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James Monroe: Last of the Cocked Hats

20/03/2017

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  • VOA Learning English presents America’s Presidents.
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  • James Monroe easily won election in 1816.
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  • He had a relaxed, likeable personality and was popular with voters.
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  • In addition, many saw him as a last connection to the country’s founding generation.
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  • Monroe had fought in George Washington’s army during the Revolutionary War against British rule.
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  • He was a diplomat during Thomas Jefferson’s presidency and helped complete the Louisiana Purchase.
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  • Monroe served as James Madison’s secretary of state — and briefly as his secretary of war, as well – during the War of 1812.
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  • Voters’ positive feelings carried Monroe into office and defined his presidency.
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  • When Monroe became president, the United States had just declared victory against British forces in the War of 1812.
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  • The American economy also was doing well, at least at first.
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  • And the government was mostly united under a single party.
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  • But Monroe did have one immediate problem: He and his wife, Elizabeth, could not move into the president’s house right away.
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  • The British had burned it badly in an attack on Washington, D.C. Workers were busy making repairs.
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  • So, Monroe decided to go on a trip.
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  • He spent the first weeks of his presidency traveling.
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  • He went north into New England, visiting important places from the Revolutionary War or the War of 1812.
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  • Everywhere he went he reminded Americans of their shared, proud history.
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  • He even wore clothes in the old colonial style.
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  • One of Monroe’s nicknames is “the last of the cocked hats.”
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  • Then President Monroe turned west, toward lands that white migrants were increasingly settling.
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  • They were able to move west in part because American soldiers had defeated a powerful alliance of Native American tribes.
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  • What had been a victory for the U.S. government was a crushing loss for Native Americans.
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  • Many tribes moved farther west.
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  • Others began to lose their languages and their customs as white settlers took control.
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  • For Monroe, however, the visit west was a positive sign of the country’s expansion.
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  • By the time he returned to Washington, Monroe had met many Americans.
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  • He had learned for himself the geography of the country.
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  • And he had demonstrated that all parts of the U.S. could be connected by patriotism and a common federal government.
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  • One newspaper called Monroe’s presidency the beginning of an “Era of Good Feelings.”
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  • Four years later, Monroe won a second term even more easily than his first.
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  • Yet James Monroe’s presidency had several crises.
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  • One was the country’s first economic depression in more than 30 years.
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  • Another was over slavery.
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  • The country had been divided over the issue since its founding.
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  • By the end of 1819, eleven states, all in the South, permitted slavery.
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  • Eleven states, all in the North, did not.
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  • The question became: Would the new states in the West permit it?
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  • Monroe had to face the question when settlers asked Congress permission for Missouri Territory to become a state.
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  • Many enslaved people already lived there.
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  • White settlers expected to bring more.
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  • But a member of Congress from a Northern state proposed that Missouri could become a state only if it banned slavery.
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  • That proposal started a debate that lasted more than a year.
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  • For the most part, the debate was not based on the moral problems with people owning other people. Instead, it involved economic and political concerns.
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  • Northerners argued that slave-holding states had an unfair economic advantage.
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  • In addition, if Missouri entered the Union as a slave state, its lawmakers would move the balance of power toward the South.
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  • The debate continued so long that another area asked to enter the Union.
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  • People in northern Massachusetts wanted to organize into an independent state called Maine.
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  • After some time, lawmakers offered a compromise.
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  • They said Maine could be admitted as a free state and Missouri as a slave state.
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  • But they also made a line across a map of the country.
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  • They said Congress would not admit another slave state north of that line.
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  • James Monroe signed into law what became known as the Missouri Compromise.
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  • It settled the issue of slavery, at least officially, in the U.S. for more than 20 years.
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  • But everyone knew that the peace between pro-slavery and anti-slavery groups was only temporary.
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  • In 1823, Monroe made one of the most important foreign policy decisions in American history.
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  • It became known as the Monroe Doctrine.
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  • It related to Spain’s colonies in Latin America.
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  • Monroe had dealt with Spain before.
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  • In his first term, he and his secretary of state, John Quincy Adams, successfully negotiated with Spain to buy Florida for the United States.
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  • By Monroe’s second term, Spain had also lost control of some of its former colonies in Latin America.
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  • The president became concerned that Spain’s European allies would try to help the country re-gain power.
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  • He did not want European powers interfering in areas so close to U.S. territory and so important to U.S. trade.
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  • So Monroe gave a speech to Congress. He said the U.S. would stay out of Europe’s affairs.
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  • But he said Europe should also stay out of Latin America’s affairs.
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  • And, Monroe declared that European powers would not be permitted to begin colonizing any area in the Western Hemisphere.
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  • In other words, Monroe declared that the U.S. considered the entire Western Hemisphere its sphere of influence.
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  • Historians note that Monroe did not aim for the declaration to be a major statement.
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  • But it became a base of American foreign policy and supported U.S. expansion throughout the 19th century.
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  • James Monroe was the fourth and last president in the “Virginia Dynasty.”
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  • Except for John Adams, four of the first five American presidents were from Virginia.
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  • ​Monroe and his wife returned to their home there after he left office.
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  • They had a close relationship with each other, as well as with their two surviving children, both daughters.
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  • Unlike many politicians of his time, Monroe had brought his family with him on his travels.
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  • He also believed strongly in education for girls.
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  • When the Monroes lived in France, young Eliza Monroe attended the best school for girls in Paris.
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  • This loving family spent as much time together as possible.
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  • So, when Elizabeth Monroe died, James Monroe was filled with sorrow. His health also began to fail.
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  • He moved to the house of his younger daughter, Maria, in New York City.
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  • James Monroe died there one year later, at age 73.
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  • Like two other former presidents, Monroe died on the 4th of July – America’s birthday.
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  • I’m Kelly Jean Kelly.
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