|George Washington and James
Military, Political, and Diplomatic Relations 1776-1799
by Steven Christopher Ippolito
Introduction--The Iconography of American War
The American Way of War: A History of United States Military History and
Policy, by military historian Russell F. Weigley, discusses both
art and war. In a nineteenth century representation of a famous military
operation of the American Revolution, Dr. Weigley references the dramatic
instance in which George Washington and his troops have disembarked from
McKonkey’s Ferry in New Jersey, on a nocturnal riverine journey to attack the
Hessian allies of the British, at Trenton, on Christmas Day, 1776. Completed
in 1851, by Emanuel Leutze, Washington Crossing the Delaware, places
Washington at the head of a boat, defiant against the frost of a winter
night as he leads the Continental Army across the Delaware. True, the
image of Washington standing in a boat was mocked by the critics of
the painting, though it is equally true that many of the Continentals actually
made the crossing standing up, depending upon the river vessel that was
employed on the Delaware that night.
The Durham boat, for example, a vessel some thirty or forty feet long, intended
to carry heavy loads including iron, carried men who did stand all the
way across the river. Durham boats had no seats, and many had ice and water on
their bottoms. Most of the men would not have wanted to sit in ice water, quite
understandably. Washington called for every possible vessel to convey his
army across the river, in order to mount a complicated and military operation
in the special ops tradition. His leadership in the river crossing to
the critical Battle of Trenton is American generalship at its best.
Nevertheless, it is not Washington, alone, who is of principal concern in this
paper. Rather, it is the relationship of Washington to the man
standing behind him in the uniform of a Continental Army officer who bears the
American flag: Lieutenant James Monroe of Virginia.
The dominant figures in the painting are two gentlemen of Virginia
who stand tall above the rest. One of them is Lieutenant James Monroe, holding
a big American flag upright against the storm. The other is Washington…The
artist invites each of these soldiers as an individual, but he also reminds us
that they are all in the same boat, working desperately together against the
wind and current. He has given them a common sense of mission, and in the
stormy sky above he has painted a bright prophetic star, shining through a veil
Accordingly, this paper will follow the journey of James Monroe in his
relationship to George Washington and other Americans of note during and after
the American Revolution till 1799. Like Washington, Monroe would one day rise
to the office of Chief Executive, in 1817, and he would serve as the Fifth
President of a young United States till 1825. It will examine the nature of
Monroe’s experiences, politically, diplomatically, and militarily, vis-à-vis
America’s commanding general and first U.S. President and others in the
Revolution as America enters the nineteenth century. Clearly, the political
future of America in the aftermath of the Revolution, born amidst great sturm
und drang,  was by no means certain. But through the unique
talents of the Framers and those special Americans like Washington and Monroe,
and many others, famous and obscure, the goal of a nation grounded in the
unique principles of the Enlightenment and the rights promised by the
Constitution was successfully realized. Yet, a strange tension would gradually
come to characterize the Washington-Monroe relationship, post-1794, as this
paper will demonstrate. The vagaries of power politics and critical differences
in the understanding of and the articulation of early American foreign policy
would eventually corrode their professional association.
Theirs was an association that began in the Revolutionary War ,when Monroe was
still a teenager, and which came to a de facto end with Monroe’s
humiliating recall from France as America’s ambassador by President Washington,
the man who had sent him there in the first place. This paper proposes that the
causes of the demise of the Washington-Monroe relationship include, the
Franco-American Treaty of 1778, the residual American gratitude and antipathy
towards the French and British, respectively, subsequent to the American
Revolution, the contrasting foreign policy approaches to the European powers by
the Federalists (e.g. Washington and Hamilton), and the Jeffersonian
Republicans, and, most dramatically, the highly-controversial Jay Treaty
between England and the United States would serve to drive the final nails into
the coffin of the Washington and Monroe relationship.
The experience suffered by Monroe might have devastated the career of another
American political figure. But Monroe would reemerge intact on the American
political scene thanks to his association with Thomas Jefferson and the
Jeffersonian Republicans of the time. Washington, his great personal magnetism
as the first amongst Americans, notwithstanding, had his political enemies.
Monroe found shelter amongst this group which helped him survive politically.
In time, he would ascend to the same heights of leadership as Washington, to
become America’s fifth president, the last of a unique generation of five
political leaders, a de facto dynasty of Virginia-born men who were
America’s link to its insurgency against England, the cocked hats, named
for the eighteenth century headwear of the time. These leaders, eighteenth
century navigators of the American ship of state, would help lead British
subjects to a new American identity.
Like Columbus, they would chart a course for a highly-uncertain political
journey through an ocean of war to a New World of liberty and rights, based
upon the principles of the Enlightenment. In Monroe, we come to the end of this
unique political era. But at its beginning, following America’s separation from
Great Britain, there were absolutely no political landmarks or precedent in
European history by which they could lead a nation brought to term from the
womb of war and politics to the maturity of the modern nation-state.
This paper, then, will introduce undergraduate students to some of the key
points of American history in two installments: Part I of this paper will take
the reader to the dawn of the nineteenth century. Part II will follow that
period till the election of Monroe as President in 1817, and the critical
development of the Monroe Doctrine, till his death in New York City in 1831.
Not simply a narrative of two great Americans, it is a telling of events in the
lives of a nation and a number of individuals. It will discuss the significance
of America’s views of international relations at the time. The question of the
United States and its relations with France and England, subsequent to the
Revolution is examined. The rise of America’s early political parties: the
Federalists and the Jeffersonian Democrat-Republicans, is reviewed, too,
through the words and sentiments of Washington and Monroe, and others of
importance at the time. Like the citizens of the present-day United States,
post-colonial Americans would diverge on issues of big government vs. smaller,
states-rights’ oriented government. Like modern-day liberals and conservatives,
Republicans and Democrats, the power alliances of Washington and Alexander
Hamilton would find themselves politically-disconnected from Thomas Jefferson
and James Monroe on the issues of war, foreign policy, isolationism vs.
involvement in European commerce and political affairs, as powerfully, then, as
they are, now. Politically and militarily in the life of a nation-state, the
names and the issues change with time and circumstance. But as the experiences
of Washington, Monroe, and others demonstrates, the process frequently
does not. This is the unmistakable testimony of history.
Finally, this article is dedicated to the students and faculty of Monroe
College in New York City, most especially, my political science and criminal
justice undergrads, in order to acquaint them with the significance of their alma
mater’s namesake as warfighter, diplomat, and in relationship to the
first American among Americans, George Washington. Ultimately, it will consider
Monroe’s two terms as the fifth President of the United States, As these words
are written, the 176th anniversary of President Monroe’s death (4 July 1831) is
less than a week away. To that end, and in the spirit of Washington, Monroe,
and America’s birthday, this article is written and respectfully-submitted.
My Dearest: I am now set down to write to you on a subject which
fills me with inexpressible concern…It has been determined in Congress that the
whole army raised for the defense of the American cause shall be put under my
care, and that it is necessary for me to proceed immediately to Boston to take
upon me the command of it…But as it has been a kind of destiny that has thrown
me upon this service, I shall hope that my undertaking is designed to answer
some good purpose.
18 June 1775,
Letter to Martha Washington
I am called on a theatre to which I am a perfect stranger.
16 June 1783
Letter to Richard Henry Lee
Lt. James Monroe Crosses a River
The confluence of destiny and events that led an eighteen year old lieutenant
in the Continental Army to a hazard a Christmas river crossing in 1776 began in
Virginia, on 28 April 1758. On this day, James Monroe was born to successful
Virginia planters: Spence Monroe and Elizabeth (nee Jones) His forebears
were Scotch and Welsh immigrants, but as the life of Monroe would come to
unfold, he, like the first President, Washington, would come to be understood
as quintessentially American. Even the date of his death on the Fourth of July
bears witness to the nature of Monroe’s true identity, though in 1758, his
parents would have regarded themselves and their new-born son as loyal British
Monroe would become well-educated in his native Virginia where his world was an
interesting one. One of his fellow students and childhood friends, for example,
was John Marshall, a future Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. His life,
nevertheless, was marred by early tragedy when both parents died in his teenage
years. Economically stable, however, after his parents’ deaths, Monroe entered
the College of William and Mary in 1774, at the age of sixteen. Here, Monroe
found that America’s impending rupture with Britain had whipped the school into
patriotic fervor. And with some classmates, Monroe began his revolutionary
activities by participating in a raid upon the British Governor’s Palace in
Virginia. This action netted the young revolutionaries approximately 200
muskets and 300 swords, which they promptly presented to the Virginia militia.
By 1776, Monroe was an officer, a lieutenant in the Continental Army and had
joined the Commander-in-Chief in New York. In this way, he found himself
within a boat upon a river on the unlikely night of Christmas, 25 December
The Yuletide season, 1776, in the midst of a violent insurgency, was hardly in
the nature of the gentle Jesus. A harsh winter, the reality of impending battle
with troops, boats, battle-horses with small-arms and heavy weapons,
counterpointed the holiday spirit in Trenton, New Jersey. Washington’s
Continental Army, moving upon a river and land in a storm, their Christianity,
notwithstanding, would render de facto homage to a god of battles on
the Delaware River, preparatory to warfighting against other Christians. Before
the clash of arms that was soon to follow, George Washington, at 1800 hours,
wrote a brief note to Colonel John Cadwalader from McKonkey’s Ferry in New
Dear Sir: Notwithstanding the discouraging Accounts I have received
from Col. Reed of what might be expected from the Operations below,
I am determined, as the Night is favourable, to cross the River and
make the attack upon Trenton in the Morning. If you can do nothing
real, at least create as great a diversion as possible. I am, etc.
James M. McPherson, describing the Delaware River operation in David
Hackett Fischer’s work, Washington’s Crossing, offers that: “No single
day in history was more decisive for the creation of the United States than
Christmas 1776.” 2400 colonials moved by night across the Delaware River
from Pennsylvania to New Jersey, in the midst of a furious nor’easter. To
Washington, Monroe, and the men in the boats, contending with ice, snow, and
frigid water, the experience was unlikely to have been experienced as heroic,
Leutze’s heroic imagery, notwithstanding. And if the crossing wasn’t bad
enough, it was necessary for the Americans, after a maneuver through an
ice-filled river, to undertake an all-night march to perpetrate a sneak
attack upon 1500 Hessians (German mercenaries), at Trenton, New Jersey. If they
failed, the future of the American Army and the Revolutionary cause might come
Nevertheless, the complicated, asymmetrical maneuver, against the Hessians was
well-executed; the Germans were thoroughly-surprised and crushed. One week
later, the British counter-attacked at Trenton which Washington was able to
withstand with his Army before slipping away in a fifteen mile march through
back roads to Princeton. Here, the Americans engaged and defeated British
reinforcements coming to shore up the Crown’s position in Trenton. However, the
antecedents that led Washington, Monroe, and the Continental Army across the
frigid waters of the Delaware River was one of bitter defeat and frustration
Washington—Prelude to a River
Prior to the Battle of Trenton, there were the less successful American
experiences of Bunker Hill, Long Island, and Harlem Heights. The fight on
Bunker Hill, actually, Breed’s Hill, took place in Boston, 17 June 1775, before
Washington joined the Army in Massachusetts. Though not quite a victory for the
colonials, it would give them encouragement.
Bunker Hill encouraged Washington to believe that as long as he
maintained a similar tactical as well as strategic defensive, he might hope to
resist successfully, the whole of any army the British were likely to mobilize
against him, in spite of the obvious deficiencies of his troops in numbers,
equipment, and training. Unfortunately, for Washington, even this modest
optimism was to prove unfounded. The British had so badly bungled their
opportunities at Bunker Hill , the battle gave the Americans excessive hopes of
what they could accomplish in full-scale battle as long as they stood on the
Unlike Washington after the battle, the British commander at Bunker Hill,
General Thomas Gage was more realistic about what was to transpire within
the battlespace that day in Boston. According to Allan R. Millet and Peter
Maslowski, Gage, upon considering the rebels position on Bunker Hill,
concluded that it was a strong one, and that he was in need of reinforcements.
