American Presidents CHAT

Chat Transcript from April 12th 1999

C-SPANModerator Welcome to the chat room. Tonight we are joined by John Pearce, Director of the James Monroe Museum in Fredericksburg, VA.

C-SPANModerator John Pearce, you joined us on C-SPAN earlier today to talk about James Monroe. Tell us about the James Monroe Museum.

JohnPearce The James Monroe Museum was founded by descendants of Monroe in 1927 and is the major collection of objects, documents and books relating to Monroe, his life, times and influence, and his role in the creation of the continent-wide American re public.

guest49 What is the oldest artifact from Monroe that you have in the museum? anything from his childhood?

JohnPearce Good question! The oldest artifact directly associated with Monroe is his hunting gun, on view in the museum. We also have archaeological artifacts from Monroe's birthplace which are associated with his family and ancestors. _And_ we have an interesting very early artifact--a 65-million-years-old fossilized dinosaur footprint from a quarry on his Loudoun County farm, Oak Hill.

C-SPANModerator Is the Museum open to the public year-round? How many visitors travel to learn about the 5th president?

JohnPearce Thanks for asking. Yes, the Museum is open every day of the year except 5 holidays: Thanksgiving, December 24, 25, 31, and January 1. Fifteen thousand visitors a year come to the Museum--and the Museum reaches many others through loans of objects to exhibits elsewhere, and through such electronic means as this week's C-SPAN programming, and this chat room right now.

presidentsfan I learned earlier in the day that Aaron Burr didn't think very highly of Monroe. Why is that?

JohnPearce Well, as Dr. Preston noted on the air, Burr had come to a point in his life and career where he distrusted and disliked virtually everyone. As Dr. Preston suggested, in the political wars of the late 18th and early 19th century, there were terrible, angry rifts between many people, based on party.

hank How influential is the Monroe Doctrine in current political circumstances? Did Monroe write the whole doctrine. I suspect others were involved?

JohnPearce The Monroe Doctrine--as revised from time to time, in the Polk, Theodore Roosevelt and other administrations--is still alive and well as a doctrine to help protect the Americas. Monroe was assisted in the Monroe Doctrine--as in so many of his Presidential decisions--by considerable discussion with members of his Cabinet and other advisors. Secretary of State John Quincy Adams played a major role, including the apparent authorship of o ne section of the phraseology. But it was Monroe's inspired idea to make the nation's position known through a public announcement, rather than internal diplomatic documents. A final point in seeing Monroe's hand in the document is the arrangement he made to have horses and riders to carry copies of the document to large eastern cities, so that newspapers could print it very quickly.

guest51 Monroe serviced in the military, did he ever see any combat?

JohnPearce Oh yes indeed! Monroe was the only other future president (beside Washington) to serve in the Revolutionary War. At the Battle of Trenton he was severely wounded, barely saved, and lay in a farmhouse for three months to recuperate. After that he returned to the war, was involved in the battles, wintered at Valley Forge, and had other duties.

presidentsfan What impact did the MO compromise have on the civil war? Did Monroe have this future confilct on his mind?

JohnPearce The Missouri Compromise temporarily resolved some of the sectional tensions which led to the Civil War. I cannot prove Monroe had the future conflict in mind, but a vision of such a conflict was in the air--it is even mentioned in the 1888 edition of Weems biography of Washington.

Chrissie I joined c-span late this evening, what was Mrs. Monroe's first name? What can you tell us about her?

JohnPearce Mrs. Monroe's first name was Elizabeth. She was a diminutive, elegant woman, a loving wife and mother, and often a quiet part of the Monroe team.

JGeorge I remember hearing that Monroe ranked fairly poorly among a ranking of presidents done by a historians poll. Why is that?

JohnPearce Historians' have rated Monroe (and virtually every other president) all over the map. In recent polls he has placed in the near great category (although I would place him higher than that). Distinguished historian Howard Lamar of Yale, in a l988 article in _American Heritage_ magazine, said that Monroe was the most underrated figure in American history.

bezukov Can you comment on Monroe's relationship with J Q Adams, especially concerning the Monroe Doctrine? thanks

JohnPearce Monroe had a good working relationship with his Secretary of State, and it seems clear from historians' analyses of the Monroe Doctrine phraseology that Monroe chose to include some material as written by Adams. As Dan Preston pointed out on to day's earlier program (to be rebroadcast on Friday evening) , Monroe was a great user of the collegiality of his Cabinet.

XavierT I saw in the C-Span AP site that Monroe belonged to both the Republican-Democratic party, why both? Was he more conservative or more liberal?

