And no. In spite of the bias, a slim portrait of Monroe still emerges. The fifth president comes across as thin-skinned, shallow, not a little vain, and fairly self-involved. A man who lived off the largesse of his uncle, constantly grasping for legitimacy and aristocracy, unable (or unwilling) to build a law practice or a plantation, marrying wealth and using friends and connections to succeed. But that, for all I can tell, is just how Monroe was, and was not what I found annoying about the biography. Instead, there are three areas that I found particularly frustrating, and which I think are indicative of the faults of the bio as a whole. The first concerns the Louisiana Purchase. Clearly in spite of the fact that everyone alive at the time of the Louisiana Purchase wants to take credit for it, it’s pretty clear that the purchase only happened because Napoleon was eager to sell. The Americans did not put the idea into his head and did not convince him he needed to get rid of it. On this, I think, most historians are agreed. That said, then the only real responsibility that Monroe had – and the only way he can really claim the purchase as his accomplishment - was to draft a comprehensive, accurate and thorough treaty to close the deal. And this he failed to do. For years afterwards, America was embroiled in disputes with various European powers (most notably Spain) about just exactly what was included in the Louisiana Purchase. Was Florida? Was the panhandle? What about the Northern border? What about the Southern? No one knew, thereby creating international chaos for a generation. The second area has to do with credit. On the one hand, Unger is quick to dismiss as foolish those writers who credit Quincy Adams with the substance of the Monroe Doctrine, intimating that those writers really don’t understand that the driving personalities of presidents would preclude letting anyone else speak for them. Fair enough. But on several occasions Unger states that he believes Madison was so incapacitated during and after the War of 1812, that he had given complete control of the government to Monroe. That Madison was really only president in name only, and that Monroe was really running the show. Really? The Madison biographers don’t see it quite that way… And later, closer to home, after Monroe’s own final midterm elections, Unger paints a portrait of a president completely on the sidelines. Completely outflanked by his own cabinet ministers, all of whom were, it seems, running for president themselves. Again, really? Poor Monroe! If only he had power to fire his cabinet ministers and appoint people who would do what he said. Oh yeah, he did have that power. But it seems like the sidelines is where Monroe lives most of the time in this biography. Long passages discuss events that Monroe has no direct involvement in. There’s a lot about Washington, which feels pulled from Unger’s bio of him, and from Lafayette’s life, which feels pulled from Unger’s work on him. These sections not only feel like padding, but they actually serve to make Monroe a less important and less compelling figure in his own biography. The third area has to do with Monroe’s republican politics. Here is a man who inherits the mantle of Jefferson and Madison, who proclaims himself a republican – a member of the party that mocked John Adams and seriously believed that Adams had monarchical intentions because of his opinions on titles and ceremony – bringing a level of pomp and circumstance to the White House that would have made the Sun King blush. And Unger doesn’t bat an eye – transcribing long passages describing the sumptuousness and delicacy of the gowns of Monroe’s wife and daughters. Don’t get me wrong – I’m frustrated by Jefferson’s and Madison’s policies, and actually believe that Monroe’s pursuit of a national bank, of a standing army, of, in short, a stronger federal government, was a good thing. But those beliefs put his so far out of the mainstream of Jeffersonian-Madisonian Republicanism that they cry out for commentary. And Unger is silent. He’s also silent on Monroe’s relationship to slavery, which I find to be ultimately inexcusable. Monroe started out poor, and therefore must have intentionally acquired slaves at the same time that he was building a political career. He cannot use the excuse of Washington, Jefferson and Madison that he “inherited” the slavery problem. He clearly leapt into it. And yet Unger makes so few references to it that one might think Monroe had only waiters and servants in his employ. Let me be clear - any president who owned slaves – any American who styled himself as representing “freedom” in an otherwise tyrannical world – was living a profound contradiction. Understanding the mental gymnastics they performed to live this contradiction do not absolve them of it, but at least help us to understand them. But this contradiction needs to be addressed and Unger doesn’t even come close to approaching it. Much to the work’s detriment. Adult biographies of Monroe are few and far between, and I am happy to at least have this volume to familiarize myself with some of the issues of his life. But I will undoubtedly have to look elsewhere for something more substantive. Perhaps I’ll take a look at Ammons 600 page bio – or maybe I’ll just move on to JQA.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Mara

    A more suitable title for this biography may have been something to the effect of James Monroe: the Musings of a Fanboy. You might think I'm exaggerating, that, like many biographers after years of research and editing, Harlow Giles Unger was just a bit taken with his subject at the time of his writing. In that case, I'll direct you to Exhibit A (which I've tried to keep mercifully short). Washington’s three successors—John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, and James Madison—were mere caretaker pr A more suitable title for this biography may have been something to the effect of James Monroe: the Musings of a Fanboy. You might think I'm exaggerating, that, like many biographers after years of research and editing, Harlow Giles Unger was just a bit taken with his subject at the time of his writing. In that case, I'll direct you to Exhibit A (which I've tried to keep mercifully short). Washington’s three successors—John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, and James Madison—were mere caretaker presidents who left the nation bankrupt, its people deeply divided, its borders under attack, its capital city in ashes. Monroe took office determined to lead the nation to greatness by making the United States impregnable to foreign attack and ensuring the safety of Americans across the face of the continent. Now I'm no historian, and I haven't gotten to Madison as of yet in my presidential readings, but I'm pretty sure that the general consensus has not traditionally been that the era of POTUSes two through four was about little more than, well, "caretaking." The problem with Unger's unflappable gushing around Monroe, is that it was difficult to discern the reality of Monroe's contributions (of which I'm sure there were many).Take the eponymous Monroe Doctrine for example, obviously Monroe had something to do with it (after all, they named it after the guy), but Unger is so defensive about other scholars' assertions re. JQA's contributions, that it left me feeling suspect about the whole affair. As for territorial expansion, I'll give Monroe some credit there (though I've gotta go with the Jack Donaghy wisdom re. Florida "Have you ever been to Florida? It's basically a criminal population. It's America's Australia.") Dude took us bi-coastal, true fact, but, again, Unger's language just made me queasy. He expanded the nation’s military and naval power, then sent American troops to rip Florida and parts of the West from the Spanish, extending the nation’s borders to the natural defenses of the Rocky Mountains in the West and the rivers, lakes, and oceans of the nation’s other borders. I could go on and on with examples of Unger's hyperbole, but I think you get the point (and I'd like to keep my breakfast down). I give Monroe props for public schools, and highways and such- I'm not totally cold-hearted. There isn't exactly a plethora of Monroe biographies out there, so Unger gets an extra star for contributing to the body of available material with a full portrait of the Monroe family. I just wish he'd felt up to the task of adding a wart or two to the “Era of Good Feelings” without which it simply seemed too good to be true.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Jay Schutt

    After previously reading a biography of James Monroe's predecessor, James Madison -who was a very uncharismatic and rather dull man-this bio of Monroe was a welcome change. Monroe was a warrior in the Continental army of the American Revolution surviving the hardship of Valley Forge. He served in Congress, was a minister to England and France under Thomas Jefferson and brokered the deal with Napoleon to acquire the Louisiana territory and was governor of Virginia. He was secretary of state/war in After previously reading a biography of James Monroe's predecessor, James Madison -who was a very uncharismatic and rather dull man-this bio of Monroe was a welcome change. Monroe was a warrior in the Continental army of the American Revolution surviving the hardship of Valley Forge. He served in Congress, was a minister to England and France under Thomas Jefferson and brokered the deal with Napoleon to acquire the Louisiana territory and was governor of Virginia. He was secretary of state/war in Madison's administration and helped maneuver and rally troops during decisive battles around Washington D.C. in the War of 1812. While a two-term president, he created the constructive and prosperous "Era of Good Feeling" and secured our countries boarders with the Monroe Doctrine. Monroe and his wife Elizabeth endured many personal and financial hardships while keeping their country foremost in their hearts. True patriots. This was an extensively-researched, well-written and easy to read book. It had great flow and held my interest throughout.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Jay Connor

