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George Washington and James Monroe - Military, Political, and Diplomatic Relations 1776 - 1799
By Steven Christopher Ippolito

Introduction--The Iconography of American War

The American Way of War: A History of United States Military History and Policy, by military historian Russell F. Weigley,[1] discusses both art and war. In a nineteenth century representation of a famous military operation of the American Revolution, Dr. Weigley references the dramatic instance in which George Washington and his troops have disembarked from McKonkey’s Ferry in New Jersey, on a nocturnal riverine journey to attack the Hessian[2] allies of the British, at Trenton, on Christmas Day, 1776. Completed in 1851, by Emanuel Leutze,[3] Washington Crossing the Delaware, places Washington at the head of a boat,[4] defiant against the frost of a winter night[5] as he leads the Continental Army across the Delaware.[6] True, the image of Washington standing in a boat was mocked by the critics of the painting, though it is equally true that many of the Continentals actually made the crossing standing up, depending upon the river vessel that was employed on the Delaware that night.

The Durham boat, for example, a vessel some thirty or forty feet long, intended to carry heavy loads including iron, carried men who did stand all the way across the river. Durham boats had no seats, and many had ice and water on their bottoms. Most of the men would not have wanted to sit in ice water, quite understandably.[8] Washington called for every possible vessel to convey his army across the river, in order to mount a complicated and military operation in the special ops tradition. His leadership in the river crossing to the critical Battle of Trenton is American generalship at its best. Nevertheless, it is not Washington, alone, who is of principal concern in this paper. Rather, it is the relationship of Washington to the man standing behind him in the uniform of a Continental Army officer who bears the American flag:[9] Lieutenant James Monroe[10] of Virginia.

The dominant figures in the painting are two gentlemen of Virginia who stand tall above the rest. One of them is Lieutenant James Monroe, holding a big American flag upright against the storm. The other is Washington…The artist invites each of these soldiers as an individual, but he also reminds us that they are all in the same boat, working desperately together against the wind and current. He has given them a common sense of mission, and in the stormy sky above he has painted a bright prophetic star, shining through a veil of cloud.[11]

Accordingly, this paper will follow the journey of James Monroe in his relationship to George Washington and other Americans of note during and after the American Revolution till 1799. Like Washington, Monroe would one day rise to the office of Chief Executive, in 1817, and he would serve as the Fifth President of a young United States till 1825. It will examine the nature of Monroe’s experiences, politically, diplomatically, and militarily, vis-à-vis America’s commanding general and first U.S. President and others in the Revolution as America enters the nineteenth century. Clearly, the political future of America in the aftermath of the Revolution, born amidst great sturm und drang, [12] was by no means certain. But through the unique talents of the Framers and those special Americans like Washington and Monroe, and many others, famous and obscure, the goal of a nation grounded in the unique principles of the Enlightenment and the rights promised by the Constitution was successfully realized. Yet, a strange tension would gradually come to characterize the Washington-Monroe relationship, post-1794, as this paper will demonstrate. The vagaries of power politics and critical differences in the understanding of and the articulation of early American foreign policy would eventually corrode their professional association.

Theirs was an association that began in the Revolutionary War ,when Monroe was still a teenager, and which came to a de facto end with Monroe’s humiliating recall from France as America’s ambassador by President Washington, the man who had sent him there in the first place. This paper proposes that the causes of the demise of the Washington-Monroe relationship include, the Franco-American Treaty of 1778, the residual American gratitude and antipathy towards the French and British, respectively, subsequent to the American Revolution, the contrasting foreign policy approaches to the European powers by the Federalists (e.g. Washington and Hamilton), and the Jeffersonian Republicans, and, most dramatically, the highly-controversial Jay Treaty between England and the United States would serve to drive the final nails into the coffin of the Washington and Monroe relationship.

The experience suffered by Monroe might have devastated the career of another American political figure. But Monroe would reemerge intact on the American political scene thanks to his association with Thomas Jefferson and the Jeffersonian Republicans of the time. Washington, his great personal magnetism as the first amongst Americans, notwithstanding, had his political enemies. Monroe found shelter amongst this group which helped him survive politically. In time, he would ascend to the same heights of leadership as Washington, to become America’s fifth president, the last of a unique generation of five political leaders, a de facto dynasty of Virginia-born men who were America’s link to its insurgency against England, the cocked hats, named for the eighteenth century headwear of the time. These leaders, eighteenth century navigators of the American ship of state, would help lead British subjects to a new American identity.

Like Columbus, they would chart a course for a highly-uncertain political journey through an ocean of war to a New World of liberty and rights, based upon the principles of the Enlightenment. In Monroe, we come to the end of this unique political era. But at its beginning, following America’s separation from Great Britain, there were absolutely no political landmarks or precedent in European history by which they could lead a nation brought to term from the womb of war and politics to the maturity of the modern nation-state.

This paper, then, will introduce undergraduate students to some of the key points of American history in two installments: Part I of this paper will take the reader to the dawn of the nineteenth century. Part II will follow that period till the election of Monroe as President in 1817, and the critical development of the Monroe Doctrine, till his death in New York City in 1831. Not simply a narrative of two great Americans, it is a telling of events in the lives of a nation and a number of individuals. It will discuss the significance of America’s views of international relations at the time. The question of the United States and its relations with France and England, subsequent to the Revolution is examined. The rise of America’s early political parties: the Federalists and the Jeffersonian Democrat-Republicans, is reviewed, too, through the words and sentiments of Washington and Monroe, and others of importance at the time. Like the citizens of the present-day United States, post-colonial Americans would diverge on issues of big government vs. smaller, states-rights’ oriented government. Like modern-day liberals and conservatives, Republicans and Democrats, the power alliances of Washington and Alexander Hamilton would find themselves politically-disconnected from Thomas Jefferson and James Monroe on the issues of war, foreign policy, isolationism vs. involvement in European commerce and political affairs, as powerfully, then, as they are, now. Politically and militarily in the life of a nation-state, the names and the issues change with time and circumstance. But as the experiences of Washington, Monroe, and others demonstrates, the process frequently does not. This is the unmistakable testimony of history.

Finally, this article is dedicated to the students and faculty of Monroe College in New York City, most especially, my political science and criminal justice undergrads, in order to acquaint them with the significance of their alma mater’s namesake as warfighter, diplomat, and in relationship to the first American among Americans, George Washington. Ultimately, it will consider Monroe’s two terms as the fifth President of the United States, As these words are written, the 176th anniversary of President Monroe’s death (4 July 1831) is less than a week away. To that end, and in the spirit of Washington, Monroe, and America’s birthday, this article is written and respectfully-submitted.

My Dearest: I am now set down to write to you on a subject which fills me with inexpressible concern…It has been determined in Congress that the whole army raised for the defense of the American cause shall be put under my care, and that it is necessary for me to proceed immediately to Boston to take upon me the command of it…But as it has been a kind of destiny that has thrown me upon this service, I shall hope that my undertaking is designed to answer some good purpose.
                    George Washington, 
                    Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, 
                    18 June 1775, 
                    Letter to Martha Washington[13]

I am called on a theatre to which I am a perfect stranger. 
                    James Monroe, 
                    Annapolis, Maryland, 
                    16 June 1783 
                    Letter to Richard Henry Lee[14]

Lt. James Monroe Crosses a River

The confluence of destiny and events that led an eighteen year old lieutenant in the Continental Army to a hazard a Christmas river crossing in 1776 began in Virginia, on 28 April 1758. On this day, James Monroe was born to successful Virginia planters: Spence Monroe and Elizabeth (nee Jones)[15] His forebears were Scotch and Welsh immigrants, but as the life of Monroe would come to unfold, he, like the first President, Washington, would come to be understood as quintessentially American. Even the date of his death on the Fourth of July bears witness to the nature of Monroe’s true identity, though in 1758, his parents would have regarded themselves and their new-born son as loyal British subjects.

Monroe would become well-educated in his native Virginia where his world was an interesting one. One of his fellow students and childhood friends, for example, was John Marshall, a future Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. His life, nevertheless, was marred by early tragedy when both parents died in his teenage years. Economically stable, however, after his parents’ deaths, Monroe entered the College of William and Mary in 1774, at the age of sixteen. Here, Monroe found that America’s impending rupture with Britain had whipped the school into patriotic fervor. And with some classmates, Monroe began his revolutionary activities by participating in a raid upon the British Governor’s Palace in Virginia. This action netted the young revolutionaries approximately 200 muskets and 300 swords, which they promptly presented to the Virginia militia. By 1776, Monroe was an officer, a lieutenant in the Continental Army and had joined the Commander-in-Chief in New York.[16] In this way, he found himself within a boat upon a river on the unlikely night of Christmas, 25 December 1776.

The Yuletide season, 1776, in the midst of a violent insurgency, was hardly in the nature of the gentle Jesus. A harsh winter, the reality of impending battle with troops, boats, battle-horses with small-arms and heavy weapons, counterpointed the holiday spirit in Trenton, New Jersey. Washington’s Continental Army, moving upon a river and land in a storm, their Christianity, notwithstanding, would render de facto homage to a god of battles on the Delaware River, preparatory to warfighting against other Christians. Before the clash of arms that was soon to follow, George Washington, at 1800 hours, wrote a brief note to Colonel John Cadwalader from McKonkey’s Ferry in New Jersey.

