Thomas Jefferson Papers
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James Monroe to Thomas Jefferson, 21 December 1814

From James Monroe

Washington Decr 21. 1814

Dear Sir

On enquiry I found that major Armstead had been regularly appointed principal assessor for our district by the advice of the senate & been furnishd with his commission. It had been intended, as I understood, to appt Mr Minor, but the office of Collector, having been disposed of in our county, it was decided on the distributive principle to confer the other office on some person in another county. The functions of the assessor having hitherto been suspended1 led to the mistake that the office had not been disposed of.

I have never been in a situation of so much difficulty & embarrassment as that in which I find myself.2 I came into it not as a volunteer. This city might3 have been savd, had the measures proposed by the President to the heads of depts on the 1st of july, and advised by them, and order’d by him,4 been carried into effect. For this there was full time before the attack was made. whatever may be the merits of general winder, who is undoubtedly intelligent & brave, an infatuation seemed to have taken possession of Genl armstrong, relative to the5 danger of this place. He could never be made to believe that it was in any danger. The representations of corporate bodies, committees of citizens &ca, were slighted & derided both before & after the first of July. As late as the 23 of augt, when the enemy were within 10 miles, by a direct route & marching against it, he treated the idea with contempt altho there was no serious impediment in their way, for6 the force intended for its defense, was then to be collected at the places of rendevouz & formed into an army.7 The battle of the next day gave the city to the enemy. The consternation attending in alexa & the neighbring country need not be describd. The President, Mr Rush & I return’d on the 27th. The squadron of the enemy was then before8 fort washington. Alexa had capitulated; this city was prepar’d to9 surrender a second time, & Georgetown, was ready to capitulate. The infection ran along the coast. Baltimore totter’d, as did other places,10 all of which were unprepard to resist an immediate attack Armstrong was at Frederick town & winder at Baltimore. no time could be spar’d.11 The President requested me to act in their stead, which I did as well as I could. The citizens cooperated with me. In two or three days the Secrry of war returnd, but all confidence in him12 was gone. I observd to the President that the Secry having returnd my functions must cease: that the delicate13 relations subsisting between the heads of depts renderd it improper for me to act while he was here, without his knowledge & consent.14 The President saw the justice of the remark. He had an immediate15 interview, with the secry, the consequence of which was the departure of the latter for his home next morning. Such was the state of affairs, and their evident tendency, that no time could be spard for corresponding with any one at a distance to take the office. The pressure on Alexa, and approaching attack on Bal: with other dangers and in many quarters16 allowed not a moment of respite for the dept. 24 hours of inaction was sure to produce serious17 mischief. Those considerations inducd me to retain the office & to incur a labour, & expose18 myself to a19 responsibility, the nature & extent20 of which I well understood, & whose weight has already21 almost borne me down.

Our finances are in a deplorable state. With a country consisting of the best materials22 in the world; whose people are patriotic & virtuous, & willing to support the war; whose resources are greater than those of any other country; & whose means have scarcely yet been touchd, we have neither money in the treasury or credit. my opinion always was that a paper medium supported by taxes, to be funded23 at proper times would answer the public exigencies, with a great saving to the Treasury.24 Your plan with some modifications, appeard to me to be admirably well adapted to the object.25 Mr Dallas had decided on another,26 which he reported to the committee immediately after his arrival. As soon as I obtaind my papers from Leesburg, I put your remarks on the subject into his hands. He spoke highly of them, but adherd to his own plan, & such is the pressure of difficulties, and the danger attending it;27 that I have been willing to adopt almost any plan, rather than encounter the risk, of the overthrow of our whole system, which has been so obvious & iminent.28 secy Dallas is still in possession of your remarks, but I will obtain & send them to you in a few days.29

Of the30 Hartford convention we have yet no intelligence. These gentry, will I suspect, find that they have overacted their part. They cannot dismember the union, or league with the enemy, as I trust31 & believe,32 & they cannot now retreat without disgrace. I hope that the leaders, will soon take rank in society with Burr & others of that stamp. with great respect &

esteem I am dear Sir your friend & servant

Jas Monroe

RC (DLC); endorsed by TJ as received 27 Dec. 1814 and so recorded in SJL. Dft (DLC: Monroe Papers); lacks closing and signature; endorsed by Monroe, in part, as “relating to the capture of the city.”

President James Madison had appointed TJ’s son-in-law Thomas Mann Randolph, of Albemarle County, to the office of collector (JEP description begins Journal of the Executive Proceedings of the Senate of the United States description ends , 2:456, 461 [18, 21 Jan. 1814]). The functions of the assessor had been suspended in Virginia as a result of the commonwealth’s decision, on 7 Jan. 1814, to pay its portion of the land tax out of its own funds (Acts of Assembly description begins Acts of the General Assembly of Virginia (cited by session; title varies over time) description ends [1813–14 sess.], 61). In his memorandum of a 1 July 1814 meeting with the heads of depts, Madison noted agreement on the need for a “Survey of the grounds” near Washington, the bringing forward of “Arms & Camp Equipage,” and the massing of 13,140 troops for the protection of the United States capital (DLC: Madison Papers). British forces captured Washington following their victory over the Americans at the battle of Bladensburg.

