In 1794, President George Washington (1732-99) appointed Monroe as minister to France, in an effort to help improve relations with that nation. At the time, France and Great Britain were at war. Monroe had some initial success in strengthening Franco-American ties; however, relations soured with the November 1794 signing of the controversial Jay’s Treaty, an agreement between the U.S. and Britain that regulated commerce and navigation. Monroe, who was critical of the treaty, was released from his post by Washington in 1796.
Monroe resumed his political career in 1799, when he became governor of Virginia. He held this office for three years until President Thomas Jefferson requested that Monroe return to France to help negotiate the purchase of the port of New Orleans. In France, Monroe learned that French leader Napoleon Bonaparte (1769-1821) wanted to sell the entire Louisiana Territory (the land extending between the Mississippi River and Rocky Mountains and the Gulf of Mexico to present-day Canada), not only New Orleans, for $15 million. Monroe and the U.S. minister to France, Robert R. Livingston, did not have time to gain presidential approval for such a large purchase. Instead, they approved and signed the Louisiana Purchase agreement themselves in 1803 and effectively doubled the size of the United States.
Monroe, who garnered acclaim for the Louisiana Purchase, then became the minister to Great Britain and drafted a treaty that would help strengthen the bonds between Britain and the U.S. Jefferson, however, did not approve the treaty because it did not stem Britain’s practice of capturing American sailors for its own navy. Monroe was upset by Jefferson’s actions and his friendship with both Jefferson and his secretary of state, Madison, soured.
In 1808, still angry about how his treaty was handled by Jefferson and Madison, Monroe ran for president against Madison. He lost. However, the ill feelings between the two men did not last. In 1811, Madison asked Monroe, who was once again governor of Virginia, to be his secretary of state. Monroe agreed, and proved to be a strong asset to Madison as America battled Britain in the War of 1812. During his tenure as secretary of state, which lasted until March 1817, Monroe also served as secretary of war from 1814 to 1815. The previous holder of that post, John Armstrong, was forced to resign following the burning of Washington, D.C., by the British in August 1814.