Dear Sir: Notwithstanding the discouraging Accounts I have received
from Col. Reed of what might be expected from the Operations below,
I am determined, as the Night is favourable, to cross the River and
make the attack upon Trenton in the Morning. If you can do nothing
real, at least create as great a diversion as possible. I am, etc.[17]

James M. McPherson,[18] describing the Delaware River operation in David Hackett Fischer’s work, Washington’s Crossing, offers that: “No single day in history was more decisive for the creation of the United States than Christmas 1776.”[19] 2400 colonials moved by night across the Delaware River from Pennsylvania to New Jersey, in the midst of a furious nor’easter. To Washington, Monroe, and the men in the boats, contending with ice, snow, and frigid water, the experience was unlikely to have been experienced as heroic, Leutze’s heroic imagery, notwithstanding. And if the crossing wasn’t bad enough, it was necessary for the Americans, after a maneuver through an ice-filled river,[20] to undertake an all-night march to perpetrate a sneak attack upon 1500 Hessians (German mercenaries), at Trenton, New Jersey. If they failed, the future of the American Army and the Revolutionary cause might come to nothing.

Nevertheless, the complicated, asymmetrical maneuver, against the Hessians was well-executed; the Germans were thoroughly-surprised and crushed. One week later, the British counter-attacked at Trenton which Washington was able to withstand with his Army before slipping away in a fifteen mile march through back roads to Princeton. Here, the Americans engaged and defeated British reinforcements coming to shore up the Crown’s position in Trenton. However, the antecedents that led Washington, Monroe, and the Continental Army across the frigid waters of the Delaware River was one of bitter defeat and frustration for America.

Washington—Prelude to a River

Prior to the Battle of Trenton, there were the less successful American experiences of Bunker Hill, Long Island, and Harlem Heights. The fight on Bunker Hill, actually, Breed’s Hill, took place in Boston, 17 June 1775, before Washington joined the Army in Massachusetts. Though not quite a victory for the colonials, it would give them encouragement.

Bunker Hill encouraged Washington to believe that as long as he maintained a similar tactical as well as strategic defensive, he might hope to resist successfully, the whole of any army the British were likely to mobilize against him, in spite of the obvious deficiencies of his troops in numbers, equipment, and training. Unfortunately, for Washington, even this modest optimism was to prove unfounded. The British had so badly bungled their opportunities at Bunker Hill , the battle gave the Americans excessive hopes of what they could accomplish in full-scale battle as long as they stood on the tactical defensive.[21]

Unlike Washington after the battle, the British commander at Bunker Hill, General Thomas Gage[22] was more realistic about what was to transpire within the battlespace that day in Boston. According to Allan R. Millet and Peter Maslowski,[23] Gage, upon considering the rebels position on Bunker Hill, concluded that it was a strong one, and that he was in need of reinforcements.

Instead, three major generals arrived to give advice: William Howe, Henry Clinton, and John Burgoyne. With aggressive impatience, they demanded offensive action from General Gage against the insurgents, at once. The Americans, however, who had been ordered to fortify Bunker Hill, instead, fortified Breed’s Hill. Aware that a fight could not be avoided, Gage acquiesced to his generals’ wishes. He ordered General Howe to attack the Americans with unfortunate results.

When Howe’s effort to outflank the colonial position failed, he believed that he had no choice, but to make a frontal assault. Three times the redcoats advanced, and twice the colonists hurled them off the hill. On the third try, with the colonists weary and short of ammunition, the British swarmed over the parapet and the Americans fled.[24]

2500 British regulars attacked the hill; 1000 of these became casualties. Taking careful note of the action, Gage was struck by the fighting spirit of the insurgents. His previous opinions of Americans in battle had been garnered in the French and Indian War, where he was not terribly impressed with colonials as soldiers. Now, however, things were different for the British: “The government realized that it faced a genuine war requiring a regular campaign, replaced Gage with Howe, and began to plan for 1776.”[25] Less than a month later, 2 July 1775, George Washington arrived to command the modest American force. Despite all manner of problems, Washington correctly assessed that the next area of military importance would be to the south: New York. In a letter, dated 14 March 1776, Washington, from his headquarters in Cambridge, Massachusetts, wrote to the officer commanding New York, General William Alexander (Lord Stirling):

Sir: I have stronger Reasons since I wrote to you last, to confirm me in my Opinion that the Army under General Howe is on its Departure. All their movements pronounce it…It is given out that they are bound to Halifax, but I am of the Opinion that New York is their Place of Destination. It is the Object worthy their Attention; and it is the Place that we must use every Endeavour to keep from them…I am, Sir, etc.[26]

Russell Weigley, too, wrote of Washington’s beliefs about the movements of the British:

Washington could foresee that the next British move would be against New York,…because he recognized the nature of sea power enough to understand that if the British navy found a suitable base along the coast of the rebellious colonies, British sea power might permit the enemy to keep the Revolution constantly off balance by landing forces anywhere on the colonial coast.[27]

In 1776, Washington arrived in New York where he placed his army between Manhattan and Long Island, On Brooklyn Heights, the Americans dug in, in Bunker Hill-style, waiting for the British to launch another costly frontal assault, which never came.

Sea power permitted the enemy to turn…[Washington’s] defenses, and Bunker Hill proved to have been misleading evidence about the American prowess in battle even when the British did offer Washington the opportunity to stand and fight on land.[28]

On 27 August 1776, General Howe landed his British and Hessian force at Long Island. In a brilliant example of maneuver warfare, they flanked the Americans on the left and dislodged them from the Heights, whereupon the rebels promptly retreated back to Manhattan.

General William Howe chose to send his troops on an attack by land against the first line of Washington’s defenses, along a ridge called the Heights of Guian on Long Island east of Gowanus Bay. Washington and his generals obtusely neglected to guard all the roads which led to the left and rear of the position, and the defense collapsed when it was assailed from three directions at once.[29]

On 15 September, the British landed at Kips Bay to entrap Washington. Fortunately, Howe’s troops were not moved quickly enough, however, and the Americans escaped to Harlem Heights on Manhattan Island’s northern tip.[30]

At the subsequent Battle of Harlem Heights, Washington repulsed the enemy, at the site of the present-day Columbia University. This was the occasion in which James Monroe received the first of his two war wounds. Washington had placed two brigades on the high-ground of Harlem Heights. They were engaged by British and German mercenaries who, at length, drove them from the area through force of numbers. As the Americans retreated, the British came on rather quickly to attack Washington’s main body of troops. According to Fischer, the British managed to add insult to injury. Appearing in the open, the British blew their bugles, suggesting that they were on a fox hunt, a clear sign of contempt for their American cousins.

Washington, outraged, forgot his defensive strategy and ordered his men to attack…Smallwood’s Maryland regiment, the Connecticut Rangers, and the Virginia infantry took cover in a ravine, overgrown with bushes. On its western edge was a post-and-rail fence. The British light infantry came on, full of confidence. When they reached the fence, the Americans rose up and fired. The British infantry stopped, then fell back under heavy fire. The Americans came forward firing, and the British retreated with heavy losses. It was a small victory, but timely.[31]

Nevertheless, the position in Harlem Heights was not viable. The British had the capacity to ferry men up the length of the Hudson River, where they could flank the Americans at any time. Howe did eventually land troops at Throgs Neck (the present day Northeast Bronx), and Pell’s Point. However, the British moved too slowly, and Washington escaped to White Plains. There, the Americans were positioned by Washington in a strong defensive position, goading, as it were, the British to attack. Instead, Howe elected to maneuver on Washington’s flank, forcing him to withdraw.[32] At length, Washington was driven from New York, and his route of escape was northward. Howe, nevertheless, elected to go south, to New Jersey.

Washington’s goal was to keep his army from capture or destruction by maneuvering “across the Delaware River, trying to stay between the advancing enemy and the rebel capital at Philadelphia.”[33] In this, the Commander-in-Chief was aided by the season and the weather. Winter was upon the colonies, and Howe’s troops, including the German mercenaries, had gone into winter quarters.

Washington and Monroe—The River

On 22 December 1776, Washington convened a council of war.[34] The people of New Jersey, citizens and militia alike had begun to move aggressively and spontaneously against the British and Hessians for various outrages and depredations against the civilians of the state. The chief complaint was the rape of civilian women by British troops, and many of these grievances appear to have been valid complaints. In retaliation, German Hessians and British troops were ambushed in insurgent-guerrilla style by Pennsylvania militiamen, acting almost completely autonomously. These unexpected actions had the effect of unnerving the Germans who could no longer feel secure even in their own compounds.

In occupied New Jersey, General Howe had proclaimed a peace, but there was no peace. The pacifiers found themselves at war with an infuriated population. On Christmas Eve, Howe instructed his men in New Jersey not to travel alone on the roads, but to restrict their movements in large convoys, a few days each week…This was life without liberty or law in occupied New Jersey.[35]

Colonel Joseph Reed, who had considerable ties to New Jersey, was aware of the spontaneous uprising in that state by various militias and private citizens alike. He wrote a letter to Washington describing the state of affairs, which, in turn, occasioned Washington’s council of war. In his missive, Reed begged Washington for some kind of action in New Jersey by the American Army.

