Washington, D.C: 16 July 1814-18 June 1824.
9 pp. total, pen and ink on paper. Creased from prior folding, some tears along creases, light dampstaining to one letter. In green cloth chemise. Angus Davidson, Miss Douglas of New York, A Biography (New York, 1953), pp. 38-39. Item #307436
A series of three letters from James Monroe, written as Secretary of State and President, concerning his nephew and namesake James, son of his brother Andrew Augustine Monroe (1759-1826).
James Monroe (1799-1870) was the promising young son of Monroe's unsuccessful elder brother Andrew. The young James "had run wild on his father's ill-managed, decaying plantation in Virginia and had little schooling; then his uncle (who at that time combined the offices of secretary of state and secretary of war) sent him, at his own desire, to the West Point Military Academy and, determined, in spite of the boy's earlier disadvantages to turn him into a useful citizen, wrote him letters giving him much good advice, both moral and practical. He felt evidently, that the boy required stern discipline, and thought it necessary to conceal his real affection for him beneath a tone of austerity, almost of harshness. His bark, however, was worse than his bite. That real affection existed, real interest in the boy's welfare and true kindliness of heart towards him, is shown by the great amount of time and trouble and the meticulous thought which the distinguished statesman, busy with more important affairs devoted to his young nephew's career" (Davidson, p. 38).
In the first letter, dated 16 July 1814, Monroe writes as Secretary of State to his nephew James, then newly enrolled at West Point. Monroe has arranged with Major Partridge of Vermont to be sure that James is well supplied with books and necessaries. The letter continues on, Monroe dispensing a stream of practical advice — avoid debt, keep your good clothes clean and reserved for special occasions, work diligently at your studies, always strive to improve, etc. Monroe offers advice for handling a servant: "If a servant is allowed, he may make up the bed & sweep the room, clean your boots and brush your cloths. But you ought to take care of them, & might brush them. When I was at College, I did almost every thing for myself, & I have found the use of it thro' life. Before this time, I presume, you have seen that it is not disreputable for a young man to wait on himself, and on those older than him, and that by doing certain things, such as having your wood at hand, ready cut up, making up your own fire, lighting your candles, brushing your coat, dusting your shoes, & the like, you keep your room more quiet & clean, have less noise, and are in all respects more comfortable, than if you had to call a servant in on all occasions to do these things for you. I give these hints, for your advantage." Monroe, perhaps concerned that James will be seen as unfairly benefiting from his uncle’s influence, warns in a postscript: "You had better not show my letters to anyone."
In a second letter, dated 2 November 1821, Monroe writes as President, advising James to visit his parents, help his indigent brother, and proceed carefully in his courtship of his future wife, Elizabeth Mary Douglas: “Another reason, occurs, in favor of this visit, which is that by withdrawing from N. York, till the Lady returns there, & for some time afterwards, on a visit home & to your father, it will be shown, that you do not rest your future prospects & hopes entirely on her, or her family. I think the steps would raise you in her estimation, & that of the family as well as of others." The Douglas family was against Elizabeth’s match with James, despite his uncle’s high position.
In a third, lengthy letter of 18 June 1824, Monroe writes to the mother of Elizabeth Mary Douglas, now married to his nephew James, with a plan to set up James and Elizabeth on a farm in Virginia. A fascinating letter, going into some detail about the economics of the proposal: “I think that the time has arriv'd, when some plan ought to be adopted, with a view to his future status in life, and on this subject, I will communicate to you, freely, my sentiments … I do not think that [James] ought to remain longer, than a year most, in the army. The peaceful state of the country does not require it, and the duties of the military profession, would occupy to [sic] much of his time, as to prevent the adoption of any fixed plan, for the improvement of their property, for his own advancement in life, and for the education & advancement of their children … In the city [New York], he would pass an idle life, which might lead to their ruin … If James leaves the army, he ought, in my opinion, to retire to the country, on a farm, because there, he would have an occupation … To establish James with his family near us, on a good farm, with a good house and other improvements … would require from 10 to 12,000 dollars … such a farm is now for sale near me, at a very low price … On this farm, with a few hundred dollars additional, five hundred for example, I think that they might live, as well as they could in New York, for three thousand, exclusive of home rent, which would probably amount to five hundred more. The interest on £12,000 at 6 percent is £720, which, with the £500 added, make £1,220 a year. The difference therefore between living in New York, & on a such an estate [in Virginia], would be, at least £2,000 per annum, which in five or six years would pay for the estate. At the end of that term, the estate, as may readily be conceived, would be of much grater value, as it would be much improved … We frankly own, that we should be happy to have them as our neighbours, knowing him to be an honorable & estimable young man, and respecting highly as my whole family do, the amiable and excellent qualities of your daughter."
[with:] Pre-printed certificate completed in manuscript, appointing Hon. James Monroe as a member of the Fifth Ward Tippecanoe Club, New York, 10 June 1840, engraved vignette, signed by the president, two vice-presidents and two secretaries, split on folds with one small tear with loss, with engraved vignettes to folded verso and autograph letter to Monroe from a club secretary hoping that he will receive a certificate “as a humble testimonial of our esteem for you, and is a tribute to your worth as a public officer”
[and:] 14 letters relating to the Douglas family of New York in the mid-19th century.
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