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James Monroe to Thomas Jefferson, 7 June 1813

From James Monroe

washington June 7. 1813.

Dear Sir

During the last session of Congress the current business pressed so heavily on me, and after its adjournment, the preparation of instructions for our ministers employed under the mediation of Russia, and in other duties connected with it, kept me so constantly engaged1 that2 I have scarcely had a moment of respite since I left you. I seize one to communicate some3 details, which it may be satisfactory to you to know. As I make the communication in confidence, it will be without reserve.

when we were together last summer,4 we conferr’d on the then state of the depts of war & navy, and agreed, that whatever might be the merit of the gentlemen in them, which was admitted in certain respects,5 a change in both was indispensable. I mentiond that I had intimated to the President, before we left washington, my willingness to take the former, if he thought that the public interest would be advanc’d by it. It seemed to be your opinion that it would. on returning here, such was the pressure of public opinion, supported by all our friends in Congress, that a change in the dept of war was soon decided on, & even solicited by mr Eustis himself. In conversation with the President I repeated what I had said before, and intimated that I would either take that dept, or a military station, as might be thought most adviseable.6 On the surrender of Hull, I had offer’d to proceed to the state of ohio, and to7 take the command in that quarter,8 with a volunteer commission, to which he willingly assented. In consequence, I had, with his approbation,9 sent off the cannon &ca from this place, and made every other10 arrangment, for the prosecution of the campaign against upper Canada,11 and was on the point of setting out when it was thought best12 to decline it. The President was particularly inducd to adopt this latter counsel, by the appointment conferr’d on General Harrison, by the govr of Kentuckey, and his apparent popularity in the western country.13 I do not recollect that I mention’d this to you before.14 To the offer which I now repeated, the President replied, that he did not wish me to leave my present station, which tho’ inactive at the time, might not long continue so, for an inferior one, to hold it while I remaind in service.15 The state of public16 affairs led again to a general view of the whole subject. our military operations had been unsuccessful,17 one army had been surrenderd, under circumstances which impeached the integrity of the commander;18 and to the north in the whole extent of that country, so important & delicately circumstanc’d, as it was, the managment had been most wretched. The command at the important post of Niagara had been sufferd to fall into state hands, and to be perverted to local & selfish purposes.19 Van Ranslear, a weak incompetent man with high pretentions, took it. It was late in the year, before General Dearborn left Boston,20 and repaird to albany. He had given no impulse to the recruiting business in the Eastern States by passing thro’ them, and making appeals to the patriotism of the people, and when he took the command at albany, it was in a manner to discourage all hope of active operations during the favorable season. The commander21 ought to lead every important mov’ment. If intended to assail montreal, that being the grand attack, his station was there If a smaller blow only could be given, the feint against montreal, should have been committed to another, while he commanded in person where real service was to be performed. It was soon seen that nothing would be done against lower Canada; Genl D. doubtless saw it on his first arrival at albany, if he did not anticipate it before he left Boston. niagara was the object, next, in importance,22 and had he taken the command there, he might and probably would, by superceding little people23 & conducting our military operations, have prevented the riotous & contentious scene exhibited there, saved the country and the govt from the disgraceful defeat of Van Ranslaer, & the more disgraceful24 & gaschonading discomfiture25 of Smyth.26