Reed’s suggestion was that Washington initiate an action at Trenton subsequent to a crossing of the Delaware River. The recommendation by Reed was discussed at Washington’s war council, where, according to Fischer:

The meeting debated Reed’s plan for crossing the Delaware and attacking one of the enemy’s posts in New Jersey. The council agreed very quickly, and a long discussion followed on how it might be done. Much of the conversation was about the weather, the river, and boats. Colonel John Glover, who had long experience of maritime affairs, was consulted about the feasibility of the crossing. Glover told Washington…‘that…his boys could manage it.’ The next day secret orders went out to senior officers in the army. The operation was on.[36]

On 24 December 1776, Washington, from his base camp above Trenton Falls, wrote to Congress. This letter clearly demonstrates the Commander-in-Chief’s concerns and pessimistic state of mind as recently as twenty-four hours prior to the commencement of the Delaware-Trenton operation.

Sir: That I should dwell upon the Subject of our distresses cannot be more disagreeable to Congress, than it is painful to my self. The alarming Situation to which our affairs are reduced impels me to the Measure…When I reflect upon these things, they fill me with much concern, knowing that General Howe has a Number of Troops cantoned in the Towns…near the Delaware, [with]…intentions to pass as soon as the ice is Sufficiently formed, to invade Pennsylvania, and to possess himself of [the City of] Philadelphia, if Possible. To guard against his designs, and the executions of them, shall employ my every exertion, but how is this to be done? As yet, but a few Militia have gone to Philadelphia…Had I entertained a doubt of General Howe’s intentions to pass the Delaware [up]on the dissolution of our Army and as soon as the ice is made, it would be now done away…P.S. If the public papers have been removed from Philadelphia, I hope those which I sent to Lieut. Colo. Reed before we left New York, have not been forgot[.] [37]

Nevertheless, a furious storm confronted General Washington and the Continental Army. Its raw, elemental power gave rise to concern for the force’s chances for success. Uncertain about the outcome of the operation, Washington considered terminating it. However, it was clear to all that the harsh weather that oppressed the Continentals also served to obstruct the Hessians who were unable to complete their usual patrols that night. Similarly, the ice and cold favored the Americans in another important way: the weather dried-up the “road taken by the Americans from Trenton to Princeton that had been knee-deep in mud the previous day.”[38] Washington, therefore, commenced the attack.

Images of a War Journey

Unlike the actual operation on the Delaware, fraught with peril and the tense uncertainty of the outcome of the battle-to-come, there is a strange serenity in the Romantic rendering of the Crossing of the Delaware. Washington, Monroe, and the Continental Army in Leutze’s painting,[39] display the mythic iconography[40] of America and Americans, caught between the Clausewitzian categories of politics and violence, as they struggle to survive and emerge victorious, citizens of a free, vibrant, and independent nation-state. Leutze’s imagery reveals the strivings of soul of an America struggling to be born in 1776. The boat commandeered by Washington contains thirteen men, referencing, perhaps, the thirteen colonies. Their mode of dress is important, too. These are not uniformed troops, a professional army, as it were. These are Americans drawn from the American mainstream as one might have encountered them in the eighteenth century and the American Revolution (1776-1784).

Their dress tells us that they are soldiers from many parts of America, and each of them has a story that is revealed by a few strokes of the artist’s brush. One man wears the short tarpaulin jacket of a New England seaman; we look again and discover that he is of African descent.[41] Another is a recent Scottish immigrant, still wearing his Balmoral bonnet. A third is an androgynous figure in a loose red shirt, maybe a woman in man’s clothing, pulling at an oar…At the bow and stern of the boat are hard faced western riflemen in hunting shirts and deerskin leggings. Huddled between the thwarts are farmers from Pennsylvania and New Jersey, in blanket coats and road-brimmed hats…[One] wears the blue coat and red facings of Haslet’s Delaware Regiment. Another figure wears a boat cloak and an oiled hat…his sleeve reveals the facing of Smallwood’s silk-stocking Maryland Regiment. Hidden behind him is a mysterious thirteenth man. Only his weapon is visible; one wonders who he might have been.[42]

Water and Earth—Rivers and Battles

Fischer relates that after the Crossing, the Continentals formed into a line of march on the New Jersey shoreline.[43] Two small detachments of infantry led the main body of troops on the march. Lt. James Monroe, already a seasoned and distinguished veteran of Harlem Heights and White Plains, was assigned as second in command to one of the advance parties led by Captain William Washington and his Third Virginia Regiment. Captain Washington was “a distant cousin of the commander-in-chief.”[44] The march of the Americans toward Trenton began at 0400 hours. Fischer relates the behavior of the commander-in-chief along the way:

George Washington rode up and down the column urging his men forward. Suddenly the general’s horse slipped and started to fall on a steep and icy slope. ‘While passing a Slanting Slippery bank,’ Lieutenant Bostwick remembered, ‘his excellency’s horse[‘s] hind feet both slip’d from under him.’ The animal began to go down. Elisha Bostwick watched in fascination as Washington locked his fingers in the animal’s mane and hauled up its heavy head by brute force. He shifted its balance backward just enough to allow the horse to regain its hind footing on the treacherous road…It was an extraordinary feat of strength, skill, and timing; and another reason why his soldiers stood in awe of this man.[45]

At Birmingham’s crossroads, the Army separated, as ordered, into two columns. Monroe and Washington marched to the Pennington Road and the road between Trenton and Princeton. Captain Washington took many prisoners at this location, and Fischer tells of an interesting encounter that occurred here.

Lieutenant Monroe met a Jersey man who came out to see why his dogs were barking. Monroe remembered that the man thought ‘we were from the British army, and ordered us off…He was violent and determined in his manner, and very profane.’ Monroe told him to go back to his home or be taken prisoner. When the man realized that he was talking to American troops, his manner suddenly changed. He brought them food and offered to join them. ‘I’m a doctor,’ he explained, ‘and I may be of help to some poor fellow.’ The offer was accepted, and Doctor John Riker joined Monroe’s infantry as a surgeon-volunteer.’”[46]

By 0730 hours, the American columns were approximately two miles from Trenton. Here, the Americans became aware of a number of Hessian outposts, posted on the outskirts of Trenton. In one outpost, situated on the River Road, the Hessians were staffed at company strength. The Americans were now deployed in three columns. New Englanders were on the right; the Virginians occupied the center; Pennsylvanians comprised the left. “The vanguard consisted of Virginia infantry led by Captain William Washington and Lt. Monroe.”[47]

George Washington sat at the head of the middle column of Virginians. And in the midst of a raging storm, he commenced the attack upon the Hessians. By 0800, the Germans and the Americans were engaged. The Hessians were taken by surprise, and by battle’s end, Hessian losses were 918 men: 22 were killed; 83 were seriously wounded. 896 officers and men were taken prisoner. The battle was a tremendous boost to the morale of the Continental Army, though Monroe was seriously wounded in the action. As he was charging towards the Hessian position, he was grazed by a bullet in his left chest which entered his shoulder and injured the axillary artery. The young officer promptly began to hemorrhage from a wound that should have been mortal. His life, however, was saved by Dr. Riker[48] who placed his index finger in the wound and applied pressure to the artery.[49] In later years, surgeons would subsequently attempt to remove the projectile from his body which lodged near his neck, but they could never safely remove it. The future president would carry the bullet in his body thereafter.[50]

According to Fischer, during the battle Monroe and the Third Virginia Infantry were on King Street in Trenton. There, the Hessians were fighting fiercely to recover some artillery pieces. When they did so, Colonel Henry Knox approached Sergeant White who led a New England contingent and ordered him to link up with the Virginia infantrymen to reclaim the guns once again. Later, in his autobiography, Monroe described the action retold by Fischer:

‘Captain Washington rushed forward, attacked and put the troops around the cannon to flight and took possession of them.’ In the melee, William Washington went down, badly wounded in both hands. James Monroe took over ‘at the head of the corps’ and led it forward. He too was hit by a musket ball, which severed an artery. He was carried from the field, bleeding dangerously. His life was saved by Doctor Riker, who had joined Monroe’s company as a volunteer the night before. The New Jersey physician clamped Monroe’s artery just in time to keep him from bleeding to death.[51]

Monroe would recover from his wounds, and in the post-Trenton period, he was promoted to captain and, ultimately, to major. In his General Orders, issued at his headquarters, at White Marsh, Washington promoted Monroe and sent him to his next assignment, to the staff of General William Alexander where he served for another year.

James Monroe Esqr., formerly appointed an additional Aide-de-Camp to Major Lord Stirling, is now appointed Aide-de-Camp to his Lordship, in the room of Major Wilcock who resigned on the 20th of October last, and is to be respected as such.[52]

In his new assignment, Monroe was tasked with maintaining a surveillance of the enemy and reporting his movements to General Alexander (Lord Stirling) and George Washington, directly. On 28 June 1778, at Monmouth, Monroe sent a letter to the Commander-in-Chief regarding the position of the enemy.

