James Monroe
Man with a Mission 1794-1803


Through diplomatic relations with France, England, and Spain, James Monroe helped to actively form the nation.  Courtesy of James Monroe Museum and Memorial Library, Fredericksburg,VA.


James Monroe served as a diplomat for the United States on several occasions.  It was through one of these experiences that the United States was able to obtain the Louisiana territory, nearly doubling the size of the United States.

1794 France

As the United States was recovering from the Revolution, neutrality between England and France was essential in the well being of the United States.  In order to continue trade and to avoid war with both countries, the United States remained neutral.  However, the threat of war remained and President George Washington, wishing to keep peace, sent John Jay to England, and James Monroe to France. 1

Edmund Randolph, secretary of state, gave James Monroe orders Òto strengthen our friendship with [France]Ó, and to ensure the French that Òin case of war with any nation on earth, we shall consider France as our first and natural ally.Ó  In addition, he was to communicate AmericaÕs claim on the outlet of the Mississippi River.  With these orders, Monroe was commissioned on May 28, 1794. 2

Upon arriving in Paris, Monroe awaited an invitation to be heard by the French government.  Although he was not received at first, he wrote a letter to the President of the Convention, and on August 15, 1794 he was introduced to the Convention, where he gave a well-received speech.3

MonroeÕs speech, which was accompanied by a written copy, ensured the French that the United States would be their ally if conflict arose.  Following the speech, three national decrees were passed by the Convention: 1) declared James Monroe the minister plenipotentiary of the United States, 2) declared that copies of the speech in American (English) and French would be added to the Bulletin of Correspondence, and 3) declared that the flags of both nations would hang together in the hall of the sittings of the Convention, in the sign of the union of the two countries.4

Although well accepted by the French, critiques were harsh from Americans, after all, the United States did not want such a document in writing when they were at work on a treaty with Britain.  In addition, misunderstandings occurred due to the many months that it took for correspondence to occur between Monroe and the administration in the United States.5

Trouble began when word of the signing of the Jay treaty between Britain and the United States reached France.  At that time, the French declared their alliance with the United States over, and even threatened to send troops to America.  James Monroe convinced them otherwise.6

Monroe felt that he had done nothing wrong, since Washington had appointed him while knowing that he favored the French.  With this in mind, Monroe felt that he could openly share his views on the relationship between France and the United States. On August 22, 1796, James Monroe was recalled, and C. C. Pickney was sent to supersede him.7

1797 Back Home

After touring Europe with his family, Monroe returned home in the spring of 1797.  In 1799, he was elected governor of Virginia.  He served for three years, during which Virginia prospered.  In 1803, President Thomas Jefferson asked Monroe to return to France to help with negotiations for the Louisiana territory.  Monroe was reluctant to go since he was anxious to continue with his law firm so that he could make money to live on.  Jefferson offered him $9,000 a year along with travel expenses, telling Monroe "some men are born for the public."  Convinced, James Monroe left to help Livingston with negotiations in France.8


ÒAll eyes, all hopes, are now fixed on you.Ó

                                                                                         -- Thomas Jefferson9


1803 France

Livingston and Monroe negotiated with Barbe-Marbois for nearly a month before coming to a compromise on the price of the Louisiana territory.  Coutesy of the United States Capitol.


Robert Livingston, the United States Minister to France, had been negotiating for some time with the French over Louisiana.  Monroe, was sent to work with Livingston in gaining the United States access to the mouth of the Mississippi River and to purchase Louisiana and the Floridas.  Congress had approved 2 million dollars for the purchase of Florida and New Orleans.  However, Jefferson had instructed Monroe to spend no more than $9,250,000 and to atleast get a permanent reshipment depot near New Orleans.10

When James Monroe arrived, an offer had already been made to Livingston, by Marbois, who was appointed by Napoleon to negotiate the purchase.  Monroe was ill from the trip and remained in bed during many of the negotiations due to a back-ache.  Monroe did not miss the negotiations. Livingston and Monroe quickly began negotiating the price of the transaction.  Upon speaking with Marbois, Livingston was offered the entire Louisiana for 100 million francs.  Livingston, however, did not agree and instead returned to Monroe for consulting on what to do next.  Together the two men decided that they would offer no more than 50 million francs, and therefore, offered 40 million francs, half of which was to be returned to the united states in claimants.  This was quickly rejected and the offer was raised to 50 million francs. 11

For several days, there was no response from the French, and on April 17, war was declared between France and England.  In the week that followed, Marbois gave Livingston and Monroe a draft of the treaty.  The price was agreed upon as 80 million francs, or approximately 15 million dollars.  The United States would pay 60 million francs in cash, and 20 million francs would be paid by the United States government to the Americans who had claims against the French from the war between France and the United States.  On May 2, the men signed the treaty. No boundaries were established during the negotiations, and it was not until later that the men discovered that they had bought nearly one million square miles.12


    1 Christine Fitz-Gerald, Encyclopedia of Presidents: James Monroe, (Chicago: Childrens Press, 1987), 36; Daniel C. Gilman, James Monroe (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1898), 40;  World Book, 2002, s.v. "Monroe."

    2 Gilman, 48.

    3 Fitz-Gerald, 36; Gilman 48.

    4 Gilman, 53.

    5 Ibid., 57.

    6 Fitzgerald, 36; Gilman 64.

    7 Gilman, 67; World Book.

    8 Donald Barr Chidsey, Louisiana Purchase  (New York: Crown Publishers, 1972), 127; Gilman, 68.

    9 Gail Sakurai, The Louisiana Purchase  (New York: ChildrenÕs Press, 1998), 15.

    10 Rhonda Blumberg, WhatÕs the Deal? (Washington: National Geographic Society, 1998), 85-87; Fitz-Gerald,38; Gilman, 78.

    11 Blumberg, 100; Chidsey, 135; Fitz-Gerald, 39; Gilman, 82-3.

    12  World Book, 2002, s.v. "Louisiana Purchase"; Blumberg, 101; Chidsey, 140; Gilman, 82.

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