tv James Monroe and Foreign Policy CSPAN October 4, 2015 9:35pm-9:53pm EDT
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historians of american foreign relations annual meeting in arlington. we spoke with professors and graduate students about research. this interview is about 15 minutes. >> cassandra good is the associated editor on papers of james monroe. she earned her doctorate at the university of pennsylvania. why is james monroe a significant player in american history? cassandra good: the first thing that people think of is the monroe doctrine, but he still has ramifications today, we joke that he is like forrest gump. he shows up everywhere. if you look at the painting of
washington crossing the delaware, he is there. the louisiana purchase, he is involved. the war of 1812, he just gets his hand in so many moments in the first 40-50 years of the country. interviewer: why does he have a global view of the world? cassandra good: he was sent on his first diplomatic appointment very early on. he was not educated abroad, but he was sent to france by george washington and that was his first experience -- and then sent back to europe later traveling to several different countries. i think that that really impacted his idea about foreign policy. when he was secretary of state and president. interviewer: what was he like as a man?
cassandra good: i think the description we see most often is that he was a really nice guy. his personal papers do not survive for the most part, his wife's papers are gone, so we don't have much insight into him as a person, but he was well-liked, we know that. he was somebody who had integrity and people respected that about him. he is not known as the smartest, but very capable. interviewer: was he an influential president? cassandra good: well, still discussing the monroe doctrine and other things, he is still relevant. we are establishing with the world of presidency is, so all of these first presidents are important.
interviewer: so finish this sentence: the monroe doctrine did what? cassandra good: it changed america's role in foreign policy, for at least a century. i think more recently it has built in importance, it has to do with what american diplomats by the united date -- united states'role should be in the larger world. interviewer: what was his writing style like and what can we learn? cassandra good: monroe's writing is not as eloquent as someone like jefferson, he is not concise or easily quotable. sometimes it is meandering and he had bad handwriting, so his letters are a challenge to read. but he was careful in his wording, he would cross things out and write over in very tiny
handwriting that is now very hard to deciper. i think that he was thoughtful about what words he chose, especially for the public. interviewer: what time frames have you focused on? cassandra good: james monroe volume five focuses on the years 1803-1811, he was in a europe, england, france and spain. so that is the bulk of the letters in that volume. interviewer: what was interesting? sandra good: he was sent on that trip to negotiate the louisiana purchase, which that was not supposed to be the louisiana purchase, it was initially to
help get the port of new orleans, but then napoleon offered louisiana because he had to pull back resources in the larger war in europe and the revolution in haiti. it had not been productive for him, so they offered all of louisiana and monroe was part of making those arrangements. that is the most famous parts of his time in europe. he also negotiated a treaty with the british. but the british signed, the americans never did. and, that treaty could have prevented the war of 1812. interviewer: many people forget that there was a rivalry between the u.s. and france during this time. cassandra good: it was a three-way rivalry, spain has fallen in importance, but the french, the british, and the americans are fighting over shipping to each other and the colonies, especially with the armies. so the u.s. could have easily gone to war with france as well.
the french had been seizing a american ships, just as the british had been but a british -- the french did not have the level of naval power that the u.s. did. interviewer: we live in an air of an immediate information, we can get in instantaneously. but, go back to the time in the early 1800s and walk us through how monroe would travel to europe and the time to get over there and meet with leaders and get that information back to the u.s., it had to be very long and cumbersome. cassandra good: it was a long journey to get to europe, weeks, depending on what time of year it was. maybe more than four weeks. you do not have international mail, so if you had to send a
letter, you had to find somebody who you trusted to be going where you needed to go. you might find a ship going into new york, but then somebody could hand that letter off to someone else to carry it to washington. so it took a long time. months for letters to get back and forth. even traveling within europe, monroe goes to spain from london, you have to travel through france and spain and he kept a travel diary, where he talks about not finding a hotel, the roads are a mess, there is a famine, and he talks about how impoverished the people are and how difficult it is to travel there.
