Guest Post: Diplomacy, Slavery, Quids, and Much More in the Latest Volume of the Papers of James Monroe

Cassandra Good is the Associate Editor of The Papers of James Monroe. She received her PhD from the University of Pennsylvania and her first book Founding Friendships: Friendships between Men and Women in the Early American Republic is forthcoming from Oxford University Press in January 2015. 

frontcoverFrom the Louisiana Purchase to reflections on travels in Spain to debates on slavery, the latest volume of The Papers of James Monroe will be a great resource for scholars of the early republic. Whether or not you have ever read anything by or about Monroe, it’s likely that there will be documents of interest in this volume. It spans from 1803, when Monroe was sent to France to help negotiate for Louisiana, to April 1811, just before he became secretary of state. 

Many of the letters are being published for the first time, including a draft of the Louisiana Purchase, correspondence relating to the failed British-American treaty in 1806, and personal letters between Monroe and John Randolph, Elizabeth Patterson Bonaparte, and numerous Virginia political figures. There is also correspondence with Thomas Jefferson and James Madison largely focused on diplomatic efforts leading up to the War of 1812.[1]

Researchers interested in diplomacy in this era will find a wealth of materials. Monroe served in France, Spain, and Great Britain (at two different periods) over the time covered here. He corresponded extensively with the foreign ministers in all three countries, succeeding with the Louisiana treaty but drafting failed treaties to obtain West Florida, resolve the impressment issue, and maintain peaceful commerce with Great Britain.

We have published many treaty drafts and much of the related correspondence with helpful annotations to provide context. The disagreements that devolved into the War of 1812 are thoroughly treated here. One particularly interesting set of letters is Monroe’s correspondence with British negotiators, Lords Auckland and Holland, that is in a little-known collection at the Library of Congress’s rare book room. Monroe also kept journals of negotiations in Spain and Great Britain (which he sent home to Madison) offering his personal insights on diplomatic efforts.

Very few of Monroe’s private writings have survived, but there are some fortunate exceptions. There is correspondence with John Randolph regarding Randolph’s deaf-mute nephew, St. George Randolph, who was sent to London in Monroe’s care for special education. The discussions of St. George and his schooling will be of particular interest to scholars of disability studies. The volume also includes Monroe’s travel diary from his mission to Spain in 1805. Monroe visited during a serious famine and wrote about the miserable conditions. Of Spanish towns he reflected, “They are actually so filthy that the strongest sensation excited after entering is to get out of them.”

For those interested in borderlands studies, there is correspondence relating to Louisiana, West Florida, and Texas in this volume. The Louisiana Purchase left the borders of the territory sold to the United States uncertain, and there is voluminous correspondence fighting over whether West Florida and Texas were included, drawing on maps and writings dating back to the seventeenth century.

There is also ample material on state and national politics after Monroe’s return to Virginia in late 1807. He ran against Madison for the republican nomination for president in 1808 at the urging of the Quid faction, whose philosophies are laid out in a number of letters. He eventually re-established his friendships with Jefferson and Madison, which cost him the friendship of administration critic John Randolph. As I thoroughly enjoyed writing in an annotation to a January 1811 letter, Randolph’s entire diary entry one day was: “Richmond, James Monroe, Traitor.”

While Monroe is most often tied to the colonization movement, his earlier views on slavery emerge in this volume. He corresponded with William Wilberforce during and after the passage of Britain’s law ending the slave trade, supplying him with information on slavery in America. The abolition of the slave trade was also an issue in Monroe’s negotiations with the British in 1806. Back in Virginia, in 1810 he filed a court document against two men who had beaten one of his hired-out slaves, explaining in an 1812 letter to a friend (which will be published in our next volume) that he sought public condemnation rather than money.[2]

The Papers of James Monroe: Selected Correspondence and Papers, January 1803-April 1811 was released on September 30 and will be coming to a university library near you soon. For those interested in the letters we did not publish—or in letters from other periods—check out our earlier volumes as well as summaries of all 35,000 letters to or from Monroe in A Comprehensive Catalogue of the Correspondence and Papers of James Monroe.


[1] The Papers of Thomas Jefferson have not yet covered July 1803-1808, while the Papers of James Madison have not published 1806-1808. In some cases this volume publishes letters also available in those projects, but our annotations differ in focus.

[2] Also see Tyler’s Quarterly Historical and Genealogical Magazine 4, no. 2 (October 1922): 106.

One response

  1. Pingback: The Junto Enters the Terrible Twos! « The Junto


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