MONROE, James. Autograph letter signed ("James Monroe") as President, to [Richard Rush] (1780-1859), U.S. Minister to Great Britain, Washington, D.C., 16 January 1823. 2 pages, 4to (9 5/8 x 7 5/8 in.), minor browning, otherwise fine.
MONROE EXPOUNDS UPON THE BURDENSOME DUTIES OF THE PRESIDENT: "THE EXECUTIVE...IS ESSENTIALLY RESPONSIBLE, FOR THE MANAGEMENT OF THE CONCERNS OF EVERY DEPT."
A fascinating letter which provides insight into the responsibilities and endless labors of the President of the United States. Although the government had expanded well beyond the framework established within the Constitution, the bureaucracy that served the executive office in 1823 was still relatively small. A substantial amount of administrative work was left for the President to complete. Monroe had actively sought the presidency before his election in 1816, but the trials and tribulations of office made him joyful when his final days in the White House neared: "It was with a sense of relief that Monroe turned over the reins of power to Adams" (Ammon, James Monroe, p. 546).
By January of 1823, Monroe had overseen the creation of two important treaties with foreign powers, had endeavored to defeat the Seminole Indians in Florida, endured the economic crisis spawned by the Panic of 1819, and had witnessed the first major sectional crisis engendered by the controversy over Missouri statehood and slavery. Here, in the same year that he responded to the threat of foreign intervention in Latin America with the Monroe Doctrine, he writes to the Minister to England, Richard Rush: "I receiv'd some months since, the work mentioned to you by Lord Holland, as a testimony of his regard, & I now forward to you for him, a complete edition of...state papers, as an evidence of like feelings for him. The binding is as well executed as it could be here, and I think that the documents, constitute one of the most valuable collections that is known."
The recent congressional session had been a difficult one for Monroe as he was forced to combat a vast amount of criticism directed at his administration and the controversy regarding a rumor that he would seek a third term. The political assaults had an unfortunate impact: "worn out by the strain of the constant attacks...[he] became unusually short-tempered and impatient" (Ammon, p. 505). He expresses his displeasure to Rush: "My labours, during the session, of Congress, are, as you well know, incessant, & very burdensome." Expounding upon the difficulties of his office, Monroe explains the obstacles he faced: "The Executive of our govt., by which is meant the Ch: Magist:, is, in a peculiar degree the responsible party, in exclusion of the heads of the several departments. He is essentially responsible, for the management of the concerns of every dept., even when they act without his direction which is seldom done. The whole movement takes its impulse from him, as well as its course. In the present state, proceeding from excesses which will...occur to you, I am compelled, to go into details, unusual for the person in this station, which proportionally increases my labours, & this will I presume, continue to operate during the residue of my term." He sadly notes that the labors of his office make it impossible for him to: "enter into many topics, relating to occurrences, on your side of the atlantic as well as on this, [in] which I should otherwise take much interest."
Exhibited: "Documenting the Constitution: A Manuscript History," The United States Supreme Court, Washington, D.C., May 1987-May 1988.