Sir—Upon not receiving any answer to my first information and observing the enemy inclining toward your right, I thought it advisable to hang as close on them as possible. I am at present within four hundred yrds. Of their right—I have only about 70 men who are fatigued much. I have taken three prisoners—If I had six horsemen…I sho’d in the course of the night procure good intelligence w’h I wo’d soon as possible convey you.
                    I am Sir your most ob’t Serv’t
                    Ja Monroe

Though he served well in this position, Monroe was unable to obtain a field command. Disappointed, the young officer elected to resign his commission in 1779, whereupon he was appointed a colonel in the Virginia Militia. In 1780, Virginia’s Governor, Thomas Jefferson dispatched Monroe to North Carolina to observe the British advance upon Virginia. It was in this capacity that on 26 June 1780, Monroe would write to Jefferson[53] from Cross Creek, Virginia:

Sir,---Some few days since I arrived here…I expected I should more effectually put in execution, your Excellency’s orders by coming immediately here, the source from which Governor Nash…or Baron de Kalb…get their Intelligence…We have it from authority we cannot doubt, that an embarkation has taken place at Charlestown and sailed some days since under the command of General Clinton consisting of about 6000 men. The remainder of their army supposed upwards of 4000, with their cavalry forming a corps of 600 under Col. Tarleton, are left behind under Lord Cornwallis…What plan General de Kalb may take to oppose them I cannot determine…At Gov’ Nash’s request I shall attend him tomorrow to where Baron de Kalb may be…in my next…shall…inform your Excellency of the plan Baron de Kalb may take for is future operations…I have the honor to be with the greatest respect and esteem yr. Excellencys.
                    Your Very humble Serv’
                    Ja, Monroe

Peace—Monroe Studies the Law

Following the signing of a peace treaty, Monroe became a law student under Thomas Jefferson. His alliance with Jefferson, politically, would play no small role in his subsequent rupture with George Washington. The emergence of specific opinions and related political approaches in the post-war alliances of Washington and Hamilton, and the Federalists, on the one hand, and Jefferson, Monroe, and the Republicans, on the other, is characteristic of the divisions of the American political landscape in the new United States. These distinctive views on the future of America, the nature of what might now be called the big government Federalists vs. the smaller government, states’ rights’ approach, were powerfully-evident and well-drawn to the political observers of the time.

In 1783, James Monroe was elected to the Continental Congress in New York City. This was a fortuitous event in Monroe’s personal life, for it was here that Monroe met Elizabeth Kortright,[54] a New York merchant’s daughter. They were married within a year , and they moved to Fredericksburg, Virginia, where Monroe devoted himself to the practice of law. In due course, he would be called-up again to fight. This time, it was not to participate within the battles of armies and soldiers in the field, but the political struggles of a nation struggling to be the unique nation it would eventually become within the international order.

James Monroe—The Constitutional Convention and the U.S. Constitution

Charles Cerami believes that in 1786, “five years after George Washington’s victory over the British, the American people had lost their way. They were flushed with early success, but desperately unsure of how to hold the Union together.”[56] The legal and political glue that held the nation together was a weak agreement called the Articles of Confederation. Crafted in 1777, they brought the Congress into being in order to prosecute the Revolution. The issue for the revolutionary government was one of balance. The problem, which would surface again in the rise of America’s premier political parties, consisted in the relationship between the rights of the states and the relationship to the national government.[57]

Numerous problems inhered in the Articles. The issues were not so much what they did or what powers they exercised, but, rather, in their deficits, and in the things that they could not accomplish, politically, for the states and the nation. Thus, in terms of foreign policy and commerce, the Congress, with the Articles as their legal mandate, made all decisions.[58] Fortunately, for the struggling nation, Benjamin Franklin and his two assistants were in France winning French hearts and minds for America. The result was the treaty that would later come to haunt the Monroe-Washington association: “The Treaty of Amity and Commerce,” signed on 6 February 1778.[59] France resolved to help the United States as a result of that treaty, but it was an open question just how united the states actually were. Cerami writes that “throughout the war and the five years that followed each American state clung to the feeling that it was virtually a small independent nation…Some saw a looming possibility that the ‘United States’ might no longer deserve that name, even that they might have to break into two or three separate groups.”[60]

At length, the inherent instability of the Articles of Confederation began to haunt some of the new nation’s premier thinkers: Alexander Hamilton and James Madison.[61] Both of these men would play highly-important roles in the crafting of the American Constitution. Both, however, were not free of political entanglements and machinations. Madison, in his native Virginia, was bitterly-opposed by the older Patrick Henry. Issues of church and state afflicted the Madison-Henry relationship. Henry wanted “a moderate tax or contribution annually for the support of the Christian religion or of some Christian church…or…Christian worship.”[62] As a secular thinker in the Enlightenment-Thomas Jefferson tradition, Madison was not pleased with this suggestion.

Madison would later make a compelling reason why Henry’s suggestion was to be defeated, and he was able to make use of the Virginia state constitution to help outmaneuver Henry in 1787. In the interim, Henry, knowing of Madison’s interest in revamping the Articles of Confederation, would routinely-appear on the street corners of Virginia, “talking about the ills of tampering with the Articles of Confederation.”[63] The result was that Madison made a perpetual enemy in Patrick Henry, a nemesis who would later help pit James Monroe against Madison in the not too distant future. At the same time, in New York, Alexander Hamilton had his own difficulties with the elder generation of political leaders. Governor George Clinton was adamantly opposed to any and all tampering with the Articles of Confederation.[64] To perceptive political observers of the American political scene, it seemed that the United States might die from within, due to nearsighted politicians who were determined to maintain the status quo. At this time, however, Hamilton and Madison put forward a proposal to “to examine the existing system of government[.]”[65] This was the suggestion that in 1787, would lead to the famous Constitutional Conventional in Philadelphia. George Washington, himself, was optimistic about the possibilities of this meeting. On 31 March 1787, he wrote to Madison about his suggestion.

Dear Sir:…I am glad to find that Congress [has] recommended to the States to appear in the Convention proposed to be [held] in Philadelphia in May…It is idle in my opinion to suppose that the Sovereign can be insensible to the inadequacy of the powers under which it acts…and…not recommend a revision of the [Federal] system, when it is considered by many as the only Constitutional mode by which the defects can be recommended…I am fully of opinion that those who lean to a Monarchial government, have…not consulted the public mind…I am also clear…that the period is not arrived for adopting the change without shaking the Peace of this Country to its foundation. That a thorough reform of the present system is indispensable, none…will deny, and with hand (and heart) I hope the business will be essayed in a full Convention.[66]

James Monroe, writing from Fredericksburg, Virginia, to James Madison, on 23 May 1787, two days before the formal opening of the Convention, expressed hope with guarded caution for the results of the meeting.

Dear Sir, ---…We all look with great anxiety to the result of the Convention at Phil. Indeed, it seems to be the sole point on which all future movements will turn. If it succeeds wisely & of course happily, the wishes of all good men will be gratified. The arrangement must be wise, and every way well concerted for them to force their way thro’ the States.[67]

At length, all the states except Rhode Island sent delegates to the Constitutional Convention. George Washington attended as part of the Virginia delegation, in order to assure the members that he had not lost faith in a republican, American government.[68] James Monroe, now 29 years old, a representative of the Virginia Assembly, also attended as part of the Virginia delegation. Washington arrived in Philadelphia on 14 May. Though officially retired, Cerami writes that “this man, who was generally acknowledged as the father of the new country, had become almost as controversial a figure as he was a revered icon.” James Monroe also had some views on the upcoming convention. On 27 July 1787,[69] he wrote to his former law professor, Thomas Jefferson. His letter is instructive to the historian for its references to his personal life, family, and legal profession. It is especially interesting given Monroe’s views of the person of Washington whom Monroe clearly held in high and profound esteem.

Dear Sir,--- I can scarcely venture an apology for my silence…Since I left N.Y…I was admitted to the Bar…In the course of the winter I mov’d my family to this town in [which] I have taken my residence with a view to my profession…But I consider my residence here as temporary merely to serve the purpose of the times…With the political world, I have had little to do since I left Congress…The affairs of the federal government are I believe in the utmost confusion. The convention is an expedient that will produce a decisive effect. It will either recover us from our ruin…But I trust that the presence of Gen’l Washington will have great weight in the body itself so as to overawe & keep under the demon of party & that the signature of his name…will secure its passage thro’ the union.[70]

Contrary to Monroe’s view, Washington had his detractors. The Commander of the Continental Army was suspected by western-minded Americans of “being in the pocket of the northeastern shipping interests…Others…[thought] that Washington belonged to a monarchist clique.”[71] Regardless of one’s opinion of the great man, the Convention’s first formal session opened on 25 May 1787. Discussions would go on for months, and the ratification process would take years. Finally, on 29 May 1790, the last of the states that had proven difficult in the matter of the Convention, Rhode Island, opted to ratify the U.S. Constitution.

American Voices on the U.S. Constitution

During the Convention, reaction to the Constitution was mixed, and it was the source of powerful debate and discussion. James Madison, writing in The Federalist Papers, demonstrated his enthusiasm for the new Constitution.

Among the numerous advantages promised by a well-constructed Union, none deserves to be more accurately developed than its tendency to break and control the violence of faction…The instability, injustice, and confusion introduced into the public councils, have, in truth, been the mortal diseases under which popular governments have perished…The valuable improvements made by the American constitutions on the popular models, both ancient and modern, they cannot be too much admired…It will be found, indeed,…that some of the distresses under which we labor…[are] a factious spirit [which] has tainted our public administrations.[72]

In a letter to James Madison, Thomas Jefferson also outlined his views.[73]

I like much the general idea of framing a government into Legislative, Judiciary and Executive…I am captivated by the compromise of the opposite claims of the great and little states…I am much pleased too with…the method of voting by persons, instead of…states…I will now add what I do not like. First the omission of a bill of rights providing clearly and without the aid of sophisms for freedom of religion, freedom of the press, protection against standing armies…Let me add that a bill of rights is what the people are entitled to against every government on earth, general or particular, and what no government should refuse…I own I am not a friend to a very energetic government. It is always oppressive…France with all its despotism and two or three hundred thousand men always in arms has had three insurrections in the three years I have been here…[I]t is my principle that the will of the Majority should always prevail. If they approve the proposed Convention in all its parts, I shall concur in it [cheerfully], in hopes that they will amend it whenever they shall find it [works] wrong.[74]

On 4 June, George Mason addressed the delegates. He clearly had some reservations about what was at issue: states rights vs. a central, national government. This dichotomy in American political thinking would inform the first American political parties: the Federalists and the Democratic Republicans. Mason’s words also reflect the emergence of the states rights Republicans, best represented by Thomas Jefferson and others, including; James Monroe.