Instead, three major generals arrived to give advice: William Howe, Henry
Clinton, and John Burgoyne. With aggressive impatience, they demanded offensive
action from General Gage against the insurgents, at once. The Americans,
however, who had been ordered to fortify Bunker Hill, instead, fortified
Breed’s Hill. Aware that a fight could not be avoided, Gage acquiesced to his
generals’ wishes. He ordered General Howe to attack the Americans with
When Howe’s effort to outflank the colonial position failed, he
believed that he had no choice, but to make a frontal assault. Three times the
redcoats advanced, and twice the colonists hurled them off the hill. On the
third try, with the colonists weary and short of ammunition, the British
swarmed over the parapet and the Americans fled.
2500 British regulars attacked the hill; 1000 of these became casualties.
Taking careful note of the action, Gage was struck by the fighting spirit of
the insurgents. His previous opinions of Americans in battle had been garnered
in the French and Indian War, where he was not terribly impressed with
colonials as soldiers. Now, however, things were different for the British:
“The government realized that it faced a genuine war requiring a regular
campaign, replaced Gage with Howe, and began to plan for 1776.” Less than a
month later, 2 July 1775, George Washington arrived to command the modest
American force. Despite all manner of problems, Washington correctly assessed
that the next area of military importance would be to the south: New York. In a
letter, dated 14 March 1776, Washington, from his headquarters in Cambridge,
Massachusetts, wrote to the officer commanding New York, General William
Alexander (Lord Stirling):
Sir: I have stronger Reasons since I wrote to you last, to confirm
me in my Opinion that the Army under General Howe is on its Departure. All
their movements pronounce it…It is given out that they are bound to Halifax,
but I am of the Opinion that New York is their Place of Destination. It is the
Object worthy their Attention; and it is the Place that we must use every
Endeavour to keep from them…I am, Sir, etc.
Russell Weigley, too, wrote of Washington’s beliefs about the movements of the
Washington could foresee that the next British move would be
against New York,…because he recognized the nature of sea power enough to
understand that if the British navy found a suitable base along the coast of
the rebellious colonies, British sea power might permit the enemy to keep the
Revolution constantly off balance by landing forces anywhere on the colonial
In 1776, Washington arrived in New York where he placed his army between
Manhattan and Long Island, On Brooklyn Heights, the Americans dug in, in Bunker
Hill-style, waiting for the British to launch another costly frontal assault,
which never came.
Sea power permitted the enemy to turn…[Washington’s] defenses, and
Bunker Hill proved to have been misleading evidence about the American prowess
in battle even when the British did offer Washington the opportunity to stand
and fight on land.
On 27 August 1776, General Howe landed his British and Hessian force at Long
Island. In a brilliant example of maneuver warfare, they flanked the Americans
on the left and dislodged them from the Heights, whereupon the rebels promptly
retreated back to Manhattan.
General William Howe chose to send his troops on an attack by land
against the first line of Washington’s defenses, along a ridge called the
Heights of Guian on Long Island east of Gowanus Bay. Washington and his
generals obtusely neglected to guard all the roads which led to the left and
rear of the position, and the defense collapsed when it was assailed from three
directions at once.
On 15 September, the British landed at Kips Bay to entrap Washington.
Fortunately, Howe’s troops were not moved quickly enough, however, and the
Americans escaped to Harlem Heights on Manhattan Island’s northern tip.
At the subsequent Battle of Harlem Heights, Washington repulsed the enemy, at
the site of the present-day Columbia University. This was the occasion in which
James Monroe received the first of his two war wounds. Washington had placed
two brigades on the high-ground of Harlem Heights. They were engaged by British
and German mercenaries who, at length, drove them from the area through force
of numbers. As the Americans retreated, the British came on rather quickly to
attack Washington’s main body of troops. According to Fischer, the British
managed to add insult to injury. Appearing in the open, the British blew their
bugles, suggesting that they were on a fox hunt, a clear sign of contempt for
their American cousins.
Washington, outraged, forgot his defensive strategy and ordered his
men to attack…Smallwood’s Maryland regiment, the Connecticut Rangers, and the
Virginia infantry took cover in a ravine, overgrown with bushes. On its western
edge was a post-and-rail fence. The British light infantry came on, full of
confidence. When they reached the fence, the Americans rose up and fired. The
British infantry stopped, then fell back under heavy fire. The Americans came
forward firing, and the British retreated with heavy losses. It was a small
victory, but timely.
Nevertheless, the position in Harlem Heights was not viable. The British had
the capacity to ferry men up the length of the Hudson River, where they could
flank the Americans at any time. Howe did eventually land troops at Throgs Neck
(the present day Northeast Bronx), and Pell’s Point. However, the British moved
too slowly, and Washington escaped to White Plains. There, the Americans were
positioned by Washington in a strong defensive position, goading, as it were,
the British to attack. Instead, Howe elected to maneuver on Washington’s flank,
forcing him to withdraw. At length, Washington was driven from New York,
and his route of escape was northward. Howe, nevertheless, elected to go south,
to New Jersey.
Washington’s goal was to keep his army from capture or destruction by
maneuvering “across the Delaware River, trying to stay between the advancing
enemy and the rebel capital at Philadelphia.” In this, the
Commander-in-Chief was aided by the season and the weather. Winter was upon the
colonies, and Howe’s troops, including the German mercenaries, had gone into
Washington and Monroe—The River
On 22 December 1776, Washington convened a council of war. The people of
New Jersey, citizens and militia alike had begun to move aggressively and
spontaneously against the British and Hessians for various outrages and
depredations against the civilians of the state. The chief complaint was the
rape of civilian women by British troops, and many of these grievances appear
to have been valid complaints. In retaliation, German Hessians and British
troops were ambushed in insurgent-guerrilla style by Pennsylvania militiamen,
acting almost completely autonomously. These unexpected actions had the effect
of unnerving the Germans who could no longer feel secure even in their own
In occupied New Jersey, General Howe had proclaimed a peace, but
there was no peace. The pacifiers found themselves at war with an infuriated
population. On Christmas Eve, Howe instructed his men in New Jersey not to
travel alone on the roads, but to restrict their movements in large convoys, a
few days each week…This was life without liberty or law in occupied New
Colonel Joseph Reed, who had considerable ties to New Jersey, was aware of the
spontaneous uprising in that state by various militias and private citizens
alike. He wrote a letter to Washington describing the state of affairs, which,
in turn, occasioned Washington’s council of war. In his missive, Reed begged
Washington for some kind of action in New Jersey by the American Army.
Reed’s suggestion was that Washington initiate an action at Trenton subsequent
to a crossing of the Delaware River. The recommendation by Reed was discussed
at Washington’s war council, where, according to Fischer:
The meeting debated Reed’s plan for crossing the Delaware and
attacking one of the enemy’s posts in New Jersey. The council agreed very
quickly, and a long discussion followed on how it might be done. Much of the
conversation was about the weather, the river, and boats. Colonel John Glover,
who had long experience of maritime affairs, was consulted about the
feasibility of the crossing. Glover told Washington…‘that…his boys could manage
it.’ The next day secret orders went out to senior officers in the army. The
operation was on.
On 24 December 1776, Washington, from his base camp above Trenton Falls, wrote
to Congress. This letter clearly demonstrates the Commander-in-Chief’s concerns
and pessimistic state of mind as recently as twenty-four hours prior to the
commencement of the Delaware-Trenton operation.
Sir: That I should dwell upon the Subject of our distresses cannot
be more disagreeable to Congress, than it is painful to my self. The alarming
Situation to which our affairs are reduced impels me to the Measure…When I
reflect upon these things, they fill me with much concern, knowing that General
Howe has a Number of Troops cantoned in the Towns…near the Delaware,
[with]…intentions to pass as soon as the ice is Sufficiently formed, to invade
Pennsylvania, and to possess himself of [the City of] Philadelphia, if
Possible. To guard against his designs, and the executions of them, shall
employ my every exertion, but how is this to be done? As yet, but a few Militia
have gone to Philadelphia…Had I entertained a doubt of General Howe’s
intentions to pass the Delaware [up]on the dissolution of our Army and as soon
as the ice is made, it would be now done away…P.S. If the public papers have
been removed from Philadelphia, I hope those which I sent to Lieut. Colo. Reed
before we left New York, have not been forgot[.] 
Nevertheless, a furious storm confronted General Washington and the Continental
Army. Its raw, elemental power gave rise to concern for the force’s chances for
success. Uncertain about the outcome of the operation, Washington considered
terminating it. However, it was clear to all that the harsh weather that
oppressed the Continentals also served to obstruct the Hessians who were unable
to complete their usual patrols that night. Similarly, the ice and cold favored
the Americans in another important way: the weather dried-up the “road taken by
the Americans from Trenton to Princeton that had been knee-deep in mud the
previous day.” Washington, therefore, commenced the attack.
Images of a War Journey
Unlike the actual operation on the Delaware, fraught with peril and the tense
uncertainty of the outcome of the battle-to-come, there is a strange serenity
in the Romantic rendering of the Crossing of the Delaware. Washington, Monroe,
and the Continental Army in Leutze’s painting, display the mythic
iconography of America and Americans, caught between the Clausewitzian
categories of politics and violence, as they struggle to survive and emerge
victorious, citizens of a free, vibrant, and independent nation-state. Leutze’s
imagery reveals the strivings of soul of an America struggling to be born in
1776. The boat commandeered by Washington contains thirteen men, referencing,
perhaps, the thirteen colonies. Their mode of dress is important, too. These
are not uniformed troops, a professional army, as it were. These are Americans
drawn from the American mainstream as one might have encountered them in the
eighteenth century and the American Revolution (1776-1784).
Their dress tells us that they are soldiers from many parts of
America, and each of them has a story that is revealed by a few strokes of the
artist’s brush. One man wears the short tarpaulin jacket of a New England
seaman; we look again and discover that he is of African descent. Another
is a recent Scottish immigrant, still wearing his Balmoral bonnet. A third is
an androgynous figure in a loose red shirt, maybe a woman in man’s clothing,
pulling at an oar…At the bow and stern of the boat are hard faced western
riflemen in hunting shirts and deerskin leggings. Huddled between the thwarts
are farmers from Pennsylvania and New Jersey, in blanket coats and road-brimmed
hats…[One] wears the blue coat and red facings of Haslet’s Delaware Regiment.
Another figure wears a boat cloak and an oiled hat…his sleeve reveals the
facing of Smallwood’s silk-stocking Maryland Regiment. Hidden behind him is a
mysterious thirteenth man. Only his weapon is visible; one wonders who he might
Water and Earth—Rivers and Battles
Fischer relates that after the Crossing, the Continentals formed into a line of
march on the New Jersey shoreline. Two small detachments of infantry led
the main body of troops on the march. Lt. James Monroe, already a seasoned and
distinguished veteran of Harlem Heights and White Plains, was assigned as
second in command to one of the advance parties led by Captain William
Washington and his Third Virginia Regiment. Captain Washington was “a distant
cousin of the commander-in-chief.” The march of the Americans toward
Trenton began at 0400 hours. Fischer relates the behavior of the
commander-in-chief along the way:
George Washington rode up and down the column urging his men
forward. Suddenly the general’s horse slipped and started to fall on a steep
and icy slope. ‘While passing a Slanting Slippery bank,’ Lieutenant Bostwick
remembered, ‘his excellency’s horse[‘s] hind feet both slip’d from under him.’
