He also states his own plans for his impending retirement from public service: "I shall reside with my family on a farm, about 35 miles above their city, in a high and very healthy country, where the land is good and the neighborhood very respectable."
He would have written sooner except he was “engaged in important duties arising from the late adjournment of Congress.”
“Some plan ought to be adopted with a view to his future station in life, and on this subject I will communicate to you, freely, my sentiments. Having an increasing family, the...
He would have written sooner except he was “engaged in important duties arising from the late adjournment of Congress.”
“Some plan ought to be adopted with a view to his future station in life, and on this subject I will communicate to you, freely, my sentiments. Having an increasing family, the improvement of their property for their own comfort and the education and advancement of their children, should be their great object. In fulfilling this, duty, your wishes and happiness should be consulted, and respectful attention should also be paid, to those of his aged parents, one of whom, his father, is very infirm, and subject to occasional attacks which menace his existence.”
This is the longest Monroe ALS as President that we can recall seeing
James Monroe’s mother died in 1772, and his father two years later. Though he inherited property, including slaves, from both of his parents, the 16-year-old Monroe was forced to withdraw from school to support his younger brothers. He was therefore experienced in guiding and giving advice to youths. One of these brothers was Andrew Augustine Monroe, who married in the 1790s, and in 1799 named his only son after his brother – James. When in 1805 the elder James Monroe came into sole possession of his uncle’s valuable estate, he gave management of the estate to his brother Andrew, who lived at the 6-room overseer’s house from 1808 to 1817. James continued to feel responsibility for young family members, particularly so in James’s case, as the lad had little schooling and was ill-disciplined by his parents.
James Monroe the elder was U.S. Ambassador to France during the Napoleonic Era, and was governor of Virginia in 1811. But he left that year when, in April 1811, President James Madison appointed him Secretary of State in hopes of shoring up the support of the more radical factions of his Democratic-Republican Party. From 1814-1815, Monroe also served as Secretary of War. In 1816 Monroe was elected President of the United States, and took office on March 4, 1817. He served for eight years, a period known as the Era of Good Feelings.
At the young James’s desire, his powerful uncle had him appointed to the West Point Military Academy, from which he graduated in 1815. In the army, he served as aide-de-camp to General Winfield Scott. After that he moved to New York and became a politician, serving in Congress during the Van Buren administration. He hob-nabbed with the rich and prominent in the city, such as the Schermerhorns, and his grandson married Theodore Roosevelt’s sister (who was also the aunt of Eleanor Roosevelt).
When Monroe was Secretary of State, he wrote his nephew a letter giving him advice, moral, philosophical, and practical. The letter may seem stern to us today, but would not have seemed so at the time. And the fact that he wrote it at all shows that a bond of affection existed, as well as real interest in the boy’s welfare.
Autograph letter signed, as President, Washington, 18 June 1824, to Mrs. George Douglas, mother of his nephew’s wife, apologizing for the delay in replying to her letter due to important duties arising from the later adjournment of Congress. “I have had the pleasure to receive your letter of the 10th of this month, and should have answered it sooner had I not been much engaged in important duties arising from the late adjournment of Congress. Although | have always taken a deep interest in the we/fare of my brother and his family, and this youth, his son, has been raised in a great measure, under my care, yet I took no part in promoting his marriage, or in any concern connected with It. With your sons &daughters who were here, we were much pleased, seeing that they had been well educated, and of your character & merit, we had formed the most favorable opinion, as well from what we heard from others. As the proof afforded, by the education of your children, & the care which you had taken on their property, since the death of their father. As James was young and inexperienced, & had little more than his profession, indeed | may say that alone, | saw no objection, to any settlement, which might be made of his wife’s property, calculated to secure it to them & their children, which should not degrade them both. On this subject I took no part, while a restraint seemed necessary, I advised him to remain in the army and was very glad that its duties permitted his establishment at the arsenal, as they would be near you, he would have an honorable occupation, be aided in his expenses by his pay, and would commence house keeping in a small house, and on a scale of economy which might be useful to them through life.
