Academic journal article The Journal of Southern History

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

Academic journal article The Journal of Southern History

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

Article excerpt

The Last Founding Father: James Monroe and a Nation's Call to Greatness. By Harlow Giles Unger. (Cambridge, Mass.: Da Capo Press, 2009. Pp. xii, 388. $26.00, ISBN 978-0-306-81808-0.)

Harlow Giles Unger is the author of four biographies about major figures of the founding era (Noah Webster, John Hancock, the Marquis de Lafayette, and George Washington). One past reviewer has criticized Unger for ignoring large parts of the historical literature on the period and has categorized his work as hagiography, not history. Unfortunately, this is the case again in Unger's new biography of James Monroe.

An acclaimed scholarly biography of James Monroe, James Monroe: The Quest for National Identity (New York), was published by Harry Ammon in 1971. Ammon highlighted Monroe's role in the creation of the Monroe Doctrine, an event for which others were previously given most of the credit. Yet Ammon did not offer a complex view of Monroe's personality, concentrating only on his extreme amour propre and jealous resentment of others. On this account, Unger's new biography adds to the existing literature. Monroe is portrayed as a devoted husband and family man who cherished his wife and two daughters. Moreover, Unger shows how the public and private commitments of early American diplomats were sometimes intertwined, as when Elizabeth Monroe personally negotiated Adrienne de Lafayette's liberation from a Parisian jail in 1795.

With this book Unger hoped to fill "the enormous gap that historians have left in the story of early America by failing to celebrate James Monroe as the most significant Founding Father after George Washington" (p. …

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