A nearly forgotten president comes in for soft-spoken tribute, courtesy of one-time U.S. Senator Hart (The Fourth Power, 2004, etc.).
Hart allows that it is difficult to make a case for considering James Monroe “a great president by the standards usually reserved for great presidents.” That notwithstanding, Hart says, Monroe was a skilled diplomat whose quiet, dogged work yielded the Louisiana Purchase and averted war with France, Spain and England; as president, he helped guide the nation out of an economic depression, and, of course, he formulated the principles that would come to be known as the Monroe Doctrine. It is this last achievement for which Monroe is best remembered, though few casual students of American history are conversant with the details. Hart ably elucidates those principles, among which are the serving of notice that the U.S. would not allow the extension of any monarchical European government into the Americas and that it would actively bar the reassertion of European power over any former colony that had declared itself free, as so much of South America had done with respect to Spain. Moreover, Hart observes, whereas the conventional view of the Monroe Doctrine is that it is a unilateralist declaration that “Europe is no longer welcome in the Western Hemisphere,” the actual formulation is reciprocal, assuring that the U.S. would not interfere in European affairs but would also not tolerate European interference in American affairs broadly viewed. Hart notes that Monroe was “a military man before he was a diplomat or politician,” with a well-honed view of geopolitics and an understanding, early on, that America’s destiny lay in westward expansion and emergence as a world power. Finally, on the personal front, Hart approvingly records that though Monroe was not above ambition or self-aggrandizement, he was also capable of distinguishing politics from friendship and was known for his warmth and kindness.
A well-written, useful précis of Monroe’s life and career.