« ΠροηγούμενηΣυνέχεια »
cated by his preceptor, and though not engaged in active practice for any length of time, the discipline and knowledge of law he there acquired, proved of inestimable value in the legislative, diplomatic, and state ques. tions in which he afterwards took so important a part.
His prominence in military matters, intimate connection with the governor of the commonwealth, and the standing of his family, together with his own well known worth, brought him before the people of the section in which was his home, and in 1782 he was chosen a member of the legislature by the county of King George. Taking his seat in that body, he was soon elected by his fellow-members one of the governor's executive council. Suclı rare tact and discrimination did he evince in the places to which he had been called, as to induce the legislature to elect him, while yet in his twenty-fourth year, a delegate to represent the state in the Congress of the confederation, immediately succeeding James Madison. The restrictions imposed by Great Britain upon commercial intercourse with her West India possessions was at this time attracting much attention from statesmen, both north and south. Soon after taking his seat in Congress, in December, 1784, Mr. Monroe wrote his predecessor, Mr. Madison, soliciting a free interchange of sentiments with regard to this question; he afterward, in 1785, brought forward a proposition for such amendment of the articles of confederation as should vest in Congress the power of regulating commerce with foreign nations, subject to certain qualifications. He also prepared an address to the legislatures of the different states, in support of the proposition he had advanced, which was taken up by Congress, from time to time, for consideration, but was never agreed upon. A copy of this address he forwarded to Mr. Madison, with a request that he reply by letter, giving his views on the subject discussed. This request Mr. Madison complied with within a few days after receipt of the address, in a long and comprehensive letter, discussing the state of affairs without reserve, and giving utterance to some of the opinicns that afterwards influenced and guided him in the convention which framed the Constitution. The acquaintance of these two was begun at Richmond a year previous to this time. This soon ripened into friendship, which grew and strengthened with their continuence in public life, and though personally opposed in some important measures, it was never suffered to diminish. Their correspondence began in November, 1774, while Mr. Monroe was in Congress at Trenton, at which time he sent Mr. Madison a cipher to be used in confidential communications, whenever deemed necessary.
Foreign relations were standing subject of discussion in the Congress at this time, the course pursued by Great Britain in refusing to surrender cer. tain posts on the borders of the United States, as contemplated in the treaty of peace, as well as the restrictions upon commerce with the West Indies, being prominent features. The claim of Spain to exclusive contro:
of the waters of the Mississippi, produced a critical state of affairs with that country. Then, as now, foreign appointments were a prolific source of dissension, and almost before the formation of parties, lines began to be drawn in the appointment of foreign ministers and envoys. The friends of Mr. Jefferson proposed him as a suitable person for appointment as minister to France, where he had already passed some months as one of the commissioners to negotiate treaties of commerce with the nations of Europe. Persons inimical to Mr. Jefferson, and those who, as Mr. Monroe declared, desired the appointment for themselves or their friends, insisted that the mission to Spain was of paramount importance, and must of necessity be first disposed of; that Mr. Jefferson was the only proper person for that mission, and therefore urged his appointment. Among those classed by Mr. Monroe as aspirants for the mission to France, for themselves or their friends, were Robert R. Livingston, and Richard Henry Lee, who on other questions were opponents, but in assigning Mr. Jefferson to Spain were for once agreed. In a long letter to Mr. Madison he presented these views, and also expressed his opinions regarding the feeling of Great Britain toward the United States. He said on this point: “My letter to Governor Harrison gave you what had taken place in Canada. I am strongly impressed with the hostile dispositions of the court toward us. Not only what I saw, but the information of all the American gentlemen lately from Great Britain, confirms it; and particularly one of Maryland, one of Pennsylvania, and Mr. Laurens, who is now with us. The former two have lately returned to the continent. We are certainly in no condition for war; and, while we preserve the honor and dignity of the United States, must earnestly endeavor to prevent it. If Great Britain will comply with the conditions of the late treaty, -as we must, on our part, do what it enjoins-our situation is as happy as we could expect it. The sooner we are ascertained on this point, the better it will be for us.”
In reply Mr. Madison wrote under date January 8, 1785, first taking up the question of foreign appointments, in which he deprecated the contests of ambition they engendered, and concluded that they should be as infrequent as possible, in order to insure stability in the principles sought to be adopted. Regarding the fears of Mr. Monroe that war was imminent with Great Britain, he expressed doubts, but agreed that the policy of adjusting all differences should be followed, without sacrificing honor. The contest with Spain, he thought, had “a more dangerous root.” He said;
He said: “The use of the Mississippi is given by nature to our western country, and no power on earth can take it from them. While we assert our title to it, therefore, with a becoming firmness, let us not forget that we cannot ultimately be deprived of it; and that, for the present, war is more than all things to be deprecated."
The dissensions raised by the rival aspirants for foreign appointment,
were not settled for more than two months, during which time Congress was kept in constant turmoil. At length, on the 24th of February, 1785, a commencement was made by the appointment of John Adams, of Massachusetts, to the court of St. James. This was followed, on the roth of March, by the appointment of Thomas Jefferson as minister to France. Mr. Jay had entered upon the duties of secretary of legation at the court of Spain, in December, to which office he had been appointed the preceding May, and was there continued, no minister being appointed for the time being. The deficient accommodations afforded Congress at Trenton had resulted in its removal to New York, where it re-assembled in Janu. ary, II, 1785.