Mr. Chairman, whether the Constitution be good or bad, the present clause clearly discovers that it is a national government, and no longer a Confederation[.]…The very idea of converting what was formerly a confederation to a consolidated government is totally subversive of every principle which has hitherto governed us. This power is calculated to annihilate totally the state governments…I solemnly declare that no man is a greater friend to a firm union of the American States than I am; but, sir, if this great end can be obtained without hazarding the rights of the people, why should we recur to such dangerous principles?[75]

On 5 June, Patrick Henry took the floor and expressed his unmistakably pessimistic views on the question.

I rose yesterday to ask a question which arose in my own mind…The question turns, sir, on…the expression, We, the people, instead of the states, of America. I need not take…pains to show that the principles of this system are extremely…dangerous. Is this a monarchy like England—a compact between prince and people…to secure the liberty of the latter?...Here is a resolution as radical as that which separated us from Great Britain. It is radical in this transition; our rights and principles are endangered…The Constitution is said to have beautiful features; but when I come to examine these features, sir, they appear to me horribly frightful…Your President may easily become king.[76]

For Monroe, a delegate to the Virginia convention that was pondering the ratification of the new U.S. Constitution, the original document did not prove satisfactory, in that, it did not allow for the direct election of either the President or Senators. However, it was, in part, due to Monroe’s concern for the lack of constitutional safeguards that the first ten Amendments to the Constitution (Bill of Rights) were ratified in 1791. Curiously, “Madison…was still unconvinced that there was real need for a bill of rights.”[77] Another issue, too, was the soon-to-develop political rivalry between Madison and Monroe, whose problems were exacerbated by Madison’s old enemy, Patrick Henry. Madison was elected to the House of Representatives, but not the Senate, which had been his ambition. According to Cerami, Henry sought to derail Madison by arranging “for James Monroe, Madison’s friend and a protégé of Jefferson’s, to seek the seat in the new Senate…With Monroe running for the seat that Madison had sought, both men found themselves ill at ease with each other, and their friendship briefly turned contentious.”[78] Nevertheless, in 1790, Monroe ran for Congress against James Madison. He did not succeed. However, the Virginia State Legislature appointed him to the U.S. Senate, where he became an ally of both Thomas Jefferson, his legal mentor, and his one-time political rival, James Madison. As a consequence, he supported the states rights faction of Jefferson’s Republicans against the national government disciples such as Alexander Hamilton, Secretary of the Treasury and Vice President John Adams, and, ultimately, George Washington, himself. Political differences aside, George Washington sent his former teenaged lieutenant to Paris in 1794 as U.S. Minister to France. The experience, however, was not to be a good one.[79] To explain that experience, however, some background is necessary.

James Monroe in Paris—Diplomatic Activities

The liberation of the thirteen colonies, transforming them into the United States of America, was a task of no small dimension. The success of this mission, however, “resulted from the unstinting efforts of men such as George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Adams. Washington’s enormous prestige gave the Republic a legitimacy…when in 1797, he voluntarily surrendered the presidency.”[80] In the aftermath of the Revolution, George Washington sought to move the nation into the realm of international affairs. This was easier said than done owing to the fiery state of affairs between the European nations. Revolution gripped the French nation with its attendant terrors. War had also erupted between France and England.

According to Kenneth J. Hagan,[81] Washington issued a proclamation of neutrality on 22 April 1793, relative to the war in Europe, in the hopes that America would not be drawn into this conflict. Secretary of State, Thomas Jefferson, however, did not agree with Washington’s goal of neutrality and non-involvement. Clearly, Jefferson was not neutral, for he sought to preserve the Franco-American alliance of 1778. Nevertheless, problems developed almost immediately between France and the Washington Administration. The Revolutionary government of France’s representative to the United States, Citizen Edmond Charles Genet, angered Washington by “outfitting fourteen French privateers in American ports.”[82] Exasperated with Genet and concerned that the French’ diplomat’s actions might antagonize the British and threaten the neutrality proclamation, Washington demanded that Paris recall Genet.

An examination of Washington’s official correspondence between 11 July 1793, and 20 January 1794, reveal his growing agitation over Genet and the trouble he posed for the United States through the arming of ships bound for combat with Great Britain. One of these vessels was the Little Sarah. And on 11 July 1793, Washington addressed his concerns in a letter to the Secretary of State:

Sir:…What is to be done in the case of the Little Sarah now at Chester? Is the Minister of the French Republic to set the Acts of this Government at defiance, with impunity? And then threaten the Executive with an appeal to the People. What must the world think of such conduct and the Government of the United States in submitting to it? These are serious questions. Circumstances press for decision and…I wish to know your opinion upon them, even before tomorrow for the vessel may be gone.[83]

The escalating concern of the President was described in a subsequent letter he wrote to the Secretary of State on 31 July 1793:

Dear Sir:…[U]ntil a decision is had on the conduct of the Minister of the French Republic…[i]t is my wish, under these circumstances to enter upon the consideration of the Letters of that Minister tomorrow at Nine o’Clock. I therefore desire you will be here at that hour and bring with you all his letters, your answers, and all such papers as are connected therewith. As the consideration of this business may require some time, I should be glad if you and other gentlemen would take a family dinner with me at four o’Clock. No other company…will be invited. I am &c.[84]

On 19 August 1793, Washington began to involve the members of the Cabinet in what clearly was becoming a major diplomatic problem for his administration.

Sir:…I send for the opinion of the Heads of Departments and the attorney General…respecting the privateer Citizen Genet together with copies of two letters from the French Consul to the Governor…and a Report of two persons who had examined the Aforesaid Privateer by the Governor’s orders. The Gentleman will decide…respecting the unfitness of the said Privateer to proceed to sea.[85]

As the year, 1793, drew to a close, Washington’s government had not yet resolved the problem of Genet and his militant behavior. On 5 December 1793, the President wrote to both houses of Congress on the matter:

As the present situation of…several nations of Europe…with which the U.S. have important relations,…I have thought it my duty to communicate to them certain correspondences which have taken place…It is with extreme concern I have to inform you that…the person whom [the French] have unfortunately appointed their Minister plenipotentiary, here, [has] breathed nothing of the friendly spirit of the nation which sent him; their tendency on the contrary has been to involve us in War abroad, and discord and anarchy at home. So far…his acts, or those of his agents, have threatened our immediate commitment in the war…In the meantime, I have respected and pursued the stipulations of our treaties according to what I have judged their true sense…The papers now communicated will…apprize you of these transactions.[86]

Eight days into a new year, 1794, Washington wrote about the Genet Affair to the Vice President:

Dear Sir…I am now deliberating on the measure proper and necessary to be taken with respect to Mr. G…t and wish for aid in so doing. The critical State of Things [is] making me more than usually anxious to decide right in the present case. None but the heads of Departments are privy to these papers, which I pray may be returned this evening, or in the morning. With very sincere esteem &c.[87]

At length, there was a resolution in the case when France recalled Genet. On 20 January 1794, Washington wrote again to the both houses of Congress, the Senate and House of Representatives:

Gentlemen: Having already laid before you a letter of 16 August 1793 from the Secretary of State to our Minister at Paris,…urging the recall of the Minister plenipotentiary of the Republic of France. I now communicate to you that his conduct has been unequivocally disapproved; and that the strongest assurances have been given that his recall should be expedited without delay.[88]

Nevertheless, the conclusion of one crisis did not resolve Washington’s concerns about Great Britain. And in messages he sent to the Congress in early December 1793, the President reiterated his position that the proclamation of neutrality was directed toward European powers, primarily, Great Britain! Though Washington hoped to avoid having America drawn into European affairs, it was decided that the United States was in need of a naval force to protect its integrity and its interests. Therefore, on “2 January 1794 Congress met to consider a resolution to provide ‘a naval force, adequate to the protection of the commerce of the United States[.]”[89] A bill was sent to Congress to consider the issue. In the interim, a new secretary of state, Edmund Randolph of Virginia was selected.

As the debate over the navy bill reached a climax,…the new secretary of state, Edmund Randolph…found several of the European belligerents—Britain, Spain, and Holland—reprehensible for seizing American merchantmen trafficking with French ports in the West Indies. He also enumerated complaints against France for interfering with the American merchant marine. But his most serious and extensive allegations fell upon the British, whose practice of maritime warfare violated all the rights of neutrals as the United States understood them.[90]  Randolph’s report arrived in Congress on 5 March 1794.