JohnPearce Around 1800, the Republican-Democratic party was just _one_ party. The other major party was that of the Federalists. Only later in the 19th century did the present-day Republican Party begin to evolve, while portions of the old Republican-Democratic (or Democratic-Republican) party evolved toward the later Democratic Party. By today's standards Monroe was more on the conservative side--though not as conservative as Washington and other Federalist leaders.

presidentsfan What do you mean by saying that Elizabeth was a member of the Presidents Team? Were 1st Ladies expected to support the President Politically or did they tend to the social aspects of the Presidency?

JohnPearce So far as I know, First Ladies were _not_ expected to support the President _politically_. Of course Elizabeth Monroe was important in the social events connected with most of Monroe's official positions. When I said part of the team I was thinking of their overall partnership in family, in official duties, and in personal cultural development. In the official duties segment, one interesting matter was Mrs. Monroe's being in the United States carriage in Paris, making one of the trips to the imprisoned Mme. Lafayette. Unfortunately Monroe destroyed their letters, and it is difficult to get a precise picture.

hank What was Monroe's view on Slavery? Did he own slaves? How does your Museum deal with this subject?

JohnPearce Monroe's views on slavery were complex. He grew up in a slave-owning plantation society, and he owned slaves on all his farms, of which he had several in the course of his life. He was interested in reducing the amount of slavery, and was personally happy when the US no longer permitted the transportation of slaves to the US (or any where else) in American-flag vessels. He thought that the establishment of a colony for the return of slaves to Africa might be valuable, and supported the American Colonization Society. For this reason the capital of Liberia was named Monrovia in his honor. At our Museum we try to present this complex subject. For instance in an exhibit 1996-1998 we included pictures of slave cabins from one of his farms (and interpretation of life and work), and in our present exhibits we directly raise the issue of slavery in presentations by our Guides. We have an annual scholarly lecture, which twice has focused on aspects of Monroe and slavery.

JGeorge c-span showed a number quotes which seemed to leave the impression that several people didn't like Monroe (including Burr). Was there something about his personality that bothered people?

JohnPearce Good question. I don't think it was a matter of personality, but rather of the very angry partisan politics of the era. For instance, in the 1790s, the political partnership of Jefferson, Madison and Monroe thought that their letters to each other were being intercepted. So they devised a cypher (code) and wrote in code--until they came to believe that their code had been broken into. So then they began to send their letters directly by express-- a horse and rider under their own control--from Montpelier to Highland to Monticello.

History Buff I read that Monroe, Madison and Jefferson attended a function in Virginia when they were all ex-presidents. Do you know what brought them together?

JohnPearce I believe that Monroe, Madison and Jefferson were together on a number of occasions. The best-known such occasion is that of the laying of the cornerstone of the University of Virginia, by President Monroe, with both Jefferson and Madison in attendance. (Both Monroe and Madison were members of the Board--the Board of Visitors #NAME? university.) The three were also together for at least one of the receptions for Lafayette in 1824-25.

junct If he believed in reducing slavery, then why did he own slaves (just like Jefferson) ?

JohnPearce Surely this is one of the toughest questions we have to try to answer--for a number of leaders. For one brief period of his life he owned no slaves--between the selling of his farms on the Northern Neck and the purchasing of those in Albemarle and Loudoun Counties. Harry Ammon, the great Monroe historian, lectured here and made the point that Monroe (and the others) had two views on the matter--at odd with each other--a public view for the reduction of slavery, and a private world which depended on it.

bezukov can you comment on Monroe's relationship with Congress?

JohnPearce Monroe's relationship with Congress was often good, sometimes very bad, often one of shared leadership, sometimes one of great stress. In the few minutes remaining I could not adequately touch on the subject, but will recommend especially Harry Ammon's biography, _James Monroe: the Quest for National Identity_.

C-SPANModerator John, does the James Monroe Museum have a website? How can chat room participants contact you with follow-up questions?

JohnPearce Sure. We can be reached on e-mail at Our web-site is currently under construction. We can also be reached by fax at 540 654-1106, or by voicemail at 540 654-1043. Please contact us!

XavierT What was the diagnosis of Monroe's death? Where did he die and do you know what were his last words before passing away?

JohnPearce Monroe had been in declining health for a number of years. A fall from a horse in 1828 (3 years before his death) had left him so weakened that he never rode again. When he was President of the Virginia Constitutional Convention of 1829-30, he was not well enough to attend the later sessions. We think he just died of old age and the effects of the loss of his wife in 1830.

C-SPANModerator John, do you have any parting comments for the room?

JohnPearce Thanks to C-SPAN and all the participants in this good discussion. Please keep in touch with us at the James Monroe Museum, 908 Charles St., Fredericksburg, VA 22401. Please continue to help us spread the word about Monroe and his life, tim es, influence, in the period of the creation of the American Republic.

C-SPANModerator John Pearce, we are out of time, thank you very much. A transcript of this chat will be available at at 10pm ET.

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