    A fascinating President who deserved a less subjective biography. Monroe by himself is due five stars, but the fawning, blind-eye treatment by Unger diminishes rather than elevates. I can't think of one situation where Unger finds fault in his hero. If recent historical biographers (from Vidal to Ellis to McCullough to Chernow) allow us to see and relish in the founding generation -- warts and all -- why isn't James Monroe, who certainly deserves to be in the pantheon of greatness, afforded this A fascinating President who deserved a less subjective biography. Monroe by himself is due five stars, but the fawning, blind-eye treatment by Unger diminishes rather than elevates. I can't think of one situation where Unger finds fault in his hero. If recent historical biographers (from Vidal to Ellis to McCullough to Chernow) allow us to see and relish in the founding generation -- warts and all -- why isn't James Monroe, who certainly deserves to be in the pantheon of greatness, afforded this honesty. For example, while many of his contemporaries were embracing manumission either personally or as the requirement of a great nation, Unger simply states: "Monroe had no strong objection to slavery." This is particularly concerning because the conversion of the economy in the South from the tobacco base in the days of the framing of the Constitution to the cotton base in the early 1800's changed slave existence dramatically on Monroe's own lands -- from a crop delicate enough to require worker contentment to a significantly more brutish existence. Unger passively even observes: "Cruelty replaced paternalism across the South." Thus, the Missouri Compromise, reached in Monroe's second term, which extended slavery to the new territories is favorably viewed by Unger, as a furthering of Monroe's Era of Good Feelings, rather than the seminal foreshadowing of the Civil War. Despite, rather than because of, this lack of subjectivity, "The Last Founding Father" is a great read and does put Monroe in his proper place in history as a result of the impact of his actions and sacrifices. Though Unger is lavish with his praise of Monroe, he often feels compelled to take it even a step further by undergirding his thesis of Monroe-greatness with a diminishment of those around his central figure. "Washington's three successors -- Adams, Jefferson, Madison -- were mere caretaker presidents who left the nation bankrupt, its people divided, its borders under attack, its capital city in ashes." Well ... Monroe was a significant player in both the Jefferson and Madison administrations and much of the opportunity for Monroe's Era of Good Feelings was laid in these prior administrations. Is Monroe great because of timing or personal contribution? A less biased biographer would have found more in the balance. But perhaps the most blatant case of compliment by diminishment comes around the foundational "Monroe Doctrine." Unger seeks to destroy any assertion that Monroe's proclamation was not entirely his own creation. Especially not John Quincy Adams. He calls the suggestion "ludicrous" and demeans Adams diplomatic experience. He states that Monroe's eight years as a diplomat was far more taxing than Quincy Adam's five years of "dinners, balls, parades, receptions in St. Petersburg, Russia with his friend the czar." But, hidden in the notes for the chapter is this draft proposal from Adams: "the American continents by the free and independent condition which they have assumed, and maintain are henceforth not to be considered as the subject of future colonization by any European power." That is the essence of the Monroe Doctrine ... the fact that it came from a open recommendation of his Secretary of State should not be hidden by his biographer or be diminished as mere "parroting" of an earlier Monroe warning. If Monroe is to be valued in the wisdom he showed in his formative ministerial roles, can he not also be valued in listening to his own ministers? Harlow Unger, I think you protest too much. Unger does present a very interesting contemporary current in Monroe's evolving view of the role of government. Monroe was present at both the American Revolution (staff to Washington) and the French Revolution (American Ambassador). At first, like Jefferson he fails to distinguish the two. This unified view frames revolution as about the expansion of human liberties. As a result of Napoleon's policy reversal re Spain and Florida, however, he understands something which was never fully comprehended by his mentor: protection of national interests was the raison d'etra of all governments, whether born of revolution or not. Expansion of individual liberties had simply been a by-product of the American Revolution because it was essential in uniting the American people and, therefore, in the national interest. Tyranny -- indeed Napoleon -- had been the by-product of the French Revolution, because it was essential for maintaining the unity of the French people. The US foreign policy still struggles with this lesson. The core outcome in revolution is what brings unity (beyond throwing the bastards out). We can't assume that it will always be democracy, even in the headiest revolution in the Middle East. Parallels abound between Monroe and later Presidents. Monroe was central to expanding exponentially the territory of the United States (Louisiana Purchase which he negotiated with Talleyrand) as was Polk (Mexican War). Monroe sought permission from the President to lead a army in the War of 1812, as Teddy Roosevelt had petitioned Wilson during the First World War. Monroe failed to adequately pass the baton to a successor (John Quincy Adams v. Andrew Jackson) like Clinton to Gore which served to create a vacuum wherein many of his successes were reversed. Monroe was a states rights republican who was, in John Quincy Adams words, "strengthening and consolidating the federative edifice of his country's Union, til he was entitled to say, like Augustus Caesar of his imperial city, that he found her built in brick and left her constructed of marble."

  5. 5 out of 5

    Alan Tomkins-Raney

    Harlow Giles Unger delivers another superb biography of a lesser known founding father who was actually instrumental in forging the successful and powerful republic that our nation matured into during the early nineteenth century. Unger excels at writing narrative history that is as exciting as it is informative, and this book, like his biography of John Marshall, proves it. Readers will come away with a deeper appreciation and understanding of what made the unprecedented political experiment th Harlow Giles Unger delivers another superb biography of a lesser known founding father who was actually instrumental in forging the successful and powerful republic that our nation matured into during the early nineteenth century. Unger excels at writing narrative history that is as exciting as it is informative, and this book, like his biography of John Marshall, proves it. Readers will come away with a deeper appreciation and understanding of what made the unprecedented political experiment that was the United States so improbable, but successful; so tenuous at the beginning, yet so enduring as to seem inevitable. Monroe was a highly principled public servant who was teachable and pragmatic and humble enough to evolve in his political philosophy and leadership, and this, along with his integrity and ability to befriend and work with others across the political spectrum, was perhaps his greatest strength. He had a fascinating career as a soldier, diplomat, governor, congressman, secretary of state, secretary of war, and president. His experiences across America and in Europe, crossing paths with all the other greats who shaped history, are astonishing and make for fascinating reading. His contributions to America are legend. He engineered and consummated the Louisiana Purchase for the Jefferson administration, and he ended his own presidential administration with the bold and logical, shockingly assertive Monroe Doctrine. Read this book to see why Monroe truly deserves to be better known and appreciated by the nation he played such a large role in shaping and preparing for a long, prosperous, and powerful future.

  6. 4 out of 5

    GoldGato

    James Monroe was the last of the American Revolution Founding Fathers, the youngest of that famous generation. He wore 18th-century clothes in a 19th-century world and his thought process was that of the previous generation. While the Jacksonians were changing style and thought, it was Monroe who ensured the expansion of the growing United States Republic. He still gets overlooked because of the reputations of Washington, Adams Sr., Jefferson, and Madison, but the originator of the famous Monroe James Monroe was the last of the American Revolution Founding Fathers, the youngest of that famous generation. He wore 18th-century clothes in a 19th-century world and his thought process was that of the previous generation. While the Jacksonians were changing style and thought, it was Monroe who ensured the expansion of the growing United States Republic. He still gets overlooked because of the reputations of Washington, Adams Sr., Jefferson, and Madison, but the originator of the famous Monroe Doctrine could certainly hold his own on the battlefield and in the White House itself. He was old school in morals and courage but forward-thinking in understanding the needs and wants of the nation. As the original states of the East Coast became increasingly crowded, pioneers were already moving westward in search of more land. In the Era Of Good Feelings, Monroe capitalized on that national yearning for greatness and expansion. He even toured in Revolutionary garb so that Independence Day took on a greater significance under his presidency. Russia was kept away from California, Florida was wrested from Spain, and the Northwest border came into being. Plus, he was a big proponent of women's education, something unheard of for his place and time. This book is a very good primer to learning more about the fifth American President but it also accomplishes a link to other historical figures such as James Madison and Alexander Hamilton. The author definitely is a fan of Monroe but not in such a way as to detract from the overall reading. More importantly, this isn't one of those massive presidential tomes. The reader gets the point without being overwhelmed by footnotes. Book Season = Year Round (last of the past)

  7. 5 out of 5

    Steve

    http://bestpresidentialbios.com/2013/... “The Last Founding Father: James Monroe and a Nation’s Call to Greatness” is one of the most recent of author Harlow Unger‘s nearly two dozen books. He is a former journalist, broadcaster and professor and has written biographies of John Quincy Adams, Patrick Henry, Lafayette and George Washington, among many others. Unger’s biography of Monroe is, on a basic level, extremely readable and entertaining, but excessively opinionated and needlessly provocative. http://bestpresidentialbios.com/2013/... “The Last Founding Father: James Monroe and a Nation’s Call to Greatness” is one of the most recent of author Harlow Unger‘s nearly two dozen books. He is a former journalist, broadcaster and professor and has written biographies of John Quincy Adams, Patrick Henry, Lafayette and George Washington, among many others. Unger’s biography of Monroe is, on a basic level, extremely readable and entertaining, but excessively opinionated and needlessly provocative. In contrast to Harry Ammon’s “James Monroe” (where the author seems reluctant to stray from the facts and offer his own opinions) Unger’s praise is consistent and one-sided. The reader almost begins to wonder if Monroe himself has been reincarnated as Harlow Unger. To its credit “The Last Founding Father: James Monroe” manages to animate the fifth president in a way that Ammon was unable in his lengthier biography. And in many ways, Unger describes what seems the classic American success story: a person born into modest circumstances and without the benefit of tremendous intellectual gifts who, nonetheless, rose above his early station in life to become a strong leader and successful politician. Though Monroe was not a strategic thinker (like Madison) or naturally charming (like Jefferson), Unger describes him as hard working, keenly observant, highly aspirational and personally affable. But he was often quite thin-skinned and usually seemed a step behind others in the the crowd he followed (which notably included James Madison). Nonetheless, he was unfailingly indefatigable and possessed enough “street smarts” to allow him to eventually succeed where other equally ambitious politicians fell short. The author does a nice job abbreviating many years of history into a rather compact book, and non-historians will find Monroe’s pre-presidential years neatly summarized in a way that is easy to understand. Indeed, the years leading up to Monroe’s presidency account for nearly three-quarters of the book while his two terms in office take up a fairly small portion of the text. And if not for the author’s persistent bias, this would have proven one of the better of the shorter biographies of the early presidents. But it is not only unfailing praise of Monroe that afflicts this biography; the author also proves excessively defensive on several occasions, rushing to shield Monroe (and even his wife) from criticism of nearly any sort. Unger blasts the notion that John Quincy Adams had anything to do with the Monroe Doctrine, he howls at critiques of Mrs. Monroe by her contemporaries (mainly relating to her ostentatious attire and stuffy receptions) and ignores fatal flaws in the Monroe-Pinkney Treaty which led Jefferson to reject it. Fortunately, most of the author’s favoritism is obvious enough that it does not seriously detract from the reader’s experience. Many of his more dramatic statements are so broadly sweeping and seemingly shallow that they merely add levity to the biography (probably unintentionally). On the other hand, if they are serious observations, they deserve additional evidence and should be edited to resemble groundbreaking revelations rather than punchy, provocative one-liners. As others have pointed out, missing from this biography is any meaningful discussion of slavery. Monroe was not, as far as I know, born into a slave-owning family but some point during his life he made a conscious decision to acquire slaves. However, this decision, and his personal views on the contradictions slave ownership carried for someone who fought for individual rights, is never explored in any depth. (But Unger is quick to point out that Monrovia was named in the president’s honor by a small group of grateful emancipated slaves.) Overall, Harlow Unger’s biography of James Monroe was an easy, entertaining and enjoyable read. It does not not suffer from a tendency toward unnecessary detail or weighty academic prose devoid of historical context – maladies which negatively impact a significant number of other presidential biographies. But it is too unbalanced to be taken as seriously as it might otherwise deserve. Monroe is a president who seems due more credit and notoriety than he receives, but this biography went too far in staking that claim. For entertainment value, Unger’s biography of Monroe deserves close to 5 stars. For unbiased enlightenment and scholarship, it merits perhaps 2½ stars. Overall rating: 3¾ stars