In the aftermath, the construction or purchase of four 44 gun frigates and two 36-gun ships was authorized.[91] In late 1793 and early 1794, however, it was learned that Britain had seized more than 250 American merchantmen trading in the French Indies.[92] Enraged, the House of Representatives, on 25 March, two days prior to Washington’s signing of the naval act, authorized a thirty day embargo on all American exports to Great Britain. In the midst of this, Alexander Hamilton, Secretary of the Treasury, fearing the results of economic warfare upon the United States, advocated the appointment of John Jay, as a special envoy to Great Britain. Jay’s mission was to negotiate “a treaty of amity and commerce[,]” with England. However, as Hagan points out, “Hamilton’s Anglophilic instructions placed only two limits on Jay’s discretion: The Franco-American alliance of 1778 could not be directly contravened, and the British West Indies must be opened to American trade.”[93]

The result was the Jay Treaty of November 1794. “Jay did not succeed in every respect, but he brought home a treaty…that ameliorated some of the Anglo-American grievances.”[94] There was, nevertheless, a great uproar in American and abroad in ‘Spain over the details of the treaty.[95] And it was in the middle of these events that James Monroe was sent to Paris as the American minister to France by Edmund Randolph, at the direction of George Washington. On 1 June 1794, Monroe wrote directly to George Washington regarding his appointment as ambassador to France.

I was presented yesterday by Mr. Randolph with the commission of Minister for the French Republic which you were pleased …to confer upon me…I have only now to request that you will consider me as ready to embark in the discharge of its duties as soon as…suitable passage can be secured for myself & my family to that country…Be assured however it will give me the highest gratification…to promote by mission the interest of my country & the honor & credit of your administration which I deem inseparably connected with it.[96]

Monroe in Paris

Like his mentor, Jefferson, Monroe was more disposed towards the French than the British. He believed in the Franco-American Alliance of 1778, and he wished to preserve good relations between France and America. Edmund Randolph directed Monroe to strengthen ties between France and the United States. Commissioned on 28 May 1794, Monroe and his family arrived in Paris on 18 June 1794. Unaware of events between the United States and England, he was somewhat surprised to find that the French were upset at the United States’ backing of the Jay Treaty when he arrived in France. Not only were the French angry at the United States, they refused to recognize Monroe or his diplomatic mission, which Robespierre and the Revolutionary leadership saw as treachery. Interestingly, Robespierre was executed by the French government five days after Monroe arrived.

Monroe would later write about his time in France: “Upon my arrival in Paris, which was on the 2nd of August, 1794, I found that the work of alienation and disunion had been carried further than I had before even suspected.”[97] On 13 August 1794, Monroe requested the opportunity to address the French government. The request was granted, and his speech before the French government was well-received. In his address, Monroe praised the French. He declared that the United States would be a loyal ally to France, willing to support the French cause, hypothetically, in some future conflict. All the while, Monroe avoided references to the French Revolution, whose terrorist excesses were not popular in the United States.

Garraty and Gay wrote that Alexander Hamilton, in particular, would later press for open and declared warfare against France: “’None can deny that the cause of France has been stained by excesses and extravagances for which it is not easy, if possible, to find a parallel in the history of human affairs, and from which reason and humanity recoil.’”[98] Hamilton’s views aside, the French declared Monroe, Minister Plenipotentiary of the U.S., after his remarks, and the American flag was returned to the Assembly Hall. Not long afterward, Washington, having no news of Monroe or his progress in France, wrote, on 31 October 1794, to the Secretary of the Treasury.

Dear Sir:…Nothing important or new has been lately received from our Ministers…Nor does the fate of Robespierre seem to have been given more than a momentary stagnation to…[French] affairs. The Armies rejoice at it, and the people are congratulating one another on the occasion…Mr. Monroe is arrived in France and has had his reception in the midst of the Convention, at Paris, but no letter has been received from him.[99]

On 8 June 1795, George Washington would write to the Senate regarding the Treaty negotiated by John Jay:

Gentlemen of the Senate: In pursuance of my nomination of John Jay, as Envoy Extraordinary to his Britannic majesty on the 16 day April 1794, and of the advice and consent of the Senate thereto on the 19th, a negotiation was opened in London. On the 7 of March 1795, the treaty resulting, therefore, was delivered to the Secrey. of State. I now transmit to the Senate that treaty, and other documents connected with it. They will therefore in their wisdom decide whether they will advise and consent that the said treaty be made between the United States and his Britannic majesty.[100]

Notwithstanding the Jay Treaty, Monroe attempted to woo the French into good relations with America in ways that contravened Washington’s wishes. As a result, Monroe, whose diplomatic mission was never properly explained to him by Randolph or anyone else, angered his own country’s political leadership. James Madison wrote to Monroe advising him that his speech to the French had angered the American Federalist Party. In fact, during his tenure as minister to France, Monroe managed to say and do many things that his countrymen didn’t like, probably due to a breakdown in communication and the lengthy time it took for instructions to go back and forth across the Atlantic. Though he continued to operate in good faith and in ways that he believed were in America’s best interests, the results were that Madison sent constant rebukes to Monroe from the United States. Then, on 4 July 1794, of all days, a dinner was held for Americans in Paris. Monroe offered a toast at the reception, but he failed to toast President Washington, an unforgivable sin, particularly at the hands of a diplomat. Thus, the event was marred by controversy and bad feeling, particularly, in light of the violence and fist-fights that broke out in the room after President Washington, appeared to have been insulted by Monroe’s oversight.

By 1796, support for Monroe as minister to France had begun to erode, and Washington had begun to grow disenchanted with his service; he would eventually order Monroe recalled. On 8 July 1796, Washington said as much to his Secretary of State:

Sir:…I have determined to recall the American Minister at Paris, and am taking measures to supply his place, but the more the latter is resolved, the greater the difficulties appear, to do it ably and unexceptionably. By this, I mean one who promote, not thwart the neutral policy of the Government, and at the same time will not be obnoxious to the people among whom he is sent…The transmitted copy of Mr. Monroe’s letter…must be erroneously dated ‘Paris, June 24, 1796…[101]

Washington’s correspondence to the Secretary of State on 27 July 1796, from Mt. Vernon, continues to illustrate his dissatisfaction with Monroe:

Dear Sir: Your private letter of the 21st instant has been received. Mr. Monroe in every letter he writes, relative to the discontents of the French government at the conduct of our own, always concludes without finishing his story, leaving great scope to the imagination to divine what the ulterior measures of it will be. There are some things in his correspondence…which I am unable to reconcile. In…[the] letter of the 25th of March…he related his demand of an audience of the French Directory, and his having had it, but that the conference which was promised him with the Minister of Foreign Affairs had not taken place[.]…If these recitals are founded in fact, they form an enigma which requires explanation.[102]

Charles Pinckney was directed to replace Monroe, and he was sent to France, though the French refused to recognize Pinckney or his mission. On 10 August 1796, Washington again wrote to his Secretary of State on the matter of Pinckney and Monroe:

Sir: I have received and pray you to accept my thanks for Pinckney. It becomes necessary now to prepare instructions for him without delay, to bring him fully and perfectly acquainted with the conduct and policy of this government towards France &c. and the motives which have induced the [recall] of Mr. Monroe…It will be candid, proper and necessary to apprize Mr. Monroe…of his [recall]; and in proper terms, of the motives which have impelled it.[103]

Pinckney, according to Hagan, “had been threatened with arrest and then expelled by the French.”[104] On 16 May 1797, a new American President, John Adams, enraged at the French’s treatment of Pinckney, addressed the Congress on this issue:

The United States must take measures to “’convince France and the world that we are not a degraded people, humiliated under a colonial spirit of fear and sense of inferiority.’…[Adams] would designate a nonpartisan commission to negotiate all outstanding grievances with France.”[105]

Hagan writes that subsequent to the ratification of the Jay Treaty, “France was now the villain. Relations between the revolutionary allies had deteriorated catastrophically…The Anglo-American rapprochement…was widely regarded in France as incompatible with the alliance of 1778.”[106] Even more dramatically, the French now waged war with warships and privateers upon American merchantmen in the West Indies, managing to take three hundred American vessels in a year’s time. This was the so-called, undeclared Quasi War; the first battle between France and the United States in this war took place on July 1798, when the Delaware captured the Croyable.

The war would end by 1800; the last battle was between the frigate, Boston which captured the LeBerceau. The conflict was ended by the negotiating work of the Convention of 1800. Before the Quasi War erupted, however, in December, 1796, Monroe would bid farewell to the French, and in the process he managed to harshly criticize George Washington in the process. Thus, Monroe returned home, a diplomatic failure and alienated from a good many Americans, not the least of which was the President of the United States. It could have been the end of his public service. Fortunately, for both Monroe and America, it was not.

Monroe Ascendant

Monroe returned to the United States after his frustrating experience in France and with the Federalists in the United States. In December 1797, he privately published a document of 500 pages, in which he described his views of his diplomacy and the Chief Executive, based upon his experience in France. Washington was aware of the document, and he wrote to the Secretary of State on 31 August 1797, from Mt. Vernon before he left office seeking more information about it:

Dear Sir: The last mail brought me your favour of the 24th instant, covering a letter from General Kosciuszko…Not knowing where Gen'l Kosciuszko may be I pray…his movements will be known to you…

With great esteem, etc.

P.S.: Hearing that Mr. Monroe’s production is into Press, I wd. Thank you for a copy so soon.[107]

The work, printed in Philadelphia, by Benjamin Franklin Bache (1769-1798), A View of the Conduct of the Executive in the Foreign Affairs of the United States, was critical of the President and his policies, and it had the effect of thoroughly alienating George Washington from Monroe for all time. Washington had written to the Secretary of State on 12 January 1798, subsequent to the publication of Monroe’s document requesting a copy.

