Showing posts with label 5. James Monroe. Show all posts
Showing posts with label 5. James Monroe. Show all posts

The Hypocritical Hagiographies of Harlow Giles Unger

Who Really Wrote The Monroe Doctrine? 
(And Who Not To Ask)
Cranking out a book a year since 2005, Harlow Giles Unger has been called "America's Most Readable Historian." One reason he’s so readable is because he doesn’t let boring things like facts get in the way of a good story.

10 Things James Monroe Loved

Don't underestimate "The Last of the Cocked Hats."
James Monroe might be the most experienced and least appreciated president ever. I'll do my best to honor the overlooked memory of the fifth president with this list of ten things he loved.

Ranking the Founding Fathers as Fathers

How 8 Revolutionary Heroes Stack Up as Dads

A year ago I wrote about how reading about the presidents helped me raise a newborn. Now, that newborn girl is a walking, talking toddler bursting with personality and I’m about to celebrate my second Father’s Day as a dad.

Father's Day – and even the words father and dad – used to feel empty for me after I lost my dad when I was young. Now, thanks to my daughter, the word “dad” fills me with unbelievable joy and pride.

Can You Spot James Monroe in These 3 Famous Paintings?

James Monroe is the Waldo of historic masterpieces.
James Monroe played a role in several major world events before becoming America's fifth president, but he doesn’t get the same love his fellow founders do. History, and art, tend to put him in the background.

I want to take him out of the background of three famous historical paintings by sharing some background on how he got there.

Madison vs. Monroe: A Field Guide to Jameses

How to tell a James Madison from a James Monroe in the wild
The James Madison and the James Monroe in their natural habitat.
The fourth and fifth presidents of the United States, James Madison and James Monroe, have so much in common it’s easy to get them confused. This handy field guide helps you tell them apart and shows you how to react should you encounter them in the wild.

The James Madison

Notes on the James Madison

Appearance: The shortest of the Jameses – and of all the presidents – the Madison is easily distinguished by his size. Measuring five foot four inches and weighing approximately 100 pounds, he is said to resemble a “withered apple.” His wrinkled face has the beaten look of a wartime president whose poor choices led to the burning of the White House.

Temperament: The James Madison can be friendly – even funny – once he warms up to you. Until then he may appear as a cranky old man who tells White House party guests he would rather be in bed.

Geographic Range: The fragile nature of the James Madison prevents him from surviving outside the eastern United States. In his own words, “crossing the sea would be unfriendly to a singular disease of my constitution.”

The early years of photography coincided
with the later years of Dolley Madison
Mate: The female of the Madison species, the Dolley, is larger and more animated than the male. In sharp contrast to her mate, she is described by writer Washington Irving as “a fine, portly buxom dame, who has a smile and a pleasant word for everybody.” She is renowned for saving dinner parties from boredom and saving a famous portrait of the George Washington from going up in flames in the White House.

Offspring: The James Madison has no biological children, but (like the George Washington) he does have one disappointing stepson, the John Payne Todd. Never fully weaned off his mother’s financial teat, the professional ne’er-do-well “Payne” can be found in various bars gambling away his parents’ money and in debtor’s prison.

Survival Tips
: This is very important: do not engage in a battle of wits with the James Madison. His frail body is but a shell for a mighty mind. In matters of global relations and economics he may sit well below the Alexander Hamilton on the food chain, but in the kingdom of governmental theory he has no natural predators.

Notes on the James Monroe

Appearance: Measuring a statuesque six feet tall, the James Monroe towers over his diminutive predecessor. In appearance he is described as being dignified, yet approachable.

Temperament: The James Monroe has the calm but confident look of a president who ushered in the Era of Good Feelings and has his very own Doctrine telling Europe to keep off the western hemisphere. He does not like to brag, but he dwarves his peers with the length of his impressive resume.

Major, Senator, Minister Plenipotentiary, Governor, Secretary, and President, James Monroe.
Geographic Range: Unlike the stay-put Madison, the Monroe has been sighted as far west as Kentucky and as far east as England, France, and Spain where he helped negotiate peace and double the size of the United States.

The Elizabeth Monroe
Mate: The female Monroe, the Elizabeth, is described as petite and beautiful. Her time in Europe hobnobbing with aristocrats helped her gain a reputation for being aloof, mostly in comparison to the party monster Dolley. Though the Elizabeth did not save any famous paintings of the Washington, she is credited with saving the Marquis de Lafayette’s wife from being guillotined in France.

Offspring: The Monroes and their two daughters, Eliza and Maria, travel as a pack whenever possible. The dutiful Maria and her husband (who is also her first cousin) will take in the aging James Monroe in his later years.

