The fifth president of the United States, James Monroe, served as an officer with George Washington in the Continental Army and was wounded
in the course of his military duty. A friend of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and James Madison,
he served in the Virginia Assembly, as governor of Virginia, as a congressman and a U.S. Senator from Virginia, Secretary of State and Secretary of War, and as minister to England and France in the early days of the Republic. He is considered to be one of the last founding fathers of the U.S.
Harlow Giles Unger’s The Last Founding Father is extremely fascinating and entertaining for both the general reader and the scholar. The veteran author has done well in researching and writing this book - quotes from primary sources are not too long but just the right length. The narrative flows well, holding the reader’s attention to the point that one wants to read on even when there isn’t time to.
Down-to-earth James Monroe was not a rich man but took care of his many siblings even when they wasted his money. He built a house called Ashlawn near Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello. It was not on the grand of Jefferson’s home, but Monroe was nevertheless unable to hold on to it for long, needing to sell it to pay off debts. He also constructed a house near Washington so that his family could live nearby while he served in various capacities in the federal government.
A popular president who could have been elected for a third term, he decided it was time for him to retire. During his presidency, the country was experiencing some very prosperous times. The War of 1812 had been won, and the country was expanding into its new territories like the Louisiana Purchase, which Monroe had helped to acquire from France. He was also responsible for the famous Monroe Doctrine, wherein the United States averred that European powers should stay out of the Western Hemisphere; many North and South American colonies had won their independence from European empires.
Many of the illustrations throughout the book are paintings from the Library of Congress and other sources, and photos of his homes as well as maps are also included. The biography includes endnotes, a bibliography, and an index. The Last Founding Father is a delight to read and highly recommended to those interested in either or both President James Monroe or early American history.
Harlow Giles Unger was the 2008 Distinguished Visiting Fellow in American History at George Washington’s Mount Vernon and is a veteran journalist, broadcaster, educator, and historian. Among his fifteen books are America’s Second Revolution (2007), Unexpected George Washington (2006), Lafayette (2002), John Hancock (2000), and Noah Webster (1998).