MONROE, James. Autograph letter signed ("Jas. Monroe") as Minister to Great Britain, [TO SECRETARY OF STATE JAMES MADISON], London, 2 February 1806. 8 pages, 4to and folio, browned, tape repairs on horizontal folds, small tears in 3rd leaf.
MONROE ATTACKS FEDERALIST INTRIGUES AND DEFENDS HIS CONDUCT AS MINISTER TO BRITAIN: "I DESIRE NOTHING BUT SIMPLE STRICT JUSTICE"
A long letter to Secretary of State James Madison in which Monroe, serving as Minister to Great Britain, defends his actions and criticizes political intrigues to remove him from office. Having failed to impress President Washington during his appointment as Minister of France, political ally Thomas Jefferson gave him an opportunity to redeem his reputation as a diplomat by sending him to negotiate with the British during the increasingly hostile dispute over neutral rights and impressment. The British, who were engaged in a desperate struggle with Napoleon on the continent, gave little consideration to American complaints. A frustrated Monroe considered returning home in 1805, but a change of administration in the British Foreign Ministry convinced him that he might have an opportunity for success, but Jefferson had already decided to send William Pinckney in his place.
Monroe, expressing concerns about his own career and the reputation of Jefferson's Administration, explains at the outset of the letter why he chose to remain and continue negotiations: "When I arrived here in July last from Spain, the seizures wh. had just before commenc'd were pursued with the greatest activity; scarce a day pass'd but some of our vessels were brought in, & the tone of the court was very high in extending & supporting the pretensions of the gov't on the principle of the orders of Novr. 1793...The seizures fell mostly on the maritime towns to the eastward, whose merchants would have given my departure as a proof of the contempt in which commerce was held by those in power, who felt for the prosperity of agriculture only." Monroe defends the bold stance he has taken with the British, despite a conciliatory policy urged by the President: "I was satisfied that this government dared not to engage in a war with us, at least while this issue of affairs on the continent was doubtful; that it had made the seizures in confidence that it risqued nothing by it, that we would submit to it." In regard to his possible replacement, he continues: "I shall avoid detracting from the just pretensions of my successor. But I shall be permitted to observe without incurring that censure, that the prospect of a fortunate termination of the business is now as favorable as it possibly can be: that the crisis has essentially past; the ministry has completely failed in all its operations on the continent; the allies have been defeated & the coalition broken; and the ministry itself subjected to that same fate. A new ministry is forming, the chief character [Charles Fox] in which is understood to be favorably disposed to the U States...Under such circumstances it cannot be doubted that the prospect of success is good...It has been my fortune to stand the storm, under circumstances of great personal responsibility." Concerned about how his political reputation will suffer when he is replaced, he asks that his correspondance be presented to Congress: "I desire nothing but simple strict justice, I wish my conduct here to rest on its own ground...that nothing may be left to insinuations; for my enemies to misrepresent and my [friends to] explain."
Monroe launches a vehement attack upon Federalists Gouverneur Morris (1752-1816) and Rufus King (1755-1827) who "seem to insinuate that their country is menac'd with some great calamity by being deprived of their services at this important epoch." Referring to Morris, Monroe notes: "His present office is a mournful one, living to make orations over defeated friends...his service in that line, reminds me of written notices...'funerals performed'." He asserts that King accomplished little as Minister to England, exclaiming "any old woman from our country, would have been equally successful." Noting that King took office after "relations were broken in 1793 by this gov't & patched up by his friend Mr. [John] Jay," he shares personal knowledge that England nearly went to war against the U.S. during his appointment. King, ironically, would later be Monroe's opponent in the 1816 presidential contest.
Monroe speculates that British arguments against American neutral claims were self-serving : "intended by this govt. to be used with the northern powers who were then combining...on the principles of the armed neutrality of 1780. The example of America so strongly enforc'd, against the principle that free ships make free goods, could not fail to prove highly useful to G. Britain in a negotiation with those powers at that time."
In conclusion, Monroe polishes his defense: "I have followed your instructions strictly and in a tone which I thought would be approved...I am persuaded that our suffering citizens will be satisfied that their govt. has done every thing in its power to vindicate and support their just rights & interests, & that ultimate success in a question of great national importance depends on the energies of the nation, on the support & confidence wh. they give to their govt., not to the cajolery & whining sycophantry of any one who might be sent here." He proclaims that his activity in England on behalf of the government was "not only one to which this govt. was not accustomed, but one wh. it did not expect...it will in consequence contribute still more to unite the people in support of the present admn. & of republican principles."
Provenance: Phillip D. Sang (sale, Sotheby Parke Bernet, 20 June 1979, lot 786).