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Lot #8011
James Monroe

Monroe remains ever wary of "the wicked ambition & gigantic usurpations of Bonaparte" following the War of 1812

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Monroe remains ever wary of "the wicked ambition & gigantic usurpations of Bonaparte" following the War of 1812

ALS signed “Ja's Monroe,” four pages on two adjoining sheets, 7.75 x 10, May 28, 1815. Long letter to Secretary of the Treasury Alexander James Dallas, reflecting on the political state of the Western world. In part: "I observe that the squadron has sailed for the Mediterranean, & that the contemplated reduction of the army has been carried into effect. The manner in which the latter measure is announced, is generally & much approved here. I am satisfied that the public will derive all the advantage from the act enjoining the reduction, & that all the evils incident to it, have been avoided, that circumstances admitted. In looking to cases of merit & distress hereafter, as they unfold themselves, the gov't may, & I am satisfied that it will, reward & relieve the parties to the utmost of its power.

Is it not surprising that we hear so little from Europe, of the consequences likely to result from the late changes in France? The more I have reflected, on the probable consequences of that important event, the more confirmed have I been in the first impression which it made on my mind. If Bonaparte has been receiv'd with such unanimity as to prevent a civil war, the foreign war, if it takes place, will probably be confined principally to England, & be of short duration. We must retake Belgium to contrast his reign with that of the Bourbons, and that is a necessary incident to his restoration. It will consolidate his power in France, & confining his views to it, the other powers of the continent will probably acquiesce even without war. Austria, if not a party to his late movement, will be soon reconciled to it, by the interest she takes in the fortune of his son, by accommodations which she may obtain in Italy, and by the obvious policy of looking to France for a counterweight to the otherwise overwhelming power of Russia.

Under the Bourbons France affords none. Prussia is in fact in the opposite scale, and England is too much separated from the continent, by her insular situation, & other circumstances, to hold a distinct place & be relied on in such a cause. Of Spain & Naples it is hardly worth while to speak. Ferd[inan]d is in the interest of the Bourbons, but he will be driven out after them, if he does not act with caution. Murat has probably found out, that he cannot incorporate himself with the old houses of Europe, & must rely on the restoration of Bonaparte for his own safety. It seems probable, that if Bonaparte confines his views to Belgium, and acts in so explicit & divided a manner, as to satisfy other powers of it, that it will not be easy if practicable for England to draw Russia into the war against him. The distance is too great for such an enterprise, if it involves nothing more than the simple question, who shall reign in France? If Russia stands aloof, Prussia must, whatever may have been her previous menacings, abstain from the contest. Had Bonaparte avoided his continental system, and the attempt to subjugate the continent to carry it into effect, thereby outstripping England in her usurpation & aiming at universal monarchy, he might have engaged Russia on his side in the contest against England. It was equally this interest of Russia, or at least equally consistent with her previous policy, as it was of France, to oppose the maritime usurpations of England, & nothing turned her from that course, but the wicked ambition & gigantic usurpations of Bonaparte. It will be more difficult at this time to accomplish the same object, but still I think it practicable if pursued, with a sincere & frank policy. A part of his plan should be to leave Holland independent. This would be a proof and a pledge of the integrity of his professions in favor of moderation. It would lead also to tranquilize Prussia & to save the honor of England as to the loss of Belgium. Every day we may expect to receive accounts from Europe which will dissipate all doubt, on these important topics.

Whatever may be the lot of Europe I think that the U. States have gained immense advantages, by their stand against England & France, and the honorable manner in which they terminated the war with the former. These will I trust be improv'd in all the interests of our country, to which they are applicable. It is an object of importance, as well as of curiosity, to see what effect the expedition against Algiers will have on the powers of Europe, particularly England. I rather think, altho' the temptation is great, that the object is too inconsiderable, compared with the consequences, for her to attempt the defeat of our squadron. If it makes a successful interposition, the measure will raise us in the estimation of the powers of the continent; it will raise us likewise in the estimation of England, as tho' at the expence of other feelings. It will raise us in our own estimation.

A question has arisen here, in the revenue dep't, on which I was written to at Washington by Mr. Anderson, of this city, and on which I spoke to Mr. Smith, and intended to have communicated with you, but believe that it escaped me. It has been the practice of the planters and farmers in the upper country to send their produce to this place, to the care of a friend for sale, who becomes their agent. The tob[acc]o is inspected in his presence. He offers it for sale; several purchasing, exporting, merchants, are present. They request him to offer it to the highest bidder, which he does. This has become a practice. For this, it is concluded that the agent ought to have a license, and suits have been instituted against several, for selling without one. The law, it is said, requires that the seller of merchandize at auction, should have a license, but contended that the produce of the country is not considered in that light, the term produce being and in contradistinction to that of merchandize. The latter term is supposed to be derived, from that of merchant, which in the acceptation of the country, it is alledged, is applicable to a seller of imported articles only. A seller of lumber, flour, or fish, in a northern town, to a person collecting a cargo for exportation, lest the sale be made to the highest bidder, would not as is supposed, be deemed an auctioneer. I submit these remarks, for your consideration, with a request that you will have the goodness to communicate to me your opinion on the subject, to enable me to say something to the parties here on it." Professionally silked on both sides and in fine condition, with a repaired tear to the left edge of the first page and a minor area of repaired paper loss to lower left corner.

An integral cabinet member in the administration of President Madison, Monroe influenced the diplomacy, strategy, and even the fighting of the War of 1812, serving as both the Secretary of State and War during a pivotal five-month period from September 27, 1814 to March 2, 1815. Given that much of the external pressures Monroe faced as Secretary of State revolved around the Napoleonic Wars and American neutrality, the news of Napoleon’s return to France from his exile on Elba, exemplifying the “wicked ambition & gigantic usurpations of Bonaparte,” alarmed Monroe to the extent that he requested a special session of Congress. Napoleon, however, on June 18, 1815, lost the decisive Battle of Waterloo and was again forced to abdicate his throne. Monroe’s experience from the War of 1812 and his dealings with Napoleon would shape his presidency and the landmark Monroe Doctrine of 1823.

Auction Info

  • Auction Title: Letter Collection
  • Dates: #553 - Ended June 28, 2018

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