Guide to Using the James Monroe Papers
The James Monroe Papers are tricky to use. To avoid frustration, consult this guide before beginning your search.
To find a letter or other document in the James Monroe Papers you must consult both the 1963 published Index to the James Monroe Papers and the current Manuscript Division finding aid.
Access to the Monroe Papers is primarily by name of correspondent or by date. Subject access is limited. If you are having difficulty reading these original documents, remember that portions of the James Monroe Papers have been transcribed, edited, and published. These published works are available in print and, in some cases, digital editions. A list of published editions is available on the Related Resources page.
The James Monroe Papers are arranged in four series. (Series is a term archivists use to describe a logical grouping of papers. Medium-sized to large manuscript collections are organized in Series).
- Series 1: General Correspondence, 1758-1839. Reels 1-9
- Series 2: Additional Correspondence, 1776-1838. Reels 9-10
- Series 3: Letterbooks and Account Books, 1794-1806. Reels 10-11
- Series 4: Addenda, 1778-1831 and undated. (Original and photocopied letters and documents received after the Monroe papers were microfilmed.)
Series 1-3 of the Monroe papers were microfilmed, and the contents of those series are listed at the item level in the Index to the James Monroe Papers (hereafter Index) Series 4 was not included in the original eleven reels of microfilm, and therefore its contents were not included in the Index, although the documents have since been digitized and are included in this web presentation.
Series 1 is the largest, constituting the bulk of the collection. It consists of papers that were transferred from the State Department to the Library of Congress in 1903; the remaining three series consist of material the Library acquired from other sources and are a mixture of originals and copies. (For more on how Monroe’s papers came to the Library of Congress, see Dorothy Eaton’s essay on the Provenance of the James Monroe Papers under the Articles and Essays tab or as part of the introductory text in the Index, pages v-xl.)
Series 3 is different in form from the rest. It consists of two letterbooks, 1803-1806, containing copies of Monroe’s diplomatic correspondence from his years as minister to England, and an account book containing memoranda and accounts from his mission to France, 1794-1796. The center portion of the account book was used for personal accounts, October 1801-November 1802. The contents of the letterbooks are listed in the Index.
Note that the microfilm reels do not correspond exactly to the series. Also, because the series are determined by provenance (source), you will find that dates, subjects, and correspondents can appear in more than one series.
1. Search by Name
Begin with the Index. The Index contains an alphabetical listing of the correspondents represented in Series 1-3 of the James Monroe Papers. (For additional detailed information about the Index, see “How to Use this Index,” in the Index, pages xi - xiii.) The majority of Monroe’s correspondence consists of letters written by or to him, but there are also some letters written to and from others that Monroe possessed. The latter are indexed by both writer and recipient.
Monroe’s papers contain not only letters, but also memoranda, notes, reports, contracts (such as multiple drafts of the treaty signed by Monroe as a minister plenipotentiary of the United States for Louisiana in 1803), and other documents. Typically these are listed by the names of their authors, with a note in the Addenda column; sometimes they are listed by subject (see Search by Subject below).
In this example, a letter from James Monroe to Robert R. Livingston (*Livingston, Robert R FR JM2) August 24, 1804 (1804 AG 24) is highlighted. It is in Series 1 and is two pages long (S = Series and P = pages.) The Addenda column notes that it is a “faded press copy.” The asterisk * indicates that the creator of the index supplied information (for explanations of symbols and abbreviations see “How to Use this Index,” pages xi – xiii in the Index).
To determine where the letter can be found, turn to the finding aid. The finding aid describes the scope of the collection as a whole and includes a container list (select Contents List tab). The container list shows the Monroe Papers arranged in four series. Now that you have the series number and date of the document you wish to examine, the container list shows you which reel within that series covers the date needed. Click on the link associated with that reel and date and you will be taken to the beginning of the digitized images for that reel. You will need to scroll through or jump around the images on that reel to find the correct document. Using the gallery view or the slideshow view can sometimes result in a faster discovery.
Continuing our earlier example, the contents list in the finding aid reveals that James Monroe’s August 24, 1804, letter to Robert R. Livingston (which we know from the Index is in Series 1) falls within the date span of documents appearing on Reel 3:
2. Search by Date
Begin with the Finding Aid. The container list (select Contents List tab) lists the contents of each series chronologically. Because the series were determined by provenance, their dates overlap. While Series 1 is the largest in the collection, be sure to consult the other series. When you have identified the range of dates in which your document falls in each series, note which microfilm reel or reels cover that range. In this presentation each microfilm reel is represented by a web page (or object record). For an example, see the container list page reproduced above.
3. Search by Subject
Subject searching in the James Monroe papers is limited. It is helpful to know the names and dates associated with a subject so you can use them to search. However, some subject searching is possible using the Index. Although the Index primarily lists names, a few subjects are listed in the Writer or Recipient column. For example, Florida–West (see below), Foreign Policy, and French Louisiana are listed among the names, some with cross references. Find these by searching the Index alphabetically, or by conducting a full-text search of the Index. Some terms are listed after Monroe’s name, as in: Monroe, James–Foreign Policy and Monroe, James–Navigation of Mississippi River. Since so few subjects appear in the Index, be sure to look for names of individual associated with those subjects. For example, if you are interested in the transfer of Florida from Spain to the United States in 1819-1821, you will want to consult Monroe’s correspondence with his Secretary of State John Quincy Adams.