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

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Overview

In This Cripping Biography, award-winning author Harlow Giles Unger reveals the epic story of James Monroe (1758-1831)-the last of America's Founding Fathers-who transformed a small, fragile nation beset by enemies into a powerful empire stretching "from sea to shining sea."

Emerging from the battlefields of the Revolutionary War a decorated soldier, Monroe went on to serve America as its first full-time politician-a member of Congress, minister to France and Britain, governor ...

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

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Overview

In This Cripping Biography, award-winning author Harlow Giles Unger reveals the epic story of James Monroe (1758-1831)-the last of America's Founding Fathers-who transformed a small, fragile nation beset by enemies into a powerful empire stretching "from sea to shining sea."

Emerging from the battlefields of the Revolutionary War a decorated soldier, Monroe went on to serve America as its first full-time politician-a member of Congress, minister to France and Britain, governor of Virginia, secretary of state, secretary of war, and, finally, fifth president of the United States. Monroe took command of a nation nearly bankrupt, its people divided, its borders under attack, and its capital in ashes after the British invasion in the War of 1812. During two formative terms he rebuilt national defenses, expanded the military, extended national boundaries, and startled the world by proclaiming the landmark Monroe Doctrine, closing the Americas to foreign incursions and colonization. His leadership ushered in an "Era of Good Feelings" never seen before or since in American history. A superb read based on stellar scholarship, The Last Founding Father sheds light not only on the remarkable life of Monroe, but on a key chapter in the story of America. The result is an action-filled history in the grand tradition.

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
Founding Father James Monroe (1751-1831) long outlived the birth of the country and became so revered that he won two presidential elections (1816, 1820) with no significant opposition. In retrospect, it's easy to discern why: His credentials as a solder, congressman, senator, ambassador, governor, and secretary of state establish him as arguably the best-prepared president in our nation's history. Harlow Giles Unger presents this unjustly neglected leader within the context of his times. A major biography by the author of Lafayette.
Library Journal
In this well-written biography, Unger (Lafayette) presents the fifth president as a man of independence and initiative rather than merely a disciple of Jefferson, Madison, and John Quincy Adams. In this respect, he follows Harry Ammon's assessment in James Monroe: The Quest for National Identity. Unger shows that as a diplomat, Monroe went beyond his ministerial instructions to negotiate treaties and the Louisiana Purchase, that as governor of Virginia he effectively used pronouncements to build public support for his policies, and that as President, he used his diplomatic, cabinet, and military experience to proclaim what became known as the Monroe Doctrine. The author's praise for Monroe should have been balanced by some questions about Monroe's ambition (and possible vanity). For example, during the War of 1812, how far did Monroe undermine Secretary of War John Armstrong so that he could take over the post himself? VERDICT Like Gary Hart's James Monroe, in the Times Books series of short presidential biographies, Unger's work will appeal to a more popular audience, especially those who enjoy presidential history or studying the Founding Fathers. Historians and history students should read as well but will still rely on Ammon.—Bryan Craig, MLS, Nellysford, VA
Kirkus Reviews
Cogent reexamination of a relatively neglected American icon. James Monroe (1758-1831) was a major guiding force in the territorial expansion of the country, argues historian Unger (America's Second Revolution: How George Washington Defeated Patrick Henry and Saved the Nation, 2007, etc.). Monroe was a key negotiator of the 1803 Louisiana Purchase, which effectively doubled the nation's territory overnight. More importantly, as the nation's fifth president he kept the country safe from outside attack via the Monroe Doctrine, an 1823 policy that warned European governments that colonization or interference with U.S. states would be viewed as an act of war. As a result, pioneers felt safe enough to trek westward and settle in faraway lands. Less prominent than some of the other Founding Fathers, he was nonetheless present at many major historical events in the revolutionary struggle. As a student in Virginia, he was inspired by Patrick Henry's "give me liberty, or give me death" speech at Richmond in 1775. A soldier under General Washington, he holds the flag in Emanuel Gottlieb Leutze's famous 1851 painting, Washington Crossing the Delaware. Monroe was also Secretary of State and Secretary of War during the War of 1812, the first true military challenge to the nascent United States. Unger ably explains how these experiences later informed Monroe's pragmatic and confident leadership style. The author's treatment of Monroe's relationship with wife Elizabeth is somewhat less interesting and invites unfavorable comparison to David McCullough's excellent John Adams (2001), which used John's correspondence with Abigail in effective and revelatory ways. Still, Unger makes a solid and cohesiveargument for Monroe's importance in the early years of the United States, even if he goes too far in his enthusiasm by calling predecessors Adams, Madison and Jefferson "mere caretaker presidents."A worthy attempt to rescue Monroe from obscurity for a mainstream audience. Regional author tour around Washington, D.C. Agent: Edward Knappman/New England Publishing Associates
From the Publisher

Kirkus, 8/15/09
“[A] cogent reexamination of a relatively neglected American icon…Unger makes a solid and cohesive argument for Monroe’s importance in the early years of the United States…A worthy attempt to rescue Monroe from obscurity for a mainstream audience.”

