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James Monroe on Europe in the Wake of the War of 1812, especially “the wicked ambition & gigantic usurpations of Bonaparte”, and a New Expedition against the Barbary Pirates
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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…

Had Bonaparte avoided his continental system, and the attempt to subjugate the continent to carry it into effect … he might have engaged Russia on his side in the contest … 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.

JAMES MONROE. Autograph Letter Signed, as Secretary of State, to Alexander James Dallas, May 28, 1815, Richmond, Virginia. 4 pp., 7¾ x 10 in.

Inventory #25369       Price: $8,500

Monroe was the most important cabinet member in President Madison’s war administration. During a critical period from September 27, 1814 to March 2, 1815, he served as both the Secretary of State and Secretary of War. Much of the pressures America faced was related to the Napoleonic Wars and American neutrality. Thus, the present news of Napoleon’s return to France from exile on Elba alarmed Monroe. Though he significantly downplays the possibility of a major European war, he did request a special session of Congress. However, on June 18, 1815, Napoleon’s loss against a coalition of European powers at the Battle of Waterloo was decisive, and he was again forced to abdicate his throne. Monroe’s military and diplomatic experience, including his dealings with Napoleon, would shape his presidency and lead to the landmark Monroe Doctrine of 1823.

Complete Transcript

                                                                        Richmond May 28, 1815.

Dear sir

            We have been more than a week at Mr Hays country seat near this place. My health is much improved, as is that of my family. I propose setting out for Albemarle on the first of June, to remain there a week, & proceed thence by the Presidents and Loudoun to Washington, where I expect to arrive between the 15 & 20th. I indulge the hope that when we meet, you will see no trace of my late indisposition, and that I shall find that in transferring the burthen to you, I may not have subjected you to the incident to it, which I so severely felt.

            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 govt 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. He 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 <2> 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 counterpoise 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. Ferdd 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 & decided 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, skulk 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. <3> 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 interpoise, the measure will raise us in the estimation of the powers of the continent; it will raise us likewise in the estimation of England, altho’ at the expence of other feelings. It will raise us in our own estimation.

            A question has arisen here, in the revenue dept, 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 tobo 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 used 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 <4> 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. Be so kind as drop me a line at Milton, the post office nearest my residence in Albemarle.

            How is Mr Crowinshield? Has Mr Rush returnd in good health? Have you satisfactory accounts of the state of Mrs Dallas’s health and of that of your whole family?

                                                                        with great respect & esteem I am dear sir

                                                                        very sincerely yours

                                                                        Jas Monroe

[Docketing:] Mr Monroe / 28 May 1815. / Much Cop

Historical Background

For the previous six months, Monroe had served as both Secretary of State and Secretary of War. After the War of 1812, though, Monroe took a leave from Washington in the spring of 1815 to recover his health. The recipient, Secretary of the Treasury Alexander J. Dallas also later served as Secretary of War and Secretary of State.

In this letter, while on leave to recover his health, Monroe writes from Richmond to Alexander Dallas in Washington about events in Europe and his plan to return to duty in mid-June. Napoleon Bonaparte abdicated as emperor of France in April 1814, and the Allies exiled him to Elba in the Mediterranean. Late in February 1815, Bonaparte escaped Elba and returned to France, forcing King Louis XVIII to flee to Belgium. On March 13, contrary to Monroe’s expectations in this letter, the Congress of Vienna declared Napoleon an outlaw, and a few days later, Great Britain, Russia, Austria, and Prussia each pledged 150,000 men to remove him from power. Napoleon arrived in Paris on March 20 and reestablished his reign over France. Napoleon took command of the French Army of the North and crossed into the Netherlands (modern Belgium), where on June 18, 1815, combined British and Prussian armies defeated Napoleon’s forces at the Battle of Waterloo. When Napoleon returned to Paris, he found both the legislature and the people had abandoned him. He abdicated on June 22 in favor of his son, but the Allies restored the Bourbon monarchy and exiled Napoleon to Saint Helena in the Atlantic Ocean.

Monroe also references an expedition against Algiers that culminated in the Second Barbary War. On March 3, 1815, Congress authorized a naval expedition to address the problem of Barbary piracy in the Mediterranean Sea. The Barbary pirates, operating from Tripoli, Tunis, and Algiers, attacked American and European merchant vessels and held their crews for ransom. On May 20, Commodore Stephen Decatur set sail in command of a squadron of ten ships. After stopping in Gibraltar, Decatur’s squadron sailed into the Mediterranean and soon encountered and captured the Algerian flagship Meshuda and another Algerian ship. By the end of June, the squadron had reached Algiers and begun negotiations with the Dey. On July 3, the Dey signed a peace treaty, returned all American captives in exchange for the two ships and about five hundred prisoners, and paid $10,000 for seized shipping. Although the U.S. Senate ratified the treaty on December 5, 1815, the Dey later repudiated the treaty, leading to the August 1816 Bombardment of Algiers by British and Dutch ships.

James Monroe (1758-1831) was born in Westmoreland County, Virginia, and he attended the College of William and Mary before dropping out to serve as an officer in the Revolutionary War. He studied law under Thomas Jefferson from 1780 to 1783, and served as a delegate to the Continental Congress. He represented Virginia as a U.S. Senator (1790-94) and twice served as governor of Virginia (1799-1802, 1811). In 1803, he helped negotiate the Louisiana Purchase for President Jefferson and then served as ambassador to the United Kingdom (1803-1807). Monroe served as President James Madison’s Secretary of State (1811-17) and briefly as Secretary of War (1814-15). Elected President in 1816 and again in 1820, receiving 231 out of 232 electoral votes in his reelection bid, his party’s ascendancy was heralded as the Era of Good Feelings. His administration is notable for the recognition of the new Latin American republics and, of course, the Monroe Doctrine, written by his Secretary of State John Quincy Adams. In Monroe’s Annual Message of 1823, he responded to European threats of encroachment on Latin American land by declaring that the American continents, “by the free and independent condition which they have assumed and maintain, are henceforth not to be considered as subjects for future colonization by any European Power.” Although Monroe could do little to back up these statements, the doctrine influenced American foreign policy through the rest of the century. Through the Adams-Onis Treaty of 1819, the United States gained Florida and a clearer demarcation of its border with New Spain in the West. Monroe retired to Monroe Hill, now part of the University of Virginia, for the remainder of his life.

Alexander James Dallas (1759-1817) was born in Jamaica and grew up in Edinburgh and London. He planned to study law but could not afford it. In 1780, he married Arabella Maria Smith (1761-1837) of Pennsylvania, the daughter of a British army officer, and they moved to Jamaica in 1781. There he gained admission to the bar, and they moved to Philadelphia in 1783, where he gained admission to the bar in 1785. He edited the Pennsylvania Herald from 1787 to 1788 and the Columbian Magazine from 1787 to 1789. From 1791 to 1801, Dallas served as Secretary of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. In 1801, Thomas Jefferson appointed Dallas the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, a position he held until 1814. In October 1814, James Madison appointed Dallas as Secretary of the Treasury. From March to August 1815, he succeeded James Monroe as acting Secretary of War and also acted for Monroe as Secretary of State while Monroe was away from Washington in 1815. After reorganizing the Treasury Department and bringing the federal budget back into surplus, Dallas supported the creation of the Second Bank of the United States and the return to a specie system based on gold and silver. He resigned as Secretary of the Treasury in October 1816 and returned to Philadelphia, but lived only three more months.

Condition

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.


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