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RG 30/22 - James Monroe (1821-1898)
Scope and Content

The papers of James Monroe document the career of this antislavery orator, minister, professor, state legislator, U.S. congressman, and U.S. Consul to Rio de Janeiro. The collection richly illustrates the life of a second-rank national figure who personified the Oberlin ethos. The papers are organized into seven distinct series which parallel Monroe’s career phases: 1. Correspondence (Indexed and Calendared); 2. Files Relating to U.S. Consulate, Rio de Janeiro; 3. Files Relating to Political Service; 4. Files Relating to Ministerial Career; 5. Talks, Speeches, and Addresses; 6. Teaching Materials; and 7. Miscellaneous Files.

The correspondence series contains over 5,000 letters received by Monroe covering the period from 1841 to 1898. Some 175 letters sent by Monroe (outgoing) are also filed in this indexed and calendared records series. A number of the comparatively small proportion dating from the 1840s and 1850s deal with the antislavery movement. The major portion of the correspondence is political, relating to Monroe’s service in the Ohio state legislature, 1856-62, U.S Consul to Rio de Janeiro, 1863-69, and as a U.S. Congressman, 1871-81. Significant correspondents include the following: Salmon P. Chase (1808-1873); John R. Commons (1862-1945, A.B. 1888, A.M. 1890, Hon. LL.D. 1915); Jacob Dolson Cox (1828-1900, A.B. 1851, A.M. 1854); James H. Fairchild (1817-1902, A.B. 1838, B.D. 1841); Cyrus W. Field (1819-1892); Charles Grandison Finney (1792-1875); James A. Garfield (1831-1881); Joshua R. Giddings (1795-1864); Rutherford B. Hayes (1822-1893); Frances Parkman (1823-1893); A.I. Root (1839-1923); Giles W. Shurtleff (1831-1904, A.B. 1859); and James Watson Webb (1802-1884). There is at least one letter each from Frederick Douglass (1817?-1895); William Lloyd Garrison (1805-1879); Carl Schurz (1829-1906); William H. Seward (1801-1872) and Frances E. Willard (1839-1898). A twelve page supplement of letters covering the years 1872-74 has been added to the index and calendar.

Files relating to Monroe’s service as U.S. Consul to Rio de Janeiro provide fertile material for the study of Brazilian-American relations, particularly during the American Civil War. Much of the Civil War era documentation relates to claims arising from the capture of shipping in Brazilian waters by Confederate cruisers. Monroe’s efforts to assist in the relief of destitute American emigrants to Brazil are also chronicled in these records. Four ledgers, 1861-69, list in column form the date, name of ship, services performed by the consulate, and charges for the services. An account ledger (cash book) notes fees received by the consular office and an explanation of how that money was expended. These ledgers were microfilmed by the Oberlin College Archives in 1971. Other miscellaneous papers add to the understanding of Monroe’s duties and activities.

Records of the political career of James Monroe are best understood when viewed in conjunction with the correspondence series and his speeches and addresses. Documentation covers subjects such as civil service reform, temperance, free silver, and Republican platforms. Monroe’s political records primarily center upon his tenure as a U.S. Congressman from 1871 to 1881. There is scant material on his period as a member of the Ohio state legislature from 1856 to 1862. Records of Monroe as a U.S. Congressman include copies of bills in both manuscript and printed form, petitions (mainly regarding post offices in Ohio and elsewhere) and documents from the Committee on Education and Labor. Records used in canvasses from 1874 to 1884 include newspapers, speeches and other printed material used to gauge the outcome of elections. Monroe remained active in the Ohio Republican party which accounts for post-1881 records.

Although Monroe held only one full-time pastorate (Sandusky, Ohio, 1849) he was a frequent visitor to the pulpit as evident in the manuscript sermons. Records of his ministerial career contain sermons on specific Biblical texts as well as on general themes and topics. Many of his sermons were delivered in several different cities which have been annotated on the manuscripts. Several early sermons, dating from 1849, also have the order of service outlined on the manuscript. Marriage licenses, c.1848-61 and Bible Class papers, 1884-92 also attest to his continued devotion to the ministry.

The numerous talks, speeches and addresses delivered by Monroe attest to the diversity of his interests and activities. His public presentations run the gamut from abolition to diplomacy and international law, dating from 1840 to 1898. Of particular interest is a manuscript copy of Monroe’s 1846 Commencement address on abolition entitled, “Moral Heroism.” Many of the addresses and speeches are political, explaining the Republican platform or rebuking the opposing party’s claims. Frequently the manuscripts contain the dates and places where the addresses were given. Monroe’s speeches exist in both manuscript draft and printed form, although the bulk of his printed addresses relate to various issues arising from his term in Congress. A series of his addresses were compiled and published as Oberlin Thursday Lectures: Addresses and Essays (Oberlin, 1897). Drafts and typescript versions of these published lectures are present in this series and have been segregated from the other manuscript and printed addresses.

Monroe’s career as a professor which began in the mid-1840s and ended in 1896 is only partially documented here. The majority of his lectures and teaching materials date from the mid-1880s. Included are lectures in political economy, modern history, and rhetoric.

