MONROE, James. Autograph letter signed ("Mr. Monroe") in third person, TO ALEXANDER HAMILTON, [Philadelphia, PA.], 15 July 1797. 1 page, small 4to, two small tears in lower quadrant do not affect text.
THE INFAMOUS "REYNOLDS AFFAIR": HAMILTON STRUGGLES TO PROTECT HIS REPUTATION FROM CHARGES OF COMPLICITY IN A TREASURY DEPARTMENT INTRIGUE
A brief but meaningful letter regarding an important meeting between Monroe and Frederick Muhlenberg to discuss grave charges of personal and financial improprieties leveled against Hamilton in the notorious "Reynolds Affair." In July 1791, while his wife was absent from New York, Hamilton unwisely embarked upon a relationship with Maria Reynolds, who represented herself as destitute due to her husband's abandonment. Maria, "a beautiful, bold, vivacious, and sensuous woman, exuding sexuality," proved irresistible to Hamilton, and, after offering financial assistance, they commenced a torrid affair. (McDonald, Alexander Hamilton, p. 228). It remains one of the strangest and most mysterious episodes in Hamilton's career. That Fall, Maria's husband, James Reynolds, reappeared, approached Hamilton with "secret information" about Treasury Department irregularities and demanded satisfaction of his honor as a cuckolded spouse. Desperate to avoid a public scandal, Hamilton paid Reynolds $1000 to keep the matter quiet.
But in 1792 Reynolds and his partner Clingman were arrested for attempting to defraud the Government. When Clingman told Frederick Muhlenberg that Reynolds had damaging information about Hamilton (certain to be of interest to Jeffersonian Republicans), the Pennsylvania Congressman quietly informed his colleagues, Abraham Venable and James Monroe. Armed with cryptic notes from Hamilton (which according to Reynolds proved Hamilton had used him as an agent for private speculations), they confronted Hamilton, who readily related the entire sordid story. Hamilton was able to convince them of his innocence, but Monroe retained the information for possible future use.
The affair was made public in 1797 in James Callender's History of the United States for 1796. Knowing that his cryptic, possibly damaging notes still existed, Hamilton asked Muhlenberg, Venable and Monroe to vindicate him. Monroe had become convinced that Hamilton and other Federalists had conspired to end his diplomatic mission to France, but reluctanly agreed to the meeting. Here, Monroe confirms the conference: "Mr. Monroe has the honor to inform Colo. Hamilton of his arrival in Phila., & also that Mr. Muhlenberg & himself propose having a meeting in the morning, after wch. Colo. Hamilton shall immediately hear from them on the subject in wch he is concern'd."
While Muhlenberg and Venable agreed to defend Hamilton's propriety, Hamilton accused Monroe of leaking his letters to Callender. A heated correspondance between them nearly ended in a duel (on which see the following lot). Finally Hamilton, in order to vindicate his honor as Treasury Secretary, was forced to publish a humiliating account of his involvement with Maria Reynolds, in which he stated: "The charge against me is a connection with one James Reynolds for purposes of improper pecuniary speculation. My real crime is an amorous connection with his wife" (McDonald, p. 336).