The animal began to go down. Elisha Bostwick watched in fascination as
Washington locked his fingers in the animal’s mane and hauled up its heavy head
by brute force. He shifted its balance backward just enough to allow the horse
to regain its hind footing on the treacherous road…It was an extraordinary feat
of strength, skill, and timing; and another reason why his soldiers stood in
awe of this man.
At Birmingham’s crossroads, the Army separated, as ordered, into two columns.
Monroe and Washington marched to the Pennington Road and the road between
Trenton and Princeton. Captain Washington took many prisoners at this location,
and Fischer tells of an interesting encounter that occurred here.
Lieutenant Monroe met a Jersey man who came out to see why his dogs
were barking. Monroe remembered that the man thought ‘we were from the British
army, and ordered us off…He was violent and determined in his manner, and very
profane.’ Monroe told him to go back to his home or be taken prisoner. When the
man realized that he was talking to American troops, his manner suddenly
changed. He brought them food and offered to join them. ‘I’m a doctor,’ he
explained, ‘and I may be of help to some poor fellow.’ The offer was accepted,
and Doctor John Riker joined Monroe’s infantry as a surgeon-volunteer.’”
By 0730 hours, the American columns were approximately two miles from Trenton.
Here, the Americans became aware of a number of Hessian outposts, posted on the
outskirts of Trenton. In one outpost, situated on the River Road, the Hessians
were staffed at company strength. The Americans were now deployed in three
columns. New Englanders were on the right; the Virginians occupied the center;
Pennsylvanians comprised the left. “The vanguard consisted of Virginia infantry
led by Captain William Washington and Lt. Monroe.”
George Washington sat at the head of the middle column of Virginians. And in
the midst of a raging storm, he commenced the attack upon the Hessians. By
0800, the Germans and the Americans were engaged. The Hessians were taken by
surprise, and by battle’s end, Hessian losses were 918 men: 22 were killed; 83
were seriously wounded. 896 officers and men were taken prisoner. The battle
was a tremendous boost to the morale of the Continental Army, though Monroe was
seriously wounded in the action. As he was charging towards the Hessian
position, he was grazed by a bullet in his left chest which entered his
shoulder and injured the axillary artery. The young officer promptly began to
hemorrhage from a wound that should have been mortal. His life, however, was
saved by Dr. Riker who placed his index finger in the wound and applied
pressure to the artery. In later years, surgeons would subsequently attempt
to remove the projectile from his body which lodged near his neck, but they
could never safely remove it. The future president would carry the bullet in
his body thereafter.
According to Fischer, during the battle Monroe and the Third Virginia Infantry
were on King Street in Trenton. There, the Hessians were fighting fiercely to
recover some artillery pieces. When they did so, Colonel Henry Knox approached
Sergeant White who led a New England contingent and ordered him to link up with
the Virginia infantrymen to reclaim the guns once again. Later, in his
autobiography, Monroe described the action retold by Fischer:
‘Captain Washington rushed forward, attacked and put the troops
around the cannon to flight and took possession of them.’ In the melee, William
Washington went down, badly wounded in both hands. James Monroe took over ‘at
the head of the corps’ and led it forward. He too was hit by a musket ball,
which severed an artery. He was carried from the field, bleeding dangerously.
His life was saved by Doctor Riker, who had joined Monroe’s company as a
volunteer the night before. The New Jersey physician clamped Monroe’s artery
just in time to keep him from bleeding to death.
Monroe would recover from his wounds, and in the post-Trenton period, he was
promoted to captain and, ultimately, to major. In his General Orders, issued
at his headquarters, at White Marsh, Washington promoted Monroe and sent him to
his next assignment, to the staff of General William Alexander where he served
for another year.
James Monroe Esqr., formerly appointed an additional Aide-de-Camp
to Major Lord Stirling, is now appointed Aide-de-Camp to his Lordship, in the
room of Major Wilcock who resigned on the 20th of October last, and is to be
respected as such.
In his new assignment, Monroe was tasked with maintaining a surveillance of the
enemy and reporting his movements to General Alexander (Lord Stirling) and
George Washington, directly. On 28 June 1778, at Monmouth, Monroe sent a letter
to the Commander-in-Chief regarding the position of the enemy.
Sir—Upon not receiving any answer to my first information and
observing the enemy inclining toward your right, I thought it advisable to hang
as close on them as possible. I am at present within four hundred yrds. Of
their right—I have only about 70 men who are fatigued much. I have taken three
prisoners—If I had six horsemen…I sho’d in the course of the night procure good
intelligence w’h I wo’d soon as possible convey you.
I am Sir your most ob’t
Though he served well in this position, Monroe was unable to obtain a field
command. Disappointed, the young officer elected to resign his commission in
1779, whereupon he was appointed a colonel in the Virginia Militia. In 1780,
Virginia’s Governor, Thomas Jefferson dispatched Monroe to North Carolina to
observe the British advance upon Virginia. It was in this capacity that on 26
June 1780, Monroe would write to Jefferson from Cross Creek, Virginia:
Sir,---Some few days since I arrived here…I expected I should more
effectually put in execution, your Excellency’s orders by coming immediately
here, the source from which Governor Nash…or Baron de Kalb…get their
Intelligence…We have it from authority we cannot doubt, that an embarkation has
taken place at Charlestown and sailed some days since under the command of
General Clinton consisting of about 6000 men. The remainder of their army
supposed upwards of 4000, with their cavalry forming a corps of 600 under Col.
Tarleton, are left behind under Lord Cornwallis…What plan General de Kalb may
take to oppose them I cannot determine…At Gov’ Nash’s request I shall attend
him tomorrow to where Baron de Kalb may be…in my next…shall…inform your
Excellency of the plan Baron de Kalb may take for is future operations…I have
the honor to be with the greatest respect and esteem yr. Excellencys.
Your Very humble Serv’
Peace—Monroe Studies the Law
Following the signing of a peace treaty, Monroe became a law student under
Thomas Jefferson. His alliance with Jefferson, politically, would play no small
role in his subsequent rupture with George Washington. The emergence of
specific opinions and related political approaches in the post-war alliances of
Washington and Hamilton, and the Federalists, on the one hand, and Jefferson,
Monroe, and the Republicans, on the other, is characteristic of the divisions
of the American political landscape in the new United States. These distinctive
views on the future of America, the nature of what might now be called the big
government Federalists vs. the smaller government, states’ rights’ approach,
were powerfully-evident and well-drawn to the political observers of the time.
In 1783, James Monroe was elected to the Continental Congress in New York City.
This was a fortuitous event in Monroe’s personal life, for it was here that
Monroe met Elizabeth Kortright, a New York merchant’s daughter. They were
married within a year , and they moved to Fredericksburg, Virginia, where
Monroe devoted himself to the practice of law. In due course, he would be
called-up again to fight. This time, it was not to participate within the
battles of armies and soldiers in the field, but the political struggles of a
nation struggling to be the unique nation it would eventually become within the
James Monroe—The Constitutional Convention and the U.S. Constitution
Charles Cerami believes that in 1786, “five years after George Washington’s
victory over the British, the American people had lost their way. They were
flushed with early success, but desperately unsure of how to hold the Union
together.” The legal and political glue that held the nation together was a
weak agreement called the Articles of Confederation. Crafted in 1777, they
brought the Congress into being in order to prosecute the Revolution. The issue
for the revolutionary government was one of balance. The problem, which would
surface again in the rise of America’s premier political parties, consisted in
the relationship between the rights of the states and the relationship to the
Numerous problems inhered in the Articles. The issues were not so much what
they did or what powers they exercised, but, rather, in their deficits, and in
the things that they could not accomplish, politically, for the states and the
nation. Thus, in terms of foreign policy and commerce, the Congress, with the
Articles as their legal mandate, made all decisions. Fortunately, for the
struggling nation, Benjamin Franklin and his two assistants were in France
winning French hearts and minds for America. The result was the treaty that
would later come to haunt the Monroe-Washington association: “The Treaty of
Amity and Commerce,” signed on 6 February 1778. France resolved to help the
United States as a result of that treaty, but it was an open question just how united
the states actually were. Cerami writes that “throughout the war and the five
years that followed each American state clung to the feeling that it was
virtually a small independent nation…Some saw a looming possibility that the
‘United States’ might no longer deserve that name, even that they might have to
break into two or three separate groups.”
At length, the inherent instability of the Articles of Confederation began to
haunt some of the new nation’s premier thinkers: Alexander Hamilton and James
Madison. Both of these men would play highly-important roles in the
crafting of the American Constitution. Both, however, were not free of
political entanglements and machinations. Madison, in his native Virginia, was
bitterly-opposed by the older Patrick Henry. Issues of church and state
afflicted the Madison-Henry relationship. Henry wanted “a moderate tax or
contribution annually for the support of the Christian religion or of some
Christian church…or…Christian worship.” As a secular thinker in the
Enlightenment-Thomas Jefferson tradition, Madison was not pleased with this
Madison would later make a compelling reason why Henry’s suggestion was to be
defeated, and he was able to make use of the Virginia state constitution to
help outmaneuver Henry in 1787. In the interim, Henry, knowing of Madison’s
interest in revamping the Articles of Confederation, would routinely-appear on
the street corners of Virginia, “talking about the ills of tampering with the
Articles of Confederation.” The result was that Madison made a perpetual
enemy in Patrick Henry, a nemesis who would later help pit James Monroe against
Madison in the not too distant future. At the same time, in New York, Alexander
Hamilton had his own difficulties with the elder generation of political
leaders. Governor George Clinton was adamantly opposed to any and all tampering
with the Articles of Confederation. To perceptive political observers of
the American political scene, it seemed that the United States might die from
within, due to nearsighted politicians who were determined to maintain the
status quo. At this time, however, Hamilton and Madison put forward a proposal
to “to examine the existing system of government[.]” This was the
suggestion that in 1787, would lead to the famous Constitutional Conventional
in Philadelphia. George Washington, himself, was optimistic about the
possibilities of this meeting. On 31 March 1787, he wrote to Madison about his
Dear Sir:…I am glad to find that Congress [has] recommended to the
States to appear in the Convention proposed to be [held] in Philadelphia in
May…It is idle in my opinion to suppose that the Sovereign can be insensible to
the inadequacy of the powers under which it acts…and…not recommend a revision
of the [Federal] system, when it is considered by many as the only
Constitutional mode by which the defects can be recommended…I am fully of
opinion that those who lean to a Monarchial government, have…not consulted the
public mind…I am also clear…that the period is not arrived for adopting the
change without shaking the Peace of this Country to its foundation. That a
thorough reform of the present system is indispensable, none…will deny, and
with hand (and heart) I hope the business will be essayed in a full
James Monroe, writing from Fredericksburg, Virginia, to James Madison, on 23
May 1787, two days before the formal opening of the Convention, expressed hope
with guarded caution for the results of the meeting.
Dear Sir, ---…We all look with great anxiety to the result of the
Convention at Phil. Indeed, it seems to be the sole point on which all future
movements will turn. If it succeeds wisely & of course happily, the wishes
of all good men will be gratified. The arrangement must be wise, and every way
well concerted for them to force their way thro’ the States.
At length, all the states except Rhode Island sent delegates to the
Constitutional Convention. George Washington attended as part of the Virginia
delegation, in order to assure the members that he had not lost faith in a
republican, American government. James Monroe, now 29 years old, a
representative of the Virginia Assembly, also attended as part of the Virginia
delegation. Washington arrived in Philadelphia on 14 May. Though officially
retired, Cerami writes that “this man, who was generally acknowledged as the
father of the new country, had become almost as controversial a figure as he
was a revered icon.” James Monroe also had some views on the upcoming
convention. On 27 July 1787, he wrote to his former law professor, Thomas
Jefferson. His letter is instructive to the historian for its references to his
personal life, family, and legal profession. It is especially interesting given
Monroe’s views of the person of Washington whom Monroe clearly held in high and
Dear Sir,--- I can scarcely venture an apology for my silence…Since
I left N.Y…I was admitted to the Bar…In the course of the winter I mov’d my
family to this town in [which] I have taken my residence with a view to my
profession…But I consider my residence here as temporary merely to serve the
purpose of the times…With the political world, I have had little to do since I
left Congress…The affairs of the federal government are I believe in the utmost
confusion. The convention is an expedient that will produce a decisive effect.
