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DUNKER LECTURE

DR. ROBERT E. DUNKER ANNUAL LECTURE 

This series is named in honor of Dr. Robert E. Dunker, president emeritus of Western Iowa Tech Community College and founder of The Institute for Lifelong Learning. 

JAMES MONROE

Every president has faced obstacles and opportunities in his presidency. How he tackled or avoided those problems or how well he managed to move people forward often defines that president’s era and his place in American history. 

Each semester, the Dr. Robert E. Dunker Lecture series uses history to illuminate a president’s methods of leadership. Join historian Russ Gifford to examine the presidency of one of the most overlooked presidents in America’s history! 

Part 1: Monroe and His Times 

If Americans know anything about James Monroe as a president, it is likely due to his identification with the Monroe Doctrine. His declaration of policies defining and defying world powers would stand for centuries. It is the moment when America came of age and became a landmark for the young United States. Two centuries later, Monroe’s assertions still form the bedrock foundation of American foreign policy. 

But what of Monroe’s presidency? Was it a success? What do we know of his times, and his domestic policies? Did he skillfully wield executive power and advance the interests of the citizens of the United States? We are told his time is the Era of Good Feelings. Is that due to Monroe’s policies or was he fortunate to live in a time of few threats? 

Monroe took office in the shadow of the ruinous War of 1812, which almost unraveled the young nation. He was the first president to occupy the new executive mansion since the British had burned the original in the war. Monroe became the last of the Virginia dynasty to hold the office, but he would not get a pass from his fellow southerners on the issues of sectional differences caused by slavery. 

Tempers flared over the inclusion of Missouri as a slave state. Under his watch, this issue was defused by the resulting Missouri Compromise, allowing the country to avoid a war. A sectional war then would have had a much different outcome. Before the establishment of the Monroe Doctrine, the pieces of the fractured country would have been easy pickings for the European powers. 

Monroe was never a one-issue president. His leadership led to forward movement on many agreements over territory and boundaries with various old world countries. Though most Americans could not pick Monroe out of a lineup of past presidents, his years as president are reported as a success. Citizens saw positive gains and despite the growing regional tensions, it is easy to argue Monroe’s skills were a key factor in the time becoming the Era of Good Feelings. 

Join historian Russ Gifford for a retrospective of the vital years covered by the presidency of James Monroe and see how he used his leadership skills in the pursuit of growth and success for his young country. 

WEDNESDAY, SEPTEMBER 25; 6 TO 8 P.M. 

Location: Cargill Auditorium, Entrance 14, Lot 4 
Fee: No charge / Max: 200
Lifelong Learning membership not required 

 

Part 2: The Changing World and Monroe’s Legacy 

The guiding principles of United States foreign policy Monroe laid out in an address to Congress became James Monroe’s legacy. The Monroe Doctrine, never called that in his lifetime, provided his heirs a tool to change the world in their times. His successors used it often in the coming century, but Monroe never did. Simply evoking the rights had the desired impact in Monroe’s time. 

The U.S. was not strong enough to militarily enforce any of those policies. But where force would have failed, Monroe’s ability to negotiate and create scenarios where both sides could achieve their goals allowed him and his very able secretary of state, John Quincy Adams, to chart a course for America freed from European influence. 

It was a sign of Monroe’s skill and foresight that his declaration was taken seriously. It announced to the world that the United States was a power that could not be ignored. In the process, Monroe’s principles became facts, and within his time in office, long range agreements on the final boundaries between the U.S. and Canada began to be formalized. 

Monroe’s thoughtful attitude, hard work, and frank but affable personality made it possible for him to successfully navigate the turbulent times of a young nation coming of age. 

While he can be seen as the end of the old order, James Monroe was one of the most forward-looking presidents to occupy the office. Monroe was the last of the founders’ generation who had served George Washington and had apprenticed under Thomas Jefferson. He was not a simple man. Monroe distrusted Washington’s policies and disagreed with his moves against France. He accepted Washington’s appointment to be minister to France over Jefferson’s strong suggestion that he turn it down. Monroe had a different goal and worked to thwart Washington’s policy toward France! Monroe’s time in France during the French upheaval is a fascinating story to examine! 

It is also worth noting that by the end of his presidency, he had a change of heart toward Washington’s efforts, yet another sign of leadership. 

Join Russ Gifford to explore the rich life and storied legacy of the last of the original revolutionaries to occupy the office, and see how effective leadership in office can create an era of good feelings! 

FRIDAY, SEPTEMBER 27, NOON TO 2 P.M. 

Location: Cargill Auditorium, Entrance 14, Lot 4 
Fee: No charge / Max: 200
Lifelong Learning membership not required 

 

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