James Madison Papers

To James Madison from James Monroe, 2 September 1812

From James Monroe

Washington Sepr. 2. 1812

Dear Sir

Nothing new is recd. from England; or France. Mr Baker will remain at Fredericktown or some other interior town between this & Phila.1 Mr Serurier was with me yesterday. He stated many reasons for delay in his govt. to arrange our affairs, but dwelt most on changes in the treaty in discussion between it & Mr. Barlow, proposed by the latter.2 He mention’d several, all of a commercial nature. He had great confidence that, as soon as it shod be known that we had gone to war, all reasonable accomodation would be afforded.

Nothing is yet recd. from Genl Hull. Many letters are recd. from others, all of a character corresponding with those you have seen.

Mr Duvall express’d a doubt of the fitness of Genl. Winchester to take the command of the troops intended for Detroit. And Captn. Ball,3 whom I have just seen, and who appears to have much knowledge of that country, & of military affrs, especially those connected with that service, having been in the action & campaign under Genl. Wayne, expresses the same doubt. The latter thinks that Harrison is much better qualified for the trust.

I fear that the failure of Hull will produce much injury to the republican party & cause, till all the explanations belonging to it, are before the publick. Tenderness is due to him, but having lost the army, he is responsible, and it seems to me, that it should appear that the govt. is far from imputing to itself, or allowing it to be imputed by others, any blame.

I have written to Shaler to inform him that the combination of any of our citizens to aid the Mexicans is contrary to law, and ought to be discountenanc’d.4 I shall write to morrow a letter, to the same effect, to Govr Howard, & to the govr of Tenissee.5

Several friends here to the administration, have suggested to me, an idea, corresponding with that on which we conferr’d just as we parted. They think that some marked measure proceeding directly from yourself, will be useful in tranquilizing the people to the westward, & meeting the public expectation generally, in consequence of the late disaster. If on further reflection you should be of opinion that my employment might be useful, I am inclind to undertake it. I know its dangers & difficulties and the an[x]iety to which it would expose me, by separation from my family. If I went my wish would be to serve the active part of the campaign, & then return to my station here. I think I might be back in Novr. In the interim, if my resignation was not deemed indispensable, I would hasten Mr Graham back,6 & Mr Pleasanton might forward to you till his return, the papers, for your order, or perhaps Mr Rush might act per interim, for me. In case of my resignation which might be most adviseable, Mr Rush might still act per interim till an appointment was made, with a view to keep it open to my renomination on my return, if you approvd. I think I could contribute to the expeditious collection of the troops, could take advantage of the talents of Harrison & winchester, & give the whole some impulse. It would I know lay new & heavy burthens on you, but the motive being seen by the publick, would give satisfaction. If I went, I should wish to take all the idle regular officers of experience whom I could collect. I shod. wish to take Izard, Ball, Bankhead7 & others, & perhaps old L’Enfant.8

Believe me something decisive, that is, of a marked character is necessary. Whether this is the suitable measure I know not. I feel that in being willing to act, I can seriously justify myself to my family, and to others who have great claims on me. I yeild more to zeal in the cause, than to considerations which ought to have weight with me. If I were appointed it would be I presume by Brevitt.

The Garrison of chicago is cut off.9

The Secretary at war has deeply interested me in what concerns him in this affair. I have never seen a man more profoundly oppress’d by misfortune than he really is. Mr Hamilton came into my room yesterday & intimated a fear that there was danger of his mind being affected. I saw him immediately afterwards, when there was no evidence of that tendency, & I have been consulted by him on his letters to Winchester & Harrison, which are drawn strictly in the spirit you desired, & forwarded.10

I have not yet heard from Onis.11 I have yours from Occoquan. Very sincerely & respectfully your friend

Jas Monroe

RC (DLC: Rives Collection, Madison Papers). Docketed by JM.

1Monroe was waiting to hear from Baker regarding a possible exchange of prisoners captured at sea (Baker to Monroe, 29 Aug. 1812 [DNA: RG 45, Misc. Letters Received]).

2For the commercial treaty that Barlow was negotiating, see Barlow to JM, 22 Apr. 1812, and JM to Jefferson, 24 Apr. 1812, PJM-PS description begins Robert A. Rutland et al., eds., The Papers of James Madison: Presidential Series (5 vols. to date; Charlottesville, Va., 1984–). description ends , 4:337–38 and n. 1, 345–46, 347 n. 4.