Dear Sir:…Allow me…to ask the favor of you to send me Colo. Monroe’s and Mr. Fauchet’s Pamphlets…I send two of the Bank of Columbia to pay for the Pamphlets. Yours always.[108]

In his criticism of the American government’s behavior toward France during his tenure as the minister to France, Monroe wrote: “In the month of May, 1794, I was invited by the President of the United States through the Secretary of State to accept the office of minister plenipotentiary to the French Republic. ”[109]

Monroe also wrote of the differences in the viewpoint between himself and the government. “It had been too my fortune in the course of my service to differ from the administration upon many of our most important public measures.”[110] Monroe then goes on to explain his understanding of the mission to France:

My instructions enjoined it on me to…inspire the French government with perfect confidence in the solicitude, which the president felt for the success of the French revolution; of his own preference for France to all other nations as the friend and ally of the United States; of the greatest sense which we still retained for the important services that were rendered us by France in the course of our revolution[.] [111]

Monroe, however, was mistaken. Or worse, he was substituting his own view of what American foreign policy should be. As noted above, the issue which confronted Monroe was the emerging foreign policy in the Washington Administration that was clearly moving to favor relations with Great Britain. In his commentary on this period of American history, Richard Hofstadter[112] offers that American economic interests could not be detached from the affairs of Europe. In 1793, the wars in Europe were a stark reminder of how problematic the affairs of Europe could be for a young America. Moreover, the treaty of 1778 between France and the United States was a diplomatic reality that America could not lightly ignore. Moreover, the Revolution would likely have been greatly prolonged or unsuccessful without the timely intervention of Louis XIV and his military. The treaty and America’s reaction to it would help delineate the differences between America’s early political parties: Federalists and Democratic-Republicans. According to Hofstadter, “The entire Federalist system, as Hamilton had designed it, depended upon the trade with Britain from which governmental revenues were derived.”[113] For Hamilton, the very notions of authority and order were embodied in Great Britain as a land and as a people.

This was the opposite view of the Democratic-Republicans, the Jeffersonians. “[T]o the Jeffersonians, Britain represented monarchy, oppressive authority, and arbitrary taxation, and they still tended to harbor the resentments of the Revolutionary War. France, on the contrary, seemed to them to be fighting for the rights of man for which they had themselves fought so short a time ago.”[114] Thus, when war erupted in Europe in 1793, Washington received contradictory advice from both Alexander Hamilton (Federalist) and Thomas Jefferson (Republican).

Hamilton urged the abrogation of the Franco-American Treaty of 1778, in that, the treaty had been negotiated with Louis XIV, and not the French Republicans, whom Hamilton held in contempt for their violence and political excesses. He urged Washington to issue a proclamation of neutrality. Jefferson took the opposite view with some modifications. He urged Washington to abide by the terms of the treaty. Conversely, he was not pleased with the Revolutionary government’s failure to aid America in getting rid of the British garrisons still present on American soil. Thus, the United States had no military obligation to France in his view. With respect to Britain, Jefferson urged the withholding a proclamation of neutrality until some concessions and compensation had been garnered from England.[115] Washington opted to compromise with both men: he followed Hamilton by proclaiming neutrality, and simultaneously did not attempt to obtain any promises from England. Following Jefferson, Washington would not repudiate the Franco-American Treaty. As noted above, he had even received the French ambassador, Genet, at Jefferson’s urging, a situation the President, as noted above, would come to regret.[116]

On 12 April 1793, Washington wrote to the Secretary of State in the matter of war between France and England:

Dear Sir: War having actually commenced between France and Great Britain, it behoves the Government of this Country to use every means in its power to prevent the citizens…from embroiling us with either of those powers, by endeavouring to maintain strict neutrality. I therefore require that you will give the subject mature consideration…for I have understood that vessels are already designated privateers, and are preparing accordingly.[117]

It was into this difficult political and diplomatic stew, Washington sent John Jay to England “to arrange a settlement of these differences[.]”[118] Again, it was on 22 April 1793, as noted above, that Washington issued a Proclamation of Neutrality to the people of the United States:


Whereas it appears that a state of war exists between Austria, Prussia, Sardinia, Great Britain, and the United Netherlands, on the one part, and France on the other, and the duty and interest of the United States require…a conduct friendly and impartial toward the belligerent powers.[119]

John Jay, thus, went to England where it was hoped a resolution of American and British diplomatic problems might be resolved. They were not, and as this paper has pointed out, the Treaty caused something of an uproar in the United States and France, where Monroe was put at a distinct disadvantage in his ministerial tasks with the French. Briefly, Jay’s Treaty with the British contained an agreement by the English to quit their garrisons on the western frontier. Regarding other issues of importance to Americans, there was no resolution on the issues of Britain’s impressment of American seamen from American ships. The question of British influence amongst Native Americans, the issue of compensation for slaves who were kidnapped during the American Revolution, and others, were left unresolved.[120]

James Monroe in France was particularly troubled, as were the French, by the Treaty’s willingness to allow the British to confiscate cargo bound for France from American ships, provided the British rendered monetary compensation for the material that was confiscated. According to Hofstadter: “Not only did this violate the spirit of the Treaty of 1778, but because of American acceptance of other British violations of neutrality, it made the French feel that the United States had entered, however, reluctantly, into alliance with France’s enemies.”[121] On 26 May 1795, Thomas Jefferson responded to a letter from James Monroe, dated 7 September 1794.

Dear Sir,--

I have received your favor of Sep. 7 from Paris, which gave us the only news we have had from you since your arrival there…Our comfort is that the public sense is coming right on the general principles of republicanism & that its success in France put it out of danger here. We are still uninformed what is Mr. Jay’s treaty; but we see that the British piracies have multiplied upon us lately more than ever.[122]

George Washington, himself, had some reservations about the Treaty, but he was willing to live with them. His willingness to compromise in light of his ambivalence was made clear in two letters. On 13 July 1795, he wrote to Alexander Hamilton regarding specific aspects of the Treaty.

My dear Sir: I have…your letters of the 9th, accompanying your observations on the several articles of the Treaty with Great Britain…The most obnoxious article (the 12th) being suspended by the Senate, there is no occasion to express any sentiment thereon. I wish, however, it had appeared in a different form…I asked, or intended to ask in my letter of the 3rd, whether you conceived (admitting the suspension of the 12th Article should to by the B. Government) there would be a necessity for the treaty going before the Senate again for their advice and consent? This question takes its birth from a declaration of the minority of that body, to that effect. With much truth and sincerity &c.[123]

In a second letter, dated 22 July 1795, Washington wrote to the Secretary of State:

Dear Sir:…My opinion respecting the treaty is the same now that it was: namely, not favorable to it, but it is better to ratify it in the manner the Senate have advised…than to suffer matters to remain as they are, unsettled.[124]

Robert B. Livingston, who headed up the Department of Foreign Affairs was firmly opposed to the Jay Treaty. Using the pen name, Cato, Livingston, in 1795, wrote a document, Examination of the Treaty of Amity, Commerce and Navigation between the United States and Great Britain. [125] Livingston, who would later be appointed Minister to France, wasted no time in firing a salvo at the treaty in defense of the French: “Britain, on the day of the signature of the treaty, was involved in a war with the bravest people in Europe.”[126] Livingston was not impressed with the British performance relative to their departure from the western posts, which they had agreed to do on 1 June 1796, as his writings make clear:

By June, 1796, it is not improbable that our situation, or that of Britain, may be changed; what security shall we then have for the performance of the treaty?... It is evident, before Mr. Jay left this country, that the British were so far from intending to evacuate the posts, that they had determined to extend their limits; this may not only be inferred from the encouragement they gave to the depredations of the Indians, but undeniably proved by Lord Dorchester’s speech…Surely, then the evacuation should have been insisted upon, while these circumstances operated with full force…Those who think with me, that decision of the part of our government, and firmness in our minister, could not have failed to effect an immediate restitution of our territory, will know of what account to charge this heavy loss of blood and treasure.[127]

Conversely, Alexander Hamilton, a supporter of the treaty, came to its defense. Using the name, Camillus, Hamilton wrote two letters expressing his positive views of Jay’s treaty.

In “Letter One,” dated 1795, Hamilton wrote: “It was to have been foreseen, that the treaty which Mr. Jay was charged to negotiate with Great Britain, whenever it should appear, would have to contend with many perverse dispositions and some honest prejudices…For this, many reasons may be assigned.”[128]

Hamilton acknowledged that many Americans still harbored lingering resentment at Great Britain for the circumstances of the Revolution. He also acknowledged that “an enthusiasm for France and her revolution…has continued to possess the minds of the great body of the people of this country[.]”[129] Hamilton listed eleven points in support of the treaty. He pointed out: “To every man who is not an enemy to the national government, who is not a prejudiced partisan, who in capable of comprehending the argument…I flatter myself I shall be able to demonstrate satisfactorily[.]” Hamilton’s self-confidence, notwithstanding, most Americans were neither mollified nor convinced that the treaty made any sense. And the response was one of near-violence. Americans took to the streets to demonstrate their displeasure; John Jay was hung in effigy. Little could be found in the treaty that worked for the United States. Yet, for the enemies of Jay and his treaty, there was one ray of political light: through its successful negotiation, war was avoided with Great Britain. Yet, it was Livingston’s words that summarized the American mood of this period:

Would to God, my fellow citizens, I could here find some source of consolation, some ray of light, to eradicate the sullen gloom!—But alas! Every step we take plunges us into thicker darkness…Even the coward advocates for peace…which this treaty imposes. And for what? Are we nearer peace…than when Mr. Jay left this country? And yet the advocates for the treaty are continually ringing in our ears, the blessings of peace, the horrors of war; and they have the effrontery to assure us, that we enjoy the first and have escaped the last, merely…through the instrumentality of the treaty…In a political view, the treaty is bad…and…like fawning spaniels, we can be beaten into love and submission.[131]

On 21 March 1796, an apprehensive Thomas Jefferson wrote to James Monroe from his Monticello residence about the political prospects of the treaty.

