JAMES MONROE THE QUEST FOR NATIONAL IDENTITY
by Harry Ammon
ISBN 978-0-945707-21-9 $35.00
706 pages including notes and index.
Out of print since 1971, this well-researched and highly-readable
biography accords Monroe a far more important place in the history of the
early years of the republic than has been given him by earlier writers.
Harry Ammon's evidence is voluminous and his treatment judicious; he awards
plaudits where they are due but does not hesitate to point out Monroe's
As a person Monroe was generous, sensitive to the feelings
of others, able to work with individuals whose ideas and temperaments were
very different from his own, and without malice. He engendered respect,
esteem, and gratitude rather than passionate devotion and was looked upon
as a symbol of national unity rather than as a national hero. His amour-propre,
which took the form of an "undue sensitivity to criticism", led him to internalize
and personalize disapproval of his actions and on occasions to unwarranted
attacks on his superiors.
Such "indiscretion" is best illustrated by his actions following
the missions to France and to England where Monroe was faced with situations
in which he felt compelled either to violate or ignore instructions.
Ammon's careful detailing of these incidents convinces one that earlier criticism
of Monroe has been too harsh. Whatever conclusion one reaches about
Monroe's culpability, it seems fair to say that the best interests of the
republic were always foremost in his thinking.