  8. 5 out of 5

    Dianne Durante

    I disliked James Monroe (POTUS 1817-1825) when I met him while researching the Reynolds Affair (http://diannedurantewriter.com/archiv...). But I've decided to read a biography of each of the United States presidents in order, and I resolved to try to look at Monroe objectively. Unger's description of him as "the last Founding Father" made me hopeful. Unfortunately, I quickly came to dislike Unger even more than I disliked Monroe. For example: Unger's prologue states that "Washington's three succ I disliked James Monroe (POTUS 1817-1825) when I met him while researching the Reynolds Affair (http://diannedurantewriter.com/archiv...). But I've decided to read a biography of each of the United States presidents in order, and I resolved to try to look at Monroe objectively. Unger's description of him as "the last Founding Father" made me hopeful. Unfortunately, I quickly came to dislike Unger even more than I disliked Monroe. For example: Unger's prologue states that "Washington's three successors - John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, and James Madison - were mere caretaker presidents" (p. 2). Biographers do get attached to their subjects, but such statements made it a struggle to read Unger. My takeaways from the bio: 1) Monroe, like Madison, was a politician rather than an executive: he appointed people because of the party they belonged to rather than because they could to the job superlatively well. 2) Monroe didn't stick to his principles. In September 1814, soon after British troops burned the Capitol and the White House, Monroe was named Madison's secretary of War pro tem. "Monroe scrapped the republican principles of his youth and drew up a plan to draft a standing army of 100,000 men, raise their rates of pay, and exempt those who found recruits to serve as substitutes. Even as a young man, Monroe had never clung obstinately to any political position if he recognized it to be contrary to the nation's interests." (p. 249). What's the point of winning the war if you don't preserve the individual liberties that the country stands for? 3) Monroe deserves credit for helping to open more of the future continental U.S. to American settlers. In 1819, by the Adams-Onís Treaty, Spain ceded Florida and all claims to the Pacific Northwest, in exchange for a promise that the U.S. would not settle Texas and the Southwest. The Treaty of 1818 fixed the northern border between the U.S. and Canada as far west as the Rockies: British and Americans were no longer fighting in the Midwest (p. 294). During Monroe's administration, some 40 treaties were signed with the Indians, so settlers west of the Appalachians were no longer in danger from Indian attacks. The Russo-American Treaty of 1824 kept the Russians out of the Pacific Northwest (p. 312). The Monroe Doctrine (1824) was the natural outgrowth of Monroe's push to clear the present continental U.S. for settlement: "The American continents, by the free and independent condition which they have assumed and maintain, are henceforth not to be considered as subjects for future colonization by any European powers." (p. 350) 4. Monroe was financially irresponsible. Without a profitable plantation or an established law practice to bring in steady revenue, he was continually in debt ... yet he continued to buy expensive homes (in Virginia, Paris, and Washington), expensive furnishings, and expensive gowns for his wife. When he left office he was $75,000 in debt - a huge amount at the time. I still don't like the man. On to John Quincy Adams!

  9. 5 out of 5

    Celia

    The Last Founding Father: James Monroe This book, written by Harlow Giles Unger is an excellent read, full of many facts about James Monroe, his family, his friends, and his service to the colonies and to the United States. Some of the areas covered in this book are: Early Life • Born in 1758 • Orphaned by the age of 16 • Second of five children Revolutionary War • Rank of Major • Tended Lafayette’s wounds after Battle of Brandywine • Fought in the Battle of Trenton Married to Elizabeth Kortwright Three ch The Last Founding Father: James Monroe This book, written by Harlow Giles Unger is an excellent read, full of many facts about James Monroe, his family, his friends, and his service to the colonies and to the United States. Some of the areas covered in this book are: Early Life • Born in 1758 • Orphaned by the age of 16 • Second of five children Revolutionary War • Rank of Major • Tended Lafayette’s wounds after Battle of Brandywine • Fought in the Battle of Trenton Married to Elizabeth Kortwright Three children: two girls who married and produced grandchildren, one son who died at 16 months Minister to France • Very successful • Rescued Lafayette’s wife from French prison • Helped Lafayette’s wife and daughters flee France • Smuggled Lafayette’s son, George Washington Lafayette, to the US President for two terms • Presided over the Era of Good Feelings • Wrote the Monroe Doctrine • Left furniture procured in France in the White House Post Presidency • Elizabeth died first • Monroe died on July 4, 1831, the third president to die on Independence Day There is so much more. I thoroughly enjoyed learning of Monroe and hope you have the time to learn from this book too. 4 stars

  10. 5 out of 5

    Richard Bray

    Harlow Giles Unger’s James Monroe biography, THE LAST FOUNDING FATHER: JAMES MONROE AND A NATION’S CALL TO GREATNESS, reads less like a biology and more like a sacred tomb for acolytes to use in worshipping the do-no-wrong object of their devotion. The parts where Unger is simply relaying the events that happened are well done and quite readable, but all too often, he offers opinions designed to glorify Monroe and his wife beyond all reason. By Unger’s description, Monroe was preceded by three pre Harlow Giles Unger’s James Monroe biography, THE LAST FOUNDING FATHER: JAMES MONROE AND A NATION’S CALL TO GREATNESS, reads less like a biology and more like a sacred tomb for acolytes to use in worshipping the do-no-wrong object of their devotion. The parts where Unger is simply relaying the events that happened are well done and quite readable, but all too often, he offers opinions designed to glorify Monroe and his wife beyond all reason. By Unger’s description, Monroe was preceded by three presidents in John Adams, Thomas Jefferson and James Madison, who “were mere caretaker presidents who left the nation bankrupt, its people deeply divided, its borders under attack (and) its its capital city in ashes.” Even worse, the 35 years after Monroe’s presidency were led by presidents who were “self-serving, politically ambitions successors” who undermined the national unity he created and led the country into Civil War. Unger describes Jefferson’s choosing of Madison as his secretary of state over Monroe as Monroe “stepping aside,” rather than being overlooked in favor of Madison, a close and well-respected friend of Jefferson in his own right. Perhaps not coincidentally, Unger reserves much of his vitriol for Madison, claiming that when Monroe served in Madison’s cabinet, it was Monroe who took the reins of the country, especially in the wake of the British attack on Washington. Later, he doesn’t appear to recognize the irony of his response when he brings up accusations that John Quincy Adams had actually crafted the Monroe doctrine: The assertion that Adams authored the Monroe Doctrine is not only untrue, it borders on the ludicrous by implying that President Monroe was little more than a puppet manipulated by another’s hand. Such assertions show little insight into the presidency itself and the type of man who aspires to and assumes that office; indeed, they denigrate the character, the intellect, the intensity, and the sense of power that drive American presidents. Each time Unger mentions Madison, he makes certain to belittle the fourth president, referring to him as “incompetent,” and making frequent references to Madison’s well-documented health problems and his short stature. When comparing the foreign policy experience of the two presidents, he says: Monroe’s many years as a minister overseas had taught him diplomacy as a chesslike game of subtle moves, each fraught with nuanced, ripple effects that can accrue to the advantage or disadvantage of either side. Madison’s years in a nation of unsophisticated frontiersmen had taught him diplomacy as a game akin to the new card craze of Slap Jack. At another point: … the president [Madison] seemed impotent, with no command of his armed forces, no credit with Congress, and little influence over the American people. His sickly Lilliputian stature did little to inspire confidence. Everything he said or did only alienated more Americans. When Monroe makes his seventh annual address to Congress, Unger says that some members trembled with awe as they watch him make his way down the aisle, a description that again feels over the top; I would have loved to see a source there so it seemed less a product of Unger’s overactive, awestruck imagination. If possible, Unger seems to go even further overboard in defense of Monroe’s wife, Elizabeth: Washington gossips accused the Monroes – especially Elizabeth – of transforming the White House into a European court. Through no fault of her own, she became the target of mean-spirited attacks, born largely of envy – of her beauty, of her exquisite (and expensive) taste in clothes and furnishings, and of her refined manners and superb education. What Unger wants you to understand is that not only was Monroe the awesomest president who ever presidented, but he also had the hottest and most perfect wife ever. People who disliked her didn’t have any genuine motivation for their feels — they were simply jealous! Now, I don’t point all this out to demean Monroe or his wife — I bought this book specifically to learn more about him and his strengths as an American president, and Unger’s comparisons of Monroe to George Washington were indeed eye-opening. But over the course of the book, Unger’s descriptions of Monroe got in the way of the story of Monroe’s life, and made it difficult for me to trust Unger’s accounting of the events in Monroe’s life. According to this book, everything great that happened, from the Louisiana Purchase to the conclusion of the War of 1812, was a product of Monroe’s greatness despite the perpetual idiocy that surrounded him. A more nuanced view of Monroe’s life would have been far more satisfying. I have no doubt of his accomplishments or his strengths, but to really understand this president, I also would have liked to learn about his weaknesses and regrets. Unfortunately, this isn’t the book for that type of insight.

  11. 4 out of 5

    J.