It will either recover us from our ruin…But I trust that the presence of Gen’l
Washington will have great weight in the body itself so as to overawe &
keep under the demon of party & that the signature of his name…will secure
its passage thro’ the union.
Contrary to Monroe’s view, Washington had his detractors. The Commander of the
Continental Army was suspected by western-minded Americans of “being in the
pocket of the northeastern shipping interests…Others…[thought] that Washington
belonged to a monarchist clique.” Regardless of one’s opinion of the great
man, the Convention’s first formal session opened on 25 May 1787. Discussions
would go on for months, and the ratification process would take years. Finally,
on 29 May 1790, the last of the states that had proven difficult in the matter
of the Convention, Rhode Island, opted to ratify the U.S. Constitution.
American Voices on the U.S. Constitution
During the Convention, reaction to the Constitution was mixed, and it was the
source of powerful debate and discussion. James Madison, writing in The
Federalist Papers, demonstrated his enthusiasm for the new
Among the numerous advantages promised by a well-constructed Union,
none deserves to be more accurately developed than its tendency to break and
control the violence of faction…The instability, injustice, and confusion
introduced into the public councils, have, in truth, been the mortal diseases
under which popular governments have perished…The valuable improvements made by
the American constitutions on the popular models, both ancient and modern, they
cannot be too much admired…It will be found, indeed,…that some of the
distresses under which we labor…[are] a factious spirit [which] has tainted our
In a letter to James Madison, Thomas Jefferson also outlined his views.
I like much the general idea of framing a government into
Legislative, Judiciary and Executive…I am captivated by the compromise of the
opposite claims of the great and little states…I am much pleased too with…the
method of voting by persons, instead of…states…I will now add what I do not
like. First the omission of a bill of rights providing clearly and without the
aid of sophisms for freedom of religion, freedom of the press, protection
against standing armies…Let me add that a bill of rights is what the people are
entitled to against every government on earth, general or particular, and what
no government should refuse…I own I am not a friend to a very energetic
government. It is always oppressive…France with all its despotism and two or
three hundred thousand men always in arms has had three insurrections in the
three years I have been here…[I]t is my principle that the will of the Majority
should always prevail. If they approve the proposed Convention in all its
parts, I shall concur in it [cheerfully], in hopes that they will amend it
whenever they shall find it [works] wrong.
On 4 June, George Mason addressed the delegates. He clearly had some
reservations about what was at issue: states rights vs. a central, national
government. This dichotomy in American political thinking would inform the
first American political parties: the Federalists and the Democratic
Republicans. Mason’s words also reflect the emergence of the states rights
Republicans, best represented by Thomas Jefferson and others, including; James
Mr. Chairman, whether the Constitution be good or bad, the present
clause clearly discovers that it is a national government, and no longer a
Confederation[.]…The very idea of converting what was formerly a confederation
to a consolidated government is totally subversive of every principle which has
hitherto governed us. This power is calculated to annihilate totally the state
governments…I solemnly declare that no man is a greater friend to a firm union
of the American States than I am; but, sir, if this great end can be obtained
without hazarding the rights of the people, why should we recur to such
On 5 June, Patrick Henry took the floor and expressed his unmistakably
pessimistic views on the question.
I rose yesterday to ask a question which arose in my own mind…The
question turns, sir, on…the expression, We, the people, instead of the
states, of America. I need not take…pains to show that the principles
of this system are extremely…dangerous. Is this a monarchy like England—a
compact between prince and people…to secure the liberty of the latter?...Here
is a resolution as radical as that which separated us from Great Britain. It is
radical in this transition; our rights and principles are endangered…The
Constitution is said to have beautiful features; but when I come to examine
these features, sir, they appear to me horribly frightful…Your President may
easily become king.
For Monroe, a delegate to the Virginia convention that was pondering the
ratification of the new U.S. Constitution, the original document did not prove
satisfactory, in that, it did not allow for the direct election of either the
President or Senators. However, it was, in part, due to Monroe’s concern for
the lack of constitutional safeguards that the first ten Amendments to the
Constitution (Bill of Rights) were ratified in 1791. Curiously, “Madison…was
still unconvinced that there was real need for a bill of rights.” Another
issue, too, was the soon-to-develop political rivalry between Madison and
Monroe, whose problems were exacerbated by Madison’s old enemy, Patrick Henry.
Madison was elected to the House of Representatives, but not the Senate, which
had been his ambition. According to Cerami, Henry sought to derail Madison by
arranging “for James Monroe, Madison’s friend and a protégé of Jefferson’s, to
seek the seat in the new Senate…With Monroe running for the seat that Madison
had sought, both men found themselves ill at ease with each other, and their
friendship briefly turned contentious.” Nevertheless, in 1790, Monroe ran
for Congress against James Madison. He did not succeed. However, the Virginia
State Legislature appointed him to the U.S. Senate, where he became an ally of
both Thomas Jefferson, his legal mentor, and his one-time political rival,
James Madison. As a consequence, he supported the states rights faction of
Jefferson’s Republicans against the national government disciples such as
Alexander Hamilton, Secretary of the Treasury and Vice President John Adams,
and, ultimately, George Washington, himself. Political differences aside,
George Washington sent his former teenaged lieutenant to Paris in 1794 as U.S.
Minister to France. The experience, however, was not to be a good one. To
explain that experience, however, some background is necessary.
James Monroe in Paris—Diplomatic Activities
The liberation of the thirteen colonies, transforming them into the United
States of America, was a task of no small dimension. The success of this
mission, however, “resulted from the unstinting efforts of men such as George
Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John
Adams. Washington’s enormous prestige gave the Republic a legitimacy…when in
1797, he voluntarily surrendered the presidency.” In the aftermath of the
Revolution, George Washington sought to move the nation into the realm of
international affairs. This was easier said than done owing to the fiery state
of affairs between the European nations. Revolution gripped the French nation
with its attendant terrors. War had also erupted between France and England.
According to Kenneth J. Hagan, Washington issued a proclamation of
neutrality on 22 April 1793, relative to the war in Europe, in the hopes that
America would not be drawn into this conflict. Secretary of State, Thomas
Jefferson, however, did not agree with Washington’s goal of neutrality and
non-involvement. Clearly, Jefferson was not neutral, for he sought to preserve
the Franco-American alliance of 1778. Nevertheless, problems developed almost
immediately between France and the Washington Administration. The Revolutionary
government of France’s representative to the United States, Citizen Edmond
Charles Genet, angered Washington by “outfitting fourteen French privateers in
American ports.” Exasperated with Genet and concerned that the French’
diplomat’s actions might antagonize the British and threaten the neutrality
proclamation, Washington demanded that Paris recall Genet.
An examination of Washington’s official correspondence between 11 July 1793,
and 20 January 1794, reveal his growing agitation over Genet and the trouble he
posed for the United States through the arming of ships bound for combat with
Great Britain. One of these vessels was the Little Sarah. And on 11
July 1793, Washington addressed his concerns in a letter to the Secretary of
Sir:…What is to be done in the case of the Little Sarah now at
Chester? Is the Minister of the French Republic to set the Acts of this
Government at defiance, with impunity? And then threaten the Executive with an
appeal to the People. What must the world think of such conduct and the
Government of the United States in submitting to it? These are serious
questions. Circumstances press for decision and…I wish to know your opinion
upon them, even before tomorrow for the vessel may be gone.
The escalating concern of the President was described in a subsequent letter he
wrote to the Secretary of State on 31 July 1793:
Dear Sir:…[U]ntil a decision is had on the conduct of the Minister
of the French Republic…[i]t is my wish, under these circumstances to enter upon
the consideration of the Letters of that Minister tomorrow at Nine o’Clock. I
therefore desire you will be here at that hour and bring with you all his
letters, your answers, and all such papers as are connected therewith. As the
consideration of this business may require some time, I should be glad if you
and other gentlemen would take a family dinner with me at four
o’Clock. No other company…will be invited. I am &c.
On 19 August 1793, Washington began to involve the members of the Cabinet in
what clearly was becoming a major diplomatic problem for his administration.
Sir:…I send for the opinion of the Heads of Departments and the
attorney General…respecting the privateer Citizen Genet together with copies of
two letters from the French Consul to the Governor…and a Report of two persons
who had examined the Aforesaid Privateer by the Governor’s orders. The
Gentleman will decide…respecting the unfitness of the said Privateer to proceed
As the year, 1793, drew to a close, Washington’s government had not yet
resolved the problem of Genet and his militant behavior. On 5 December 1793,
the President wrote to both houses of Congress on the matter:
As the present situation of…several nations of Europe…with which
the U.S. have important relations,…I have thought it my duty to communicate to
them certain correspondences which have taken place…It is with extreme concern
I have to inform you that…the person whom [the French] have unfortunately
appointed their Minister plenipotentiary, here, [has] breathed nothing of the
friendly spirit of the nation which sent him; their tendency on the contrary
has been to involve us in War abroad, and discord and anarchy at home. So
far…his acts, or those of his agents, have threatened our immediate commitment
in the war…In the meantime, I have respected and pursued the stipulations of
our treaties according to what I have judged their true sense…The papers now
communicated will…apprize you of these transactions.
Eight days into a new year, 1794, Washington wrote about the Genet Affair to
the Vice President:
Dear Sir…I am now deliberating on the measure proper and necessary
to be taken with respect to Mr. G…t and wish for aid in so doing. The critical
State of Things [is] making me more than usually anxious to decide right in the
present case. None but the heads of Departments are privy to these papers,
which I pray may be returned this evening, or in the morning. With very sincere
At length, there was a resolution in the case when France recalled Genet. On 20
January 1794, Washington wrote again to the both houses of Congress, the Senate
and House of Representatives:
Gentlemen: Having already laid before you a letter of 16 August
1793 from the Secretary of State to our Minister at Paris,…urging the recall of
the Minister plenipotentiary of the Republic of France. I now communicate to
you that his conduct has been unequivocally disapproved; and that the strongest
assurances have been given that his recall should be expedited without
Nevertheless, the conclusion of one crisis did not resolve Washington’s
concerns about Great Britain. And in messages he sent to the Congress in early
December 1793, the President reiterated his position that the proclamation of
neutrality was directed toward European powers, primarily, Great Britain!
Though Washington hoped to avoid having America drawn into European affairs, it
was decided that the United States was in need of a naval force to protect its
integrity and its interests. Therefore, on “2 January 1794 Congress met to
consider a resolution to provide ‘a naval force, adequate to the protection of
the commerce of the United States[.]” A bill was sent to Congress to
consider the issue. In the interim, a new secretary of state, Edmund Randolph
of Virginia was selected.
As the debate over the navy bill reached a climax,…the new
secretary of state, Edmund Randolph…found several of the European
belligerents—Britain, Spain, and Holland—reprehensible for seizing American
merchantmen trafficking with French ports in the West Indies. He also
enumerated complaints against France for interfering with the American merchant
marine. But his most serious and extensive allegations fell upon the British,
whose practice of maritime warfare violated all the rights of neutrals as the
United States understood them. Randolph’s report arrived in Congress
on 5 March 1794.