3James Vincent Ball (d. 1818), a captain in the Light Dragoons, was promoted to major on 16 Sept. 1812 and subsequently served under William Henry Harrison (Gilpin, The War of 1812 in the Old Northwest, 143, 153–54; Heitman, Historical Register description begins Francis B. Heitman, Historical Register and Dictionary of the United States Army, from Its Organization, September 29, 1789, to March 2, 1903 (2 vols.; Washington, 1903). description ends , 1:187).

4Monroe wrote to William Shaler on 1 Sept. 1812: “As the parties who are said to have combined for the purpose of assisting the patriots, in Mexico, are acting in opposition to a Law of the United States; it will be proper for you to discountenance the measure, so far as the expression of your opinion may avail.” The letter also informed Shaler that Dr. John Hamilton Robinson had been “lately appointed” by the president “to reside at the seat of Government” in the Internal Provinces of Mexico. Monroe reassured Shaler that Robinson’s appointment would “cooperate” with his “in cultivating a good understanding between the United States and the Governments & people of the Provinces” to which Shaler had been sent (PHi: Shaler Family Papers).

5For Monroe’s letter to Blount, see JM to Monroe, 1 Sept. 1812, n. 3. Monroe wrote to Missouri territorial governor Benjamin Howard on 3 Sept. 1812, acknowledging receipt of Howard’s 21 June letter enclosing messages from Louisiana citizens that outlined their plans to visit Spanish provinces (not found). Monroe explained that he concluded from the enclosures that this visit would be “of an unfriendly nature.” Monroe communicated the view of the president that since the U.S. was at peace with Spain, a hostile visit to its provinces would be “repugnant” to U.S. policy as well as “positively prohibited by law.” Monroe requested that Howard make this sentiment known to the concerned parties (DNA: RG 59, DL).

6State Department chief clerk John Graham was then traveling in western Pennsylvania and Ohio en route to Kentucky (Graham to Monroe, 28 Aug., 31 Aug., and 7 Sept. 1812 [DLC: Monroe Papers]).

7Monroe referred to James Bankhead of Virginia (ca. 1780–1856), who had been Monroe’s attaché in Europe before receiving a captain’s commission in the U.S. Army in 1808. Bankhead was appointed an assistant adjutant general and was promoted to the rank of major in March 1813. In September 1813 he was promoted to the rank of colonel, serving until he was mustered out in June 1815. Bankhead reentered the peacetime army at the rank of captain that same year, serving for the rest of his life. Bankhead received a brevet colonel’s promotion in 1838 for meritorious service during the Seminole War and was raised to the rank of brigadier general in 1847 after participating in the siege of Veracruz during the Mexican War (Heitman, Historical Register description begins Francis B. Heitman, Historical Register and Dictionary of the United States Army, from Its Organization, September 29, 1789, to March 2, 1903 (2 vols.; Washington, 1903). description ends , 1:189; WMQ description begins William and Mary Quarterly. description ends , 1st ser., 14 [1905–6]: 287; WMQ description begins William and Mary Quarterly. description ends , 2d ser., 9 [1929]: 307).

8L’Enfant was not brought back into active service, but in 1814 he began work on the reconstruction of a fort at Warburton Manor on the Potomac River, later named Fort Washington (H. Paul Caemmerer, The Life of Pierre Charles L’Enfant [1950; reprint, New York, 1970], 270–72).

9Hull had ordered that Fort Dearborn (Chicago) be evacuated at the end of July, but before the commanding officer, Capt. Nathan Heald, could act, Indians in the region began to gather near the post. When Heald eventually attempted the evacuation on 15 Aug., he was able to march only two miles before being engaged in battle and forced to surrender (Gilpin, The War of 1812 in the Old Northwest, 126–28).

10For Eustis’s letters to Harrison and Winchester of 1 Sept. 1812, see Gallatin to JM, 31 Aug. 1812, n. 4.

11In August, Monroe had presented to the unrecognized minister from Spain, Luis de Onís, through the Spanish vice-consul at Alexandria, Pablo Chacón, some propositions and questions relating to East Florida. Monroe offered to relinquish U.S. spoliation claims against Spain in exchange for renunciation of Spanish claims in East and West Florida. He inquired whether Onís was authorized to negotiate a treaty to this effect, when he would come to Washington to do so, and whether officials in Florida would evacuate upon his orders. Monroe also asked whether the formation of the new Spanish government under the Constitution of 1812 would affect Onís’s ability to negotiate (Brooks, Diplomacy and the Borderlands, 22–23).

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