    Hyperbole and inaccuracies abound. Hyperbole, I can forgive, inaccuracies I cannot. Monroe in this account, like a Dean Koontz character, can seem to do no wrong. I took this on because I had no time currently to read the biography by Harry Ammon, which is reportedly the best written about the man to date. Unger here makes Monroe out to nearly be the greatest President in our nation's history. True, he was a Revolutionary War hero and implemented the Monroe Doctrine, which was essentially the re Hyperbole and inaccuracies abound. Hyperbole, I can forgive, inaccuracies I cannot. Monroe in this account, like a Dean Koontz character, can seem to do no wrong. I took this on because I had no time currently to read the biography by Harry Ammon, which is reportedly the best written about the man to date. Unger here makes Monroe out to nearly be the greatest President in our nation's history. True, he was a Revolutionary War hero and implemented the Monroe Doctrine, which was essentially the realistic end date of new nation's struggle for independence and signaled America's presence as a true World power. But, he did have some serious faults, which assisted in crippling the new nation after the first two Presidents and Franklin and Hamilton gave it a foundation. Unger mentions that Monroe expressed his belief that an embargo would help thwart the British tyranny over the seas, and then blames Jefferson for the disaster the embargo created with the American economy after it was actually implemented, and makes no more mention that Monroe suggested it as well. Unger suggests how affronted Monroe felt when Hamilton accused him of leaking information about his illicit extramarital affair, but fails to mention that Hamilton, although prone to exaggeration and drama, was proven after his death to be a very honorable and truthful individual. Meaning, if Hamilton believed he was betrayed by Monroe, he probably was, and there is evidence to show that Monroe did just that. Unger does get right the fact that Monroe did protest, but I think at the time he "doth protest too much" in the words of Shakespeare. As well, here we have no mention that Monroe was, if I am correct, at first against Hamilton's creation of a National Bank to address (in part) America's need for financing loans for national emergencies. This is an important fact to leave out because Jefferson, Madison, and Monroe (mostly Jefferson) effectively dissolved the National Bank when they influenced the government not to renew the Bank's charter. What happened. The War of 1812 happened, and oh crap, now we have no money to pay for this "National Emergency". I'm sure Hamilton would have felt vindicated. But, in actuality, Hamilton, the man that he was, would never have let this happen. I guess the bottom line is that I need to read Ammon's account, and you should too. I give this two stars only because I finished it and the writing is decent. Any book I give a one star to would be one that I was unable to finish. So far, Dean Koontz tops that list. Overall, skip this account, read others for a true perspective of our history. I'll let you know what I think of Ammon when I get the time to drift through his nearly 600 page volume.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Steven Peterson

    A readable biography of President James Monroe, the last of the Virginia Dynasty (Washington, Jefferson, and Madison). This work makes a strong case that he was an able political leader and a capable President. People probably need to know more about Monroe, and this book would be an aid for those not knowing much about him. The book is a fairly quick read. It traces the usual arc of a biography--from his family's background to his youth to his actions during the Revolutionary War to his public s A readable biography of President James Monroe, the last of the Virginia Dynasty (Washington, Jefferson, and Madison). This work makes a strong case that he was an able political leader and a capable President. People probably need to know more about Monroe, and this book would be an aid for those not knowing much about him. The book is a fairly quick read. It traces the usual arc of a biography--from his family's background to his youth to his actions during the Revolutionary War to his public service (culminating in the presidency), and his post-Presidential career. In the process, we learn much about his personal life--his devoted relationship to his wife Elizabeth, the somewhat more painful relationship with his brothers, his perpetual flirtation with financial ruin (as with Thomas Jefferson, for instance). The book gives us a good sense of his political rise. For the most part, he was allied with James Madison and Thomas Jefferson, but he did have some falling out with Madison. Interestingly enough, one of his better friends was John Marshall, who had very different political views from Monroe. Nonetheless, they remained close over their lifetimes. Some problems with this volume: It treats Monroe as if he rose above other actors of the time and is rather noncritical of him; the author is very hard on people like Madison and William Crawford, among others. The negativity, I think, works against the forward momentum of the book. Surely, Madison has his problems as did Jefferson as President. But this book treats them as rather one dimensional. In addition, I sometimes think we learn more about Monroe the person and his family rather than about his accomplishments, his policies, and so on. Nonetheless, a well written work on a President about whom we should know more.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Doreen Petersen

    I really loved this book. To me James Madison was a just and honorable man and president. He gave his all for his country. What I find disturbing is the way subsequent politicians have perverted his legacy. I would definitely recommend this book.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Bill

    Unger is a talented writer who produces very readable, easily digestible biographies about individuals from the Founding era, with this 2009 work focusing on the underappreciated James Monroe. But don't let that praise fool you into thinking this is in any way a good book. I found "The Last Founding Father" to be an intellectually dishonest hagiography that distorts facts, misrepresents events and ignores inconvenient truths in order to portray its subject in the best, most fawning possible light. Unger is a talented writer who produces very readable, easily digestible biographies about individuals from the Founding era, with this 2009 work focusing on the underappreciated James Monroe. But don't let that praise fool you into thinking this is in any way a good book. I found "The Last Founding Father" to be an intellectually dishonest hagiography that distorts facts, misrepresents events and ignores inconvenient truths in order to portray its subject in the best, most fawning possible light. I was offended that the book insults its readers' intelligence by presenting itself as a true, trustworthy, historical biography as opposed to the light, breezy piece of entertaining historical semi-fiction that it is. The tone is set right away in the prologue. Monroe was "the most beloved president after Washington," whose three immediate predecessors were "mere caretaker presidents, who left the nation bankrupt, its people deeply divided, its borders under attack, its capital city in ashes." Not only that, but Monroe's "self-serving, politically ambitious successors undermined the national unity he created during his presidency," during which Monroe "made poor men rich, turned political allies into friends, and united a divided people." And the clouds parted, the birds sang and the flowers bloomed, as Monroe hung the moon and became the best, most effective, most brilliant, most accomplished, most upstanding and most successful president of any who served between Washington and Lincoln, if not ever. Oh, and he also married well, because his wife was, hands down, "America's most beautiful and most courageous First Lady." The hyperbole borders on the ridiculous, yet it might be more easily forgiven as just an enthusiastic author overly enamored with his subject, had the author not gone on to twist the truth to suit his story. Monroe was prone to petulance and pique, and even many of his supporters acknowledged he was far from perfect. One colleague gently described him as having "a mind neither rapid nor rich," while another described him as "somewhat slow in his apprehension," and Aaron Burr once tore into him as "naturally dull and stupid — extremely illiterate — indecisive to a degree that would be incredible to one who did not know him — pusillanimous and of course hypocritical." Whether or not such descriptions are true or warranted, there are enough of them like that from Monroe's contemporaries, that they at least deserve to be mentioned - and refuted, if you're so inclined. But Unger simply ignores them because they don't suit his embellished story. Notably, descriptions of two key events related to Monroe's European diplomatic service are fudged to fit Unger's narrative. First, during the Washington administration, Monroe was sent to France to mollify the French while the administration negotiated a treaty with France's enemy, Britain. Monroe is generally understood to have overdone it with his pro-France stance, risking the success of the British diplomatic mission, while advocating his own political point of view over that of the administration he served. He was reprimanded and recalled over this, yet Unger waves away any criticism, turns the blame on Monroe's critics, fails to even mention George Washington's angry responses to Monroe's attempts to defend his actions, and simply declares that Monroe had "done his job to perfection." More troubling is Unger's description of Monroe's second diplomatic blunder. During the Jefferson administration, Monroe negotiated another treaty with Britain that went completely counter to his instructions from Thomas Jefferson and Secretary of State Madison. They were not pleased. Monroe believed he did the best he could, and that his superiors' instructions were unrealistic, which may well be true. But Unger concludes, with little to no evidence, that they intentionally set him up to fail, to damage any chance that Monroe might be elected Jefferson's successor as president over Madison. To bolster his claim, Unger completely misattributes a quote suggesting that Madison was playing partisan politics, expressing worry that Monroe's failed diplomatic mission would turn him into a martyr, "and the martyr will be president." In the text, Unger suggests the quote came from Madison himself; in the end notes, he attributes it to Jefferson; but in reality, the quote came from a partisan anti-Jefferson, pro-Monroe Senator who believed this to be true, so Unger simply considers it so, by falsely putting words into Madison and/or Jefferson's mouths. Anything else that might tarnish Monroe's legacy in any way, is simply omitted or explained away. His status as a slaveowner is barely mentioned, so when Unger describes how plantation owner Monroe diligently "continued clearing more land - adding sizeable wheat and corn crops, then building a grist mill and distillery to produce his own flour and whiskey," you'd be forgiven if you came away with the impression that Monroe actually did this work himself. The Panic of 1819, the country's first serious economic crisis which occurred on Monroe's watch, was absolutely not "a dark day in Monroe's presidency," in Unger's estimation, because it simply was not that big of a deal at all. And Monroe's work on behalf of the American Colonization Society, which advocated extreme segregation by resettling freed slaves in Africa lest Whites be forced to live alongside freed Blacks at home, is portrayed by Unger as a virtuous enterprise, and the naming of the Liberian capital after Monroe, a great honor. And if eliding the truth isn't enough to place Monroe on a pedestal, Unger tries to further elevate Monroe by denigrating nearly everyone else. Monroe gallantly "stepped aside" to allow Madison to become Jefferson's Secretary of State, when there's zero evidence that Madison wasn't always Jefferson's first choice. As president, Unger claims Madison was "incompetent," and desperately groveled and pleaded with Monroe to become his Secretary of State. Unger then ludicrously states that Madison effectively checked out altogether, ceding all presidential authority to Monroe, who "spent almost twenty-four hours a day in a frenzy of activity" while "Madison had lost all credibility as a national leader, and Monroe was acting as the nation's commander in chief and president." The diplomatic service of Monroe's own Secretary of State, John Quincy Adams, is denigrated as "five years of 'dinners, balls, parades, receptions'" (in an unattributed quote), and Unger flatly dismisses Adams' contributions to the Monroe Doctrine, for which serious historians credit him as being absolutely instrumental, if they don't outright credit him as the author. Oh, and if anyone ever dared to criticize Monroe's imperious, aloof wife - like the "catty Louisa Adams," in Unger's sexist description - it was only because they were jealous "of her beauty, of her exquisite (and expensive) taste in clothes and furnishings, and of her refined manners and superb education." (After reading some other reviews, I'm adding this paragraph to note that other reviewers have cited a description of members of Congress rising to cheer, some "trembling with awe" at the mere sight of President Monroe, as seeming a bit over the top and too vivid to be true. And one sharp-eyed reviewer pointed out that it is, indeed, too vivid to be true. Monroe did not "str(i)de into Congress to deliver his seventh annual message to that body" on December 2, 1823 at all - the State of the Union message, at that time, was delivered in writing. Unger presumably assumed the State of the Union was delivered in person, and proceeded to invent this scene out of whole cloth.) Let it be said that I have nothing against James Monroe. He has an amazing life story, from fighting in the Revolutionary War, to his personal relationships with every president from Washington to Jackson. I, too, believe he is underappreciated and we are all better off for his patriotic service. But it's possible to honor and appreciate someone without deifying them; to acknowledge their faults and missteps alongside their successes. Tim McGrath does just this, in his far-superior recent book, "James Monroe: A Life," which I would suggest anyone pick up instead of spending any time on Unger's superficial, misleading piece of hero worship.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Bryan Alkire