In the aftermath, the construction or purchase of four 44 gun frigates and two
36-gun ships was authorized. In late 1793 and early 1794, however, it was
learned that Britain had seized more than 250 American merchantmen trading in
the French Indies. Enraged, the House of Representatives, on 25 March, two
days prior to Washington’s signing of the naval act, authorized a thirty day
embargo on all American exports to Great Britain. In the midst of this,
Alexander Hamilton, Secretary of the Treasury, fearing the results of economic
warfare upon the United States, advocated the appointment of John Jay, as a
special envoy to Great Britain. Jay’s mission was to negotiate “a treaty of
amity and commerce[,]” with England. However, as Hagan points out, “Hamilton’s
Anglophilic instructions placed only two limits on Jay’s discretion: The
Franco-American alliance of 1778 could not be directly contravened, and the
British West Indies must be opened to American trade.”
The result was the Jay Treaty of November 1794. “Jay did not succeed in every
respect, but he brought home a treaty…that ameliorated some of the
Anglo-American grievances.” There was, nevertheless, a great uproar in
American and abroad in ‘Spain over the details of the treaty. And it was in
the middle of these events that James Monroe was sent to Paris as the American
minister to France by Edmund Randolph, at the direction of George Washington.
On 1 June 1794, Monroe wrote directly to George Washington regarding his
appointment as ambassador to France.
I was presented yesterday by Mr. Randolph with the commission of
Minister for the French Republic which you were pleased …to confer upon me…I
have only now to request that you will consider me as ready to embark in the
discharge of its duties as soon as…suitable passage can be secured for myself
& my family to that country…Be assured however it will give me the highest
gratification…to promote by mission the interest of my country & the honor
& credit of your administration which I deem inseparably connected with
Monroe in Paris
Like his mentor, Jefferson, Monroe was more disposed towards the French than
the British. He believed in the Franco-American Alliance of 1778, and he wished
to preserve good relations between France and America. Edmund Randolph directed
Monroe to strengthen ties between France and the United States. Commissioned on
28 May 1794, Monroe and his family arrived in Paris on 18 June 1794. Unaware of
events between the United States and England, he was somewhat surprised to find
that the French were upset at the United States’ backing of the Jay Treaty when
he arrived in France. Not only were the French angry at the United States, they
refused to recognize Monroe or his diplomatic mission, which Robespierre and
the Revolutionary leadership saw as treachery. Interestingly, Robespierre was
executed by the French government five days after Monroe arrived.
Monroe would later write about his time in France: “Upon my arrival in Paris,
which was on the 2nd of August, 1794, I found that the work of alienation and
disunion had been carried further than I had before even suspected.” On 13
August 1794, Monroe requested the opportunity to address the French government.
The request was granted, and his speech before the French government was
well-received. In his address, Monroe praised the French. He declared that the
United States would be a loyal ally to France, willing to support the French
cause, hypothetically, in some future conflict. All the while, Monroe avoided
references to the French Revolution, whose terrorist excesses were not popular
in the United States.
Garraty and Gay wrote that Alexander Hamilton, in particular, would later press
for open and declared warfare against France: “’None can deny that the cause of
France has been stained by excesses and extravagances for which it is not easy,
if possible, to find a parallel in the history of human affairs, and from which
reason and humanity recoil.’” Hamilton’s views aside, the French declared
Monroe, Minister Plenipotentiary of the U.S., after his remarks, and the
American flag was returned to the Assembly Hall. Not long afterward,
Washington, having no news of Monroe or his progress in France, wrote, on 31
October 1794, to the Secretary of the Treasury.
Dear Sir:…Nothing important or new has been lately received from
our Ministers…Nor does the fate of Robespierre seem to have been given more
than a momentary stagnation to…[French] affairs. The Armies rejoice at it, and
the people are congratulating one another on the occasion…Mr. Monroe is arrived
in France and has had his reception in the midst of the Convention, at Paris,
but no letter has been received from him.
On 8 June 1795, George Washington would write to the Senate regarding the
Treaty negotiated by John Jay:
Gentlemen of the Senate: In pursuance of my nomination of John Jay,
as Envoy Extraordinary to his Britannic majesty on the 16 day April 1794, and
of the advice and consent of the Senate thereto on the 19th, a negotiation was
opened in London. On the 7 of March 1795, the treaty resulting, therefore, was
delivered to the Secrey. of State. I now transmit to the Senate that treaty,
and other documents connected with it. They will therefore in their wisdom
decide whether they will advise and consent that the said treaty be made
between the United States and his Britannic majesty.
Notwithstanding the Jay Treaty, Monroe attempted to woo the French into good
relations with America in ways that contravened Washington’s wishes. As a
result, Monroe, whose diplomatic mission was never properly explained to him by
Randolph or anyone else, angered his own country’s political leadership. James
Madison wrote to Monroe advising him that his speech to the French had angered
the American Federalist Party. In fact, during his tenure as minister to
France, Monroe managed to say and do many things that his countrymen didn’t
like, probably due to a breakdown in communication and the lengthy time it took
for instructions to go back and forth across the Atlantic. Though he continued
to operate in good faith and in ways that he believed were in America’s best
interests, the results were that Madison sent constant rebukes to Monroe from
the United States. Then, on 4 July 1794, of all days, a dinner was held for
Americans in Paris. Monroe offered a toast at the reception, but he failed to
toast President Washington, an unforgivable sin, particularly at the hands of a
diplomat. Thus, the event was marred by controversy and bad feeling,
particularly, in light of the violence and fist-fights that broke out in the
room after President Washington, appeared to have been insulted by Monroe’s
By 1796, support for Monroe as minister to France had begun to erode, and
Washington had begun to grow disenchanted with his service; he would eventually
order Monroe recalled. On 8 July 1796, Washington said as much to his Secretary
Sir:…I have determined to recall the American Minister at Paris,
and am taking measures to supply his place, but the more the latter is
resolved, the greater the difficulties appear, to do it ably and
unexceptionably. By this, I mean one who promote, not thwart the neutral policy
of the Government, and at the same time will not be obnoxious to the people
among whom he is sent…The transmitted copy of Mr. Monroe’s letter…must be
erroneously dated ‘Paris, June 24, 1796…
Washington’s correspondence to the Secretary of State on 27 July 1796, from Mt.
Vernon, continues to illustrate his dissatisfaction with Monroe:
Dear Sir: Your private letter of the 21st instant has been
received. Mr. Monroe in every letter he writes, relative to the discontents of
the French government at the conduct of our own, always concludes without
finishing his story, leaving great scope to the imagination to divine what the
ulterior measures of it will be. There are some things in his
correspondence…which I am unable to reconcile. In…[the] letter of the 25th of
March…he related his demand of an audience of the French Directory, and his
having had it, but that the conference which was promised him with the Minister
of Foreign Affairs had not taken place[.]…If these recitals are founded in
fact, they form an enigma which requires explanation.
Charles Pinckney was directed to replace Monroe, and he was sent to France,
though the French refused to recognize Pinckney or his mission. On 10 August
1796, Washington again wrote to his Secretary of State on the matter of
Pinckney and Monroe:
Sir: I have received and pray you to accept my thanks for Pinckney.
It becomes necessary now to prepare instructions for him without
delay, to bring him fully and perfectly acquainted with the conduct and policy
of this government towards France &c. and the motives which have induced
the [recall] of Mr. Monroe…It will be candid, proper and necessary to apprize
Mr. Monroe…of his [recall]; and in proper terms, of the motives which have
Pinckney, according to Hagan, “had been threatened with arrest and then
expelled by the French.” On 16 May 1797, a new American President, John
Adams, enraged at the French’s treatment of Pinckney, addressed the Congress on
The United States must take measures to “’convince France and the
world that we are not a degraded people, humiliated under a colonial spirit of
fear and sense of inferiority.’…[Adams] would designate a nonpartisan
commission to negotiate all outstanding grievances with France.”
Hagan writes that subsequent to the ratification of the Jay Treaty, “France was
now the villain. Relations between the revolutionary allies had deteriorated
catastrophically…The Anglo-American rapprochement…was widely regarded in France
as incompatible with the alliance of 1778.” Even more dramatically, the
French now waged war with warships and privateers upon American merchantmen in
the West Indies, managing to take three hundred American vessels in a year’s
time. This was the so-called, undeclared Quasi War; the first battle between
France and the United States in this war took place on July 1798, when
the Delaware captured the Croyable.
The war would end by 1800; the last battle was between the frigate, Boston
which captured the LeBerceau. The conflict was ended by the
negotiating work of the Convention of 1800. Before the Quasi War erupted,
however, in December, 1796, Monroe would bid farewell to the French, and in the
process he managed to harshly criticize George Washington in the process. Thus,
Monroe returned home, a diplomatic failure and alienated from a good many
Americans, not the least of which was the President of the United States. It
could have been the end of his public service. Fortunately, for both Monroe and
America, it was not.
Monroe returned to the United States after his frustrating experience in France
and with the Federalists in the United States. In December 1797, he privately
published a document of 500 pages, in which he described his views of his
diplomacy and the Chief Executive, based upon his experience in France.
Washington was aware of the document, and he wrote to the Secretary of State on
31 August 1797, from Mt. Vernon before he left office seeking more information
Dear Sir: The last mail brought me your favour of the 24th instant,
covering a letter from General Kosciuszko…Not knowing where Gen'l Kosciuszko
may be I pray…his movements will be known to you…
With great esteem, etc.
P.S.: Hearing that Mr. Monroe’s production is into Press, I wd. Thank you for a
copy so soon.
The work, printed in Philadelphia, by Benjamin Franklin Bache (1769-1798), A
View of the Conduct of the Executive in the Foreign Affairs of the United
States, was critical of the President and his policies, and it had the
effect of thoroughly alienating George Washington from Monroe for all time.
Washington had written to the Secretary of State on 12 January 1798, subsequent
to the publication of Monroe’s document requesting a copy.
Dear Sir:…Allow me…to ask the favor of you to send me Colo.
Monroe’s and Mr. Fauchet’s Pamphlets…I send two of the Bank of Columbia to pay
for the Pamphlets. Yours always.
In his criticism of the American government’s behavior toward France during his
tenure as the minister to France, Monroe wrote: “In the month of May, 1794, I
was invited by the President of the United States through the Secretary of
State to accept the office of minister plenipotentiary to the French Republic.
Monroe also wrote of the differences in the viewpoint between himself and the
government. “It had been too my fortune in the course of my service to differ
from the administration upon many of our most important public measures.”
Monroe then goes on to explain his understanding of the mission to France:
My instructions enjoined it on me to…inspire the French government
with perfect confidence in the solicitude, which the president felt for the
success of the French revolution; of his own preference for France to all other
nations as the friend and ally of the United States; of the greatest sense
which we still retained for the important services that were rendered us by
France in the course of our revolution[.] 
Monroe, however, was mistaken. Or worse, he was substituting his own view of
what American foreign policy should be. As noted above, the issue
which confronted Monroe was the emerging foreign policy in the Washington
Administration that was clearly moving to favor relations with Great Britain.
In his commentary on this period of American history, Richard Hofstadter
offers that American economic interests could not be detached from the affairs
of Europe. In 1793, the wars in Europe were a stark reminder of how problematic
the affairs of Europe could be for a young America. Moreover, the treaty of
1778 between France and the United States was a diplomatic reality that America
could not lightly ignore. Moreover, the Revolution would likely have been
greatly prolonged or unsuccessful without the timely intervention of Louis XIV
and his military. The treaty and America’s reaction to it would help delineate
the differences between America’s early political parties: Federalists and
Democratic-Republicans. According to Hofstadter, “The entire Federalist system,
as Hamilton had designed it, depended upon the trade with Britain from which
governmental revenues were derived.” For Hamilton, the very notions of
authority and order were embodied in Great Britain as a land and as a people.
This was the opposite view of the Democratic-Republicans, the Jeffersonians.