The experience27 of the campaign had excited a doubt with many, if not with all,28 whether our military operations would prosper under General Dearborn; he was known to have merit as a patriot, a republican, and that in many other respects he was a safe man,29 but he was advanc’d in years, infirm, and had given no proof of activity or military talent during the year. He did not animate, or aid, in any way, the republican party to the Eastward, while by his30 conduct as a partizan, he excited, &31 invigorated the opposition to the government. Being at war, every thing would depend on success, and if he was not likely to succeed, a substitute ought to be provided.32 If he could not sustain his ground, those next in rank would push him aside,33 and as the army would be encreased, and, if the war continued,34 become strong, attention ought to be paid, with a view to the liberties of the country, to the character of the person to be plac’d in the chief command. I stated that if it was thought necessary35 to remove me from my present station, on the idea that I had some military experience, and a change in the command of the troops was resolved on, I would prefer it, to the dept of war, in the persuasion that I might be more useful. In the dept of war a man might form a plan of a campaign, & write judicious letters on military operations,36 but still these were nothing but essays. Every thing would depend on the execution. I thought that with the army I should have better controul over operations & events, and might even aid, so far as I could give aid at all,37 to the person in the dept of war. I offer’d to repair instantly to the northern army, to use my best efforts to form it, to promote the recruiting business, in the Eastern States, to conciliate the people to the views of the government, and unite them, so far as it might be possible, in the war.38 The President was of opinion that if I quitted my present station I ought to take the command of the army.39 It being necessary to place some one immediately in the dept of war, to supply the vacancy made by mr Eustiss retreat, the President requested me to take it pro tempore, leaving the ultimate decision on the other question open to further consideration. I did so, and immediately set to work, on the important duties of the office. I send you a copy of a report which I made to the military committies of congress, which laid the foundation of some changes in the military establishment, with which you are acquainted. It was intended merely as a skeleton.40 It was soon found to be improper, at a period of so much danger & urgency, to keep that dept41 in the hands of a temporary occupant.42 It ought to be filled by the person, who would have to form the plan of the campaign in every quarter, & be responsible for it.43 It being indispensible to fill it with a permanent character, and the question remaining undecided, relative to the command of the army, most persons thinking a change44 urgent, and the opinion of the President in regard to me being the same, General Armstrong, was put in the dept of war. Had it been decided to continue the command of the army under Genl Dearborne, and the question been with me, would I take the dept of war, the President & other friends wishing it, I would not have hesitated a moment in complying. But it never assumed that form. To secure the command of all important stations, along the coast & elsewhere,45 to men of talents & experience, who should be in the service of the U States, I had recommended46 a considerable augmentation of general officers, which was approved by General Armstrong & adopted by Congress. on the day that the nomination of these officers was made to the senate, the President sent for me, & stated that the Secretary at war, had plac’d me, in his list of major Generals, at their head, and wished to know whether I would accept the appointment, intimating that he did not think that I ought to do it, nor did he wish me to leave my present station. I asked where I was to serve. He supposed it would be with the northern army, under General Dearborn. I replied that if I left my present office for such a command, it would be inferr’d that I had a passion for military life, which I had not: that in such a station, I could be of no service in any view to the general cause, or to military operations, even perhaps with the army in which I might serve:47 that, with a view to the public interest, the commander ought to receive all the support which the govt could give him: by accepting the station proposed, I might take from Genl Dearborne, without aiding the cause, by any thing that I might add. I stated however that the grade made no difficulty with me, a desire to be useful being my only object, and that if the command was given me,48 even with a lower grade, than that suggested,49 admitting the possibility, I would accept it. The difficulty related to General Dearborn, who could not well be removed to an inactive station. I observd that if it was intended to50 continue him in the command, he would have my best support, as he already had had, as no one respected or esteemd him more than I did.51 To a strong desire to make you acquainted with the real state of things in regard to this question, I have felt an additional motive growing out of the conversation between us, above alluded to, to communicate to you, the causes of certain events which may have52 excited your surprise.53 It is proper to add that, had I been transferr’d to the army, mr Gallatin claimed & would have succeeded to the vacancy in this department.

The campaign has commencd tolerably well and with a good prospect of success,54 tho’ the mov’ment has been rather slow,55 which may give time for reinforcments from Europe.56 An opinion begins to circulate here,57 that a person of more vigorous mind should be on the frontier with the northern army, to direct its movments, & that the secretary of war is that person. This idea is founded on a doubt of the competency58 of those now there. The effect would be to make the Secretary at war commander in chief of the army, in the character of59 secretary at war. While here, orders emanate from the President, in which case, the President, the secretary at war, and commander of the troops, are checks on each other; but in the other case, the powers of all three would be united in the Secretary, much to the disadvantage of the President, who by the distance60 could have nothing to do in the business. Besides, if the secretary takes the command of the northern army, who would supply his place in the dept of war, and direct the operations of the army against detroit & upper canada, of that on the mississippi, and of the extensive & burthensome61 operations along the coast, and of the supplies in munitions of war & provisions necessary to each, forming separately an important duty, but in the whole a very complicated & arduous one, requiring also daily attention.62 Troops have been collecting for sometime at Bermuda, destind against some part of our country. Should they be brought to bear against this city, or new orleans,63 & the Secretary be absent, what the effect? These objections have weight, yet a new, & serious64 discomfiture, might shake the administration to the foundation, and endanger the republican party & even the cause. so nicely balancd are the dangers,65 attending either course, in the present state of things, admitting that the Secretary might be able to supply any deficiency in those with the northern army,66 that it is difficult to say which scale preponderates. my reflections on the subject are known to the President, but I take no part in the question.