Library Journal, 9/1/09
“[A] well-written biography…Unger presents the fifth president as a man of independence and initiative rather than merely a disciple of Jefferson, Madison, and John Quincy Adams…Will appeal to a more popular audience, especially those who enjoy presidential history or studying the Founding Fathers. Historians and history students should read as well.”

BookPage October 2009
“[A] compelling new biography… Unger deftly guides us through Monroe’s pre-presidential period… Unger’s outstanding biography of Monroe is consistently illuminating and a fine introduction to the subject.”

Internet Review of Books September 2009
“An excellent biography that sweepingly captures the grand life of this statesman…A remarkably readable biography of a great statesman of the new nation. The book is in many ways worthy of its subject. The narrative has a smooth rhythm, blending the personal and the public man. The historical context of the times is nicely woven into the tapestry of the story and is rarely burdensome for the common reader and impressive for its scope.”

The Washington Times, 9/27
“A workmanlike study of a workmanlike president.”

Blogcritics.org, 9/26
“My lack of knowledge and interest in the first days of this great country have changed with the reading of The Last Founding Father. In the first five pages, I learned more about our fifth President, James Monroe, than I had learned in twelve years of schooling. Mr. Unger presents President Monroe in a way that makes him more real and accessible than high school textbooks…Mr. Unger has presented James Madison in the most human of ways…Monroe's story fills out our history. Mr. Unger has completed a well written biography of a most deserving subject.”

Bookviews blog, October
“America was fortunate to have [Monroe] as president during a critical time of growth and readers are fortunate to have this extraordinary biography.”
 
Booklist Online, 9/28
“In the pantheon of our Founding Fathers, James Monroe is, at best, given a place in the second row by most historians and in public consciousness. As Unger illustrates, that is both unfortunate and unfair…[Unger] makes a strong case for an acknowledgement of Monroe’s greatness…This is a worthy reconsideration of the life and accomplishments of an outstanding American statesman.”

The Oklahoman, 10/11
“Tells Monroe's story in a way that keeps the reader enthralled…It is a hard book to put down, and it flows extremely well.”

Tucson Citizen, “Shelf Life” blog, 10/11
“[Unger] has given Monroe the credit he richly deserves. The foundation of this book is bedrock solid, the narrative crisply written, and the research first rate.”

Curled Up With A Good Book
“Extremely fascinating and entertaining for both the general reader and the scholar. The veteran author has done well in researching and writing this book…A delight to read and highly recommended to those interested in either or both President James Monroe or early American history.”

January magazine, 10/22/09
“Harlow Giles Unger is one of those authors with the talent and skill -- not to mention passion—to breathe life into history—Unger builds a case for the importance of a vastly overlooked and underrated figure, America’s fifth President, James Monroe…Unger delivers his material on a wave of adventure and a compelling sense of importance. You won’t ever see the early history of America in quite the same way.”

Yale Alumni Magazine, November/December 2009
“Unger’s biography, written for a popular audience, tells the story of one of the less familiar founding fathers.”

Augusta Metro Spirit, 11/4/09
“If there was ever a biography for American history, American politics, and American patriotism fans, this is it…An incredible journey through an incredible life at an incredible time in history...Unger takes readers on a detailed ride through the interactions often lost in textbook portraits and made-for-TV-movies…Written with delicate prose and an easy to follow narrative, Unger’s portrait of Monroe would make a great gift for the history buff in the family.”

Charlottesville Daily Progress, 11/15/09
“[A] fascinating book…[that] has more to it than Unger’s meticulous accounting of accomplishments and events. There are wonderful maps and illustrations.”

InfoDad blog, 12/3/09
“Monroe emerges as more than ‘just’ a president: he comes across as a multifaceted human being…Both Monroe and this period of United States history come alive.”

San Francisco Book Review and Sacramento Book Review, December 2009
“I appreciated Unger’s clarity of expression. His descriptions of the American and French Revolutions, the events surrounding the Louisiana Purchase, and the War of 1812 are among the most lucid I’ve read.”

Richmond Times-Dispatch, 11/29/2009
The Last Founding Father is compelling both as a biography of a fascinating, unfairly neglected politician and a swift-reading account of the founding of a nation.”

