George Washington Papers

To George Washington from James Monroe, 19 November 1794

From James Monroe

Paris Novr 19. 1794.

Dear Sir

I had the pleasure some weeks past to receive your favor of the 25. of June and should have answered it sooner, had any safe private opportunity offered for Bordeaux from whence vessels most frequently sail for America. I called the evening after its receit on Mr Morris, & put your letter for him into his hands so that he recd it unopened.1 He left this about the beginng of octr for Switzerland, from whence I understood he would probably proceed to Engld. His first intention was to have sailed from Havre to America, but this was afterwards declined and the latter rout preferred. As there was some delay in obtaining his passport & which gave him displeasure, and as I disliked from motives of delicacy to him to mention it in an official dispatch I take the liberty to communicate it to you. some weeks after my arrival, he intimated to me, that as it would take some time to pack up his baggage and he should in the interim be idle, he wished me to procure for him a passport from the Committee for the seat of John James Rosseau in Switzerland where he wod stay that time & return to take his departure. I did so. It was in reply suggested to me that he might chuse his rout to leave France, but that they did not like to permit him to go into Switzerland, where the emigrants (his connections) were, & return back into the republick: that indeed they were surprized he had made such a request. I was asked would I take the measure on myself; and in case any censure attended it, be responsible to the publick opinion? To this I replied that I had shewn Mr Morris my letter submitting it to the Committee, and that it would be more agreeable to him as well as myself it should proceed from them.2 Thus the matter rested for sometime; finally as Mr Morris pressed for a passport and complained much of the delay,3 and which I knew proceeded solely from an objection to his return, a circumstance I did not wish to mention to him, I found it indispensably necessary to send Mr Skipwith4 explicitly to ask whether he was anxious upon that point—He had suspected this difficulty before and immediately agreed to abandon the idea. The form of the passport then became a question. It was notified to him that if he would take one from me, visited by the Commissary of foreign affrs, what depended on them shod be performed immediately. But he wished one from the Committee or the govt independantly of me, the latter being the ordinary mode in the case of private citizens, merchants & others travelling thro France. I was of opinion this shod be granted him & said so to the Commissary; I was equally so that the other mode shod have been quietly accepted by him or in other words that neither party should have made an object of the mode. I think it was Mr Morris’s expectation I should demand a passport in the form desired by him & risque whatever consequences might result from it; he did not ask this of me but it was to be inferred from what I heard him say on the subject. I was however resolved to embark on no such discussion and especially upon a point so unimportant in itself: the passport was of course granted by me & certified by the Commissary in the usual course and under whose protection he has safely passed beyond the bounds of the republick. I do not know that this incident will ever reach you thro’ any other channel, but as it possibly may I have tho⟨t⟩ proper to state it to you correctly & according to my own knowledge.

The successes of this republick have been most astonishingly great in every quarter. In my letters to the Secry of State I have detailed the many victories gained and posts taken up to the 7th of this month: since which Mæstricht has fallen with abt 300 cannon & 8. or 10.000 troops:5 for a considerable time past the combin’d powers have been able only to retard the progress of the French by defending posts for ever since the battle of Fleury they have avoided, except when not to be avoided, a general action.6 and every post wh. the French have sat down before has yielded sooner than was expected. At present there appears to be nothing to impede their march to Amsterdam if they incline & of which there can be no doubt. Tis said the Prince of Orange7 has requested of the States General to overflow the country, & which is opposed & will probably be rejected. If the people rise & change the govt they will be treated with as a free people, and I am inclined to think no treaty will otherwise be made with them. In Spain their success has been equally great: great part of that country has been overrun and in truth it appears to me to be within their power even to march to Madrid if it was their wish. Tis said that a treaty has already been made with Prussia, but this I do not credit, not because it is not obtainable for I am convinc’d it is, but because I do not think the Committee wod form a treaty without some hint of it to the Convention, & indeed their approbation. Spain and Austria both want peace & will I doubt not soon make one: and that Engld likewise wants it there can be no doubt. In short it appears to me unquestionable that France can command a peace from every power & upon her own terms. Engld alone can at present hesitate or talk of terms, and this she is enabled to do only by her fleet which may secure her from invasion: but I am inclined to think a storm is gathering over her more dangerous than any she has yet known: for I have reason to believe that Denmark and Sweden are ready to fall on her, and that Spain will be compelled to purchase her peace with France by uniting in a similar operation. a curious incident relative to this latter power has lately come to my knowledge, and which from the delicacy of the subject I shall put in cypher to the Secry of State,8 by wh. you will perceive how critically we are circumstanced in respect to that power, if she shod close with France upon terms of neutrality, being at liberty to unite with England in case of such an event in hostility against us.

