MONROE, James. Autograph letter signed ("Jas Monroe") as Secretary of State, to ELBRIDGE GERRY (1744-1814), Governor of Massachusetts, Washington, 14 June 1811. 1¼ pages, 4to (9 15/16 x 7 7/8 in.), evidence of mounting on right margin of verso, otherwise in fine condition.
"THE UNION & LAWS MUST BE SUPPORTED, OR WE SINK INTO CONTEMPT"
A strongly worded letter which highlights the increasing resistance in New England to the Federal government's policies in regard to Great Britain, an issue which would shortly spawn the Hartford Convention and talk of secession. Flagrant British violations of American neutral trade and the hated practice of impressment had drawn the United States into an increasingly hostile and belligerent stance. As the Warhawks in Congress began pushing President Madison towards war, Federalists in New England demonstrated increasing resistance to any activity that might lead them into conflict with an essential mercantile partner whose navy could, with relative ease, interdict American commerce. Massachusetts Governor Elbridge Gerry, who favored war, actively worked to marshall support for the administration from his reluctant constituents.
Here, Monroe praises Gerry's recent speech: "I avail myself of this opportunity to assure you that I was much gratified by a perusal of your speech, lately delivered, to the legislature of your state. The situation of affairs required decision and firmness. The union & laws must be supported, or we sink into contempt, inviting aggression from abroad, by proving that, owing to our divisions, we have not energy enough to repress it. You appear to me to have met the crisis as you ought to have done, and I have no doubt that the effect will be satisfactory." Monroe reports that the British Minister, Augustus Foster, was expected, and that "it is to be presumed that a new negotiation will be opened, on some of the important points at least..." How, he asks "can we calculate on success if the just & fair claims of the gov't are not supported by the people?"
But when Foster arrived, a month later, it soon became obvious that no concessions would be forthcoming from Great Britain. Ultimately, President Madison felt that he had no option but to ask for a Declaration of War. Many New England Federalists refused to support the war effort, and, in an expression of their discontent, Federalists met in 1814 at the Hartford Convention, calling for amendments to the Constitution and openly discussing the possibility of secession.