Bookreporter.com, 12/11/2009
“Supremely well-written and enlightening…Unger shows us much more than just a president…Unger goes a long way to opening up the eyes of a reader to the vast value Monroe had at the founding of our nation, and taking stock of all his achievements along the way brings a great sense of sadness that such a patriot should be so readily forgotten.”

Boston Globe, 12/26/09
“Will do much to raise awareness of this accomplished statesman…Unger’s skills as both a storyteller and political analyst enable him to convey the importance of the personalities and events of early-19th-century America in a detailed and enjoyable manner that will appeal to general readers.”

Asbury Park Press, 12/20/09
“Those interested in a more thorough knowledge of the events and personalities that carried the nation through the early 19th century might well begin with Unger's lively portrait of the patriot of whom Thomas Jefferson said: ‘A better man cannot be.’”

Smoke magazine, Fall 2010
“Acclaimed historian Harlow Giles Unger captures the magnitude of Monroe’s contribution to the United States. The Last Founding Father traces the life of an extraordinary but often under-appreciated man who was born into the chaos of pre-revolutionary America but led it into its first period of peace—nearly forty years after it declared its independence.”

American History magazine, April 2010
"Attempts to resuscitate…the last of the great men present at the creation of the republic.”

Norfolk Virginian-Pilot, 2/21/10
“Readers unfamiliar with the two presidents—or those with a special interest in them—will be well rewarded by perusing these two well-crafted biographies.”

Kick Ass Book Reviews, 5/6/10
“[A] fascinating book…Monroe was just as important as any other founding father, and this biography will let you explore the reasons why.”

Magill Book Reviews
“The engaging story of an important but neglected president...If public memory has unfairly ignored him, The Last Founding Father: James Monroe and a Nation’s Call to Greatness amply restores the deficit. This absorbing biography also generously details the early history of the nation’s westward expansion…[A] highly readable history of a great American. A natural storyteller and appealing stylist, Unger skillfully interweaves his subject’s private and public lives. He captures the milieu of the early nineteenth century, conveying its broad influence upon succeeding eras.”

Choice, July 2010
“[Unger] sympathetically assesses all phases of [Monroe’s] life…Particularly well written, this is a worthy successor to Harry Ammon’s 700-page James Monroe: The Quest for National Identity (1971), which focuses less on the private and more on the public Monroe…Highly recommended.”

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780306819186
  • Publisher: Da Capo Press
  • Publication date: 9/28/2010
  • Edition description: First Trade Paper Edition
  • Pages: 400
  • Sales rank: 110,833
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 8.90 (h) x 1.10 (d)

Meet the Author


A veteran journalist, broadcaster, educator, and historian, Harlow Giles Unger is the author of fifteen books, including four biographies of America’s Founding Fathers. He was recently named the 2008 Distinguished Visiting Fellow in American History at George Washington’s Mount Vernon.
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Table of Contents

List of Illustrations vii

Acknowledgements and Dedication ix

Chronology xi

Prologue 1

Chapter 1 "To Be Free…We Must Fight" 7

Chapter 2 "A Brave…and Sensible Officer" 25

Chapter 3 "I May Lose My Scalp" 41

Chapter 4 "A Most Interesting Connection" 61

Chapter 5 "A Subversion of Liberty" 77

Chapter 6 "One Continuous Scene of Riot" 91

Chapter 7 La Belle Américaine 109

Chapter 8 "Let Calumny Have Its Course" 129

Chapter 9 "To Prevent this Greatest of Evils" 143

Chapter 10 "Some Outrages Had Been Coomitted" 159

Chapter 11 "Nothing but Simple Justice" 177

Chapter 12 "To Repair an Injury" 195

Chapter 13 "We Have Met the Enemy…" 213

Chapter 14 "The Poor Capital…Crack'd and Broken" 237

Chapter 15 The "Era of Good Feelings" 261

Chapter 16 "Embroidered with Gold" 277

Chapter 17 "Winked Away by Compromise" 287

Chapter 18 A Momentous Decision 305

Chapter 19 Rejoice! 317

Chapter 20 "A Plain and Gentle Man" 333

Appendix 349

Notes 353

Bibliography 371

Index 377

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4
( 24 )
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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 24 Customer Reviews
  • Posted January 19, 2010

