Wednesday, April 24, 2013

The Last Founding Father by Harlow Giles Unger

In this biography Harlow Giles Unger brings us a portrait of a man who few know much about today. Born in colonial Virginia Monroe was orphaned at a young age. He took on the responsibility of raising his younger siblings. When the American Revolution broke out Monroe joined up. He became an officer, was wounded at the Battle of Trenton, was decorated by Washington. He served as a Congressman, a Senator, as Governor of Virginia, and as Ambassador to the French Republic. Later he would serve as Secretary of State and Secretary of War under James Madison. He would then succeed Madison as President.

This book has its good and bad points. It is well written and should be easy for the general reader. It is quite informative and gives a good portrait of Monroe. On the downside the author tries a little to hard to build up Monroe by pulling down others around him. Monroe was a firm supporter of the French Revolution and, like Jefferson and Madison, cheered on the slaughter of the former ruling class. This is played down considerably in this book. The author also finds it necessary to try and pull down the character of both John Adams and his son John Quincy Adams. Since the younger Adams was the Secretary of State during Monroe's presidency much credit is given to him for the success of the United States in that era. Unger tries to argue that Monroe was the better diplomat. The only reason that he gives is that Monroe was ambassador to France and Adams was not. He ignores the fact that Adams had been involved in Foreign service for most of his life, including a stint as the secretary and interpreter to the first US ambassador to Russia when he was a young teenager. Adams had served as Ambassador to Prussia and Russia. He had helped to negotiate the Treaty of Ghent. To dismiss his many accomplishments with a single backhanded comment was quite uncalled for.

It is a good book and is well worth reading.

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