The mediation of Russia offers some prospect of accomodation with G Britain, but no certainty of it. It is not known that she has accepted the overture. The Russian minister was informd67 that the President accepted it because he wished peace on honorable conditions, and was willing to avail himself of every fair opportunity to promote68 it: that he did not ask whether G Britain had accepted the mediation, because it was sufficient that the Emperor had offerd it; and that the President sought by the manner of accepting it, to evince his high respect for the character of the Emperor. It became a question whether authority should be given to mr69 adams alone to manage the negotiation, or eclat be attachd to the mission, by adding two Envoys to it, to be sent from this country. The latter course was preferr’d, & Mr Gallatin being desirous, of acting in it, he was employed. Before I knew this latter fact, I had thought that it would be well, to engage in the service, some distinguished popular man, from that portion of our country, the western, which had given such support, and suffer’d so much by the war, to secure70 the confidence of its people in the negotiation, & reconcile them to any result of it.71 But on finding that Mr Gallatin, for whom I have always entertaind a very high respect & esteem,72 desird the appointment, and that the President was willing to confer it on him, I readily acquiesc’d, tho’ not without serious73 apprehension of the consequences—mr King has begun his new career by an attack on the measure, objecting to mr Gallatins absence at this time, to the union of two such important offices in the same person &ca. The nomination is still depending before the senate. It will I doubt not terminate favorably, but still it has encreased our difficulties.

I had written the above some days since, when I had the pleasure to receive your letter of the 30th ulto. To the very interesting observations it communicates I will pay attention at an early day. I am forc’d to close this, to avail myself of this days mail for its conveyance. I am dear Sir with great respect

very sincerely your friend

Jas Monroe

Be so good as to return me the enclosed paper, it being the only copy which I have

RC (DLC); endorsed by TJ as received 9 June 1813 and so recorded in SJL. 2d Dft (DLC: Monroe Papers, 19:3432–5); lacks closing, signature, and postscript; endorsed by Monroe on last page as a letter of “June 7. 1813” to “Mr Jefferson.” 1st Dft (DLC: Monroe Papers, 19:3436–7); undated; incomplete. Enclosure: Monroe’s “Explanatory Observations” to the military committees of the United States Congress, [ca. 23 Dec. 1812], stating that in order to succeed in the war, the northeast coast should be divided into seven military districts as follows: Boston, including Massachusetts and New Hampshire; Newport, including Connecticut and Rhode Island; New York City, including New Jersey and the state of New York; Philadelphia, including Delaware and Pennsylvania; Norfolk, including Maryland and Virginia; Charleston, including North Carolina and South Carolina; and Georgia; that each district should be garrisoned with regular-army artillery and infantry contingents under the command of a brigadier general to whom an engineer should be attached; that local militia and volunteers should be called into action as needed; that this organization is economical and practical; that stationing forces on the coast may discourage enemy attacks; that special provision should be made for Savannah and East Florida, whether the latter is in Spanish or American hands; and that if East Florida remains under Spanish control, the British will use it “for annoying us in every mode which may be made instrumental to that end”; laying out further defensive plans for New Orleans and Natchitoches, Detroit and the western frontier, and for the border with Lower Canada; calling for 20,000 additional regular army soldiers and a 10,000-man reserve in order to “demolish the British force from Niagara to Quebec”; suggesting that, while volunteer acts can be used to increase troop levels, “these Acts must be radically altered to enable the President to raise the force”; proposing that the president be given sole power to appoint all officers under the rank of colonel and that the recruiting bounty be increased to $40; and concluding that the additional forces should be raised for the period of one year and would so strengthen the military already in place that the British would have no hope of retaining Canada or continuing the war for long (MS in DLC: Monroe Papers, 19:3282–9; printed in Stanislaus Murray Hamilton, The Writings of James Monroe [1901], 5:227–35).

