May Madness is COMING!

You heard correctly. May Madness is coming.



“Bring it on, Garfield”- 43rd President and South Region 9 Seed George W. Bush


Upcoming schedule:



8) Herbert Hoover vs. 9) Benjamin Harrison

7) Rutherford B. Hayes vs. 10) Ulysses S. Grant

Byes: 1) Abraham Lincoln, 2) Theodore Roosevelt, 3) Dwight D. Eisenhower, 4) James Madison, 5) Ronald Reagan, 6) Bill Clinton



8) James Garfield vs. 9) George W. Bush

6) George H. W. Bush vs. 11) Warren G. Harding

7) Gerald Ford vs. 10) William Henry Harrison

Byes: 1) Franklin D. Roosevelt, 2) Woodrow Wilson, 3) James K. Polk, 4) James Monroe, 5) John Quincy Adams



8) Calvin Coolidge vs. 9) Zachary Taylor

6) William H. Taft vs. 11) James Buchanan

7) Jimmy Carter vs. 10) Millard Fillmore

Byes: 1) George Washington, 2) Harry S. Truman, 3) John F. Kennedy, 4) Lyndon B. Johnson, 5) Grover Cleveland



8) Richard Nixon vs. 9) John Tyler

6) Martin Van Buren vs. 11) Andrew Johnson

7) Chester A. Arthur vs. 10) Franklin Pierce

Byes: 1) Thomas Jefferson, 2) Andrew Jackson, 3) John Adams, 4) Barack Obama, 5) William McKinley


James Monroe (1817-1825)


Book: James Monroe: The Quest for National Identity

Author: Harry Ammon

1. Date published- When Ammon published this biography in 1971, James Monroe was largely defined by the doctrine that famously bore his name. Ammon did not elaborate or break new ground in his private life but wrote a standard account for his public works. However, this biography is now 40 years old and while the factual assertions remain solid and in most cases relevant to modern readers, the test of time can be seen in the pages. Published during a Nixon presidency and a lengthy war in Vietnam, Ammon’s work reflects a confusing time in America’s history attempting to rise above its subordinate past onto the world stage. More recent works are available to readers who want fresh perspective in worldview and American mood. However, this work encapsulates a great deal of reflection and distance from contemporary feeling despite being five decades old. Not the most recent work, but definitely one far enough from the events to have perspective.

Grade: B

2. Scope- As mentioned in the first post of the blog, the primary goal of the Presidents Project is to study the presidency through biography, a slow burn history of America. The tricky aspect of this work is that Ammon covers the presidency extremely well, but not in chronological order and with a great deal of overlap. Curiously, most if not all of the pre-presidency is a concise and methodical chronology of Monroe’s rise to power. His post-presidency unfolds the same way. Interestingly, Ammon abandons this layout when it comes to the presidency. Here, Ammon unfolds his presidency not month by month but topic by topic. The result is no doubt a thorough coverage, but an interesting case where overlap is common and not always to reinforce points. It feels as if the author is telling a story, gets to the best part and decides it is better to go down a list of topics rather than let them unfold as they did over time. The result is at times topics discussed late in his second term followed by an early term issue in the following chapter. This disjointed structure nonetheless encompasses a complete scope even if it does not feel that way at times.

Grade: B

3. Author- Harry Ammon has admittedly evaded attempts at further inspection. The biographical background is none too well known. He was Professor Emeritus of History at Southern Illinois University when he completed this work in 1971. Two years later he returned to this time period but only to cover the Genet Affair and certainly not a biography style work. As a detached professor there does not appear to be any overwhelming bias. The detached feeling makes for a work authored from an objective stance indicative of Ammon’s Ivy Tower background. Ammon does not seem to take a position with only a faint defensive deposition of Monroe’s foes and aims to let the facts speak for themselves.

Grade: B

4. Length- The length of this work leads this book toward being a standard long biography of James Monroe. Not overly long just at 700 pages, this work never feels like the standard epic it would become due to its unmatched presence among Monroe biographies. It is certainly not a quick read, with many dense aspects of policy and minute detail into specific areas. As a solid contrast to Unger’s more concise work, Ammon’s is the choice for those looking for a more extended look at the 5th president. The amount of content in the presidency can bog the work down at times, but length does not have a negative bear on the work overall.