“I think that the time has arrived when some plan ought to be adopted with a view to his future station in life, and on this subject I will communicate to you, freely, my sentiments. Having an increasing family, the improvement of their property for their own comfort and the education and advancement of their children, should be their great object. In fulfilling this, duty, you your wishes and happiness should be consulted, and respectful attention should also be paid, to those of his aged parents, one of whom, his father, is very infirm, and subject to occasional attacks which menace his existence. To separate himself altogether from them would be a degree of unkindness which you could not approve. And to them, it would also be agreeable to become acquainted with his children. I do not think that he ought to remain longer than a year more in the army. The peaceful state of the country does not require it, and the duties of the military profession would occupy too 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 and advancement of their children. An establishment in the city of New York would in my opinion not be advisable, even if their property was worth double what it is. He was brought up to no profession, but that of the army, and it now too late to commence the study of the law with the hope of success, and he knows nothing of commerce. In the city, he would pass an idle life, which might lead to their ruin. The expense of living would be considerable, as his acquaintance in the town, from the country and other states would call on him. Thus his time would be consumed in idleness; he could never advance himself in life, and his income would be as wasted in daily expenses, without any advantage either to himself or family. An idle young man has no standing in the community, and there is always danger of their contracting bad habits, and being drawn into bad company.
“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; would be out of the way of expense, and both he and his wife, being provident in their conduct, might acquire a standing in society which would be useful to themselves and their children, as they might live on the profits of their estate, with a very trifling addition, they might live on the surplus of their income and turn it to good account. The question then is whether they had better retire of the future of New York, or Virginia, and by adopting which alternative they will most promote your happiness as well as your own? I shall state to you, the prospect in Virginia in every minute circumstance, so that you may be able to form a correct judgment, to which the preference should be given.
“I shall reside with my family on a farm, about 35 miles above their city, in a high and very healthy country, where the land is good and the neighborhood very respectable. To establish James with his family near and on a good farm, with a good house and other improvements, with stock, would [cost] 10 or 12,000 dollars. I rather think that with the latter seem his establishment might be placed on a vert respectable scale, such as to afford good accommodations to yourself and all your family, whenever you saw fit to visit them. Such a farm is now for sale near me, at a very low price, and the improvements which it might be necessary to add might be finished in the course of the present and the next year, if the farm was bought immediately and in the improvements begun. Not more than $2000 need be paid this year, to conclude the contract and put the buildings in train, and the balance in two equal annual installments, Afterwards 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 house rent, which would probably amount to five hundred more. The interest on $12,000 at 6% is $720, which with the $500 added make $1220 a year. The difference therefore between living in New York and on such as estate would be at least $2000 per annum, which in five or six years would pay for the estate. At the end of that term the estate, as may be readily conceived, would be of much greater value, as it would be much improved.
“By living near us, James would have the advantages of my experience and advice, and the use of an excellent library. We pass from this city to Loudon easily in one day, and sometimes breakfast at one place and dine at the other, while the roads are good in the summer. You may pass your summers together, and then their winters with you. While there, we should be happy to see you and your family and endeavor our all that we could to make your visits agreeable to you. Should Lieut. Monroe move now into the interior of New York, he would settle there as a stranger, and being unaccustomed to making improvements of any kind might incur heavy expenses, which with the advice and aid he would have near me, might be avoided. No place is more healthy than that suggested in Virginia, being near the mountains and few would be more agreeable as a summer retreat, especially as it is so near this city. While his parents live, his duty will call him occasionally to see them, which would interfere with his establishment elsewhere.
“Whether it would be most advisable for them to reside permanently or not is a point on which it would not be necessary to decide, should they now go there. For five or six years, the education of their children will not be commenced. During that time they may make an experiment and see how they liked the place, live at little expense, and nurse their income, and afterwards either remain there, or move elsewhere, should they be so disposed. We frankly own that we should be happy to have them as our neighbors, knowing him to be an honorable and estimable young man, and respecting highly as my whole family do, the amiable and excellent qualities of your daughter. We are very far from wishing to obtain this at the sacrifice of the happiness, or interest, of those in whose welfare we take so deep an interest.”
A deeply fascinating letter, the longest letter of President Monroe we recall seeing, showing how Monroe thought on family issues, duties within families, his preference for country over city, and balanced and assessed factors of what matters in life. One very seldom sees a presidential letter on these topics. It is interesting that his nephew did not take his advice, but went to New York instead.
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