Every consideration of expedience invites us in my judgment to a close union with our ally: and believe me I have done all in my power to promote this object. But I have had to contend with many difficulties of a serious nature & which still embarrass me to a certain degree. These I cannot hazard otherwise than in cypher tho’ I would with pleasure did I know that my letter wod reach you unopened speak more confidentially than I can do in an official dispach. a new minister will leave this for America in a few days: I think the change a fortunate event, for I am persuaded the successor will see cause to doubt many of the communications heretofore given. I am told the successor is a cool well disposed & sensible man.9 within a few days past Nimeughen has also been taken, the hall of the Jacobin society shut up by the convention, & two members appointed by the Committee, by consent of the convention, whose names & offices are unknown10—some say the object is to treat with Prussia, Spain or the States genl or rather to accompany the army with power to treat with the people in case they rise—others say tis to treat with Denmark & Sweden, whose agents are said to be incog: in town. Certain however it is the Committee asked for permission to appoint such persons under such circumstances & that it was granted. I found myself plac’d here as you will readily concieve upon a theatre new & very difficult to act on. and what has increased my embarrassment has been the ignorance of the disposition of Engld towards us as well as of the U. States towards her. I have also been destitute of all kind of council except Mr Skipwith, & some is necessary in every situation. I have however acted as well as my judgment could dictate & I hope to yrs & the satisfaction of my countrymen in general. with great respect & esteem I am Dear Sir yr most obt & very humble servant

Jas Monroe

ALS, DLC:GW; copy (fragment dated 18 Nov.), DLC: James Monroe Papers.

2Morris wrote Monroe on 11 Sept. about his desire for “an Excursion to the Country of” the philosopher Jean Jacques Rousseau (1712–1778) and requested a passport to Nyon (DLC: Gouverneur Morris Papers). For Monroe’s letter to Philibert Buchot of 13 Sept. about a passport for Morris, see Hamilton, Writings of Monroe description begins Stanislaus Murray Hamilton, ed. The Writings of James Monroe. 7 vols. New York and London, 1898–1903. description ends , 2:67–68; and for Buchot’s reply of 14 Sept. that passport requests should go first to the Committee of Public Safety, see Papers of James Monroe description begins Daniel Preston et al., eds. The Papers of James Monroe. 4 vols. to date. Westport, Conn., and Santa Barbara, Calif., 2003—. description ends , 3:64–65.

3Morris pressed for the passport in his letter to Monroe of 21 Sept. (DLC: Gouverneur Morris Papers). When Monroe raised the issue with Buchot, the minister was at first doubtful and referred the matter to the Committee of Public Safety, but after receiving assurances that Morris would not return to France, he agreed to legalize a passport that Monroe would give to Morris—“à legaliser celui que tu jugeras à propos de lui expedier” (Buchot to Monroe, 22 and 23 Sept., FrPMAE: Cor. Polit., États Unis, vol. 41).

4Fulwar Skipwith was Monroe’s secretary at Paris in September 1794. Monroe also appointed him acting consul at Paris, an appointment GW would make official in 1795.

5For Monroe’s letters to Secretary of State Edmund Randolph of 11 and 25 Aug., 15 Sept., 16 Oct., and 7 Nov., see ASP description begins Walter Lowrie et al., eds. American State Papers. Documents, Legislative and Executive, of the Congress of the United States. 38 vols. Washington, D.C., Gales and Seaton, 1832–61. description ends , Foreign Relations, 1:670–73, 675–76, 679–83. The town of Maastricht in the Netherlands surrendered to French forces on 4 November.

6On 26 June, Austrian and Dutch forces, attempting to relieve the besieged town of Charleroi (which had already fallen), attacked the French forces at Fleurus in Belgium but were repulsed and forced to retreat.

7William V (1748–1806), prince of Orange, was the stadtholder of the Dutch Republic from 1766 until he fled to Britain in 1795.

8Monroe evidently was referring to Diego de Gardoqui’s effort “to open the door, through me, to the commencement of a negotiation for peace,” as described in his letter to Randolph of 20 Nov. (ASP description begins Walter Lowrie et al., eds. American State Papers. Documents, Legislative and Executive, of the Congress of the United States. 38 vols. Washington, D.C., Gales and Seaton, 1832–61. description ends , Foreign Relations, 1:685–86). The original of the letter to Randolph has not been identified.

9On 26 Sept. (5 Vendémiaire) the Committee of Public Safety had named a citizen Oudart (probably one of the two revolutionary lawyers Nicolas [b. 1750] or Fleurent-Jean-Baptiste Oudart [d. 1835]) to be minister to the United States. Oudart, however, resigned before leaving France, and the post was given to Pierre-Auguste Adet (Turner, Correspondence of the French Ministers description begins Frederick J. Turner, ed. Correspondence of the French Ministers to the United States, 1791–1797. Washington, D.C., 1904. In Annual Report of the American Historical Association for the Year 1903, vol. 2. description ends , 721–30).

10French forces occupied the Dutch city of Nijmegen on 8 November. On 11 Nov. the Committee of Public Safety suspended the meetings of the Jacobin Society of Paris and ordered that their hall be immediately closed and the keys deposited with the secrétariat of the Committee of General Security (Recueil des actes du Comité de salut public description begins Recueil des actes du Comité de salut public, avec la correspondance officielle des représentants en mission et le registre du Conseil exécutif provisoire. 28 vols. Paris, 1889-1951. description ends , 18:69).

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