Below are excerpts from the press release sent out by the William and Mary on its acquisition of an archive of unpublished James Monroe letters from The Raab Collection this year.
William & Mary acquires James Monroe letters
by Tami Back, William & Mary Libraries
William & Mary Libraries has acquired more than two dozen letters handwritten by James Monroe, the fifth president of the U.S. and an alumnus of the university. The letters, which have never before been published, document communications between Monroe and his Secretary of the Treasury, William Crawford.
“As there are not many existing letters between Monroe and his cabinet members, we expect these letters to provide new insight into Monroe’s presidency and lead to new scholarship and discoveries,” said Jay Gaidmore, director of the Special Collections Research Center at the university’s Swem Library.
A selection of letters will be publicly displayed for the first time in an exhibit held at the Muscarelle Museum, opening to the public on February 11, 2017. The exhibit, “Written in Confidence: The Unpublished Letters of James Monroe,” will feature 12 of the newly acquired letters, and will run through May 14.
“We have plenty left to learn about Monroe’s presidency, especially the crucial relationships with his cabinet members,” said Sara Bon-Harper, executive director of James Monroe’s Highland, the William & Mary-owned historic home in Charlottesville, VA. “Having access to his personal correspondence will undoubtedly contribute to our growing understanding of Monroe and his presidency.”
The newly acquired letters have never before been published or publicly viewed.
The letters were purchased from the Raab Collection. “Each time we walk into a stranger’s home or to see a collection for the first time, we temper our excitement with the knowledge that we don’t really know what they have until we see it with our own eyes, but after seeing the materials, we knew we were in the presence of history,” said Nathan Raab. “It gives me satisfaction to think that we have found these documents a new home, where they will be publicly studied, enjoyed and preserved.”
The acquisition comes at a time when there is a renewed interest in Monroe, whom some call the forgotten president – overshadowed by the legacies of Thomas Jefferson and George Washington.
“Now, in the 200th anniversary of James Monroe’s election, it is an appropriate time to re-examine Monroe’s presidency, one that often gets lost among others in a period of great and formative presidents,” said Bon-Harper.
The letters join the library’s James Monroe Family Papers, a collection of over 300 letters and other documents by, to and concerning Monroe and his family. Dating primarily from 1780 to 1831, the collection covers Monroe’s service as an officer during the American Revolution, governor of Virginia, minister to France and Great Britain, Secretary of State and War and President, as well as post-presidential years. The collection covers a variety of topics such as family life, business affairs, diplomacy and foreign relations, slavery and politics, and it includes one of the only existing letters written by Monroe’s wife.
W&M Libraries and James Monroe’s Highland are preparing to digitize the James Monroe Family Papers, making these materials freely accessible online. The papers are expected to be available online by spring 2017.