January 02, 2010

james, we hardly knew you

jefferson and madison both loved monroe. in fact, everyone seemed to love monroe. apparently he inspired confidence and was well liked, ammon says it all the time.

he had been governor of virginia, twice a diplomat, and secretary of war and secretary of state at the same time. as madison's second term came to a close, monroe was the heir apparent. says ammon,

"While Monroe never enjoyed Jefferson's great popularity in the nation, he was, nonetheless, a widely respected figure. If most of his contemporaries did not judge him to have talents comparable to those of the first two Republican Presidents, all acknowledged that his sound judgment, his administrative abilities and his long service to the nation for four decades gave him a just claim to the succession."

it's not the highest praise. as we've said, monroe was the first non-genius president. his success is due to the fact that he is a fundamentally great guy to have around. he was confident and hard-working and his superiors always liked him. and one can't underestimate the impact being tall and good-looking has on one's fortune in the world.

but i really have no idea what james monroe was like. ammon's biography reads like a really, really (really, really) long encyclopedia entry. mccullough was big on personality and detail, and john adams comes across in the flesh. ketcham was big on political theory, as madison was a politics geek, and his book is the basis of most of my understanding of revolutionary politics. ammon's book is neither. it's very informative. maybe ammon is our first non-genius biographer.

this is probably why, on january 2nd, i'm scrambling to finish the last 100 pages or so of monroe that i was meant to finish in december so i can move on to JQA this week. david finished monroe a long time ago, because he lives in fort wayne.

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