Safety Tips: Whatever you do, do not get between the James Monroe and the expansion of the United States. When his manifest destiny is threatened, you cannot be sure whether he will respond with negotiation and money or by unleashing the bloodthirsty Andrew Jackson. It’s just not worth the risk.

If cornered, you may try to distract the James Monroe with one of his greatest weaknesses – expensive French furniture. He cannot resist it.

Should you encounter either James:

Do not bring up George Washington. Both Jameses have an "it's complicated" relationship status with the Father of His Country.

The James Madison was once Washington’s most trusted advisor, but their friendship blew up over a bitter disagreement about the role of the federal government and its ties to Britain and France that kicked off America’s venomous two-party system.

The James Monroe once served bravely under the Washington in the Revolutionary War, but that bond broke when the Washington recalled the Monroe from France for openly opposing the Jay Treaty. The enraged Monroe wrote a book defending himself, to which the Washington added his own scathing, sarcastic responses to the Monroe in the margins of his copy.

The Jameses were both too pro-France for the George Washington, who started his military career "accidentally" assassinating a French diplomat. Speaking of France...

Ask about France. The James Madison could tell you many great things about the country he read in books, and the James Monroe could give you actual firsthand accounts of the Reign of Terror and what it was like making awkward small talk with le Napoleon.

Do not make loud, sudden noises. It might remind the James Monroe of the time he was wounded in the Battle of Trenton.
Two paintings depicting The Battle of Trenton on Christmas Day 1776. The James Monroe is depicted holding the flag in Leutze's Washington Crossing the Delaware (left) and wounded in Trumbull's Capture of the Hessians (right).
It is also best to avoid loud, sudden noises as they would just scare the self-described "extremely feeble" Madison.

Mention Thomas Jefferson. Both Jameses were beloved protégés of the Thomas Jefferson. The Madison helped the Jefferson form the Democratic-Republican party, and the Monroe helped him snag the Louisiana Purchase. The three of them presided over the United States for 24 straight years known as the Virginia Dynasty. Just the mere mention of the Jefferson's name should lull the Jameses into a docile state.

Should you encounter both Jameses at once:

Do not become alarmed. You are in little physical danger if you come between the Madison and the Monroe, as they have much in common. They share a homeland (Virginia), a political party (Democratic-Republican), and a hypocritical view on slavery (professing to deplore it but doing little to end it while owning slaves themselves.)

The Jameses are quite friendly except when competing for limited resources, e.g. a seat in the House, the Presidency, the Jefferson’s love. They occasionally butt heads on fundamental things, like The Constitution, which Monroe opposed for giving the federal government too much power.

Their rivalry left the Madison with a permanent scar on his nose – not from violence, but from frostbite suffered during a wintertime debate while campaigning for the House of Representatives. (The Madison won by a nose.)

Despite these differences, friendship always prevails. When the James Monroe reaches the end of his 73-year life span, his last words will be about the James Madison: “I regret that I should leave this world without again beholding him.”

If all else fails:

Offer them ice cream. Everybody loves ice cream.

You should be better-equipped to deal with a Madison or a Monroe now, but be warned - there are four more presidential Jameses to go. As I plod further, I'll be sure to share any tips for dealing with a wild Polk, Buchanan, Garfield, or Carter.

You might also like:
John Adams vs. George Washington: The Beer Test
George Washington's Disappointing Stepson
Madison's Bad Blood with Washington Part 1: Inferior Endowments

Sources: James Madison by Richard Brookhiser; The Last Founding Father: James Monroe and a Nation's Call to Greatness by Harlow James Unger

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What the First 5 Presidents Taught Me About Raising My Newborn Daughter

3 presidential lessons that made fatherhood slightly less terrifying
I’m five books into my quest to read a biography of every president in chronological order. I’ve read about Washington, Adams, Jefferson, Madison, and I’m finishing up Monroe now. My already slow progress ground to a halt six weeks ago when my wife and I welcomed our first child, Emerson Paige, into the world.

Now instead of learning about the Jay Treaty and the War of 1812, I’m reading What to Expect in the First Year and asking the internet stuff like "newborn eyes roll back in head normal?" (normal).

The reading and blogging part of me must adapt as I acclimate to this new world of sleep deprivation, diapers, feedings, and a surreal sense of disbelief and awe that this beautiful creature is here to stay and my identity and priorities must shift. Forever.

Stealing moments as both daughter and mother sleep to write this, I reflected on the lessons I gleaned from the first five presidents that I’m applying to raising my newborn daughter – the do’s and don’ts of what it means to be a father of 8 pounds of an utterly dependent micro-human waiting to be shaped by my love and neuroses.

These are the 3 main lessons I’ve learned.

