French Imposters, Diplomatic Double Speak, and Buried Archival Treasures

By Cassandra Good, Associate Editor of the Papers of James Monroe (This content originally appeared as a guest post on The Junto) The latest volume of The Papers of James Monroe covers a short but important period in Monroe’s life and career: April 1811 to March 1814. Monroe became Secretary of State in April 1811 and was tasked with trying to repair relations with both Great Britain and France. After war with Britain began in June 1812, his focus broadened to military affairs and included a stint as interim Secretary of War. The bulk of the volume, then, is focused on the War of 1812. However, there are a number of other stories revealed here that will be of interest to a range of historians.   To begin: what new information does the volume reveal about the War of 1812? We know that impressment was a key bone of contention with the British, but these documents suggest it played a bigger role in selling the war than in actually causing it. The correspondence with … [Read more...]

Inaugurating the Era of Good Feelings

Unknown artist, c. 1820 (James Monroe Museum and Memorial Library)

On an unusually warm March afternoon two hundred years ago, James Monroe took the oath of office as America’s fifth president. In a capital city still recovering from having government buildings burned to the ground three years earlier by the British, large crowds thronged the city to celebrate Monroe’s inauguration on March 4, 1817.  The planning of the ceremony itself caused a congressional squabble, the oath was taken under a temporary portico outside of a temporary capitol building, and nobody could hear Monroe’s speech.  But that day ushered in a brief era of national unity and good feeling, when Americans formed (in Monroe’s words) “one great family with a common interest.” James Monroe entered the presidency with more experience in elected or appointed office than any man before—or since. Born on Virginia’s Northern Neck in 1758, he had joined the Continental Army to fight in the Revolution as a teenager and been in public service almost continually since.  As James Madison’s … [Read more...]

The Near-Duel Between James Monroe and Alexander Hamilton

by Dr. Cassandra Good, cgood@umw.edu While Alexander Hamilton’s fatal duel with Aaron Burr in 1804 is well-known, Hamilton also came close to dueling with James Monroe several years earlier. The correspondence relating to this incident, part of a larger controversy historians call the Reynolds Affair, is published in volumes 3 & 4 of the Papers of James Monroe. In 1792, while serving as senator from Virginia, Monroe was on a committee with Frederick Muhlenberg, speaker of the House of Representatives, and Abraham Venable, a Virginia congressmen, to investigate charges of financial malfeasance against Alexander Hamilton. The committee met with the accusers, Muhlenberg’s clerk Jacob Clingman and a New York speculator named James Reynolds, to get their testimonies. When the committee met with Hamilton, he revealed that he was innocent of these charges and that his financial involvement with Reynolds was in fact to cover up an affair with Reynolds’ wife, Maria. In a subsquent … [Read more...]