MONROE, James. Letter signed ("Jas. Monroe") as Minister to France, with 13-word autograph closing, TO [PRESIDENT GEORGE WASHINGTON], Paris, 16 October 1794. 12 pages, 4to (9 1/8 x 7 9/16 in.), labeled "No. 4 Triplicate" on page 1, with recipient's secretarial docket, fine.
THE PITFALLS OF RELATIONS WITH REVOLUTIONARY FRANCE: "ALL THOSE ATROCITIES WHICH HAVE STAINED THIS STAGE OF THE REVOLUTION."
An exceptionally lengthy, detailed letter which elucidates the host of problems that confronted American diplomats assigned to revolutionary France who were charged with maintaining a policy of strict neutrality in the face of the European wars. Monroe, who Washington had appointed Minister to France in the Spring of 1794, hoped to obtain some form of trade agreement during his stay.
Here, only 2½ months after his arrival, a clearly frustrated Monroe describes to the President the obstacles he has encountered. He explains that private trade no longer exists in France as commerce had been placed under the control of the government, a policy initiated by Robespierre: "The act itself was considered as a consummation of those measures which compleated the ruin of the Girondine Party, whose principle leaders had already fallen under the Guillotine...All private mercantile intercourse with foreign nations was cutt [sic] off, and so severe were the measures and great the odium on the mercantile character that none were pleased to have it attached to them." Events, Monroe notes hopefully, might soon remedy the situation: "extraordinary measures not only bear in general the strong character of their author, but frequently share his fate. The fall of the Brissotine Party extirpated private trade; the fall of Robespierre's may probably even restore it."
Monroe expresses frustration over his failed efforts: "I have endeavored in my propositions to confine [our diplomatic efforts] entirely to external objects...without any interference with the interior general system of France...I soon found that...if the conduct of public servants on the one side was not in some measure supervised...the impositions which might be practised on our improvident countrymen would be endless." He explains sadly that the French put their trade interests first in all cases: "whatever might be its merit in other situations, it was by no means in general endowed with sufficient strength or vigour for the present crisis...American citizens alone can furnish an adequate protection to their countrymen; in the hands of a Frenchman or other foreigner the consular functions lie dormant."
Monroe addresses French concerns over citizens leaving under the protection of an American passport who might give information to its enemies: "Citizenship is in its nature a local priviledge. It implies a right within the Government conferring it; and if considerations of this kind are to be regarded, I can see no reason why it should not in the present instance be construed strictly: for if a temporary emigrant...chooses to abandon us and return from whence he came, why should we follow him on this side of the Atlantic to support in his behalf a priviledge, which can now only be claimed at best for private, and perhaps dishonorable purposes?" He expresses his belief that such a policy will not harm the United States: "Will the refusal to grant passports to such persons check the emigration to our country? I am satisfied it will not of the kind that merits encouragement, for it will rarely happen that a single member of that respectable list of philosophers, artists and yeoman who seek an asylum with us, from the troubled Governments on this side of the Atlantic, will ever recross it." He states that emigrants who came before the American Revolution should be excluded from this policy as they "threw their fortunes into our scale" and are "as much Americans, as if they were born with us."
Monroe explains that the excesses of the Revolution result from the clash of "two rival parties, nearly equally balanced, and which must terminate under the preponderance of either in the extirpation of the other." Monroe believes a spirit of compromise exists as the party now in power would rather "save the Republic than...persecute its enemies." Noting that the past violence of the Revolution cannot be ignored by the parties, "like the ghost of Hamlet, whenever it appears, [excites] the honor of the innocent and the terror of the wicked spectators," he remarks that the disputes that now exist are not of the "sanguinary kind." Monroe follows with a description of the rise of the Jacobins, who constituted "the cradle of the Revolution," later reverting to an instrument of terror: "It became the creature of Robespierre, and under his direction the principal agent in all those atrocities which have stained this stage of the Revolution."
Monroe endeavored throughout the course of his mission in France to restore France to the position of a favored ally of America. His inability to escape his own bias in favor of the French led to serious disputes with the administration and "nearly wrecked his career" (Ammon, James Monroe, p. 114). He was recalled in 1796.