Smith: Forgotten founder
The Fourth of July is the leading patriotic holiday in the United States. It is a time when we remember the patriots who dared to declare their independence from England and then spent nearly eight years fighting an uphill battle for freedom. Looking back, it is a miracle that we prevailed.
In addition, they faced the challenge of forming a government that brought together diverse states with differing agendas. They were able to form a government that remains the best the world has ever seen. It was a formidable task that was performed by men who were intellectual giants.
We always remember George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin, who are the best known of the founding fathers. Yet, there were others who played historical roles in the fight for freedom and formation of our country.
Take, for example, James Monroe, who was a major player in the early decades of the United States. For some reason, Monroe is almost a forgotten patriot. I will admit that I really didn’t know much about the fifth president of the United States until I read a book titled: “The Last Founding Father, James Monroe and a Nation’s Call To Greatness,” by Harlow Giles Unger. After reading the book, I started some research and found a historical figure that may have made one of the biggest contributions to our nation, the Monroe Doctrine, which insured the free choice of governments in the New World.
Monroe embodied all that is good in the United States. He came from a humble beginning, worked hard for his education. One author pointed out that no matter what was needed Monroe always answered the call.
As a youth, in the spring and summer, Monroe toiled on the family farm in Westmoreland County, Va. In the fall and winter, he walked nine miles per day to attend school. Due to the death of his mother, his family duties increased, although he received some financial support from an uncle.
When the Revolutionary War broke out, he was a lieutenant in the Third Virginia, Continental Army in the battle of Harlem Heights. He was wounded in heroic action at Trenton. Ultimately he was appointed to the rank of major and fought in the battle of Monmouth.
He started his public career in the Virginia Legislature and in 1783 won election to the Confederation Congress, which was the forerunner to our present form of government. For virtually the remainder of his life, Monroe served his state or nation in some form. Truly his life was one of public service and commitment to honest and far-sighted government. Early in his career, he expressed opposition to a strong federal government, which was one of the biggest issues of the time. His opinions moderated as he served in virtually all levels of state and federal government.
Monroe assumed command of a portion of the Army during the War of 1812. His life was not without tragedy — his son James Spencer Monroe was killed while putting down Gabriel’s Rebellion.
He had tremendous success as president. During his tenure, five states joined the union. He started a custom for presidents. He left Washington, D.C., and made trips through the United States meeting with citizens. This boosted his popularity, which was also aided by unprecedented prosperity.
He remained “old fashioned” in that he always wore clothes from the Revolutionary era, even though styles had changed. Probably the biggest fact about his public career was he was the last man in our history to be elected unanimously as president in 1820.
Maybe a good way to celebrate our independence would be to learn more about the great men and women who built our nation. They made contributions that should never be forgotten.