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American History Series: James Monroe Easily Wins Election in 1816

Not everyone was happy that the young nation had its fourth president from the same state, Virginia. Transcript of radio broadcast:

Welcome to THE MAKING OF A NATION – American history in VOA Special English.

President James Madison retired after two four-year terms. His Republican Party chose another Virginian, James Monroe, as its next presidential candidate.

The opposition Federalist Party had almost disappeared by the time of the election in eighteen sixteen. The party did not even meet to choose a presidential candidate. But three states -- Connecticut, Delaware and Massachusetts -- promised to vote for a Federalist, Rufus King.

Now, this week in our series, Tony Riggs and Larry West continue the story.



James Monroe easily won the election. He would serve two terms. Monroe was sworn-in as president in February eighteen-seventeen.

A few months later, he began a long trip to thirteen states. Everywhere he stopped, the people welcomed him warmly. Even in New England the crowds were large.

The president returned to Washington after three and a half months. He was tired. But he was pleased with the way the people of the United States had accepted him.


Not everyone was happy that Monroe had been elected. After all, he was the fourth American president from Virginia. The situation caused hard feelings among political leaders in other states, especially the states of New England.

Monroe tried to improve this situation. He wanted to give the top four jobs in his cabinet to men from each of the nation's four major areas: the Northeast, the South, the West and the Middle Atlantic coast. This would help improve unity. And it would help the president get expert knowledge about each of those parts of the country.

Monroe was not able to do what he wanted. He got cabinet ministers from only three of the four areas. The West was not represented.


The top cabinet job -- secretary of state -- went to John Quincy Adams of Massachusetts. Adams was the son of former president John Adams. John Quincy Adams had been a Federalist, like his father. But he became a Republican during the presidency of Thomas Jefferson.

Adams had served his country in many ways. He had served as minister to Russia. And he had been the chief negotiator at the peace talks with Britain following the War of Eighteen Twelve. President Monroe asked Henry Clay of Kentucky to be secretary of war. But Clay refused.

The president could find no other westerner who would take the job as chief of the War Department. So he gave it to John C. Calhoun, a congressman from South Carolina. William Crawford of Georgia, another Southerner, continued as treasury secretary. And William Wirt of Virginia became head of the Justice Department.


One of the first problems facing President Monroe was east Florida. It was the territory which is now the state of Florida in the southeastern United States. At that time, the territory belonged to Spain. But Spain controlled only a few towns in the area. The rest was controlled by criminals, escaped slaves and former British soldiers.

There also were native American Indians of the Seminole and Creek tribes. Sometimes, people from east Florida would cross the border and attack American citizens. One serious fight involved Seminole Indians and people just across the border in the state of Georgia.


General Andrew Jackson was ordered to march against the Indians. He was a hero of the war of eighteen twelve against Britain. Jackson sent a message to President Monroe. He said:

"Let me know in any way that the United States wants possession of the Florida territory. And in sixty days, it will be done."

Jackson received no answer to his letter. He believed the silence meant that he was free to seize Florida. He quickly gathered a force of soldiers and marched toward Florida.


General Jackson failed to capture any Indians. But he seized two Spanish towns: Saint Marks and Pensacola.

He also arrested two British subjects. The two men were tried by a military court. They were found guilty of spying and giving guns to the Indians. Both were executed.

Jackson left soldiers at several places in Florida. Then he returned to his home in Tennessee.


President Monroe called a cabinet meeting as soon as he learned of Jackson's actions. All the ministers, except Secretary of State Adams, believed that Jackson had gone too far. But they decided not to denounce him in public.

Secretary Adams prepared messages to Britain and Spain about the incidents. His message to Britain carefully stated the activities of the two British subjects in Florida and explained why they were executed. Britain agreed not to take any action.


Adams's message to Spain explained the situation this way: Spain had failed to keep the peace along the border as it had promised to do in a treaty. The United States had sent soldiers into Florida only to defend its citizens on the American side.

The United States recognized that Florida belonged to Spain. But if Americans were forced to enter Florida again -- in self-defense -- the United States might not return the territory to Spain. Spain had a choice. It could send enough soldiers to keep order in Florida. Or it could give Florida to the United States.


Spain really had no choice. At that time, Spain's colonies in South America were rebelling. All had declared their independence. Jose de San Martin led the struggle in Argentina. Bernardo O'Higgens was in Chile. And Simon Bolivar created the Republic of Great Columbia in the north.

Spain's forces could not be sent to Florida. They were needed in South America. So the king of Spain agreed to give Florida to the United States. In exchange, the United States agreed to pay five million dollars to American citizens who had damage claims against Spain.


The Florida treaty was signed in February eighteen nineteen. The American Senate quickly approved the treaty. But the king of Spain delayed his approval for almost two years.

He had hoped the United States would agree to one more demand. He did not want the United States to recognize the independence of the rebel Spanish colonies in South America.

The United States rejected the king's demand. It said Spain must approve the Florida treaty, or it would take Florida on its own. The threat succeeded. Spain approved the treaty.


Many Americans believed that the United States should recognize the independent republics in South America. The speaker of the House of Representatives, Henry Clay, agreed.

He said recognition would help protect the rights and liberties of the new republics. He said it would lead to economic ties with the United States. And he said it would make the new republics follow the lead of the United States in diplomacy and foreign policy. As a result of all this, Clay said, the United States would become the leading nation in the Americas.


Secretary of State Adams disagreed. He did not believe that the new republics could develop free and liberal forms of government. He also feared that United States' recognition of the South American republics would lead to trouble with European nations.

At the end of the Napoleonic wars, some of the nations of Europe joined in an agreement to keep the peace. They agreed to help each other put down rebellions. Such rebellions were defeated in Spain and Italy.

Britain refused to be part of the agreement. And it did not want the alliance to interfere in South America. Britain had a good trade with the new republics. Britain proposed a joint statement with the United States. The statement would say that neither country would seize Spanish colonies in the new world. And both would oppose any effort by Spain to give its American territory to another European nation.


At first, President Monroe thought he would accept the British proposal. He asked former presidents Jefferson and Madison for their advice. Both urged him to accept it. Secretary of State Adams, however, disagreed sharply. He said the United States should act alone in protesting European interference in South America.

President Monroe finally accepted the advice of his secretary of state. He included Adams's ideas in his message to Congress in eighteen twenty-three. They became known as the Monroe Doctrine. That will be our story next week.


Our program was written by Frank Beardsley. The narrators were Tony Riggs and Larry West. Transcripts, MP3s and podcasts of our programs are online, along with historical images, at Join us each week for THE MAKING OF A NATION - an American history series in VOA Special English.

This is program #50 of THE MAKING OF A NATION