The gentlemen previously in charge of the war and navy departments were William Eustis and Paul Hamilton, respectively. Following Monroe’s interim service as secretary of war, John Armstrong assumed that post, and William Jones became the new secretary of the navy. The govr of kentuckey was Charles Scott. The proposed augmentation of general officers was approved on 29 Jan. 1813 (U.S. Statutes at Large description begins Richard Peters, ed., The Public Statutes at Large of the United States … 1789 to March 3, 1845, 1845–67, 8 vols. description ends , 2:794–6). Rufus king began his new career representing New York in the United States Senate after his election in 1812 (ANB description begins John A. Garraty and Mark C. Carnes, eds., American National Biography, 1999, 24 vols. description ends ).

12d Dft: “laboriously employed.”

2Remainder of paragraph in 1st Dft reads “I was forc’d to discontinue almost altogether private correspondence. In general, the proceedings are so public that there is little to add to what the gazettes give. except of a private confidential nature, such as the following.” Monroe also added a related note in the left margin of the first page: “Knowing your devotion to free govt & desire to know the whole truth I shall communicate it without reserve.

32d Dft here adds “interesting.”

4Preceding two words not in 2d Dft.

5Reworked in 2d Dft from “in many respects.”

62d Dft: “as he might preferr.

7Preceding seven words interlined in 2d Dft in place of “there with all haste, &.”

8Preceding three words interlined in 2d Dft.

9Preceding three words interlined in 2d Dft.

102d Dft here adds “necessary.”

11Preceding nine words interlined in 2d Dft.

12In 2d Dft “adviseable” is interlined in place of “best.”

132d Dft here adds “I was satisfied either to go or stay, <being compelled to offer my service only, by the danger to the republican party & cause> as he might think most adviseable.

14Preceding five sentences not in 1st Dft.

151st Dft here adds “I was willing to take it with its consequences, & should the country soon be blessed with peace, to withdraw, if I had nothing interesting to do in the dept of war.” 2d Dft here adds and then deletes “He knew, that I had no wish to leave present office, being acquainted with its duties, with my family, & every other inducment to <remain>. I stated however that I was willing to take the dept of war with its consequences <to withdraw should our country be blessed with peace, and> to hold it during the war, & to retire afterwards shold there be nothing of importance to <perform in that dept> attend to.”

16Word interlined in 2d Dft in place of “our.”

17Remainder of sentence in 1st Dft reads: “In the no W. they had been miserably managed, if not betrayd; to the north, the management was wretched, there no treason but nothing else could be said in their favor.”

182d Dft: “surrender’d, if not betrayd.”

19Clause not in 1st Dft. Preceding six words rendered in 2d Dft as “abused for local purposes.”

201st Dft here describes Dearborn as “having tarried long at Boston.”

21In 2d Dft Monroe here canceled “in that quarter.”

22Preceding two words not in 2d Dft.

231st Dft: “competitors.”

24Monroe here interlined “gaschonade &” in 2d Dft.

251st Dft substitutes “abortion” for preceding three words.

261st Dft here adds “& the admn from the imputation of incompetency in the general managment of the campaign in that quarter.”

27Both Dfts: “experiment.”

281st Dft here adds “military men.” The word “military” is canceled in 2d Dft.

29Preceding two clauses not in 1st Dft.

302d Dft here adds “unsuccessful.”

31Preceding two words not in 2d Dft.

321st Dft here adds “with as much delicacy to his feelings, as was due to a man of real merit.”

33Clause in 1st Dft rendered as “without a timely provision, those next in rank admitted to be more competent would succeed.”

34Clause interlined in 2d Dft, rendered as “if the war went on.”

352d Dft: “expedient.”

36Preceding three words not in either Dft.

37Clause interlined in 2d Dft, rendered as “if I cod give aid any where.”

38Sentence not in 1st Dft.