    This is a good biography and introduction to James Monroe’s career. It’s a rather compressed biography, there’s little about Monroe’s daily life or what he thought and felt beyond the major events of his career. That said, there is a sense of Monroe’s character which, while warm and personable, could be touchy and insecure…probably because Monroe was always operating under crushing debt…not unlike many people trying to live upper class lifestyles today…There are also occasional flashes of insigh This is a good biography and introduction to James Monroe’s career. It’s a rather compressed biography, there’s little about Monroe’s daily life or what he thought and felt beyond the major events of his career. That said, there is a sense of Monroe’s character which, while warm and personable, could be touchy and insecure…probably because Monroe was always operating under crushing debt…not unlike many people trying to live upper class lifestyles today…There are also occasional flashes of insight about the times not related to Monroe’s life. It should also be noted that this is a conventional political and life biography. You won’t find any social commentary about social or gender issues here unlike many modern works which stress or at least mention or criticize the subject’s life in the context of race or gender. I have to admit that it’s nice to read biography or history which doesn’t try to hit the subject over the head with modern views of race or gender. Every life and history really need to be analyzed in the context of the times and place, otherwise, the subject becomes distorted. Historians and biographers should always remember that a hundred years from publication people may be rolling their eyes at the old-fashioned interpretation of the author, that is, if the author’s work is even read outside of historiography research, say, a study of gender issues in the 20th century. I suspect, therefore, that this biography of James Monroe may have a bit more staying power than most of the work churned out now. On the whole, I give this a 4 because while compressed, it’s well written and there’s enough insight to be interesting beyond the broad outlines of Monroe’s life and career.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Brian Pate

    Interesting and fast-paced. Very pro-Monroe biography. Unger's thesis seems to be that Monroe is the rightful successor to Washington. He minimizes Monroe's three predecessors by calling them "mere caretaker presidents who left the nation bankrupt, its people deeply divided, its borders under attack, its capital city in ashes" (p. 2). Unger repeatedly points out similarities between Monroe and Washington (e.g., pp. 263, 268, 314). In short, he believes that America was the "nation [Monroe] had i Interesting and fast-paced. Very pro-Monroe biography. Unger's thesis seems to be that Monroe is the rightful successor to Washington. He minimizes Monroe's three predecessors by calling them "mere caretaker presidents who left the nation bankrupt, its people deeply divided, its borders under attack, its capital city in ashes" (p. 2). Unger repeatedly points out similarities between Monroe and Washington (e.g., pp. 263, 268, 314). In short, he believes that America was the "nation [Monroe] had inherited from George Washington" (p. 293). But then Unger really annoyed me when he responded to those who assert that JQA really authored the Monroe Doctrine: "Such assertions show little insight into the presidency itself and the type of man who aspires to and assumes that office; indeed, they denigrate the character, the intellect, the intensity, and the sense of power that drive American presidents" (p. 313). But that is exactly what Unger claimed regarding Madison's presidency. He said that Monroe had been the "de facto president and commander in chief for nearly two years" while serving under Madison (p. 259). One more thing...I got very tired of Unger's overused "all but" sentence construction (he uses it 56x according to my google books search). For example, Madison "winced at the destruction that surrounded him and all but shrank behind Monroe at the approach of angry citizens" (p. 246). Really? How do we know that?

  17. 5 out of 5

    John Brackbill

    I listened to this on the audio book format. James Monroe was a loyal man, a family man, and a good friend. He remains influential today through the used and misused "Monroe" doctrine and he has forever left his stamp on American given his part in securing the vast territories that make up much of our nation today. The effort of Monroe to unite the nation and his success in that was impressive. Reading this made me wish we were in an era that had a presidents that brought the people together in I listened to this on the audio book format. James Monroe was a loyal man, a family man, and a good friend. He remains influential today through the used and misused "Monroe" doctrine and he has forever left his stamp on American given his part in securing the vast territories that make up much of our nation today. The effort of Monroe to unite the nation and his success in that was impressive. Reading this made me wish we were in an era that had a presidents that brought the people together in that way again rather than divided. It may have been the times that I listened to it or that I was comparing it with Thomas Jefferson by R.B. Bernstein which I also recently listened to on audio book, but I did not find this biography totally captivating. Especially at the beginning I had a hard time seeing the line of thinking and progression that Unger was taking in telling the story of Monroe. I would have been interested to also hear more about Monroe's faith and if and how that played a part in his political career. Noticeably, there was little critical analysis offered by Unger. Nevertheless, I am glad I listened to this book and found that as it progressed it got better and better.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Larry Bassett

    This book is pretty effusive about the expansion of the United States. James Monroe was eager to make the country a one party political system in the book suggest that he had some success in bringing the parties together. The book is a bit giddy about the good feelings in the country. The biggest loser according to the book was the president who preceded James Monroe, that is James Madison who is portrayed as incompetent. In fact the book claims that James Monroe was the defacto president for th This book is pretty effusive about the expansion of the United States. James Monroe was eager to make the country a one party political system in the book suggest that he had some success in bringing the parties together. The book is a bit giddy about the good feelings in the country. The biggest loser according to the book was the president who preceded James Monroe, that is James Madison who is portrayed as incompetent. In fact the book claims that James Monroe was the defacto president for the last two years of Madison's term. Monroe usurped the congressional responsibility for declaring war with Andrew Jackson's attacks on Spain in Florida. I am anxious to read the biography of Jackson. The Monroe doctrine is given some coverage at the end of the book but it is not very extensive and seems not to be very objective other than suggesting the presidents have used the doctrine inappropriately for many years. The issues of slavery and the relationship with the Native Americans is only given cursory coverage. Monroe was another of the slave owners.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Brian Willis

    This would be the book if you are looking to read a bio of every President; however, as several reviewers have stated, this hagiography sometimes ignores historical consensus at the expense of resituating Monroe as a "great" President, when in fact he rode the Jeffersonian Republican coattails into office and presided over a one party nation. Those reading about the founding of the independent American republic through the 1820s will find new perspectives here, as most of the other Founders were This would be the book if you are looking to read a bio of every President; however, as several reviewers have stated, this hagiography sometimes ignores historical consensus at the expense of resituating Monroe as a "great" President, when in fact he rode the Jeffersonian Republican coattails into office and presided over a one party nation. Those reading about the founding of the independent American republic through the 1820s will find new perspectives here, as most of the other Founders were more centrally located within those struggles. All other accounts mention Monroe's involvement almost as a footnote, as if dutifully recognizing a future President was at Valley Forge or injured at Brandywine or part of the hyper partisan machinations of the Jeffersonian Republicans. Unger mostly ignores Monroe's partisanship and self-aggrandizement in order to remind us that he was the "last Founding Father", as if that is an inherently and implicitly uncomplicated label for which we should be glad. Monroe had zero to do with the foundation of the government, a soldier who bunkered with John Marshall, Washington, and Hamilton at Valley Forge and received wounds in service. That's it. That makes him a "Founding Father", which is just a way of saying "the last of the Revolutionary generation to be elected to the White House". I was mainly in this read to cover the Presidential years, which weren't incredibly exciting. Monroe initiated the first war in American history without the approval of Congress, condoning Andrew Jackson's expelling of the Seminoles from Florida without consultation and violating a treaty with Spain in the process. His most important achievement - the Monroe Doctrine - has long held to be composed by John Quincy Adams, though Unger insists it was Monroe without citations or documentation. The Panic of 1819 - a financial crisis caused by reckless speculation of banks and which certainly needed regulation - was apparently not as bad as all historians have claimed according to Unger, but only because it suits the narrative of Monroe as an extreme libertarian. I'm glad I read it, but I don't walk away impressed by Monroe more than when I started. It appears we actually have him to think for negotiating the Louisiana Purchase, but he was not exceptional other than as the first politician to assimilate the cloak of Washington and using his uncanny likeness to GW to cultivate a cult of the Revolutionary ideal. A good, fairly quick read, but not mind blowing. Recommended if you need that bio of Monroe, though a good section in an anthology or larger history book of the period, such as "What Hath God Wrought"'s chapter on Monroe, would probably serve just as well.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Chandler