    BOTH A BETTER MAN AND A BETTER PRESIDENT THAN I HAD EVER EVEN SUSPECTED

    One should not be surprised when reading history or biography to learn new things about men or events. What surprised me was how very little I actually knew either of James Monroe or his era. WOW!!! This book truly filled in some major gaps in my knowledge of both the Madison and the Monroe presidencies, the War of 1812, the Era of Good Feelings and enough other matters to make me want to know even more. James Monroe--what a man. His Revolutionary War exploits of heroism were enough to have made his life significant; but his efforts as both Secretary of State and interim Secretary of War (and practically de facto President)during the last 2 years of the Madison presidency) as chronicled in chapters 13 and 14 are alone worth the price of the book. The account of how his own enormous popularity and the genuine goodwill he generated caused an end of political party divisions by actually causing the end (or at least the suspension) of political parties themselves is beyond comprehension to the "modern mind" of this man. In the absence of a totalitarian or authoritarian personality to dominate the void left by the end of party-ism, personal factionalism of the most virulent kind ensued and resulted in the inevitable re-emergence of political parties. A gentleman, a hero, a visionary, a statesman, a patriot. Where are the likes of James Madison today when we so greatly need them?

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted January 1, 2010

    Great Single Volume Narrative

    I have thoroughly enjoyed this single volume narrative of the life and especially the presidency of James Monroe. Having been on an early republic biographical kick for the past couple of months, I have knocked off R.N. Smith's Patriarch about Washington, R. Chernow's Alexander Hamilton (fantastic and exhaustive), E.P. Crapol's John Tyler, J. Meacham's American Lion, with W.R. Borneman's Polk waiting on the shelf. Unger's Monroe has been a wonderful read, but I wish that editors would do a better job of correcting copy before going to print. As I got to the end, on page 314, there is a glaring error as the narrative states that "On December 2, 1783, Monroe strode into Congress to deliver his seventh annual message to that body." Well, I do not know exactly what James Monroe was doing on December 2, 1783 (most likely, he was hanging out with fellow Virginian Thomas Jefferson because they had both been elected to Congress, but Monroe was broke and Jefferson had money), but he was certainly not addressing Congress as the President, since the excecutive branch did not yet exist and the only Congress was the Confederation Congress rapidly showing its inability to effectively deal with the issues of a new nation of sovereign states. However, on December 2, 1823, James Monroe was in fact the president and was addressing a joint session of the Senate and House of Representatives for the seventh time as the chief executive officer. I was so enjoying the narrative until this derailment over a simple editorial oversight in the chronology. Otherwise, an excellent book.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 11, 2013

    Amazing

    Great pesident

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 6, 2011

    Part of our nations birth

    Everyone should read about our forefathers and learn how our nation was born. Very well done. I learned some new facts.

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  • Posted May 21, 2011

    Excellent Read

    Historical presidential biographies, if well written, tend to spell bind me. This one did not fail. I felt invited into President Monroe's life in a rich and exciting way. I learned more about Monroe, his family, and his accomplishments than I ever did in history class. This book will not disappoint!

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  • Posted April 22, 2011

    more from this reviewer

    Great political biography

    After reading Mr Unger's book on Patrick Henry, this book about James Monroe failed to keep me as riveted. While The Last Founding Father was equally as informative and written in a compelling fashion, there were portions which were not so captivating. It was likely my lack of interest in some of the minutia which Mr Unger comprehensively describe; in spite of my view, the whole of this book was educational. Page after page, it is clear Mr Unger painstakingly researched and understood not only the man, James Monroe, but the political climate and events which influenced decisions and outcomes. In light of my reservation of this book, I will continue to purchase Mr Unger's books.

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  • Posted April 6, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    Very Good Book on One of History's Forgotten Presidents

    James Monroe, as the last founding father to serve in the White House truly does close an era of history. Unfortunatley both he and Elizabeth Monroe have been largely overlooked by history to our detriment since there is much to learn from this family.

    As a young man Monroe joined the revolutionary cause and fought bravely for this country, surviving a life threatening wound. Following in Washington's footsteps he didn't accept payment for his service. This would set the stage for a lifetime of financial sacrifice in his country's service.

    His political career included serving as a foreign diplomat, senator, and as a governor that forever changed the role of Governor of Virginia, and finally Preisdent of the United States.

    Unger portrays Monroe as an affable man who knew how to nurture relationships, queit until pushed by passion to act boldly even disregarding the Constitution at times, politically astute, a true unifer as he destroyed the two party political system for a time, and a visionary who successfully increased the land mass of the country and set forth the famous Monroe Doctrine.

    Elizabeth Monroe is portrayed as a fascinating, beautiful, highly educated and courageous woman. Thier marriage and dedication to each other rival John and Abigail Adams.

    Unger does an incredible job of completely telling the story of James Monroe and providing important details where they belong. For those who find biographies fraught with too much detail that will not be an issue here. Those who want a complete understanding of the subject will find it with Unger.

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  • Posted January 16, 2010

    Bring the "Last of the Founding Fathers" to light

    It is an excellent biography of James Monroe. The story is written in an exciting fashion and it is an easy read.

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