“[T]o the Jeffersonians, Britain represented monarchy, oppressive authority,
and arbitrary taxation, and they still tended to harbor the resentments of the
Revolutionary War. France, on the contrary, seemed to them to be fighting for
the rights of man for which they had themselves fought so short a time
ago.” Thus, when war erupted in Europe in 1793, Washington received
contradictory advice from both Alexander Hamilton (Federalist) and Thomas
Hamilton urged the abrogation of the Franco-American Treaty of 1778, in that,
the treaty had been negotiated with Louis XIV, and not the French Republicans,
whom Hamilton held in contempt for their violence and political excesses. He
urged Washington to issue a proclamation of neutrality. Jefferson took the
opposite view with some modifications. He urged Washington to abide by the
terms of the treaty. Conversely, he was not pleased with the Revolutionary
government’s failure to aid America in getting rid of the British garrisons
still present on American soil. Thus, the United States had no military
obligation to France in his view. With respect to Britain, Jefferson urged the
withholding a proclamation of neutrality until some concessions and
compensation had been garnered from England. Washington opted to
compromise with both men: he followed Hamilton by proclaiming neutrality, and
simultaneously did not attempt to obtain any promises from England. Following
Jefferson, Washington would not repudiate the Franco-American Treaty. As noted
above, he had even received the French ambassador, Genet, at Jefferson’s
urging, a situation the President, as noted above, would come to regret.
On 12 April 1793, Washington wrote to the Secretary of State in the matter of
war between France and England:
Dear Sir: War having actually commenced between France and Great
Britain, it behoves the Government of this Country to use every means in its
power to prevent the citizens…from embroiling us with either of those powers,
by endeavouring to maintain strict neutrality. I therefore require that you
will give the subject mature consideration…for I have understood that vessels
are already designated privateers, and are preparing accordingly.
It was into this difficult political and diplomatic stew, Washington sent John
Jay to England “to arrange a settlement of these differences[.]” Again, it
was on 22 April 1793, as noted above, that Washington issued a Proclamation of
Neutrality to the people of the United States:
PROCLAMATION OF NEUTRALITY
Whereas it appears that a state of war exists between Austria, Prussia,
Sardinia, Great Britain, and the United Netherlands, on the one part, and
France on the other, and the duty and interest of the United States require…a
conduct friendly and impartial toward the belligerent powers.
John Jay, thus, went to England where it was hoped a resolution of American and
British diplomatic problems might be resolved. They were not, and as this paper
has pointed out, the Treaty caused something of an uproar in the United States
and France, where Monroe was put at a distinct disadvantage in his ministerial
tasks with the French. Briefly, Jay’s Treaty with the British contained an
agreement by the English to quit their garrisons on the western frontier.
Regarding other issues of importance to Americans, there was no resolution on
the issues of Britain’s impressment of American seamen from American ships. The
question of British influence amongst Native Americans, the issue of
compensation for slaves who were kidnapped during the American Revolution, and
others, were left unresolved.
James Monroe in France was particularly troubled, as were the French, by the
Treaty’s willingness to allow the British to confiscate cargo bound for France
from American ships, provided the British rendered monetary compensation for
the material that was confiscated. According to Hofstadter: “Not only did this
violate the spirit of the Treaty of 1778, but because of American acceptance of
other British violations of neutrality, it made the French feel that the United
States had entered, however, reluctantly, into alliance with France’s
enemies.” On 26 May 1795, Thomas Jefferson responded to a letter from
James Monroe, dated 7 September 1794.
I have received your favor of Sep. 7 from Paris, which gave us the only news we
have had from you since your arrival there…Our comfort is that the public sense
is coming right on the general principles of republicanism & that its
success in France put it out of danger here. We are still uninformed what is
Mr. Jay’s treaty; but we see that the British piracies have multiplied upon us
lately more than ever.
George Washington, himself, had some reservations about the Treaty, but he was
willing to live with them. His willingness to compromise in light of his
ambivalence was made clear in two letters. On 13 July 1795, he wrote to
Alexander Hamilton regarding specific aspects of the Treaty.
My dear Sir: I have…your letters of the 9th, accompanying your
observations on the several articles of the Treaty with Great Britain…The most
obnoxious article (the 12th) being suspended by the Senate, there is no
occasion to express any sentiment thereon. I wish, however, it had appeared in
a different form…I asked, or intended to ask in my letter of the 3rd, whether
you conceived (admitting the suspension of the 12th Article should to by the B.
Government) there would be a necessity for the treaty going before the Senate
again for their advice and consent? This question takes its birth from a
declaration of the minority of that body, to that effect. With much truth and
In a second letter, dated 22 July 1795, Washington wrote to the Secretary of
Dear Sir:…My opinion respecting the treaty is the same now that it
was: namely, not favorable to it, but it is better to ratify it in the manner
the Senate have advised…than to suffer matters to remain as they are,
Robert B. Livingston, who headed up the Department of Foreign Affairs was
firmly opposed to the Jay Treaty. Using the pen name, Cato, Livingston,
in 1795, wrote a document, Examination of the Treaty of Amity, Commerce and
Navigation between the United States and Great Britain. 
Livingston, who would later be appointed Minister to France, wasted no time in
firing a salvo at the treaty in defense of the French: “Britain, on the day of
the signature of the treaty, was involved in a war with the bravest people in
Europe.” Livingston was not impressed with the British performance
relative to their departure from the western posts, which they had agreed to do
on 1 June 1796, as his writings make clear:
By June, 1796, it is not improbable that our situation, or that of
Britain, may be changed; what security shall we then have for the performance
of the treaty?... It is evident, before Mr. Jay left this country, that the
British were so far from intending to evacuate the posts, that they had
determined to extend their limits; this may not only be inferred from the
encouragement they gave to the depredations of the Indians, but undeniably
proved by Lord Dorchester’s speech…Surely, then the evacuation should have been
insisted upon, while these circumstances operated with full force…Those who
think with me, that decision of the part of our government, and firmness in our
minister, could not have failed to effect an immediate restitution of our
territory, will know of what account to charge this heavy loss of blood and
Conversely, Alexander Hamilton, a supporter of the treaty, came to its defense.
Using the name, Camillus, Hamilton wrote two letters expressing his
positive views of Jay’s treaty.
In “Letter One,” dated 1795, Hamilton wrote: “It was to have been foreseen,
that the treaty which Mr. Jay was charged to negotiate with Great Britain,
whenever it should appear, would have to contend with many perverse
dispositions and some honest prejudices…For this, many reasons may be
Hamilton acknowledged that many Americans still harbored lingering resentment
at Great Britain for the circumstances of the Revolution. He also acknowledged
that “an enthusiasm for France and her revolution…has continued to possess the
minds of the great body of the people of this country[.]” Hamilton listed
eleven points in support of the treaty. He pointed out: “To every man who is
not an enemy to the national government, who is not a prejudiced partisan, who
in capable of comprehending the argument…I flatter myself I shall be able to
demonstrate satisfactorily[.]” Hamilton’s self-confidence, notwithstanding,
most Americans were neither mollified nor convinced that the treaty made any
sense. And the response was one of near-violence. Americans took to the streets
to demonstrate their displeasure; John Jay was hung in effigy. Little could be
found in the treaty that worked for the United States. Yet, for the enemies of
Jay and his treaty, there was one ray of political light: through its
successful negotiation, war was avoided with Great Britain. Yet, it was
Livingston’s words that summarized the American mood of this period:
Would to God, my fellow citizens, I could here find some source of
consolation, some ray of light, to eradicate the sullen gloom!—But alas! Every
step we take plunges us into thicker darkness…Even the coward advocates for
peace…which this treaty imposes. And for what? Are we nearer peace…than when
Mr. Jay left this country? And yet the advocates for the treaty are continually
ringing in our ears, the blessings of peace, the horrors of war; and they have
the effrontery to assure us, that we enjoy the first and have escaped the last,
merely…through the instrumentality of the treaty…In a political view, the
treaty is bad…and…like fawning spaniels, we can be beaten into love and
On 21 March 1796, an apprehensive Thomas Jefferson wrote to James Monroe from
his Monticello residence about the political prospects of the treaty.
The British treaty has been formally laid before Congress. All
America is a tip-toe to see what the H. of Representatives will decide on it…On
the precedent now to be set will depend the future construction of our
constitution and whether the powers of legislation shall be transferred from
the…Senate & H. of R. to the…Senate & Piaringo or any other Indian,
Algerine, or other chief. It is fortunate that the first decision is to be in
case so palpably atrocious as to have been predetermined by all America…My
friendly respects to Mrs. Monroe. Adieu. Affectionately.
In the end, the Federalists won the political battle represented by Jay and his
treaty. Yet, the House of Representatives would attempt to withhold the
necessary appropriations that were financially necessary to implement the
treaty. Again the Federalists won the day, but given the general agitation
in the country the “reactions to the Jay Treaty dispute…conjured up a witches’
brew that unnerved the victorious Federalists, even as it deepened the
hostility of the defeated Republicans.” On 2 May 1797, Thomas Jefferson wrote a
letter to a New York newspaper, Minerva, where he fairly expressed his great
displeasure with the Federalists
“Equally ungrateful and impolitic, the Congress hastens to
encourage the English…in…their war of extermination against France…They sent to
London a minister, Mr. Jay, known by his attachment to England, and his
personal relations to Lord Grenville, and he concluded suddenly a treaty of
Commerce which united them with Great Britain, more than a treaty of
alliance…Such a treaty…is an act of hostility against France. The
French government…has testified the resentment of the French nation, by
breaking off communication with an ungrateful and faithless all…Justice
and sound policy equally approve this measure of the French government. There
is no doubt it will give rise in the United States, to discussions which may
afford, a triumph to the party of good republicans, the friends of France.
Predictably, the atmosphere produced by the ratification of the Jay Treaty led
to considerable tension between the Washington administration and the
And partly as “an effort to turn the tables upon those political opponents who
were making his final presidential days miserable[,]” Washington,
approaching the end of his second term, would deliver his famous Farewell
Address. In part, Washington’s Farewell Address represents a
collaboration between the President and Alexander Hamilton with the goal of
“undermining what vestiges remained of the French Alliance.”
Washington’s Farewell Address, 17 September 1796
The Farewell Address of Washington to the nation was not delivered in
a speech or oral address by Washington, but, rather, was published in
newspapers. There, the first President upheld the idea that to “the efficacy
and permanency of your union a government for the whole is
indispensable[.]” In the capstone statement of his public life, Washington
words indicated his profound belief in validity of the American Constitution
for Americans. He accorded it a central role in the political and legal lives
of his fellow citizens.
The basis of our political systems is the right of the people to
make and to alter their constitutions of government. But the constitution which
at any time exists till changed by an explicit and authentic act of the whole
people is sacredly obligatory upon all. The very idea of the power and right of
the people to establish government presupposes the duty of every individual to
obey the established government.
Washington also counseled against the “danger of parties in the State, with
particular reference to the founding of them on geographical
In contemplating the causes which may disturb our union it occurs as matter of
serious concern that any ground should have been furnished for characterizing
parties by geographical discriminations—Northern and Southern,
Atlantic and Western —whence designing men may endeavor to
excite a belief that there is a real difference of local interests and
views…You can not shield yourselves too much against the jealousies and
heartburnings which spring from these misrepresentations: they tend to render
alien to each those who ought to be bound together by fraternal affection[.]
In a paternal manner, too, Washington enjoined Americans to observe “good faith
and justice toward all nations. Cultivate peace and harmony with all. Religion
and morality enjoin this conduct.” But towards the end of his Address,
Washington came to the heart of the matter at hand, that is, the issues that
had rocked America after the Jay Treaty had been ratified. Amongst them: a
predilection on the part of American citizens and political parties towards
relations and the formation of alliances toward one country or another.
So, likewise, a passionate attachment of one nation for another
produces a variety of evils. Sympathy for the favorite nation, facilitating the
illusion of an imaginary common interest in cases where no real common interest
exists, and infusing into one the enmities of the other, betrays the former
into a participation in the quarrels and wars of the latter without
Washington was concerned for America in its international behavior. His Farewell
Address, a cautionary tale that preaches a suspiciousness of relations
with Europe, is reminiscent of what a later generation would call isolationist.