    When it comes to the Presidency of James Monroe, things look pretty good on the surface. We have the beginning of the Era of Good Feelings, with the economy expanding, and westward expansion opening up new land opportunities. Monroe was elected to the Presidency by crushing margins, and it seemed like he was doing well. However, if you look just under the beguiled surface, there is trouble brewing on the horizon. This is the admission of Missouri into the Union. This was an issue because it once When it comes to the Presidency of James Monroe, things look pretty good on the surface. We have the beginning of the Era of Good Feelings, with the economy expanding, and westward expansion opening up new land opportunities. Monroe was elected to the Presidency by crushing margins, and it seemed like he was doing well. However, if you look just under the beguiled surface, there is trouble brewing on the horizon. This is the admission of Missouri into the Union. This was an issue because it once again brought up the condition of slavery. Those who wanted to have control in the south wanted to have it enter as a slave state, and those in the north wanted it to be kept free. The resulting compromise, where Mane entered as a free state, and Missouri as a slave state, was called the Missouri compromise. It was a temporary solution, at best. Then there was the potentially nasty issue of an international incident with Spain, Britain, and the US. Seminole Indians had been conducting raids on US settlements in Georgia, only to run back into Florida controlled by Spain. Monroe sends General Andrew Jackson in to the southern part of the US to protect the citizens there. Jackson gets tired of this, and marches into Florida, and captures and hangs British privateers who were helping the Native Americans. Thankfully, this three sided international incident resulted in the annexation of Florida to the United States, instead of an armed conflict. Then there was what would come to be called the Monroe Doctrine. This was part of Monroe’s State of the Union address in 1823. In it, he states an umtimatdum: That any foreign power cannot settle in side the Northern Hemisphere, and that the United States will do whatever it can to stop them from doing so. It becomes a defining moment in Monroe’s Presidency, yet he was not the original author. It was written by his Secretary of State John Quincy Adams. Better still, it was not even recognized as the Monroe Doctrine until the 1850’s. This makes Monroe’s Presidency one of those that people tend to forget. With no major political crisis or scandals, nor any major political triumphs, it is easy to see why he tends to take a back seat to those like Washington, Jefferson, or even Jackson. =============================================================== Well, I think that, so far, this is the worst presidential biography I have read since I did the biography of Thomas Jefferson by R.B. Bernstein. For those of you who do not know, I have made a bit of a new years resolution to read one major biography of every U.S. President. Up until now, the worst of this was the Thomas Jefferson book mentioned above. This was because that, although it did explain a few things about Thomas Jefferson, it was filled with a great many writing about basic Revolutionary era facts that I already knew. I had thought that I had seen the worst of it when I read that book, but now I have stumbled upon something else, something far more insulting to the world of literary Presidential biographies: a book that is filled with such bias that I wondered if it was my fault that I was viewing it harshly. Was I not understanding this book because I had read the superb works of McCullough and Ellis? No. Was it because that I had read the excellently detailed works of Chaney that I was imposing these expectations unfairly upon Unger? No. I have found, after reading this book, that, at best, Unger has left us with insignificant dinner part facts about Monroe, and, at worst, has made up events that simply did not happen. This book begins with a huge display of professional bias, where Unger states that the previous Presidents after Washington- Adams, Jefferson, and Madison- were all mere placeholders until Monroe took power, and managed to turn the nation around from the brink of collapse. This was something that I personally found hard to swallow. After all, these Presidents that Unger casts aside did a great many things. Adams, for example, managed to create the Navy, and Jefferson managed to double the landmass of the United States for pennies on the dollar. Madison taught us the hard way that in the real world, foreign issues could not be ignored ( unlike what Washington wanted in his farewell address). To so casually dismiss all that they had done to get Monroe to the Presidency is something that had me suspicious as to what Unger was doing. And the terrible treatment of the Presidential predecessors doesn’t stop there. All throughout the book, there are little side comments and hints at Unger’s contempt for the past leaders. He calls Adams old and fat, Jefferson’s Monticello gaudy and flamboyant, and Madison an incompetent fool as a President. Especially after reading major works on each of these men, these side comments stuck out to me like a sore thumb, and slowly work to show the inherent bias that Unger has for anyone that isn’t Monroe or Washington. This leads to how Unger displays Monroe himself, which is to say that Unger treat him more like a prophet than an actual human being. In this narrative, Monroe has no faults, he creates no issues during his political career, and, indeed, he is never to blame if things go wrong in his life. It is always someone else's fault, say a political appointee, or a wayward brother, but never his fault, no mam. This is especially true when it comes into a key revolation that a reader may not know while reading this book: Monroe was a slave owner. He owned a small number of slaves in an attempt to become part of the Virginia Dynasty, like Jefferson, whom he so deeply admired. Yet, Unger makes absolutely no mention of this. In fact, the only way that one would recognize Monroe as a slave owner is if one were paying attention to a quote by Monroe that Unger left in the book. In it, Monroe casually mentions that he sold off some slaves to pay off some of his many debts. Other than this, slaves are referred to a private servants, and never by their actual name. Now I understand that those people who aspired to be in the rich planter elite needed to hold these slaves, and, of course this is wrong, but I feel that it is almost more wrong not to address this fact to the reader. What is the author, and by extension, the reader, to make of this information? How should this shape our feelings toward Monroe? A good author should take not only the best of his or her subject, but also the worst. McCullough did this in John Adams by showing us how, at the time, the Alien and Sedition Acts seemed like a logical course of action, while a 21st reader may not agree with it. Lynn Cheney makes a point that going to war with Britain in 1812 may not have been the best idea in hindsight, but at the time, it made the most sense because it was the only card we had left to play, even if we were foolish to do so. Every biography tries to show both the positives and the negatives of their subjects and this one should be no different. But Unger, instead, refuses to do this because he simply idolizes Monroe to the point that one even wonders if he was a real person. If one would think that that is the worst Unger does to Monroe, then they would be wrong. Unger also has a habit of making things up. In my copey of the text on page 314, Unger paints this vivid picture: “ On December 2, 1823, Monroe strode into Congress to deliver his seventh annual message to that body. He had aged noticeably- still tall and fit, but his hair had grayed and deep worry lines had etched his face. Still wearing knee breeches, silk hose, and buckle-top shoes, while his audience wore ankle-length trousers, he seemed out of place--out of the distant past, come to ensure his own legacy. Members of Congress stood to applaud- and cheer- some of them trembling with awe as they watched him make his way down the aisle- The Last of the Founding Fathers.” Pretty moving little moment right? Except for the fact that it never happened! With every source I could find on the topic of the State of the Union, from blog posts by seemingly random people and official government pages, Monroe never gave the State of the Union himself. All of the sources state that the State of The Union (which wasn’t even called this until about the 1940’s) was given by a clerk to read to Congress. Washington and Adams read them to congress, but it was discontinued by Jefferson, who stated that it seemed too monarchical (but more than likely was done because he did not have a good public speaking voice). It was usually written by the President, or a speech writer, and given to a clerk to read out to congress. It was done this way until Wilson began reading them in person in 1913. So this whole scene, with the clapping, and the trembling was completely made up! (If anyone can find a source that says something different, please let me know.) It is this fact that makes me give this book a 1 star rating. I don’t mind if you seem to really idolize your subject, but making things up because they fit in with your fantasy of what history was like is inexcusable. I am reading these books to ultimately teach to my students, and it is ‘facts’ like those above that throw everything I have learned into a negative light. How can I trust anything I have read from this novel? This makes me extremely disappointed in this author. The interesting thing is, I own Unger’s book on John Quincy Adams, the next President after Monroe. Considering my feelings on the Monroe biography, will I actually read it? Perhaps, if only to see what he says about Adams and the Monroe Doctrine. In this book, he states that Adams had nothing to do with it, and Monroe did the work, telling off historians who assert the opposite claim in the process. Regardless, when I decide to get to John Quincy, I am going to take a good long look at Unger before I read another word of his. In the meantime, stay away from this book. It is insulting to the work of history as a whole.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Joe

    Book Twenty-Eight of my Presidential Challenge. James Monroe's life plays like a Presidential Greatest Hits Album. You want a revolutionary war hero like Washington? Boom! You want a President who will greatly expand the size of the U.S. like Jefferson (as well as being in love with France?) Bam! You want a pragmatic politician slowly working his way up through the ranks like Van Buren? Boo-yah. You want a super attractive and fashionable First Lady like Jackie O? Pow! Monroe really did it all. Th Book Twenty-Eight of my Presidential Challenge. James Monroe's life plays like a Presidential Greatest Hits Album. You want a revolutionary war hero like Washington? Boom! You want a President who will greatly expand the size of the U.S. like Jefferson (as well as being in love with France?) Bam! You want a pragmatic politician slowly working his way up through the ranks like Van Buren? Boo-yah. You want a super attractive and fashionable First Lady like Jackie O? Pow! Monroe really did it all. That's not hyperbole. He was elected to damn near every political position but dog catcher: State Legislator, U.S. Congressman, U.S. Senator, Ambassador to France and Britain, Minister to Spain, Four-term governor of Virginia, U.S. Secretary of State, U.S. Secretary of War, and, oh yeah, a two-term President. As previously stated, he got his political start serving under Washington in the Revolutionary War. He was severely injured in battle and was an outstanding military leader. From then on he was constantly plugged in politically. Sometimes his party was on the outs but during those periods Monroe would practice law or farm and wait for the political winds to change. I am particularly impressed by his ability to make political allies. Several times during his political career, he was double crossed (like when he was hung out to dry by Jefferson and Madison while ambassador in France) and instead of freaking out, he calmly defended himself, didn't appreciably hold a grudge and moved on. Almost always, the individuals who wronged him would realized they'd made a mistake and it would be a net gain for Monroe politically. I was most impressed by the negotiations between Monroe and Napolean regarding the Louisiana Purchase and the Monroe Doctrine. This book was fantastic. The breadth and depth were exactly what I was looking for in a book about this historical period. I now have a much better understanding of: - The Revolutionary War - The War of 1812 - The Louisiana Purchase - Andrew Jackson's crazy ass - Early American/British/French relations - Washington/Adams/Jefferson/Madison Any topic that the book touched, it touched thoroughly. (Okay, that sounds dirtier than I'd meant it to.) Was Monroe a good President? That's complicated. His biggest contribution that people know about was obviously the Monroe Doctrine. And yes, that is and continues to be super important. Short version: Europe, stay the heck out of our hemisphere's business. Got it? But of equal importance is what his Presidency says about political parties and human nature. Monroe's Presidency was the logical extension of Washington's. Washington didn't want there to be political parties. Monroe took that seriously and during the early years of his administration, there was only one political party and this was called "The Era of Good Feelings." Monroe used this time to tour the country extensively, doing his best to unite this country. And he did...for a time. But human nature being what it is, his own people began to betray him in order to set themselves up for future political power. Even though everyone was ostensibly on the "same team" this didn't stop the political backstabbing and infighting. This is an important lesson for folks who say "Hey, vote for a third party man! Let's get these bums out!" Spoiler alert: Humans are all the bums of which you speak. We're all self-centered and self-interested and will do whatever we need to to obtain power. Not realizing this (or choosing to ignore it) led Monroe to a very disappointing second term where he couldn't get much done. All in all a great book about a great American. The story of Monroe is a truly a microcosm of the American Experience and the American Experiment.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Joshua

