Thomas Mann Randolph to James Monroe

Dear Sir,

as I never go off of this mountain myself nowadays, since my new abode here, and have no attendant, your truly gratefull and duly honoured favour was very long in geting to my hands. I read your memoir immediately with that attention which its character, literary as well as personal might well insure from persons uninterested by the old feelings and far back recollections excited by it in my mind. The facts are so plain, the principles so common and general, the support from Law and custom so complete for that period, and the demand so mild and dignified, as well as so earnest and candid, that I cannot conceive how you should fail ultimately to succeed, fully. I am very sure that no great merchant or mercantile company could hesitate to admit a claim bearing analogy to yours without forfeiting all reputation. I am equally sure that no twelve men could be found, real prudhommes, probi homines, who would not be unanimous in your favour upon a short explanation, if the case admitted of that relief. I wish the memoir could have been published and diffused during the year 1825. The basis and structure of the case are neither generally enough or well enough known, for which di deficiency you have now made ample provision. For my own part, allthough from the commencement, having allways the vague expectation as well as earnest hope and wish that you should succeed in your imperiously necessary endeavour to procure justice. I have been but little acquainted with the full merits of the claim untill now, the National Intelligence being then out of my power to peruse. I remember very well when Mr Jefferson gave you three important missions, allmost at one time, because he had not sufficient confidence in any other on the different occasions, and I knew perfectly that to escape the censure of the Federalists, who would certainly have charged him with filling the pockets of a friend, he had given that narrow construction to the term outfit which was made Law in 1810, and which kept you so long from receiving just dues, and caused ruinous sacrifices of your property to support private credit. I had allways expected that he would have made for you such a statement as this memoir contains in February 1809, to relieve you from the pecuniary detriment you had sustained from being his near and intimate friend. I took up that belief from hearing him speak often of your just and weighty claims, allthough untill now I was quite unacquainted with particulars. I rested in the conclusion that he declined doing so in consequence of an understanding with yourself, for reasons of still greater weight. He was ever most truly your friend in every point. He considered his Civic importance, his public character at home and political reputation abroad as entwined with yours. I was not out of his company one single day of March and April 1807. He never once spoke of your political fortunes as separated, or seperable, from his own. He did not on that occasion, it is true, favour the principle that in negotiation when the most important point cannot be carried at a certain time it may be postponed, with explicit reservation, to secure immediate benefit from others having great weight allso tho of another character. He seemed to have forgotten the value of commercial matters in zeal for the point of honour and resentment for injuries. In his situation he was justly impatient and irritable under the British practice in search of ships, and seizure of Sea men, and therefore revolted against all semblance of an acknowledgement of the right to exercise such a power, no doubt very properly. But the circumstances of the time might perhaps have rendered a less unyielding disposition more suitable to one determined against War alltogether, and resolved to discourage the growth of a Navy by all means. after all, the best salvo of the point of honour would have been to multiply ships of War allso, and exercise the usurped right allso likewise upon their flag. very punctilious tenderness to other Flags could not reasonably too be expected from a Power possessing an armament of one thousand ships, upon which her salvation depended in a most desperate struggle. Nothing is more certain than that her ultimate success was due to the complete power steadily exercised of cuting off from all commerce immediately every country which France acquired control over by her Armies. To keep up the mental tone of their Navy, which alone could save them, they were under the necessity of holding a slack rein in regard to search for Seamen, as well as enemies property, on board of Neutral ships. as much theoretic justice as was undoubtedly our right to demand, was of course more difficult to [. . .] be obtained from a Government which exercised, and a nation which submitted to the impressment of Seamen. I believe it to be fact that it was not in their power to do at that time what they knew to be right, and were willing to adopt, as soon as their safety could allow of it. The Chesapeak1 affair in 1807 and the farce of the crazy King geting into a rage and baulking his Cabinet in 1809, were strong proofs of the necessity under which they acted. Nothing could have been further from their view than to risk war with us in 1807, or even in 1809, allthough a large body of their people had then become considerally estranged by resentment for the long embargo. But it would not be less difficult to prevail on the Kentuckians now to give up the right to search for their runaway slaves in the state of ohio, than it was then to put a stop to that power so insultingly*

[Marginal Note:] *It has been supposed that the deep long smothered resentment of the american Seamen on that account, contributed to our Naval victories in 1812 13. 14. So far from thinking so I do not believe it was very generally felt by them very intensely, for such is not the character of that class of men whose real feeling[. . .] for the injury was not in proportion to their complaint. It was the Chivalrous excitement, the high science, and the knowledge of the value of discipline of our officers combined with the superior enthusiasm energy and agility of our seamen with equal courage which produced & will again produce the same effect.

exercised by the British Navy, in the endeavour to apprehend their runaway Seamen. We called on them if I remember accurately to put an abrupt and final stop to the practice more than for the application of a remedy to actual abuse of it. at the time I have been speaking of, March 1807, I saw every day many times another celebrated personage. He manifestly wore a serene, bland and lively aspect, which left no room to doubt his at once perceiving and enjoying the good fortune which the occurrence portended to himself.

