MONROE, James. Autograph letter signed ("James Monroe") as President, TO GENERAL ANDREW JACKSON, Washington, 30 May 1822. 2¼ pages, 4to (9 7/8 x 7 13/16 in.), JACKSON'S AUTOGRAPH DOCKET on verso of second leaf, silked.
FUROR OVER FLORIDA: MONROE DEFENDS JACKSON AMD CONDEMNS CONGRESSIONAL EFFORTS TO "PULL DOWN INSTITUTIONS & CHARACTERS"
Monroe reasssures Jackson of his support and disparages the role of certain members of Congress in seeking to censure the hero of New Orleans. While commanding the U.S. garrison along the border with Spanish Florida, Jackson faced seemingly insoluble problems with the Seminole Indians, who raided American settlements then fled to the safety of Spanish-held territory. Monroe and Jackson had maintained a respectful correspondence since the War of 1812, and when Monroe became President, Jackson expected he would be accorded "a free hand to deal with military problems in the south" (R. Remini, Andrew Jackson, p. 116). Jackson carried out an unsanctioned invasion of Spanish Florida in early 1817 and captured and later executed two British citizens, Arbuthnot and Ambrister, for inciting the Seminoles. The British authorities protested vigorously and Secretary of War Calhoun and others in the administration demanded that Jackson be reprimanded and dismissed. Congress debated but failed to pass a motion of censure. When Florida passed to American control under the terms of the Adams-Onis Treaty (see lot 53), Monroe appointed Jackson Governor of Florida.
Jackson aroused further controversy, though, by ordering the arrest of the former Spanish Governor after he refused to turn over certain documents. Spain, naturally, protested. A Federal judge, Eligius Fromentin, disputed Jackson's authority, and an angry public correspondance ensued. President Monroe "was understandably angered that Jackson's thoughtlessness had once again involved the United States in difficulties with Spain" (Ammon, James Monroe, p. 503). Monroe felt both Jackson and Fromentin had overstepped their authority, and in his annual message claimed that the problem was due to misunderstandings about each man's respective authority.
Jackson, characteristically, was offended that Monroe had failed to reprimand Fromentin; and in March 1822 complained that the President's message had been unjust. Here, the President attempts to mollify the touchy Jackson: "I have been hurt to find complaints in your letters, that I have not done you justice, in the views which I had presented, to Congress, of proceedings in Florida...I am utterly incapable of doing injustice intentionally to anyone; and if it were otherwise an injury to you, would, certainly, be among the last acts, which I should as likely to commit, in any form whatever." As to Jackson's charge that Monroe had favored Fromentin, he observes that: "All, acting under the Executive, have a claim to its protection, and to a liberal view of their conduct, & nothing more was shown to that person...had I acted otherwise, I should have done violence, to my own feelings, as well as to my judgment."
Monroe gently scolds Jackson, but is highly critical of Congress, explaining that "I was exposed in the last session to much embarassment. The lessons of the late war seem to have been forgotten, & the efforts since made to put the country in a better state of defense, for another, happen when it may, have been...[turned] into crimes, and those who have been most active, treated as the greatest criminals. Every transaction has been scrutinized, under the instigation of anonymous writers, on false or prejudiced views, & the great effort seems to have been, to pull down institutions & characters, rather than to rear them up, for the support & honor of the country." Monroe blames certain unnamed Congressmen, for "this effort, has been confined to a small portion of its members, by far the greater members, having been spectators of the scene...The inquiry turned out always, differently, from what the promoters expected." Monroe cautions Jackson to keep his criticisms secret: "I mention these things confidentially...it is not proper for me to speak harshly of Congress or any part of it. It becomes me to hold up the body, in the presence of foreign powers, for the credit of our institutions, & to put the best face on our affairs...to do what is right in respect to those in the public service, by keeping the people well informed, & stimulating them to do their duty." Jackson's docket notes that the President's letter is "most friendly."
Eight years later, publication of a letter of John C. Calhoun, Jackson's Vice President, recommending public censure of the General over his actions in Florida would create a substantial split in Jackson's Administration.
Provenance: Nathaniel E. Stein (sale, Sotheby Parke Bernet, 30 January 1979, lot 133).