    It must be difficult to write a biography about someone without turning that person into something of a protagonist. I don't expect perfect objectivity from biographers - certainly if a person is worth writing about they probably evoke strong feelings one way or the other - but this biography blows past 'championing' James Monroe to downright trying to deify him. The most offensive phrase, of course, is the obviously infamous 'caretaker president' quip about Adams, Jefferson, and Madison, but th It must be difficult to write a biography about someone without turning that person into something of a protagonist. I don't expect perfect objectivity from biographers - certainly if a person is worth writing about they probably evoke strong feelings one way or the other - but this biography blows past 'championing' James Monroe to downright trying to deify him. The most offensive phrase, of course, is the obviously infamous 'caretaker president' quip about Adams, Jefferson, and Madison, but this book fails on more levels than that. As a biography of Monroe, it simply fails to give the character justice. Unlike some other biographies I have read, such as Joseph Ellis', this book totally fails to bring the myth of a founding father back to Earth. It manages to put him in context somewhat, by at least being well-researched, but it certainly does nothing in the way of scholarship. Unger comes off as someone offended at Monroe's place in history who is on a crusade to reclaim and redefine the role 'people' so often relegate him to. But while Unger certainly waxes poetic on Monroe's strengths and successes, he flat out fails to give us a three dimensional human to look at at the end. Instead of a person, Monroe is portrayed in this book as a man of few faults, an almost 'deus ex machina' historical presence who is constantly underestimated and treated unfairly. If only his contemporaries would have realized his genius, then whole catastrophes of the early republic could have been avoided. If Unger is to be believed, Monroe is simply the most important president of the early republic. However, in order to achieve this claim Unger forgives faults of Monroe while simply blaming everything on the weak characters of other men. Who won the War of 1812? Monroe. In fact, Madison wasn't even really president after about 1814. Everything positive that came out of it was thanks to Monroe. Unger also grants the successes of Jefferson's administration to Monroe, but none of its failures. Unger forgives any and all possible faults of Monroe and buries any actual criticisms in platitudes and the fact that Monroe was 'just a really nice guy.' All of the criticisms aside, the book is impressively readable, even liberally doused with quotations as it is. Unger manages to avoid being either pedantic or dull, and tells the story of Monroe competently in its structure if it is only sort of draped with anything extra. Take this biography with a grain of salt, and for a better understanding of the say, the chasm that grew between Madison and Monroe, pick up a more competent, deeper biographer, such as Joseph J. Ellis.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Jean

    I have read Unger’s biographies of John Quincy Adams, Patrick Henry and George Washington and have enjoyed his writing style. The author does a good job telling the story of the pre-presidential years in a fast paced informative succinct manner. In the book Unger claims Monroe alone wrote the Monroe Doctrine. Yet in his biography of John Q. Adams he implied John Q. helped Monroe author the document. Unger states that Monroe was not a strategic thinker but he describes him as hard working, observa I have read Unger’s biographies of John Quincy Adams, Patrick Henry and George Washington and have enjoyed his writing style. The author does a good job telling the story of the pre-presidential years in a fast paced informative succinct manner. In the book Unger claims Monroe alone wrote the Monroe Doctrine. Yet in his biography of John Q. Adams he implied John Q. helped Monroe author the document. Unger states that Monroe was not a strategic thinker but he describes him as hard working, observant and popular. Madison had the advantage of being president during the post war economic boom. He was the first president to do away with taxes including property taxes as the government was making a good income from other fee such as tariff fees. Unger does go into the role and contribution of Monroe’s wife Elizabeth Kortright Monroe, who revealed great courage in obtaining the freedom of Lafayette’s wife Adrienne and her family from prison during the Reign of Terror during the French Revolution. James Monroe was the Ambassador to France during the Reign of Terror. Elizabeth Monroe was considered to be an outstanding First Lady even as she struggled with rheumatoid arthritis. I have read bits and pieces of this daring, courage act by Elizabeth Monroe in facing the prison officials holding a peerage family being held for the guillotine and rescuing them. I wish someone would write a book about this feat of Elizabeth Monroe. I think this would make a good doctoral thesis as little has been written about the event. In 2014 I read two different biographies about James Madison, and they differ a bit from the figure that Unger paints in this book. I noted in the other biographies that Madison bought Monroe’s dishes and furniture to help him feed his family when Monroe fell into financial problems. The author points out that Monroe was the only early president other than George Washington to be elected to two terms unopposed. Monroe was the only early president other than George Washington to tour the country while he was president. The book was well written, meticulously research and a delight to read. For those who like trivia the book has lots of trivia facts. I read this as an audio book downloaded from Audible. The book was narrated by Michael McConnohie.

  24. 5 out of 5

    David Orphal

    Unger has a wonderful topic in James Monroe: Revolutionary War hero, diplomat, Secretary of State and War, President. On documenting Monroe's life, Unger does a good job. 3-stars However, two things really stuck in my craw and lost a star on my review. First, Unger twice makes the claim that Alexander Hamilton wanted to be POTUS. On page 95, he writes about Hamilton and Jefferson, "Each had deep-seated ambitions to succeed Washington to the presidency and each attacked the other in pseudonymously Unger has a wonderful topic in James Monroe: Revolutionary War hero, diplomat, Secretary of State and War, President. On documenting Monroe's life, Unger does a good job. 3-stars However, two things really stuck in my craw and lost a star on my review. First, Unger twice makes the claim that Alexander Hamilton wanted to be POTUS. On page 95, he writes about Hamilton and Jefferson, "Each had deep-seated ambitions to succeed Washington to the presidency and each attacked the other in pseudonymously written polemics in the national press." Later, he makes the same assertion, Hamilton wanted to be president. I have never read from any historian anything like this before. Every biographer of Hamilton mentions how Hamilton, born in the British West Indies, was Constitutionally disqualified from the presidency. True, he wanted to be the power behind the chair, and he wanted to be a presidential "king maker" of sorts, but Hamilton never entertained ideas of running. If Unger has documentation to back up this claim, I would love to see it. It would just rock my world. This alone strikes me as a glaring mistake, made twice. Worse still, Unger takes umbrage at historians who suggest that John Quincy Adams hand more than a slight hand in the drafting of the Monroe Doctrine. Unger writes, "The assertion that Adams authored the 'Monroe Doctrine' is not only untrue, it borders on the ludicrous by implying that President Monroe was little more than a puppet manipulated by another's hand." This is awfully strong language to refute and idea that a former Secretary of State, now President, wouldn't hear suggestions from his current Secretary of State (whom he respected very much) on what would be perhaps the most important foreign policy document of his presidency. For this reader, what "borders on the lubricous" is the idea that Hamilton was politicking for the presidential chair. Beware of the stone throwing, Mr. Unger.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Gabriel Riekhof

    Disclaimer: Most of the time, I have a favorite quote or theme, which serves as a logical beginning to any summary, but I have neither of those after reading this book. So, I am trying to balance writing a negative review without sounding like I’m complaining. I completely understand developing a fondness for your subject, but in “The Last Founding Father: James Monroe and a Nation’s Call to Greatness” Harlow Giles Unger goes completely overboard. The entire book reads like a passionate defense Disclaimer: Most of the time, I have a favorite quote or theme, which serves as a logical beginning to any summary, but I have neither of those after reading this book. So, I am trying to balance writing a negative review without sounding like I’m complaining. I completely understand developing a fondness for your subject, but in “The Last Founding Father: James Monroe and a Nation’s Call to Greatness” Harlow Giles Unger goes completely overboard. The entire book reads like a passionate defense from a non-existent attack on James Monroe’s legacy. Unger goes to fantastic lengths to bolster Monroe’s historical rank, constantly attacking other prominent Americans, including Madison, Adams, Jefferson, cabinet members, and perhaps most outrageously, Dolley Madison. He also wastes no time getting to his point, writing in just the first few pages that Adams, Jefferson, and Madison, “Were mere caretaker presidents who left the nation bankrupt, its people deeply divided, its borders under attack (and) its capital city in ashes.” The most egregious examples of Unger’s bias include calling the Panic of 1819 a “Simple business slowdown,” and not just implying but explicitly stating Monroe ran the country for Madison’s last two years as president. I am sure there are interesting and factual accomplishments that could set Monroe apart from his peers, but quite frankly, they are indistinguishable from other blatantly false claims which make the rest of the book almost unreadable. When I look back on this account, I won’t remember Monroe’s wartime service, his successes as U.S. foreign minister, the Monroe Doctrine, or his other accomplishments as president. I will remember the pompous tone his biographer took and I will unfairly associate that tone with Monroe himself.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Chiqui Esteban

