Written in Confidence

The Unpublished Letters of James Monroe
February 11, 2017 to May 14, 2017
American, 1775-1852

Sketch of James Monroe
19th century
Pencil on paper
Special Collections Research Center

William & Mary Libraries’ Special Collections Research Center recently acquired 30 unpublished letters related to James Monroe, one of the university's most famous alumni. The letters enhance the robust archive of James Monroe materials at William & Mary, which also owns the president’s estate, Highland, located near Charlottesville. Featuring 12 letters from the new collection, Written in Confidence reveals unpublished information in the correspondence between President Monroe and Secretary of the Treasury William H. Crawford.

During his two terms as president (1817-1825), James Monroe changed the nation, not only politically but also geographically, as seen in the maps on opposite ends of this room. As the United States reshaped, so did major issues: privateering and piracy, slavery, and international relations took new directions that would change the nation in lasting ways.

The letters in this collection reveal the trust that Monroe put in William Crawford to make important decisions on political matters, particularly appointing members of his administration. As the nation looked to Monroe to make decisions large and small, the president turned to members of his inner circle—Crawford in particular—to make critical judgment calls. Ultimately having “the utmost confidence” that he would do “the best that can be done” in every matter, Monroe frequently let Crawford and others make decisions with his counsel and advisement, but largely at their own discretion.

Correspondence between Monroe and Crawford is as much political as it is personal, concerning both the health and wellbeing of friends and family, and important national affairs. While the majority of the letters are written by the president to the secretary of the treasury, Crawford’s letters highlight the respect he had for Monroe, providing feverish admonitions on matters he thought would concern the president and making a heartfelt confession to Monroe about his concerns for the president’s regard for him.

Revealing new pieces of information throughout Monroe’s presidency, this collection of letters presents new and exciting opportunities for rediscovering America’s last founding father.


James Monroe, Albemarle, VA, to William H. Crawford, October 3, 1817


Read more about the exhibit on the Special Collections' blog, An Acquired Taste: SCRC’s Exhibition Now Open at the Muscarelle Museum of Art


Curator: Meghan Bryant, Instruction and Research Associate

Exhibit Design: Jennie Davy, Burger Archives Specialist

William & Mary Libraries Staff: Tami Back, Carrie Cooper, Jay Gaidmore, Tina Luers, Susan Riggs, Ute Schechter

Campus Partners: Muscarelle Museum of Art; Sara Bon-Harper, James Monroe’s Highland; Susan Webster, Department of Art & Art History

Scholarly Consultation: Daniel Preston, University of Mary Washington

Special Thanks: Jody and Wilma Forsyth, whose donation made the acquisition of the James Monroe and William Crawford Correspondence possible; Nathan Raab and The Raab Collection