In affairs of commerce, Washington’s vision of American foreign policy and
foreign relations requires vigilance in European-American trade.
Against the insidious wiles of foreign influence…the jealousy of
free people ought to be constantly awake…The great rule of conduct for
us in regard to foreign nations is, in extending our commercial relations to
have with them as little political connection as possible. So far as
we have already formed engagements let them be fulfilled with perfect good
faith. Here let us stop.
However, in the area of politics and relations with Europe, Washington was even
It is our true policy to steer clear of permanent alliances with
any portion of the foreign world, so far, I mean, as we are now at liberty to
do it; for let me not be understood as capable of patronizing infidelity to
existing engagements…Taking care always to keep ourselves by suitable
establishments on a respectable defensive posture, we may safely trust to
temporary alliances for extraordinary emergencies.
Thus, for Washington, there could be “no greater error than to expect…real
favors from nation to nation. It is an illusion which experience must cure,
which a just pride to discard.” Two months before the Farewell Address
was published, Washington, already retired from public life, wrote in response
to a communication from a British aristocrat, William Pleydell-Bouverie, the
third Earl of Radnor. Here, in a letter to a former enemy, is an
equally-fitting, perhaps, though smaller, farewell from public life.
My Lord: The sentiments which your Lordship has been pleased to
express…[on] my public conduct, do me great honour; and I pray you to accept my
grateful acknowledgements…for having performed duties, …I claim no merit; but
no man can feel more sensibly the reward of approbation for such services than
I do…[T]he thanks of one’s country, and the esteem of good men, is the highest
gratification my mind is susceptible of…I am now placed in the shade of my Vine
and fig tree, and at the age of Sixty-five, am recommencing my Agricultural and
Rural pursuits, which were always more congenial to my temper…than the noise
and bustle of public employment…I reciprocate with great cordiality the good
wishes you have been pleased to bestow upon me; and pray devoutly…[for] the
return of Peace; for a more bloody, expensive, and eventful War, is not
recorded in modern, if it be found in modern history. I have the honor,
George Washington died on 14 December 1799. He was never reconciled to James
Monroe nor Monroe to him. Yet, there is evidence that in his later years Monroe
in his own heart and mind would come to some degree of peaceful coexistence
with not only George Washington, but John Jay, too.
In the year of Washington’s death, Monroe, who held no public office for three
years since his return from France in 1796, was elected Governor of Virginia.
He would serve as Chief Executive of his native state for three years, till
1802. In 1803, he would return to France at the behest of President Thomas
Jefferson, and he would serve in public life, including two terms as President,
from 4 March 1817 to 3 March 1825. He would survive another six years till his
own death on 4 July 1831, the culmination of a life of almost continuous
service to the United States from the age of eighteen. In what he achieved,
and, perhaps, in what he attempted but failed to achieve, always a matter of
historical interpretation, James Monroe, warfighter, lawyer, politician,
diplomat—President of the United States, the last of the cocked hats and the
Virginia Dynasty, attained, undeniably, to the status of quintessential
American. His gift is one of perpetual loyalty to an idea called America, a
grand and patriotic devotion to a land and her people.
Show Footnotes and
. Russell F. Weigley, The American Way of War: A History of United States
Military Strategy and Policy (Bloomington, IN: Indiana University
. Most of the German mercenaries who fought for the British in the American
Revolution were from Hesse-Cassel in Germany. On 12 February 1776, Friedrich
II, the Landgrave of Hesse-Cassel signed a treaty with George III of England to
furnish a number of troops to assist the British in the American insurgency.
Hesse-Cassel had a total population of 300,000, and Friedrich had agreed to
send 20,000 men to fight under the British crown. Prior to their departure, the
Hessian authorities reorganized the troops bound for America by removing the
grenadier companies assigned to each infantry regiment. All the grenadiers were
then organized into a grenadier battalion. In addition to the grenadiers, the
German forces consisted of light infantry (skirmishers) and Jagers, hunters and
game wardens skilled in detached, light infantry, ranger-like tactics. By all
accounts, the Germans whom Washington fought against during the Revolution were
excellent soldiers. By the end of the war, approximately, 7,754 had been
killed, and after the end of hostilities, nearly 5,000 elected to remain in
America and become Americans.
. Emanuel Leutze (1816-1868). An adherent of the so-called American School,
Leutze was born in Germany. He came to the United States at the age of nine and
remained till 1841. His famous painting of Washington crossing the Delaware was
completed in the German city of Dusseldorf in 1851.
. David Hackett Fischer, Washington’s Crossing (New York: Oxford
University Press, 2004), 4. The vessel depicted in the painting is not
accurate: the Continentals employed rivercraft of the period. The painting
inaccurately depicts Wahsington’s boat as a longboat.
. Ibid., 4; 218. The painting shows Washington’s Crossing occurring
in a well-lit sky. In fact, the Crossing began late, after dark, and took
practically all night. The sky, therefore, was a dark, night sky. It should
also be borne in mind that despite the rising of a bright moon that night, it
was almost completely obscured by the storm. An almost total darkness,
therefore, hung over the river and the Delaware operation was hampered by that
night, the dimensions of which, are almost totally-forgotten by modern readers
for whom darkness has been greatly moderated by electric lighting.
. Ibid., 3.
. Ibid., 4. Fischer points out that critics of Leutze’s work noted
that the image of Washington standing on one leg was thought to be more or less
. Ibid., 216. The Durham boats were intended to carry heavy freight
for the Durham Iron Works: iron, grain, wood, and whiskey. Fischer describes
them as “big, double-ended boats painted black with bright yellow trim…Some
were thirty or forty feet long, and others as large as sixty feet…Some boats
carried one or two collapsible masts and sails, which were useless in the storm
that night. In all conditions the Durham boats were very stable on the river,
and their shallow draft was well suited to the army’s amphibious needs.” (p.
216) The operational details of the crossing were assigned to Col. Henry Knox.
Ferries were also used that night, for it was not only men who crossed the
Delaware, but horses, artillery, and ammunition wagons. The boats were piloted
by experienced sailors and fishermen from New England commanded by Colonel John
Glover’s Marblehead Regiment. Washington, himself, crossed the river with
Glover’s Marblehead sailors, in a vessel under the command by Captain William
Blackler. Private John Russell manned an oar. Whether Washington stood or sat
is not indicated. (p. 219)
. Ibid., 4. The flag borne aloft by Lt. James Monroe is not
accurately-depicted. The use of the Stars and Stripes would not be used until
1777. The flag at the time described a circular-formation of stars representing
the thirteen colonies.
. Leutze’s painting is incorrect in its depiction of Lt. James Monroe
standing directly behind Washington. In fact, Monroe had crossed the night
before with a scouting party.
. Ibid., 2.
. The Columbia Encyclopedia, Sixth Ed., s.v. “sturm und drang,”
http://www.bartleby.com/65/st/Sturmund.html. (Ger. “Storm and Stress”). This
term denotes the literary and artistic movement of the eighteenth century in
Germany and Austria. The dates of the movement are given, variously, as 1765 to
1795. The term comes from a play written by F.M. von Klinger, Wirwarr, oder,
Sturm und Drang (1776). It foreshadows the Romantic Movement, and it developed
from the impetus of Rousseau, but developed from the works of Herder, Lessing,
and Goethe whose literary themes consider the experience of young genius in
collision with society. The stress is on the protagonists’ subjectivity and
their existential discomfort in modern society.
. George Washington, The Writings of George Washington from the Original
Manuscripts, 1745-1799, Vol. 3, ed. John C. Fitzpatrick,
http://etext.virginia.edu/washington/fitzpatrick (accessed 16 July 2007).
. James Monroe, The Writings of James Monroe, Including a Collection of His
Public and Private Papers and Correspondence now for the First Time Printed,
Vol. I (1778-1794), ed. Stanislaus Murray Hamilton (New York: G.B. Putnam’s
Sons, 1898), 23, http://books.google.com/books?id=CtgHwiJNv-4C&dq (accessed
16 July 2007).
. Monroe had four siblings: Elizabeth Buckner, Spence, Andrew, and Joseph
. “The Biography of James Monroe,”
http://www.whitehouse.gov/history/presidents/jm5.html (accessed 1 July 2006): 1
. George Washington, 1732-1799. The Writings of George Washington from the
Original Manuscript Sources. Vol. 6. Electronic Text Center,
University of Virginia Library,
http://etext.Virginia.edu/washington/fitzpatrick. (accessed 12 July 2007).
. Washington’s Crossing, 1-6.
. Ibid., ix.
. Ibid., 4. At the time Washington crossed the Delaware, the ice
would have looked differently from what Leutze painted. Fischer points out that
the actual ice “was not right (jagged blue bergs rather than rounded white
. The American Way of War, 8-9.
. General Thomas Gage (1719-1787) was born in Firle, Sussex. He was a
professional soldier and had fought in Europe prior to his American colonial
experience. In 1754, he came to America where he fought in the French and
Indian War. Subsequently, he was the military governor of Montreal for a brief
period. Returning to England briefly before the Revolution, he was immediately
returned as hostilities increased and made the last royal governor of
Massachusetts. On 12 June 1775, he declared martial law in Boston, but gave
amnesty to most of the rebels. Bunker Hill occurred five days later. Though,
technically, a victory for the British, Gage was highly-criticized by his
superiors, and he was immediately recalled to England. Though later promoted to
general, he would never fight again in America, and he was replaced by William
. Allan R. Millet and Peter Maslowski, For the Common Defense: A Military
History of the United States of America (New York: The Free Press,
. Ibid., 65.
. Ibid., 65.
. The Writings of George Washington, Vol. 4.
. The American Way of War, 9.
. Ibid., 10.
. Ibid., 10.
. For the Common Defense, 68.
. Washington’s Crossing, 107.
. For the Common Defense, 68.
. Ibid., 69.
. Washington’s Crossing, 202.
. Ibid., 181.
. Ibid., 203.
. The Writings of George Washington, Vol. 6.
. Washington’s Crossing., x.
. Ibid., 3. Immanuel Leutze began his study of Washington’s Crossing
in 1848-1849. An early study depicts only Washington and Monroe and a lone
Continental conscript. In the finished painting, Leutze’s models were American
tourists and art students in Europe. Americans also served as assistants to
Leutze who employed them to help complete the painting under his direction. In
1850, a fire erupted in Leutze’s studio. The canvas was damaged, in that, the
features of Washington and Monroe were obscured in white haze. Even in this
condition, the painting won a gold medal for its creator in Europe. It later
went to the Bremen Art Museum, where British bombing raids against Germany in
WWII, destroyed the work. Fortunately, Leutze had painted another copy of the
work and sent it to the United States in 1851, where it remains today.
. Ibid., 5-6. Fischer points out that Leutze’s insight into the meaning
of the Delaware Crossing is a powerful one: “Emanuel Leutze…understood
that…[the] small battles near the Delaware were a collision between two
discoveries about the human condition that were made in the early modern era.
One of them was the discovery that made in the early modern era. One of them
was the discovery that people could organize a society on the basis of liberty
and freedom, and cold actually make it work. The ideas were not new in the
world, but for the first time, entire social and political systems were
constructed primarily on that foundation…All of these things were beginning to
happen on Christmas night in 1776, when George Washington crossed the Delaware.
Thereby hangs a tale.”
. Ibid., 488. In the endnotes to his book, David Fischer discusses
the possibility that the men in the boat represent real participants in the
American Revolution. In 1855, the African man was declared to be Prince
Whipple, an African man born in Ambou, Africa, who was sent by wealthy parents
to be educated in America. Instead he was hijacked into slavery. He would be
bought by William Whipple, a signer of the Declaration of Independence and a
leader of the New Hampshire Militia. Whipple fought for Washington in the
Revolution, but Fischer denies that the man in the painting is him. According
to Fischer, Prince Whipple was in Baltimore with William Whipple. He further
suggests that the dress and demeanor of the black man in Washington’s boat was
similar to the appearance of anyone of several seamen in Glover’s Fourteenth
Massachusetts Regiment. (Endnote #2).