The British treaty has been formally laid before Congress. All America is a tip-toe to see what the H. of Representatives will decide on it…On the precedent now to be set will depend the future construction of our constitution and whether the powers of legislation shall be transferred from the…Senate & H. of R. to the…Senate & Piaringo or any other Indian, Algerine, or other chief. It is fortunate that the first decision is to be in case so palpably atrocious as to have been predetermined by all America…My friendly respects to Mrs. Monroe. Adieu. Affectionately.[132]

In the end, the Federalists won the political battle represented by Jay and his treaty. Yet, the House of Representatives would attempt to withhold the necessary appropriations that were financially necessary to implement the treaty.[133] Again the Federalists won the day, but given the general agitation in the country the “reactions to the Jay Treaty dispute…conjured up a witches’ brew that unnerved the victorious Federalists, even as it deepened the hostility of the defeated Republicans.” On 2 May 1797, Thomas Jefferson wrote a letter to a New York newspaper, Minerva, where he fairly expressed his great displeasure with the Federalists

“Equally ungrateful and impolitic, the Congress hastens to encourage the English…in…their war of extermination against France…They sent to London a minister, Mr. Jay, known by his attachment to England, and his personal relations to Lord Grenville, and he concluded suddenly a treaty of Commerce which united them with Great Britain, more than a treaty of alliance…Such a treaty…is an act of hostility against France. The French government…has testified the resentment of the French nation, by breaking off communication with an ungrateful and faithless all…Justice and sound policy equally approve this measure of the French government. There is no doubt it will give rise in the United States, to discussions which may afford, a triumph to the party of good republicans, the friends of France. [135]

Predictably, the atmosphere produced by the ratification of the Jay Treaty led to considerable tension between the Washington administration and the Jeffersonian Republicans.

And partly as “an effort to turn the tables upon those political opponents who were making his final presidential days miserable[,]”[136] Washington, approaching the end of his second term, would deliver his famous Farewell Address. In part, Washington’s Farewell Address represents a collaboration between the President and Alexander Hamilton with the goal of “undermining what vestiges remained of the French Alliance.”[137]

Washington’s Farewell Address, 17 September 1796

The Farewell Address of Washington to the nation was not delivered in a speech or oral address by Washington, but, rather, was published in newspapers. There, the first President upheld the idea that to “the efficacy and permanency of your union a government for the whole is indispensable[.]”[138] In the capstone statement of his public life, Washington words indicated his profound belief in validity of the American Constitution for Americans. He accorded it a central role in the political and legal lives of his fellow citizens.

The basis of our political systems is the right of the people to make and to alter their constitutions of government. But the constitution which at any time exists till changed by an explicit and authentic act of the whole people is sacredly obligatory upon all. The very idea of the power and right of the people to establish government presupposes the duty of every individual to obey the established government.[139]

Washington also counseled against the “danger of parties in the State, with particular reference to the founding of them on geographical discriminations.”[140]

In contemplating the causes which may disturb our union it occurs as matter of serious concern that any ground should have been furnished for characterizing parties by geographical discriminations—Northern and Southern, Atlantic and Western —whence designing men may endeavor to excite a belief that there is a real difference of local interests and views…You can not shield yourselves too much against the jealousies and heartburnings which spring from these misrepresentations: they tend to render alien to each those who ought to be bound together by fraternal affection[.] [141]

In a paternal manner, too, Washington enjoined Americans to observe “good faith and justice toward all nations. Cultivate peace and harmony with all. Religion and morality enjoin this conduct.”[142] But towards the end of his Address, Washington came to the heart of the matter at hand, that is, the issues that had rocked America after the Jay Treaty had been ratified. Amongst them: a predilection on the part of American citizens and political parties towards relations and the formation of alliances toward one country or another.

So, likewise, a passionate attachment of one nation for another produces a variety of evils. Sympathy for the favorite nation, facilitating the illusion of an imaginary common interest in cases where no real common interest exists, and infusing into one the enmities of the other, betrays the former into a participation in the quarrels and wars of the latter without adequate…justification.[143]

Washington was concerned for America in its international behavior. His Farewell Address, a cautionary tale that preaches a suspiciousness of relations with Europe, is reminiscent of what a later generation would call isolationist. In affairs of commerce, Washington’s vision of American foreign policy and foreign relations requires vigilance in European-American trade.

Against the insidious wiles of foreign influence…the jealousy of free people ought to be constantly awake…The great rule of conduct for us in regard to foreign nations is, in extending our commercial relations to have with them as little political connection as possible. So far as we have already formed engagements let them be fulfilled with perfect good faith. Here let us stop.[144]

However, in the area of politics and relations with Europe, Washington was even more extreme.

It is our true policy to steer clear of permanent alliances with any portion of the foreign world, so far, I mean, as we are now at liberty to do it; for let me not be understood as capable of patronizing infidelity to existing engagements…Taking care always to keep ourselves by suitable establishments on a respectable defensive posture, we may safely trust to temporary alliances for extraordinary emergencies.[145]

Thus, for Washington, there could be “no greater error than to expect…real favors from nation to nation. It is an illusion which experience must cure, which a just pride to discard.”[146] Two months before the Farewell Address was published, Washington, already retired from public life, wrote in response to a communication from a British aristocrat, William Pleydell-Bouverie, the third Earl of Radnor. Here, in a letter to a former enemy, is an equally-fitting, perhaps, though smaller, farewell from public life.

My Lord: The sentiments which your Lordship has been pleased to express…[on] my public conduct, do me great honour; and I pray you to accept my grateful acknowledgements…for having performed duties, …I claim no merit; but no man can feel more sensibly the reward of approbation for such services than I do…[T]he thanks of one’s country, and the esteem of good men, is the highest gratification my mind is susceptible of…I am now placed in the shade of my Vine and fig tree, and at the age of Sixty-five, am recommencing my Agricultural and Rural pursuits, which were always more congenial to my temper…than the noise and bustle of public employment…I reciprocate with great cordiality the good wishes you have been pleased to bestow upon me; and pray devoutly…[for] the return of Peace; for a more bloody, expensive, and eventful War, is not recorded in modern, if it be found in modern history. I have the honor, etc.[147]

George Washington died on 14 December 1799. He was never reconciled to James Monroe nor Monroe to him. Yet, there is evidence that in his later years Monroe in his own heart and mind would come to some degree of peaceful coexistence with not only George Washington, but John Jay, too.

In the year of Washington’s death, Monroe, who held no public office for three years since his return from France in 1796, was elected Governor of Virginia. He would serve as Chief Executive of his native state for three years, till 1802. In 1803, he would return to France at the behest of President Thomas Jefferson, and he would serve in public life, including two terms as President, from 4 March 1817 to 3 March 1825. He would survive another six years till his own death on 4 July 1831, the culmination of a life of almost continuous service to the United States from the age of eighteen. In what he achieved, and, perhaps, in what he attempted but failed to achieve, always a matter of historical interpretation, James Monroe, warfighter, lawyer, politician, diplomat—President of the United States, the last of the cocked hats and the Virginia Dynasty, attained, undeniably, to the status of quintessential American. His gift is one of perpetual loyalty to an idea called America, a grand and patriotic devotion to a land and her people.

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Show Notes

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© 2024 Steven Ippolito

Written by Steven Christopher Ippolito, Ph.D.

About the author:
Dr. Steven Christopher Ippolito, Ph.D., who spent most of his life in Manhattan and the Bronx, New York (Go Yankees!) is a retired law enforcement officer for the State of New York with nearly twenty years experience. A full-time professor of Criminal Justice and Homeland Security at Monroe College, New York City, Steve has two Masters Degrees, one from New York University; the other, from Norwich University, VT., in the very first Military History class of 2007. In August 2017, he earned his Ph.D. from Northcentral University, from the School of Business Administration and Technology, with a specialization in Homeland Security, under Committee Chair, Kimberly Anthony, Ph.D, and Committee member, Meena Clowes, Ph.D. His dissertation was based on mixed-methodological research into the phenomenon of convergence, the intersection of crime, terrorism, war, and other forms of conflict (the crime-terror nexus; crime-terror pipeline), as both a homeland security and educational problem. All his professional research is dedicated to God, Country, and Family, including the wider family of students and academic colleagues. To all of these, and to all first responders, police, fire-fighters, military personnel, emergency medical personnel, homeland security and emergency management operatives, Steve sends best wishes. May God bless America, now and forever!

* Views expressed by contributors are their own and do not necessarily represent those of MilitaryHistoryOnline.com.

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