    I understand how people who write a biography feel attached to the person they're writing about, but this Monroe biography reaches a ridiculous level, looking more like the book a grandmother would write about her grandson, if that grandmother was also deeply partisan. And in order to show that Monroe was the greatest man ever, Unger also attacks everybody else who populates the Earth (with the exception of Elizabeth Monroe). Some of the worst moments: calling Adams, Jefferson and Madison mere ' I understand how people who write a biography feel attached to the person they're writing about, but this Monroe biography reaches a ridiculous level, looking more like the book a grandmother would write about her grandson, if that grandmother was also deeply partisan. And in order to show that Monroe was the greatest man ever, Unger also attacks everybody else who populates the Earth (with the exception of Elizabeth Monroe). Some of the worst moments: calling Adams, Jefferson and Madison mere 'caretaker presidents' or using a couple of pages defending that John Quincy Adams had nothing to do writing the Monroe doctrine speech as if that idea was some personal insult on himself. Also, the book is very thin, trying to go over a thousand events but not deepening on any of them. The language (and I'm not a native English speaker) seemed poor to say the least, with the expression "all but" appearing in almost every page of the book.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Peter Beck

    Will James Monroe be forgiven and forgotten? America's fifth president has many admirable qualities and accomplishments, but two of his decisions left me deeply disturbed and undermine his legacy. Unfortunately, Harlow Unger fails to even ask these questions and only fleetingly brings Monroe to life in his lively but all too short and thinly footnoted biography. I belatedly discovered that Unger has developed a second career of cranking out biographies for a minor press. I did find Unger's accou Will James Monroe be forgiven and forgotten? America's fifth president has many admirable qualities and accomplishments, but two of his decisions left me deeply disturbed and undermine his legacy. Unfortunately, Harlow Unger fails to even ask these questions and only fleetingly brings Monroe to life in his lively but all too short and thinly footnoted biography. I belatedly discovered that Unger has developed a second career of cranking out biographies for a minor press. I did find Unger's accounts of Monroe's first posting to France, leading role in the humiliating War of 1812 and sunset years to be vivid and moving, but Monroe far more often gets lost in Unger's sweeping retelling of a big picture largely well known to readers of biographies of the previous four presidents. Why do I think Monroe might need to be forgiven? He is the only founding father president to have the blood of dozens of slaves on his hands. While serving his first term as governor of Virginia in 1800, Monroe learned that a slave revolt was being organized (Gabriel's Rebellion, pp. 140-2). Less than six weeks later, Monroe executed 28 slaves believed to be participants. Neither Monroe nor Unger are bothered by this. Unger fails to mention that Shay's Rebellion (1786-7) and the Whiskey Rebellion (1791-4) had a combined total of two people executed, even though both were far more advanced. You can guess what the difference was between the rebellions. Just a few pages earlier, Monroe's 25 slaves magically appear. Unger never tells us when they arrived or where they came from. The Washington Post recently reported that some of Monroe's slaves' descendants still live near the former plantation. Unger only provides one observation by Monroe about slaves, "they ought not to be treated with barbarity" (p. 306). Now that I have that off my chest... Monroe is rightfully called the "Last Founding Father" because he was an 18-year-old student at the College of William and Mary on July 4, 1776. Washington was old enough to be his father and Franklin his grandfather. He saw action briefly under Washington, but spent spent most of the war and several periods before becoming president in effect urging, "Put me in, coach!" Monroe could be difficult. He almost had a duel with Hamilton (ironically, Burr prevented it) and had serious disputes with all four of the presidents he served. He even broke off contact with Washington and Madison for long periods of time and demanded an apology from Adams due to perceived slights. Reading "The Last Founding Father" had me thinking more of a team of vipers than "Founding Brothers" (Ellis). Monroe had only one major accomplishment as president, but it was a big one: The Monroe Doctrine ("Europe, don't mess with Latin America!"). Few presidents have a doctrine that outlives their presidency. For example, W.'s "Axis of Evil" was stillborn and Obama never had one (neither "Don't Do Stupid Shit" nor "Leading from Behind" count). The Monroe Doctrine was used to justify U.S. policy in the Americas for over 150 years, but since the 1990s, not so much. Neither Trump nor any of the Democrats seeking to replace him want to challenge Russia/China in Venezuela, and for good reason. U.S. military interventions have almost never ended well ("Daddy, how do you spell quagmire?"). Unger makes the strongest possible argument for Monroe being one of America's greatest presidents in his Prologue (in C-SPAN's 2017 survey Monroe is ranked 13th). So why do I think Monroe may be forgotten? After Washington's martial flair and Jefferson's Francophile flamboyance, it was almost jarring to see Unger constantly describe Monroe as "plain." I have driven past Monroe's Highland Plantation three times on my way to Jefferson's Monticello but failed to stop precisely because like its former owner, it is "plain." I didn't even know Monroe had a more stately retirement plantation in my neighboring county of Loudoun, where I bike every week. The second action taken by Monroe that disturbed me was his decision to burn the bundles of letters that he and his wife Elizabeth wrote to one other. Their two daughters lamented that not a single written word by their highly educated mother survived. That was his right, but it means there may never be a Ron Chernow or David McCullough to help future generations understand and appreciate him.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Cat

    A biography best read if you already know Monroe well. One star for sheer overt bias by the biographer throughout the text. Unger goes to no lengths to assume impartiality when reviewing Monroe's life. All biographers are biased towards their subjects but this favoritism was atrocious. As others have mentioned, some egregious examples include: - "Washington's three successors - John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, and James Madison - were mere caretaker presidents who left the nation bankrupt, its peopl A biography best read if you already know Monroe well. One star for sheer overt bias by the biographer throughout the text. Unger goes to no lengths to assume impartiality when reviewing Monroe's life. All biographers are biased towards their subjects but this favoritism was atrocious. As others have mentioned, some egregious examples include: - "Washington's three successors - John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, and James Madison - were mere caretaker presidents who left the nation bankrupt, its people deeply divided, its borders under attack, its capital city in ashes." - "'You infernal scoundrel,' Crawford shook his cane menacingly at the president. James Monroe reached for the tongs by the fireplace to defend himself, as Navy Secretary Samuel Southard leaped from his seat and intercepted Crawford, pushing him away from the president's desk and out the door. It was a terrifying scene: the president - the presidency itself - under attack for the first time in American history." As far as opening paragraphs go this is exciting, but given that Madison was President during the War of 1812 when Britain burned Washington D.C. almost to the ground the idea that Monroe was the first President to be attacked is ridiculous. - "The assertion that Adams [John Quincy Adams] authored the 'Monroe Doctrine' is not only untrue, it borders on the ludicrous by implying that President Monroe was little more than a puppet manipulated by another's hand. Such assertions show little insight into the presidency itself and the type of man who aspires to and assumes that office; indeed, they denigrate the character, the intellect, the intensity, and the sense of power that drive American presidents." And yet, Unger claims that Madison was a puppet to Monroe during the latter half of his second term. See the first quote in this review as well. I'm also giving a one star review due to a lack of explanation or consideration of Monroe's views towards slavery, an omission that is striking considering that Monroe signed the controversial Missouri Compromise. Unger also wrote sentences like this: "Compared to the trim red uniforms of advancing British troops, they [Americans] were a repulsive-looking group, unwashed, unshaven, many of them drunk - a mixture of militiamen, frontiersmen, woodsmen, hunters, farmers, pirates, blacks, half-breeds..." Has a good and decent person ever used the term "half-breed" seriously? The answer is no. Also notice how the (presumably) white frontiersmen, woodsmen, etc., are referred to by their occupation rather than their skin color. Labeling blacks as repulsive looking just because they are black is racist.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Matt Davenport

    James Madison had a very interesting, and very underrated, life. He was a politician in the times of some of history's greatest, overseeing many of the same events and being venerated as an esteemed peer by the likes of Washington, Jefferson, and Madison. He was one of the U.S.'s most successful early foreign ambassadors, came readily and capably to her defense during the War of 1812 where others failed, and oversaw one of the U.S.'s most tranquil political periods. While not the political thoug James Madison had a very interesting, and very underrated, life. He was a politician in the times of some of history's greatest, overseeing many of the same events and being venerated as an esteemed peer by the likes of Washington, Jefferson, and Madison. He was one of the U.S.'s most successful early foreign ambassadors, came readily and capably to her defense during the War of 1812 where others failed, and oversaw one of the U.S.'s most tranquil political periods. While not the political thought-leader of his Founding Father peers, and plagued by many of the same short-sightedness and racist flaws of men of these times, he was certainly a good President, and important one, and one we should discuss more. However, this books' a-historical gushing love for Monroe makes it hard to appreciate Monroe without questioning the validity of everything you've learned about him. Unger claims that Monroe was Washington-esque, and that Adams, Jefferson, and Madison were "caretaker" presidents. Furthermore, Unger attacks the character and accomplishments of anyone who was ever opposed to Monroe, including Madison and Jefferson, two of Monroe's greatest friends. He does this without anything close to the same level of historical research and citation done by authors such as Chernow, Meacham, or McCullough. For that, this was a disappointing read, as while I do have a greater appreciation for what Monroe accomplished now, it will have to be checked in place by the knowledge that the first-hand accounting for this appreciation was by such an overtly biased source.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Nicolette Harding

    Unger is a fantastic writer. He took somewhat bland subject matter (Louisiana Purchase) amd made it enjoyable and readable. This was quite the glowing love fest for Monroe. He was the last founding father, a poor planter, war hero who benefitted from the friendship and mentoring of Thomas Jefferson. Most importantly, he presided over the country during the "Era of Good feelings" the first time in our history when we were a prosperous nation not entangled in wars. Except for that darn slavery thi Unger is a fantastic writer. He took somewhat bland subject matter (Louisiana Purchase) amd made it enjoyable and readable. This was quite the glowing love fest for Monroe. He was the last founding father, a poor planter, war hero who benefitted from the friendship and mentoring of Thomas Jefferson. Most importantly, he presided over the country during the "Era of Good feelings" the first time in our history when we were a prosperous nation not entangled in wars. Except for that darn slavery thing. Thats my only complaint in the book. It completely glosses over.Monroes slaveholdings, ideas on slavery and how those good feelings didnt transcend over to those enslaved. I look forward to reading more from Unger (Lafayette, especially) and more about Monroe and his first lady. She is one of the most looked over first ladies and she should be one to be studied! Highly recommended.

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