1938 5¢ James Monroe
Issue Date: July 21, 1938
First City: Washington, DC
Quantity Issued: 2,568,730,000
Printing Method: Rotary press
Perforations: 11 x 10 ½
Color: Bright blue
Known affectionately as the “Prexies,” the 1938 Presidential series is a favorite among stamp collectors.
The series was issued in response to public clamoring for a new Regular Issue series. The series that was current at the time had been in use for more than a decade. President Franklin D. Roosevelt agreed, and a contest was staged. The public was asked to submit original designs for a new series picturing all deceased U.S. Presidents. Over 1,100 sketches were submitted, many from veteran stamp collectors. Elaine Rawlinson, who had little knowledge of stamps, won the contest and collected the $500 prize. Rawlinson was the first stamp designer since the Bureau of Engraving and Printing began producing U.S. stamps who was not a government employee.
James Monroe fought in the Continental Army, receiving recognition for his exceptional service at the Battle of Trenton. Following his time in the military, he practiced law and then began an extensive political career that included the positions of Governor of Virginia, United States Secretary of War, United States Secretary of State, and President of the United States.
Monroe’s two terms as President are referred to as “The Era of Good Feelings.” His kind and honest demeanor made him popular with the voters, and his dedication to uniting and protecting America led to his nearly unanimous re-election. With an administration highlighted by the Missouri Compromise and the Monroe Doctrine, James Monroe led America into a new era of unity and freedom from foreign disturbances.
Monroe’s Early Life
James Monroe was born in Westmoreland County, Virginia, on April 28, 1758, to successful Virginia plantation owners. When Monroe was a teenager, both of his parents died, leaving him the family tobacco farm. After attending the Campbelltown Academy, Monroe enrolled in Virginia’s College of William and Mary at the age of 16.
Monroe and his classmates quickly became involved in revolutionary activities. In one instance, he and his classmates raided the arsenal at the British Governor’s Palace. The young revolutionaries captured 200 muskets and 300 swords, which they gave to the Virginia militia.
Immediately following his graduation from the College of William and Mary in 1776, Monroe became an officer in the Continental Army. He joined General George Washington’s army at New York, where he was shot in the shoulder at the Battle of Trenton.
Monroe remained in service despite his injury, receiving promotions to captain and then major. Following his promotion, Monroe joined the staff of General William Alexander, where he served for over a year. In 1779, Monroe resigned his post in the Continental Army and was made colonel in the Virginia service.
Early Political Career
Once the war was over, Monroe studied law with Thomas Jefferson and was elected to the Virginia House of Delegates. After his election to the Continental Congress in 1783, Monroe met Elizabeth Kortright, who he married a year later. Shortly after the wedding, the couple moved to Fredericksburg, Virginia, where Monroe began his law practice.
Monroe served in the Continental Congress until 1786, when he joined the Virginia assembly and was selected to join the Anti-Federalists at the Virginia Convention to debate the Constitution. Monroe initially voted against the ratification, calling for the direct election of presidents and senators and a bill of rights. The first ten amendments, which are known as the Bill of Rights, were suggested by Monroe and passed shortly after ratification.
In 1790, Monroe was appointed to the U.S. Senate, where he worked closely with James Madison and Thomas Jefferson to combat the Federalists led by Vice President John Adams and Secretary of the Treasury Alexander Hamilton. Four years later, President Washington sent Monroe to Paris as the U.S. minister to France. Despite his sympathies for the French revolutionaries, Monroe remained a neutral force for the United States.
Monroe returned to the U.S. in 1797, and in 1799 began his first of three one-year terms as governor of Virginia. In 1803, President Thomas Jefferson sent Monroe to France to help negotiate the Louisiana Purchase. Monroe remained in Europe until 1807, serving as U.S. minister to Britain. Following his return, Monroe was again elected governor of Virginia in 1811, but chose to return to Washington, D.C., to serve as secretary of state, and at one point, secretary of war, until 1817.
Presidency and The Era of Good Feelings
Following President James Madison’s decision to continue the two-term custom, the Democratic-Republicans turned to James Monroe as the ideal candidate for the presidency in 1817. Monroe ran against the Federalist Rufus King, whose party had all but disbanded. Monroe’s 16-3 victory over King in the Electoral College won him the presidency.
Monroe began his term in office with a 15-week presidential tour through the northern states, making him the most visible sitting President. Monroe was so well received in Boston that one newspaper wrote that it was the beginning of the “Era of Good Feelings” for America. It appeared that these were good times for America. The nation’s success in the War of 1812, coupled with the booming economy, allowed Monroe to focus on domestic issues.
Despite Monroe’s popularity and the general optimism of the American public, not all circumstances could be predicted. Early in his term, the Panic of 1819 (likely caused by the boom-bust cycle common today) led to widespread unemployment, foreclosures, and bankruptcies. Although this situation was common for a new economy, there was little the President could do to reduce the strain on the nation.
The Missouri Compromise and the Election of 1820
Within the same year, Monroe was faced with another crisis. The Missouri territory was soon to be admitted to the Union, but its status as a slave state would have thrown off the legislative balance between the North and the South. As a result, Congress negotiated with Massachusetts to admit the northern counties of the state as the new free state of Maine, retaining the balance between free and slave states.
The Missouri Compromise also required that western territories in the Louisiana Purchase (above the 36/30’ north latitude line) prohibit slavery. President Monroe, who supported the compromise, ensured that it was constitutional and signed the bill admitting the two new states to the Union.
With the Missouri Compromise settled, Monroe next moved on to the election of 1820. This election was the third and final U.S. election in which the candidate ran unopposed. Monroe won the presidency with a vote of 231-1, the sole vote against Monroe coming from William Plumer. Over the years, it has been speculated that Plumer only voted against Monroe so that George Washington could be the only President to win unanimously. But in fact, Plumer simply believed that then-Secretary of State John Quincy Adams would have been better for the job.
The Monroe Doctrine
In 1818, General Andrew Jackson led the capture of two Spanish forts located in Florida, proving the lack of Spanish control in the territory. Monroe and his secretary of state, John Quincy Adams, used this vulnerability to convince Spain to sell Florida to the U.S. As a result, Spain’s control in the Americas began to diminish.
In response to this, neighboring European countries issued threats of an alliance to help Spain retake control of its former territories in the Americas. Monroe’s friends and colleagues Thomas Jefferson and James Madison urged him to accept the British offer of an alliance against France and Spain. Monroe chose instead to follow the advice of John Quincy Adams, who believed America should not be influenced by European encroachments.
On December 2, 1823, President Monroe addressed Congress with what would later be called the Monroe Doctrine. In his speech, Monroe declared to the other major world powers that America would no longer be accessible to European colonization. If any European country attempted to impress political influence on America, it would be seen as “dangerous to our peace and safety.” Monroe also stressed that America would stay out of European wars and internal affairs, and expect the same from them.
After more than 40 years serving the public, James Monroe and his wife retired to their estate in Loudoun County, Virginia. Deeply in debt from his years in public service, Monroe requested that the government ease his financial burden by repaying him for past services. They eventually obliged, paying him a portion of what he requested. Following his wife’s death in 1830, Monroe moved to New York City to live with his daughter Maria. On July 4, 1831, James Monroe became the third U.S. President to die on Independence Day.