. Ibid., 1-2.
. Washington’s Crossing, 221.
. Ibid., 221.
. Ibid., 227.
. Ibid., 231.
. Ibid., 235.
. John Riker was a descendant of Abraham Rijcken vanLent, a Dutch immigrant
to America. Married to Grietje Harmanse, Abraham Rijcken (also Rycken) left
Holland in May, 1640. He arrived in New York, then called New Amsterdam, in
August 1640. He would father nine children. He would move to Long Island
(1648), and in 1664, Abraham acquired Hewlitt’s Island, which would later be
called, Rikers Island in what is now the borough of Queens in New York City.
This was the result of two sons of Abraham, Jan and Abraham, who would drop
their father’s surname, vanLent, and assume his name, Rijcken, which was later
Anglicized to Riker. It was one of their descendants, John Riker who would meet
James Monroe in 1776 and save his life in the Battle of Trenton. The Riker
family retained control of Hewlitt Island which would serve as a training
facility for Civil War troops, including African-American troops. For example,
the Ninth New York Zouaves (Hawkins’ Zouaves) trained here. In 1884, the Riker
family sold the property to New York City, and it has been used as a jail or
correctional facility ever since.
. Ibid., 256. The events of Trenton, including the wounding of
Monroe and the ministrations of Dr. Riker were represented in a painting by
John Trumbull (1786-1797), The Capture of the Hessians at Trenton. Monroe
is depicted on the left, behind the mortally-wounded Hessian commander, Colonel
Johann Rall. The future president is seen lying down, Dr. John Riker standing
behind him. The painting can be found at Yale University Art Gallery in
. “The Health and Medical History of President James Monroe,”
http://www.doctorzebra.com/prez/g05.htm. (accessed 1 July 2006).
. Washington’s Crossing, 247.
. The Writings of George Washington, 1732-1799, Vol. 10.
. The Writings of James Monroe, Vol. I, 1778-1794, Including a Collection
of his Public and Private Papers and Correspondence Now for the First Time
Printed, ed. Stanislaus Murray Hamilton (New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons,
. Elizabeth Kortright Monroe was a strikingly-beautiful woman, who would
enjoy great popularity amongst the French in later years when James Monroe
served as American Minister to France. In Paris, Mrs. Monroe was called la
. James Monroe and Elizabeth Kortright Monroe had three children: Eliza
Kortright Monroe (1786-1835); James Spence Monroe (1799-1800); Maria Hester
. Charles Cerami, Young Patriots: The Remarkable Story of Two Men, Their
Impossible Plan, and the Revolution that Created the Constitution (Naperville,
Illinois: Sourcebooks, Inc., 2005), 2.
. Ibid., 2.
. Ibid., 2.
. Ibid., 3.
. Ibid., 4.
. Ibid., 11.
. Ibid., 62.
. Ibid., 63-64.
. Ibid., 64.
. Ibid., 67.
. The Writings of George Washington, Vol. 29, “Letter to James
Madison,” 31 March 1787.
. The Writings of James Monroe, Vol. I., “Letter to James
Madison,” 23 May 1787.
. Young Patriots, 73.
. The Writings of James Monroe, “Letter to Thomas Jefferson, 27
July 1787, 173-174.
. Ibid., 97-98.
. James Madison, “the Federalist, Numbers 10 and 15, 1787,” in Great Issues
in American History, Vol. I: 1765-1785, A Documentary Record, ed.
Richard Hofstadter (New York: Vintage Books-Random House, 1958), 124-139.
. Thomas Jefferson, “Thomas Jefferson, Letter to James Madison on the
Constitution, 20 December 1787,” in Great Issues in American History, Vol.
I: 1765-1785, A Documentary Record, ed. Richard Hofstadter (New York: Vintage
Books-Random House, 1958), 112-115.
. Ibid., 112-115.
. “Debate in the Virginia Ratifying Convention, June 4 and 5, 1788,” in Great
Issues in American History. Volume 1: 1765-1865, ed. Richard
Hofstadter (New York: Vintage Books-Random House, 1958), 115-124.
. Ibid., 300.
. Ibid., 299-300.
. See James Monroe: Man with a Mission 1794-1803, http://www.umw.edu/jamesmonroemuseum/materials/louisiana_purchase/webpagemuseum2.html
(accessed 3 July 2007); also James Monroe http://www.sparknotes.com/biography/monore/section5.rhtml
(accessed 3 July 2007).
. John A. Garraty and Peter Gay, eds., The Columbia History of the World
(New York: Harper & Row, 1972), 792.
. Kenneth J. Hagan, This People’s Navy: The Making of American Sea Power
(New York: The Free Press, 1991).
. Ibid., 28.
. The Writings of George Washington, Vol. 33. Letter to the
Secretary of State, 11 July 1793.
. Ibid., Vol. 33, Letter to the Secretary of State, 31 July 1793.
. Ibid., Vol. 33, Letter to the Secretary of State, 19 August 1793.
. Ibid., Vol. 33, Letter to the Senate and House of Representatives,
5 December 1793.
. Ibid., Vol. 33, Letter to the Vice President, 8 January 1794.
. Ibid., Vol. 33, Letter to the Vice President, 20 January 1794.
. Kenneth J. Hagan, This People’s Navy, 29.
. Ibid., 32.
. Ibid., 32.
. Ibid., 34.
. Ibid., 35.
. Ibid., 35.
. The Columbia History of the World, 794-795. “[T]he excitement
generated by the signing of the Jay Treaty with Great Britain reached a climax
with the emergence of two distinct political parties, the Federalists and the
Democratic Republicans. The Federalists had intended that the Jay Treaty would
avoid the outbreak of war, but by failing to settle such issues as the
impressments of seamen, ship seizures, and Indian depredations on the northwest
frontier, it precipitated bitter protests from among Republicans. It also
blighted relations with the French, who claimed that it violated the
Franco-American treaty of 1778 and controverted current American
sentiment…Washington hesitated to act on the treaty, well aware that his
decision was bound to aggravate party divisions…Contemporary reactions to the
Jay Treaty dispute ran the gamut of American fears. The prospect of foreign
war, the threat of political dissolution, sectional antipathies, and hidden
conspiracies conjured up a witches’ brew that unnerved the victorious
Federalists, even as it deepened the hostility of the defeated Republicans.
Passion threatened to supersede reason.
. The Writings of James Monroe, Vol. 1, 1778-1794, ed. Stanislaus
Murray Hamilton (New York: G.P. Putnam & Sons, 1898), 301.
. James Monroe, A View of the Conduct of the Executive in the Foreign
Affairs of the United States, in The Writings of George Washington, Vol.
. Ibid., 794.
. The Writings of George Washington, Vol. 34, 1778-1794.
. Ibid, 8 June 1795.
. The Writings of George Washington, Vol. 35, 1778-1794.
. Ibid., 27 July 1796; letter to the Secretary of State.
. Ibid., 10 August 1796; letter to the Secretary of State.
. This People’s Navy, 38.
. Ibid., 38.
. Ibid., 37.
. The Writings of George Washington, Vol. 36; 1778-1799; letter
to the Secretary of State, 31 August 1797.
. Ibid., Vol. 36, 1778-1799; letter to the Secretary of State, 12
. A View of the Conduct of the Executive in the Foreign Affairs of the
United States, in The Writings of George Washington, Vol. 36,
. Ibid., 3.
. Ibid., 4-5.
. “Republican Diplomacy,” in Great Issues in American History. Volume
1: 1765-1865, ed. Richard Hofstadter (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1958).
. Ibid., 201.
. Ibid., 201-202.
. Ibid., 202.
. Ibid., 202.
. The Writings of George Washington, Vol. 32; 1778-1799.
. “Republican Diplomacy, 203.
. The Writings of George Washington, Vol. 32; 1778-1799.
. “Republican Diplomacy,” 203.
. Ibid., 203.
. “Letter to James Monroe, 26 May 1795,” The Works of Thomas Jefferson,
Federal Edition, ed. Paul Leicester Ford (New York and London, G.P.
Putnam’s Sons, 1904-5), Vol.
(accessed 3 August 2007).
. The Writings of George Washington, Vol. 34, 1778-1799.
. “Republican Diplomacy,” 206-210.
. Ibid., 207.
. Ibid., 211.
. Ibid., 212.
. Ibid., 212.
. Ibid., 209-210.
. “Letter to James Monroe, 21 March 1796,” The Works of Thomas Jefferson,
Federal Edition, ed. Paul Leicester Ford (New York and London, G.P.
Putnam’s Sons, 1904-5), Vol.
(accessed 3 August 2007).
. Garraty & Gay, The Columbia History of the World, 795.
. Ibid., 795.
. “Letter to the New York Minerva, 2 May 1797,” Papers of Thomas
Jefferson, Vol. 29, March 1796 to 31 December 1797 (Princeton, New
Jersey: Princeton University Press, 2002), 86-7,
http://www.princeton.edu~tjpapers/mazzei/minerva.html (accessed 3 August 2007).
. Garraty & Gay, The Columbia History of the World, 795.
. Ibid., 795.
. “George Washington, Farewell Address, 17 September 1796,” in Great
Issues in American History. Volume 1: 1765-1865, ed. Richard
. Ibid., 216.
. Ibid., 216
. Ibid., 215-216.
. Ibid., 217.
. Ibid., 218.
. Ibid., 218.
. Ibid., 219.
. Ibid., 220.
. The Writings of George Washington, Vol. 35, 30 March 1796-31
Copyright © 2007 Steven Ippolito.
Written by Steven Ippolito. If you have questions or comments on this article,
please contact Steven Ippolito at:
About the author:
Steven Christopher Ippolito is a law enforcement officer for the State of New York for nearly twenty years and an adjunct
professor of Criminal Justice and Political Science at Monroe College, New York City. He has two Masters Degrees, one
in Education; the other, recently obtained from Norwich University, VT, in the very first Military History class of
2007 at that venerable institution; Ph.D.to follow, probably at Fordham University. He also created The James Monroe
Center for History and Strategic Studies, a think tank to discuss history, warfighting, transnational crime, and
political science through research and study. The father of a United States Marine, Brian Christopher, a veteran of
Iraq from the beginning in 2003 to the November 2004 offensive at Fallujah, now becoming a police officer for New York
City, he is also the son of Joseph Ippolito, deceased, a police officer for New York City's Mounted Police, and a
veteran of the U.S. Army-Air Force's Eighth Air Force in the period, 1944-45, a tail gunner on a B-24 Liberator called
the Parisian Knights. His wife, Rose, worked at the Tower II, 102nd Floor of the World Trade Center until the
beginning of September, 2001, when she left work there; most of her friends didn't survive! The love of history is
probably due to Steve's mother, Mary, one of the greatest history buffs ever. As a child, she encouraged his love
of Civil War history, and gave him Dee Brown's, Bury My Heart on Wounded Knee, and a biography of U.S. Grant, which
he has cherished ever since. Steve believes that Military History iis an excellent educational tool for our
professional military, and since we are war, it is through a historical study of politics and war that one can be
of help to our warfighters. A black belt in Jiu Jitsu and Tae Kwon Do, Steve, with a B.M. in music, plays the
classical guitar,composes whenever possible,and plays with the pop music group, Playground. He sends best wishes to
all first responders and military personnel, at home and abroad, whether they served, yesterday in Afghanistan, or a
few years earlier at Bunker Hill. May God bless America!
Published online: 12/08/2007.
* Views expressed by contributors are their own and do not necessarily represent
those of MHO.