To revert to your memorial, if your Predecessor could only have found time to make such a clear and concise statement for you in February 1817, as he also he’s so eminently capable of giving, your way would have been greatly smoothed. The claim would have been eight years in view, and all minds would have been prepared, when you first announced it yourself in January 1825. It thus came out [. . .] first, of necessity, at a most unfortunate moment, that of the enormous bounty to La Fayette. No doubt you heard that it was received by many as a suggestion of something of the same kind. of course there were a number of persons in Congress who had been disappointed in ill founded hopes of advancement from you; and gratefull feelings for public services are not to be expected from ambitious men. Besides, it cannot be denied that envy of success and Fame, disguising itself as republican severity, fills more minds, and influences more determinations, than, for the honour of human nature should be true. So many of the New Englanders, too, are influenced by sectional feelings upon such questions; or rather selfish and jealous and illiberal sentiments, affecting that appearance. I am allmost afraid my very great freedom may surprize you, but as I have indulged so far I must venture one more speculation of a like character. You no doubt remember that I collected and commanded your Albemarle Escort in December 1789 1799. By the time we got back we heard of the death of Washington. I could not refrain from saying, with too much “etourderie” to be sure, that the recent manifestation of your great popularity had no small share in that event.*

[Marginal Note:] *Your election was a triumph over the party to which he had attached himself most unwisely by accepting the command of the army. He was conscious of having done you a great injustice and at the same time of having made a serious blunder in a most important [. . . .]

I said it because I had learned from my relations and friends who were allmost to a man either bitter or at least staunch Federalists that he had never fallen off in his old high estimation of you. But he was conscious of having done wrong in your case, and had never forgiven himself for his conduct towards you in 1796. He soon found out that he had been overreached in that matter by a dexterous play upon very old national prejudice, which the world thought had died away at York town in 1781, but which he himself was conscious of still retaining. It was not*2.

[Marginal Note:] *.2. not entirely: there was some inclination that way however it cannot be denied: he never had much confidence in Republican Government unless in a new and thinly settled country. I did not believe that he ever [. . . .]

antirepublican sentiment, as the great Federal leaders of the day affected to believe, if that could have had place in his mind, he would not have sent you in 1794. When he saw how your successor was received he knew at once that your step with the Convention was most judicious, and alone could have procured, for yourself and your Nation, that consideration without which nothing could be done, nothing prevented. He saw at once that there was a fixed personal respect and esteem for you which had become very general, and prevented outbreakings, which no doubt jealousy of an attachment to G. Britain would otherwise have caused. He could not conceal from himself his error in exchanging a Minister to whom he could have given the fullest efficiency again at any moment he pleased, for one to whom neither his own Fame nor the importance of the Nation at the head of which he was were sufficient to impart any available dignity, under the existing ferment in the mind of the French Government and people. What must have been his feelings when he witnessed afterwards in retirement the fate of the triple mission, the contemptuous disregard for which subjected its members to be played upon by arrant swindlers. Washingtons philosophy was apt to abandon him when he found himself in the wrong. The great equanimity he displayed was not a little owing to a long uninterupted popularity, and success; with that self confidence which it fortified, but which he allways possessed even before his celebrity. He had the most perfect control over feelings, because he had been all his life a military man, and all such have it after a while. He was however totally incapable of dissimulation, and never has had any thing of the Courtier in him at any period. To conclude I never have to this day changed my opinion as to the cause of his death. It was announced to the World that he died of a sore throat caused by his being employed out with compass and chain in his ground when it had commenced snowing. That surely was very extraordinary for so robust a man. To this some more particular information has been given us lately, [. . .] as you know. He set up so much beyond his usual bed time as to alarm his Wife, merely, as he said, to finish plating and calculating an area of 25 acres in his own grounds. He was manifestly out of humour, and could not conceal it for, as we are told by Custis, he moralized to his Wife rather in a crabed manner, when she expressed her surprize. That he was in a state of much mental agitation cannot be denied. Your success opened his eyes suddenly on his new political situation. He found himself on delicate ground, in opposition to a vast majority of the people. Who does not know that the throat is the seat of such feelings. But I am about to shew medical learning, therefore I will stop short here, allthough such a question can be decided only by considering the moral causes of disease.

can I give you the trouble to forward the inclosed to Mr Rives. More than four weeks since I transmitted to him by mail two very large packets, one containing a long letter, and a translation of the third and last part of Morel de Vindes work on the breeding of Merino Sheep, the other only the second part of the same work, the first, which had been translated in November last, not having been fairly enough written, was reserved untill I could copy over some of the worst written pages. I have not yet heard from him, and feel no inconsiderable anxiety about the fate of my M.S.accept my thanks for your favor, and the old sincere homage of my highest veneration.

Th M Randolph Senr
RC (DLC: Monroe Papers); some text obscured by binding; written vertically in left margin at foot of text: “James Monroe Esquire Ex President U.S.”; endorsed by Monroe: “letter from T. M Randolph papers—Administration of J.M.”; enclosure not found.
1Manuscript: “Cherapeak.”
James Monroe
Date Range
May 1, 1828