In his 17 Oct. 1814 report to the Ways and Means committee of the United States House of Representatives, Secretary of the Treasury Alexander J. Dallas called for both sizable tax increases and the “establishment of a national institution, operating upon credit combined with capital, and regulated by prudence and good faith,” which he believed to be “the only efficient remedy for the disordered condition of our circulating medium” (ASP, Finance, 2:866–9). For the remarks on the subject of finance shown to Dallas, see note to Monroe to TJ, 10 Oct. 1814.

1Reworked in Dft from “The law imposing the tax having been suspended last year.”

2Preceding seven words interlined in Dft in place of “attendd with such weight of labour, as at present.”

3Word interlined in Dft in place of “ought to.”

4Preceding four words interlined in Dft.

5In Dft Monroe here canceled “probable.”

6In Dft Monroe here canceled “at that time winder.”

7In Dft Monroe here canceled “winder had under him, here, abt 2300 men; Stansbury had just reached Bladensbg with abt 2,200.”

8Dft: “then approaching.”

9In Dft Monroe here canceled “effect another.”

10Remainder of sentence interlined in Dft.

11Word interlined in Dft in place of “lost.”

12Dft here adds “if any had before existed.”

13Word interlined in Dft.

14In Dft Monroe here canceled “that altho I had thought it the duty of every man to put his shoulder to the wheel, in the embarrassd state in which We had found affrs on our return to the city.”

15Word interlined in Dft.

16Preceding seven words interlined in Dft.

17Reworked in Dft from “to be felt seriously.”

18RC: “expose expose.”

19Preceding four words interlined in Dft.

20Preceding two words interlined in Dft.

21Word interlined in Dft.

22Reworked in Dft from “population.”

23In Dft Monroe here canceled “annually, or a pledge for it.”

24Dft: “public treasury.”

25Preceding eleven words interlined in Dft in place of “had my approbation.”

26In Dft Monroe here canceled “& digested it.”

27Preceding five words not in Dft.

28Reworked in Dft from “which was imminent.”

29Sentence not in Dft.

30Dft here adds “proceedings of the.”

31Dft: “hope.”

32Remainder of sentence interlined in Dft, which also gives the sentences of this paragraph in a different sequence.

Index Entries

  • Alexandria, Va.; surrender of search
  • Alexandria, Va.; threatened by British forces search
  • Armistead, William (of Amherst Co.); appointment of search
  • Armstrong, John; as secretary of war search
  • Baltimore, Md.; defense of search
  • Bank of the United States; and renewal of charter search
  • Bladensburg, Battle of (1814) search
  • Burr, Aaron (1756–1836); mentioned search
  • Congress, U.S.; wartime taxes passed by search
  • currency; paper search
  • Dallas, Alexander James; and TJ’s letters on finance search
  • Dallas, Alexander James; as secretary of the treasury search
  • Fort Warburton (later Fort Washington) search
  • Georgetown, D.C.; threatened by British forces search
  • Hartford, Conn.; Federalist convention at search
  • House of Representatives, U.S.; Ways and Means Committee search
  • Jefferson, Thomas; Opinions on; government finance search
  • Madison, James (1751–1836); and appointments search
  • Madison, James (1751–1836); and defense of Washington search
  • Madison, James (1751–1836); and J. Monroe search
  • Minor, Peter; and appointment of principal assessor search
  • Monroe, James; and appointments search
  • Monroe, James; and Hartford Convention search
  • Monroe, James; and TJ’s letters on finance search
  • Monroe, James; and War of1812 search
  • Monroe, James; appointed secretary of war search
  • Monroe, James; letters from search
  • Monroe, James; on government finance search
  • political economy; TJ’s letters on finance search
  • Randolph, Thomas Mann (1768–1828) (TJ’s son-in-law; Martha Jefferson Randolph’s husband); as revenue collector search
  • Rush, Richard; as attorney general search
  • Senate, U.S.; and appointments search
  • Stansbury, Tobias; U.S. general search
  • taxes; increased to fund war search
  • Treasury Department, U.S.; and wartime finance search
  • Virginia; wartime taxation in search
  • War of1812; Battle of Bladensburg search
  • War of1812; defense of Baltimore search
  • War of1812; defense of Washington search
  • War of1812; U.S. financing of search
  • Washington, D.C.; defenses of search
  • Winder, William Henry; and Battle of Bladensburg search
  • Winder, William Henry; and defense of Baltimore search
  • Winder, William Henry; and defense of Washington, D.C. search