In a letter to his friend Madison, dated the 14th of August, 1785, Mr. Monroe thus recurs to the subject uppermost in his mind, the proposal to add to the enumerated powers of Congress, the regulation of commerce: “The report upon the ninth article of confederation will not, I believe, be finally determined until the winter. It will, however, probably be taken up for the sake of investigation, and be committed to the journals for public inspection.
If this report should be adopted, it gives a tie to the confederation which it hath not at present, nor can have without it. It gives the state something to act upon,—the means by which it may bring about certain ends. Without it, God knows what object they have before them, or how each state will move, so as to move securely with respect to federal or state objects." In the support of these views Mr. Monroe was sustained by Washington, Jefferson, and Madison, neither of whom was however, in a position to assist him with his vote. Congress finally declined to take final action on the report, deeming it proper that the proposition for the increase of its powers should come from the legislatures. The question was brought forward in the Virginia house of delegates by Mr. Madison, and though not adopted, led, in the end, to steps that resulted in the calling of the convention that framed the Constitution. That the question at issue had a grave bearing on the cohesion of the states, was more than once proved. In a letter from Mr. Monroe to Mr. Madison, under date March 18, 1786, he thus relates the action of New Jersey concerning a requisition of Congress, in which the legislature resolved that, “having entered into the confederation upon terms highly disadvantageous to them, from the necessity of public affairs, and a confidence that those points in which they were aggrieved would be remedied, and, finding that this was not the case, and that a compact, founded in such unequal principles, was likely to be fettered upon them, they would not comply with the requisition, until their grievances were redressed.” A committee from Congress procured a recession of the resolution, but not a compliance with the requisition for supplies. A little more than a year later a similar charge was preferred against Connecticut, in the constitutional convention, which charge
was not denied by the representatives of that state, then present; all which goes to show that agitation of the subject of change in the government was begun none too early. The matter was tersely summed up in a letter of Mr. Madison, written April 9, 1786, in which he said: “The question, whether it be possible and worth while to preserve the union of the states, must be speedily decided some way or other. Those who are indifferent to its preservation would do well to look forward to the consequences of its extinction. The prospect, to my eye, is a gloomy one, indeed.”
Closely following these events came another circumstance calculated to impair the harmony that had already been so severely shaken. This was the difficulty with Spain regarding the occupation of the Mississippi river, which, at one time, seemed likely to result in open war. The eastern states were willing to abandon all claim to the occupancy of the Mississippi, while Virginia, claiming large territory on the western bank of the Ohio, would consent to no arrangement that would preclude access to a market in the south; Kentucky was no less earnest in opposition to any treaty that would limit her occupancy of the Mississippi. Mr. Jay was instructed to enter into treaty negotiations with the minister of Spain, his acts to be subject to the approval of Congress. In May, 1786, he addressed a communication to the president of Congress, recommending the appointment of a committee, which should be empowered “to instruct and direct him on every point relative to the proposed treaty with Spain.' tion was brought before the House, and a committee consisting of Mr. King, of Massachusetts ; Mr. Pettit, of Pennsylvania; and Mr. Monroe, was appointed. Mr. Jay's plan was to enter into commercial stipulations, granting Spain exclusive control of the Mississippi river for a period of twenty-five or thirty years. Strong efforts were made by the friends of Jay to bring the treaty to a successful termination, but stronger efforts were made against any action that should limit the extension of the powers of the government to all parts of the west and southwest, and eventually the latter prevailed.
ELECTED TO STATE LEGISLATURE--OPPOSITION TO FEDERAL CONSTITUTION
APPOINTED MINISTER TO FRANCE.
LMOST at the outset of his Congressional career Mr. Monroe accepted
an appointment, together with eight other distinguished men, as members of a federal court to adjust certain long-standing differences between Massachusetts and New York. The court was continued during two years, without, however, accomplishing the object in view, which was finally settled by the two states themselves, in 1786; soon thereafter Mr. Monroe resigned his commission. His term as a member of Congress expired late in this year, and he removed to Fredericksburg, with the view of engaging in the practice of law, to which he had already devoted several years of preparation. Very soon after opening a law office, he was elected a member of the legislature, which met at Richmond, the 15th of October, 1787. Consideration of the new Constitution, which had been framed by the convention of 1787, and duly signed the 17th day of September, was to be had in convention of delegates of the state, to be held in Richmond on the 2d day of June, 1788, and great activity was displayed by men of all shades of opinion, in the election of delegates. Mr. Madison, as a leader in the convention that framed the Constitution, and its most active promoter, was elected a delegate to the state convention. Mr. Monroe was believed to be a friend to the Constitution, though a cool one. In a letter to Mr. Madi. son, dated October 13, 1787, he said: “There are, in my opinion, some strong objections against the project, which I will not weary you with a detail of; but, under the predicament in which the Union now stands, and this state in particular, with respect to this business, they are overbalanced by the arguments in its favor.” At the election of delegates, which took place in January, Mr. Monroe was chosen from the county of Spottsylvania. The assembling of the convention developed the fact that he was to be classed among the opponents of the measure, with powerful associates in