The final series is comprised mainly of miscellany associated with Monroe. The Oberlin College diploma of his first wife (Elizabeth Maxwell) is recorded here as are three of his diplomas. Several certificates are found among the miscellany, including the 1862 document naming Monroe as U.S. Consul to Rio de Janeiro which is signed by both Abraham Lincoln and William Seward. The 1819 marriage license of his parents accounts for the earliest span date in his papers. A brief autobiographical account begun around 1840 provides a yearly account of his activities beginning retrospectively in 1821 and ending in 1869.

A large assortment of receipts from 1852 to 1893 provides a rare glimpse into expenditures for a late 19th century household. Receipts include grocery and hardware purchases. Several account and subscription books attest to Monroe’s success as a fundraiser. Of special interest are two subscription books listing donors to the Oberlin-Wellington Rescue defense fund in 1859, and an account book of subscribers to temperance fund drives.

Series Descriptions

Series 1. Correspondence (Indexed and Calendared), 1841-98, n.d. (6.4 linear feet)

Consists of chronologically arranged correspondence, accessible through an index and calendar (c.1952). Of the more than 5,000 letters, 175 are outgoing letters, not including 13 photostats received from the Rutherford B. Hayes Library.

Series 2. Files Relating to U.S. Consulate, Rio de Janeiro, 1861-70 (1.5 linear feet)

Documents Monroe’s activities and duties as U.S. Consul to Rio de Janeiro. Records include chronologically maintained ledgers which indicate the volume and nature of American trade with Rio de Janeiro from 1861 to 1869. Other material consists of miscellaneous papers, invitations, calling cards and bills. Organized in two subseries: 1. Ledgers and 2. Papers and Records.

Series 3. Files Relating to Political Service, c.1856-84 (1.6 linear feet)

The bulk of the records in this series pertain to Monroe’s tenure as a member of the U.S. House of Representatives, 1871-81. A few miscellaneous papers relate to his term in the Ohio Legislature, 1856-62. Documentation includes bills (manuscript and printed), printed material, petitions and materials used in canvasses from 1874-84. Arranged in two subseries: 1. Files Relating to State Government (Ohio) and 2. Files Relating to U.S. Congress.

Series 4. Files Relating to Ministerial Career, 1848-92, n.d. (0.3 linear feet)

Monroe’s ministerial career is documented in manuscript sermons, include sermons from his stint at Sandusky, Ohio, in 1849. Other materials include marriage licenses and Bible Class papers.

Series 5. Speeches and Addresses, 1840-98 (1.6 linear feet)

Numerous speeches by Monroe, both manuscript and printed are included here. The speeches are largely political, although some earlier addresses provide evidence of his antislavery oration. Arranged in three subseries: 1. “Thursday Lectures” (organized by published table of contents), 2. Manuscript Addresses and Speeches (arranged chronologically with undated material at the rear), and 3. Printed Addresses and Sermons (chronological).

Series 6. Teaching Materials, c.1883-96 (0.4 linear feet)

Contains lectures and other teaching material primarily from Monroe’s political economy courses (1883-1896). There is no material relating to any of his earlier instruction.

Series 7. Miscellaneous Files, 1819-96 (0.6 linear feet)

This series contains a rich assortment of receipts and accounts as well as subscription books for fund-raising, including the Oberlin-Wellington Rescue defense fund and the James A. Garfield Monument fund. Monroe’s diplomas as well as his first wife’s (Elizabeth Maxwell) diploma are to be found here.

The James Monroe papers were donated to Oberlin College by his second wife, Julia Finney Monroe (1837-1930) and two of his children, Charles E. Monroe (1857-1931) and Emma Monroe Fitch (1848-1939). The donation came about in 1930 at the urging of President Ernest Hatch Wilkins (1880-1966) and Librarian Julian Fowler (1890-1975) (See Annual Report, 1929-30 pp. 94-95.) Shortly after their arrival, the papers were placed under the care of Historian Robert S. Fletcher (1900-1959, A.B. 1920), who supervised the preparation of an index under NYA auspices (See Fletcher’s Partial List of Sources, A History of Oberlin College, 1943, p. 931.) The index and calendar was not completed, however, until 1952. The papers resided in the College Library before their subsequent transfer to the Oberlin College Archives on accession #66, November 21, 1968. Two later installments, accessions #130 and 1978/32 received from the College Library included Monroe material which had been separately cataloged (diploma of Monroe’s first wife Elizabeth Maxwell (1825-1862), and two books of political clippings c. 1871-78.)
Related Materials

Additional material regarding James Monroe may be found in the following institutional collections: Oberlin College Board of Trustees and Prudential Committee (1), Papers of President James Harris Fairchild (2/3) (note: Monroe correspondence is conspicuously absent from the papers of President Charles Grandison Finney), Records of the Office of the Secretary (5), Office of the Treasurer (7) and Alumni Records (28). Notes of Monroe’s lectures may be found in Student Notes (19/6). Monroe’s will and other related material appears in the papers of his second wife, Julia Finney Monroe (30/1). Monroe also appears as a correspondent in the papers of George Frederick Wright (30/21) and as a research subject in the papers of Robert S. Fletcher (30/24).

The James Watson Webb Papers, held in the New York Public Library and Yale University include extensive correspondence from James Monroe. Several dispatches from Rio de Janeiro during the tenure of James Monroe are included in the National Archive’s holdings in Record Group 59 (General Records of the Department of State).

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