spacer James Monroe James Monroe (1758-1831)
Fifth President (1817-1825)

In 1820 White House incumbent James Monroe stood virtually unopposed in his bid for a second term. The reason for this unusual turn of events did not lie in Monroe's charismatic personality. In truth, this former secretary of war and state was a rather bland individual. Instead, his unchallenged candidacy was an expression of the "Era of Good Feelings" that set in following the War of 1812 and was marked by a temporary halt in two-party factionalism.

Monroe brought to his presidency a style that meshed well with this rancorless climate. When, for example, he vetoed public improvements legislation, he offered Congress suggestions for accomplishing the same end through means that circumvented his Constitution-based objections. The most enduring legacy of his administration, however, was the Monroe Doctrine, which registered opposition to European meddling in the Western Hemisphere and ultimately became a keystone of American foreign policy.

The restrained coloring and brushwork in Monroe's portrait by John Vanderlyn testifies to the strong influence that French neoclassicism had on the artist during his years of study in Paris. It may also reflect Monroe's own tastes, which ran decidedly to the French as a result of his several diplomatic missions to Paris.



John Vanderlyn (1775-1852)
Oil on canvas, 1816
National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution
NPG.70.59

Enlarged image