Read and Then Riposte

Last month the blog of Harvard’s rare books library posted the image above. It’s George Washington‘s copy of a book written by James Monroe criticizing the first president after he (Monroe) had been dismissed as ambassador to France. In the margins are snarky comments in Washington’s own hand.

Stung by the slight and frustrated with the direction of U.S. foreign relations, Monroe published a scathing critique of Washington and his administration the following year entitled A View of the Conduct of the Executive in the Foreign Affairs of the United States. Unsurprisingly, Washington swiftly obtained a copy and read it with interest, responding extensively in the margins. The tone of Washington’s response is obvious from Monroe’s very first sentence. Monroe writes “In the month of May, 1794, I was invited by the President of the United States, through the Secretary of State, to accept the office of minister plenipotentiary to the French Republic.” Washington ripostes “After several attempts had failed to obtain a more eligible character.”

Oh, snap!
UPDATE: Great comment on Facebook from Andrea Kent:

Washington had quite a temper. In letters written to my ninth great-grandfather at said ancestor’s posting at Fort Ashby (now West Virginia), Washington wrote that if my ninth great-grandmother did not immediately cease selling rum to the troops and fomenting insurrection, he, Washington, would come out to the frontier and personally throw her out of the fort.


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