1. Be there.

It’s getting easy to be there when she’s making eye contact or showing early attempts to smile, or sleeping in my arms. It’s harder to be there when she’s wailing at the top of her lungs, spitting up like some kind of milk volcano, or writhing in gassy pain when we just want her to sleep. Those are the times I want to tap out and pass her to mommy or any halfway trustworthy-looking stranger nearby.

Reading about the early presidents was more of a lesson in what not to do when it came to being there for my daughter. The first presidents (except Washington and Madison who had no children of their own but both had disappointing stepsons) spent much of their pre-presidential years in Europe as ambassadors and diplomats. That meant missing out on much of the formative years of their young children's lives.

John Adams spent years in Europe away from his family. The son he took with him, John Quincy, went on to become president and lived to 80. The son he spent less time with, Charles, died of alcoholism at 30. I wonder what difference it would have made if John had been there alongside Abigail to steer Charles in the right direction. Those sons seem like extreme ends of the stick, and I’d like to think there’s a happy medium in there somewhere that will allow my daughter to be a successful social drinker.

After serving in France for years, Thomas Jefferson finally brought his 9-year-old daughter Polly over to join him and she didn’t even recognize him. The poor girl was torn from her home against her will, put on a boat for weeks, and finally delivered to a man she didn’t know. As painful as that was for her, I wonder how Jefferson felt when they reunited and he saw no love in her eyes. I understand service to one's country still separates families, but I could never handle being a stranger to my child.

I started thinking being apart from your young children was normal, essential even, if you wanted to be politically successful in the early 1800s. Then I read about James Monroe. Even though he was sent to Europe multiple times, he always brought his wife and daughter with him – where he went, they went, as a family. He gives me hope that work-life balance is achievable for my wife and I who want to be equal parents and providers.

Monroe also died penniless after a lifetime of public service and needed his children's help to support himself at the end. So the real takeaway for us might be Be there...and have a 401(k). 

2. Learn to love poop.

American farmers like George Washington, John Adams, and Thomas Jefferson were among the first to use manure as fertilizer. They knew its value, and fully understood the dung concoction was something to be studied, cultivated, and revered. John Adams even had a recipe for it in his diary. If I still lived in the Midwest with easy access to all the ingredients, I might have tried to recreate it in an attempt to copy the model of the popular Julie & Julia blog.

It involved freezing over the winter and thawing it in the spring – this recipe was serious shit.
I've recently learned the value and variety of newborn poop. The dark horror came upon us immediately, in the hospital. Most babies have one or two “meconium” stools their first day – a black, tarry substance that’s the product of swallowing amniotic fluid in the womb. My daughter had eight. Eight. Her bowels expelled enough tarry goop to trap a family of wooly mammoths for millennia. She must have passed through the vaginal canal like Pacman, gulping the whole way down.

Now I've learned to have a love-hate relationship with her poop. Once the maternity nurses showed me how, changing her diapers was one of the few times I actually knew what to do with her in those first days; my purpose was as clear as her diapers were soiled. It's actually a relief now to open those Pampers and see a big load because it means she's digesting her food and growing and thriving, and her awful gas pain has a real, solvable cause.

When George Washington was looking for a farm manager, he said he wanted “above all, Midas like, one who can convert everything he touches into manure, as the first transmutation towards Gold.” My newborn definitely has that Midas touch, but her poop doesn’t look like gold. On the best of days, it looks like basil pesto. On the worst of days, it looks like basil pesto sprayed five feet across the room. She's too young to draw pictures or make macaroni art; poop is all she has to give at this point and she's incredibly generous.

3. Read.

We may get through this biography project sooner than I thought.
The Founding Fathers weren’t born with the innate ability to lead men or found a country. Carving a successful republic out of a monarchy was a new and momentous endeavor, but they weren't flying completely blind. They were extremely well-read on the subjects of Greek, Roman, and English government and Enlightenment philosophy which guided the Constitution. They took advantage of the vast body of knowledge already out there and let it inform their decisions.

Parenting should be approached the same way.

I know (and I’ve heard a million times) that no book can prepare you for what it’s like having a baby. You don't say? I’ve had books that were so good they kept me up at night, but that was on my terms, not at random intervals for weeks straight sucking out my soul.

Obviously real-life experience is different from the advice and warnings you read about, but books have armed me and my wife with knowledge that gives us an inkling of what's normal and helped us form some kind of plan. There is no “what feels right” in the moment when everything is tortuous and you're plagued with deranged insecurity. You can go ahead and wing it, but I’m diving headfirst into Harvey Karp's 5 S's of calming a crying baby and binge-read Even if our eat-play-sleep plan is literally shit all over by our strong-willed baby, it helps us feel a little less helpless.

All the books in the world won't stop us from making our own mistakes with our poopy little nation-state, but I'd like to avoid some mistakes other people already made. I know my wife and I aren't founding a country, but we’re raising a human being and sometimes it feels like the same thing.

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