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To Thomas Jefferson from James Monroe, 12 July 1797

From James Monroe

New York July 12. 1797.

Dear Sir

I arrived here two days since and sit out in return the day after to morrow for Phila. where I shall probably be a fortnight before I proceed on home. Here I have had an interview with the friend of Mr. or Mrs. R. each of us having a friend present, and which furnished no result, the business being adjourned over to Phila. where we meet the day after my return there in company with the other gentlemen Muhg. and Venable. The details of this interview are reserved till I see you. You may have some idea of them however when you recollect the previous good disposition of some of the parties for each other. The issue is quite incertain as to the mode of adjusting what is personal in the business.

I think you should acknowledge your letter to Mezzai, stating that it was a private one and brought to publick view without your knowledge or design: that the man to whom it was addressed had lived long as your neighbour, and was now in Pisa whither it was addressed: that you do think that the principles of our revolution and of republican government have been substantially swerved from of late in many respects, have often express’d this sentiment, which as a free man you had a right to express, in your publick places and in the walks of private life &ca according to the letter. That you declined saying any thing about it till you got home to examine how correct the letter was. This brings the question before the publick and raises the spirits of the honest part of the community.

13. I dine to day by invitation with a numerous and respectable assemblage of honest men.

You will doubtless exam and decide on the above suggestion soon and give me the result. You are fortunate in having our friend Madison near you. One thing I suggest for you both is, that by not denying it you have all the odium of having written it, and yet without taking a bold attitude which is necessary to encourage friends.

RC (DLC: Madison Papers); unsigned; endorsed by TJ as received 31 July 1797 and so recorded in SJL.

The friend of Mr. or Mrs. R.: Alexander Hamilton, whose adulterous relationship with Maria Reynolds and alleged connection to the financial speculations of her former husband, James Reynolds, had recently been made public by James Thomson Callender in pamphlets that he subsequently collected as The History of the United States for 1796; including a Variety of Interesting Particulars Relative to the Federal Government Previous to that Period (Philadelphia, 1797). See Sowerby, description begins E. Millicent Sowerby, comp., Catalogue of the Library of Thomas Jefferson, Washington, D.C., 1952–59, 5 vols. description ends No. 3515. Hamilton hoped to discover Callender’s source of detailed information about the Reynolds controversy (Monroe himself presumed it was John Beckley). He also wanted Monroe, a member of an ad hoc committee of three members of the House and Senate to whom he had made an explanation of the matter in December 1792, to state categorically that he accepted Hamilton’s version of the events, which admitted adultery with Mrs. Reynolds but disclaimed involvement in any financial improprieties (Syrett, Hamilton description begins Harold C. Syrett and others, eds., The Papers of Alexander Hamilton, New York, 1961–87, 27 vols. description ends , xxi, 121–3, 1309; Notes on the Reynolds Affair, 17 Dec. 1792; note on the first conflict in the cabinet, above in this series in Vol. 18: 611–88).

Each of us having a friend present: New York merchant David Gelston and Hamilton’s brother-in-law, John Barker Church, were present at Monroe’s lodgings in New York City on 11 July 1797 when an angry Hamilton confronted Monroe, who had delayed replying to a letter from the former Treasury secretary until he could confer with Muhg. and Venable—Frederick A. C. Muhlenberg and Abraham B. Venable, who with Monroe had heard Hamilton’s explanations in 1792 (Syrett, Hamilton description begins Harold C. Syrett and others, eds., The Papers of Alexander Hamilton, New York, 1961–87, 27 vols. description ends , xxi, 146–8, 152, 157–62). According to Gelston’s record of the details of this interview, Hamilton refused to accept Monroe’s denial of involvement in the furnishing of papers to Callender, whereupon Monroe called him “a Scoundrel.” “I will meet you like a Gentleman,” Hamilton replied, to which Monroe rejoined, “I am ready get your pistols” (same, 161). Church and Gelston stepped in to cool the situation, but the threat of a duel lingered through a protracted written exchange between Hamilton and Monroe (same, 168–75, 176–7, 178–81, 184–7, 192–3, 200, 204–5, 208–9, 211–12).

Rather than communicate with Hamilton directly, Monroe soon used Aaron Burr as an intermediary—an oblique form of communication that Burr later in the year dubbed a “childish mode of writing.” By mid-August 1797 Monroe assumed with Burr that there was “no prospect of a challenge” from Hamilton (same, 319n; Kline, Burr, description begins Mary-Jo Kline, ed., Political Correspondence and Public Papers of Aaron Burr, Princeton, 1983, 2 vols. description ends i, 313). Nevertheless, that fall after the publication of Hamilton’s pamphlet on the Reynolds affair (see TJ to James Madison, 24 July 1797), Monroe concluded that Hamilton had not exonerated him from involvement in supplying information to Callender. In letters to Burr and John Dawson that he enclosed in one to TJ of 2 Dec. 1797, Monroe rekindled the issue. Both TJ on 27 Dec. and Dawson, who consulted others in Philadelphia, advised Monroe to leave the matter alone. On 1 Jan. 1798, probably before he received that advice, Monroe wrote his rival a letter that has not been found but which provoked Hamilton to draft a reply calling unequivocally for a duel. Yet Hamilton did not send that letter, and there the matter ended (Syrett, Hamilton description begins Harold C. Syrett and others, eds., The Papers of Alexander Hamilton, New York, 1961–87, 27 vols. description ends , xxi, 316–20, 346; Kline, Burr description begins Mary-Jo Kline, ed., Political Correspondence and Public Papers of Aaron Burr, Princeton, 1983, 2 vols. description ends , i, 306–14, 320–1).

Your letter to Mezzai: Jefferson’s Letter to Philip Mazzei, 24 Apr. 1796. A numerous and respectable assemblage: on 14 July 1797 Monroe attended a dinner of Republicans in New York that was presided over by Horatio Gates (New York Daily Advertiser, 15 July 1797; Ammon, Monroe, description begins Harry Ammon, James Monroe: The Quest for National Identity, New York, 1971 description ends 159).

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