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

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

3.9 26
by Harlow Giles Unger

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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


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.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

Dead Presidents website, 10/19/10
“What stands out most about Unger’s book is the clarity and ease of the author’s writing…I read a lot of books about Presidents that I already know a lot about, but this book taught me more about a single President than I have learned in years…James Monroe deserves his place amongst the giants of our Founding, and Harlow Giles Unger has forever ensured it.”

WhatWouldtheFoundersThink.com, 1/27/11
“This book is so full of interesting connections and characters that it is impossible to do it justice in the space of a review…This book is a pleasure to read and the wonderful use of illustrations augments it.”

Journal of Southern History, May 2011
“Unger shows how the public and private commitments of early American diplomats were sometimes intertwined.”

The Waterline, 10/6/11
“Unger writes an excellent biography, and dissects the major events that would shape our young nation…A fine read.”

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

Product Details

Da Capo Press
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Edition description:
First Trade Paper Edition
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Product dimensions:
6.00(w) x 8.90(h) x 1.10(d)

Meet the Author

A former Distinguished Visiting Fellow in American History at Mount Vernon, Harlow Giles Unger is the author of sixteen books, including six biographies of America's Founding Fathers. He lives in New York.

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The Last Founding Father: James Monroe and a Nation's Call to Greatness 3.9 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 26 reviews.
Ozarkian More than 1 year ago
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?
ErikTheBigKMan More than 1 year ago
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.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Everyone should read about our forefathers and learn how our nation was born. Very well done. I learned some new facts.
Craigmeade More than 1 year ago
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!
regina77004 More than 1 year ago
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.
ZachWilliams More than 1 year ago
Unger is an underrated biographer. An executional book, that is absolutely worth reading. Mr. Monroe, one of the more forgotten founders, is certainly deserving of more acclaim. This wonderful book is at least a start.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Great pesident
AaronF More than 1 year ago
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.
John_Repub More than 1 year ago
It is an excellent biography of James Monroe. The story is written in an exciting fashion and it is an easy read.
MBert More than 1 year ago
This is my first negative rating I have written on B&N. The author's "bromance" with Monroe is a little over the top, and he elevates him to a level not probably deserved. This is a societal problem in which we either make someone out to be a hero, when they are just ordinary men, or we denigrate individuals ridiculously and make them into "bad guys". While I certainly think Monroe is an important character during the period. I would say most historians think that Washington, Jefferson and Madison are still more significant in shaping our history. His comments about Madison's Presidency seem dubious. The depth of discussion about key events is lacking also in the book, emphasizing "Monroe's greatness" only. I would say this book is not a balanced, critical review of James Monroe. Selling books may have been more important I guess.
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