interviewer: do you think james monroe had a sense of the role america would play in coming generations? do you have a sense that he knew we were about to become a major economic power, military power? cassandra good: i think he understood that to a certain degree. he didn't write like jefferson, what he envisioned for the future. but when he makes diplomatic arguments, he certainly established that america was important and a rising power and deserved respect. he had national pride and he thought they deserved to be treated like an equal. interviewer: as you read his papers, can you hear his voice? cassandra good: it is tough to know what his voice is, because we don't have private letters. interviewer: why is that? cassandra good: in many cases, people ask that their letters are destroyed after they die. or destroy them themselves. in his case, personal letters we
have are from friends of his, but the ones with his family were destroyed. so, either he or his family members made the decision they did not want those letters to be kept. he did not have the sense that jefferson did about wanting to keep records of everything and that people would want to read all of it. whereas, if he did have that sense, he didn't want us to. interviewer: it give us a sense of he and his family. good: he was born in virginia, he grew up mostly raised by an uncle, because his father died. he went to the college of william and mary, he was there during the revolution and he joined the continental army at a very young age. he was still a teenager when he
went to war. he was wounded during the war and ended up in and out of military positions. the rest of his career he was in public service until he retired after the presidency, still had some public service in virginia and then died in 1831. interviewer: why did we enter the war in 1812? cassandra good: there is disagreement about this. plenty of people in the u.s. did not want america to do war with great britain. a lot of this was feelings of frustration and not getting respect. historians tend to talk about the cause of depression, sailors kidnapped by the british, british citizens that were escaping military duties. and that was an issue. and commercial issues, where the british are seizing american ships.
they do not want americans supplying france. and both of those things, we can see them as policy issues that are frustrating and problematic and they arouse strong emotions with people. they feel resentment toward great britain, like they are being insulted or humiliated, these are the terms used in a diplomatic writings and personal writings. they are talking about grievances against great britain. why was it such a significant war for the u.s.? cassandra good: in terms of policies, nothing changes after the war based on the treaty at the end. it goes back to status quo, the way things were before the war. but feelings of national pride,
they felt in this war they had won, and if they did win famous battles. they felt like they were a power to be reckoned with. they had shown great writing they were not a colony anymore. great britain was treating the united states like they were still a colony. but, america had asserted its importance on the world stage. this was a time when the u.s. had increasing global power. interviewer i would imagine in : these papers, you are asking yourself questions, what would you ask him? cassandra good: i would want to know what he was telling his family about what was going on with great britain and diplomatic discussions, we can see some glimpses among friends, but it would be nice to know in some cases what he would tell a
french diplomat to one day, and a diplomat from another place, say spain, another thing. so, what did he really think? what were his true motivations? that is harder to get out. steve: you smile when you talk about james monroe, why is he a passion for you? cassandra good: the early republic is an exciting time, because this is when americans felt anything was possible. they had broken away from this republic, they felt like they were blazing a path towards freedom for the rest of the world and they had a sense of possibility. in some ways, that is realized and in others, it was not. opportunities for african americans, women, it native people, ended up closing down in many ways.
in the 1780, we got that things would change radically and they didn't. but still, that possibility through the writings is what i find very exciting through this time. steve: what is next? cassandra good: with the papers, we are currently working on volume six, which will be after 1811 until 1813, he will be secretary of state and the secretary of war. my own research i am working on a project on george washington, his descendents, and the way his family understands their political role in the nation. steve: are there james monroe descendents today? cassandra good: they are not direct descendents that would have the same last name, because he did not have male children. just like george washington, he
did not have any children to pass that on. but monroe did have two daughters. there aren't descendents via those daughters with other last names that we do know about and that can trace their ancestry back. steve: and what about the papers: are they well-preserved? cassandra good: a lot of them are at the national archives. letters to and from him, maybe 40000 and half of them at the national archives and at the library of congress. and some of the few personal ones and some political ones are in new york. steve: finally, i put this as a sidebar question, but the most interesting or different thing about james monroe you didn't know before you started these, maybe as a person or public
official or as a diplomat, what is it? is there one thing you can point to? cassandra good: when i was studying in graduate school, studying political history, monroe's name did not come up as often as the other founders. now that i have worked on his papers and see he is everywhere, i find that fascinating. steve: the associate editor for the papers of james monroe, thank you very much. cassandra good: thank you. >> at you were watching of tv.ican history c-spans every weekend on three. follow us on twitter for our schedule of programs and to keep up with the latest history news. weekend, we featured the city of santa rosa, california.