Grade: B

5. Mission- Ammon mentions quite simply in the introduction and throughout the book that creating Monroe in the Revolutionary context is his goal in the book. It is remarkably focused on his public works at the expense of little to no private look at James Monroe the person. In fact, next to nothing is mentioned of his family or personal relationships and rarely if they did not have a practical utility in explaining a public moment in Monroe’s life. It seems Ammon was reaching for a straightforward chronological account of Monroe’s long and storied career and his role in American history and not a personal account of Monroe’s life. In that respect, he rarely strays from his mission despite changing his layout once reaching the presidency. The result is an overly thorough look at Monroe the Public Servant and a hazy look at Monroe the Man.

Grade: B+

James Monroe (1817-1825)


Book: The Last Founding Father: James Monroe and a Nation’s Call to Greatness

Author: Harlow Giles Unger

1. Date published- Nearly 40 years after Henry Ammon’s classic Monroe biography, Unger’s 2009 work is a much needed work for the 21st century. Those attempting to trade a bit of the scholarly depth for a contemporary lens will find this work to be a much appreciated addition to Monroe literature. The recent nature of the work allows Unger to explore Monroe in a fresh perspective such as where the Monroe Doctrine fits in the 21st Century world. The most tangible aspect is evident from Unger’s reference to Monroe as a founding father. With the rise of groups such as the Tea Party and the continued prominence of WWTFD searching for the supposed soul of the founding fathers collectively, Unger’s work seems especially relevant and essential for the context in which Monroe lived.

Grade: B

2. Scope- As with all works of the revolutionary era, the life of the founders has much to do with the formation of the nation as the nation they would lead. For someone such as Washington or Adams, the early life is essential to the biography even though it does not necessarily contain a narrative of the presidency. Unger attempts to put this treatment with Monroe, giving up nearly two thirds of the work to Monroe’s young life, his diplomacy, and his cabinet position with James Madison. This places far too much emphasis on a young career for this consensus top 15 president. That is not to say the scope is completely off. Few would deny that moments such as the Louisiana Purchase and the burning of Washington are unworthy of the many pages of reference in the work. However, Monroe has a doctrine named after him. To give the Monroe Doctrine and its immense importance such little attention holds back this work from being all encompassing in scope. With the spread of mass communication reaching unprecedented levels, the Monroe Doctrine deserves a better treatment in its most up to date work on the man who penned it.

Grade: B-

3. Author- Harlow Unger has been dubbed “Americas Most Readable Historian.” The reason for this moniker is quite evident from the writing style. He has written over 20 books, mostly about the Revolutionary era and almost always biographies. Writing about Patrick Henry, Lafayette, and George Washington to name a few, Unger has been a consistent force in the short biography version of this project. For someone attempting to not get bogged down in weighty works, Unger gets to the point in a concise fashion and doesn’t make you feel like you are missing something. His background besides history is in broadcasting and journalism, but evident bias or blatant revisionism is not suggested in the work. Unger benefits by simply updating a 40 year old work and does not feel the need to embellish or outsize the man in Monroe. The Yale graduate remains on an even keel and leaves many opinions to the reader, as he should.

Grade: A

4. Length- At the risk of comparing Unger’s work again to Ammon’s, this work is the condensed and concise story of James Monroe. Clocking in around 350 pages, the assessable work can be completed briskly with relative ease. However, one should not be fooled by the slightly short work. It avoids pitfalls of short biography by delving into Monroe’s early struggles, family confrontations, and the importance of his development. It has many features of long biographies such as extended passages, letters, and other primary source materials. For a man who burned all of his correspondence with his wife, Unger is able to recreate his marriage, his family life, and he more than a few times reveals an emotional and human side of the fifth president. Readers will be shocked by how quick the work is, but they will be equally shocked by how much they enjoyed it.

Grade: B+

5. Mission- Rarely is the mission evident before even looking at the prologue or introduction of a historical biography. Whether at Unger’s urging or just a happy editorial addition, “the last founding father” at once conveys the mission and context that Unger creates. He not only wanted to tell the story of Monroe, but what Monroe meant to the nation as it said goodbye to knee breeches and powdered wigs on its way out into nation adolescence. The mission is to show how a man who was president in 1825 was still of incredible importance to 1776. What the end of the Monroe presidency represented was a new age for the young nation where others were suddenly asked to carry the torch and steer the ship. In that sense, Unger accomplished his goal, showing how Monroe embodied the graying revolutionary generation and put a capstone on the era that today is seen as immaculate.

Grade: B+