Back James Monroe, “The President in Peril”

James Monroe (1758–1831)
From The War of 1812: Writings from America’s Second War of Independence

“A boxing match, or another bloody nose for John Bull,” 1813, political cartoon by engraver William Charles (1776–1820). The artist gloats over naval losses suffered by England early in the War of 1812, in particular the defeat of the warship Boxer by the American frigate Enterprise in September 1813. King George III stands at left, his nose bleeding and eye blackened, saying, “Stop . . . Brother Jonathan, or I shall fall with the loss of blood — I thought to have been too heavy for you — But I must acknowledge your superior skill — Two blows to my one! — And so well directed too! Mercy, mercy on me, how does this happen!!!” On the right, James Madison says, “Ha-Ah Johnny! you thought yourself a ‘Boxer’ did you! — I’ll let you know we are an ‘Enterprize’ing Nation. and ready to meet you with equal force any day.” Brother Jonathan was an imaginary character signifying the United States; he was supplanted by Uncle Sam after the Civil War. Similarly, John Bull was a cartoon representation of England. (Image and caption details courtesy of Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division)

In honor of Presidents’ Day, which fell earlier this week, we present a letter sent by a future President to the previous President about the current President.

It’s the summer of 1813. The President is near death with cerebral malaria. The Vice President has just had a serious stroke (and, in fact, would die the following year). The administration’s opponents in Congress are explicitly praying for both men to die and are already plotting how they might assume power if they do. The British have just scored pivotal victories in the ongoing War of 1812 on the U.S.-Canadian border, where the aging general in charge of the American forces is so ill that he is hardly able to command the troops. And the economy is tanking because of the widening British naval blockade.

In the middle of the worst of the crisis, Secretary of State James Monroe wrote worriedly to former President Thomas Jefferson about James Madison’s health and the political advances made by Madison’s enemies. The letter—as well as the circumstances behind it—is our Story of the Week selection.

Read “The President in Peril” by James Monroe

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