MONROE, James. Autograph document signed twice ("Jas Monroe"), with his signature appearing once in the text, Washington, 14 and 20 September 1814. 4½ pages, 4to, integral leaf with docket, some show-through, otherwise fine, with protective slipcase.
JAMES MONROE'S LAST WILL AND TESTAMENT, WRITTEN IN THE RUINS OF WASHINGTON AFTER THE BRITISH INVASION IN THE WAR OF 1812
In August of 1814, word reached Washington that a British invasion force had appeared at the mouth of the Potomac River. Secretary of State Monroe led a reconnaissance of the enemy force at the head of a troop of cavalry and it was soon apparent that the British objective was the nation's capital. After posting what troops and militia he could in a futile effort to halt the enemy advance at Bladensburg, Monroe alone among the cabinet remained behind to aid in the evacuation of Washington. Reunited with his wife shortly after the British entered Washington, Monroe "was near collapse after a week of ceaseless activity during which he had not changed his clothes nor had slept more than a few hours at any one time" (Ammon, James Monroe, p. 334).
Monroe and President Madison returned to to the devastated city on August 27, and found that the British had systematically destroyed every major public building, including the White House, sparing only the Patent Office. In the midst of the ruins of Washington, clearly reflecting upon the possibility that he may have been killed in an encounter with the British, Monroe prepared the present first draft of his will: "I James Monroe...well knowing the uncertainty of human life, especially at a period, when, by the predatory & desolating system of warfare carried on by the enemy, the best & most active services of every citizen are due to his country...make this my last will and testament."
Reflecting his concern over debts contracted during his recall as Minister to France, Monroe directs that his bounty lands in Kentucky or tracts in Albemarle or Loudon be sold: "I leave it to my beloved wife, to designate that which shall be appropriated to that object." Monroe questions the legitimacy of some of these debts (which were only settled many years later) and expresses the hope that this debt will be lifted when "all feelings of an unfriendly nature towards me in every breast will have subsided."
Monroe leaves his slaves "whom my executor may not think proper to sell" to his wife, who will then convey several individuals to his daughter Maria upon her marriage. Monroe specifies that "should my wife marry again, which I am far from prohibiting, I would then wish that she shod. convey to my daughter...part of the tract of land." In the event of the death of his wife Elizabeth, Monroe stipulates that all property should be equally divided between his daughters Eliza Hay and Maria: "It is my object to provide equally for my children, regarding their respective ages, after providing for their mother." Monroe also provides for his two brothers: "Should my circumstances permit it, without inconvenience to my wife and daughters, I should wish that friendly aid should be given to both...something to Andrew to enable him to procure a small residence...and something to Joseph to enable him to resume his profession with advantage." Monroe leaves his law books, two hundred other volumes of his choice, and personal furniture to his son-in-law, George Hay, but requests that his other books be sold to pay his debt.
Provenance: Anonymous owner (sale, Sotheby's, 1 May 1985, lot 48).