39In 2d Dft Monroe here canceled “I should not have brought myself to speak on the subject, under other circumstances <than those above stated,> and particularly that of the frequent expression of a wish by our friends here that such an arrangment might take place, wh was communicated <as he informed me, to him, as well as to me> to the P. as well as to me, & the necessity I was under to say something in reply.

40Variation of preceding sentence interlined in 2d Dft.

41Preceding two words rendered in 2d Dft as “a dept so important as that of war.

42Manuscript: “occcupant.”

43Preceding three sentences rendered in 1st Dft as “After a while it became necessary to fill the office.”

44Monroe here canceled “equally” in 2d Dft.

45Preceding five words not in either Dft.

461st Dft here adds “while in the dept of war.”

47Remainder of sentence not in 1st Dft. Monroe composed and then canceled remainder of sentence in 2d Dft, p. 5, left margin.

48Remainder of sentence rendered in 1st Dft as “& genl D. placd so that I might be somewhere else, I wod take it.”

49Preceding three words not in 2d Dft.

50Monroe here canceled “rem.”

51Sentence not in 1st Dft.

52Both Dfts here include “otherwise.”

531st Dft ends here.

542d Dft interlines a slight variant of preceding seven words.

55In 2d Dft Monroe here canceled “indicating a want of energy, proceeding I fear, from.”

56Preceding two words interlined in 2d Dft.

57Preceding two words interlined in 2d Dft in place of “gain ground.”

58Preceding four words rendered in 2d Dft as “belief of the incompetency.”

59Preceding four words rendered in 2d Dft as “by virtue of his power as.”

602d Dft interlines a slight variant of preceding three words.

61Preceding three words interlined in 2d Dft in place of “expensive, & complicated important.”

62Preceding four words not in 2d Dft.

63Preceding three words interlined in 2d Dft.

64Preceding two words interlined in 2d Dft.

65Word interlined in 2d Dft in place of “evils.”

66Preceding two clauses not in 2d Dft.

67Preceding five words rendered in 2d Dft as “I told the Russian minister.”

68Preceding two words rendered in 2d Dft as “of <attaining> promoting.”

69Monroe here canceled “G” in 2d Dft.

70Word interlined in 2d Dft in place of “draw.”

71In 2d Dft Monroe here canceled “I anticipated several inconveniences resulting from Mr G’s appointment, among wh were his absence from his post at this time; wh I feard would injure him; the depriving the govt of the aid to be derivd from the appointment of another person as already noted, <with others which will occur> & the combining two offices in one person, but he desiring it, & the Pr. willing to conferr it, I acquies’d, & have given to it all the support in my power. mr K. began his new career by an attack on it.”

722d Dft interlines a slightly different version of this clause.

732d Dft: “without <fearful> painful.”

Index Entries

  • Adams, John Quincy; as peace negotiator search
  • Adams, John Quincy; minister plenipotentiary to Russia search
  • Alexander I, emperor of Russia; as peace mediator search
  • Armstrong, John; as secretary of war search
  • Canada; U.S. invasion of search
  • Dearborn, Henry; and War of1812 search
  • Detroit, Mich. Territory; W. Hull’s surrender at search
  • Eustis, William; as secretary of war search
  • Gallatin, Albert; as peace negotiator search
  • Gallatin, Albert; mentioned search
  • Hamilton, Paul (1762–1816); secretary of the navy search
  • Harrison, William Henry; War of1812service of search
  • Hull, William; and surrender of Northwest Army search
  • Jones, William (1760–1831); as secretary of the navy search
  • King, Rufus; as U.S. senator search
  • Madison, James; and J. Monroe search
  • Monroe, James; and A. Gallatin’s nomination search
  • Monroe, James; and J. Madison search
  • Monroe, James; and War Department search
  • Monroe, James; and War of1812 search
  • Monroe, James; as secretary of state search
  • Monroe, James; letters from search
  • Monroe, James; memorandum of on U.S. military search
  • Scott, Charles; governor of Ky. search
  • Smyth, Alexander; and Niagara Campaign search
  • Van Rensselaer, Stephen; defeat at Queenston Heights search
  • War of1812; and peace negotiations search
  • War of1812; J. Monroe on search
  • War of1812; Niagara Campaign search