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Jame's Monroe's Law Office

( Originally Published 1932 )



The Revolutionary War was over, and the Westmoreland County lad, James Monroe, who had some years before left William and Mary College to fight for American liberty, found himself at the age of twenty-one a full-fledged lieutenant-colonel with no profession. He chanced to be a father-less boy, and in his extremity it seemed natural for him to turn for advice and aid to a maternal uncle, Chief Justice Joseph Jones, who lived in the vicinity of Fredericksburg in King George County. Monroe had thought of studying law. The question involved was whether he should place himself in Williamsburg under the wise counsel of the celebrated George Wythe or follow Jefferson to Richmond. Apparently a father ly letter from Judge Jones changed the whole trend of the boy's life. In this letter he strongly advises Monroe to follow Jefferson; indeed, to quote his own language, he writes, "You will do well to cultivate his [Jefferson's] friendship." Mean-while Monroe was making headquarters of Judge Jones's home in King George County and possibly going as often as necessary to his duties in Richmond.

It was in the little law office in Fredericksburg that James Monroe began the active practice of law, and it was while his "shingle" swung in the breeze of this quaint building that he began his great active career by election to the Virginia Assembly. Another important event marks his career in Fredericksburg. In 1786 he writes again to Judge Jones from New York. He has risen another step on the ladder of fame, and is in Congress. "I have formed the most interesting connection in human life with a lady of this town * * * Miss Kortright, the daughter of a gentleman of respectable character and connections in the State. * * * I shall remain here until the Fall, at which time we remove to Fredericksburg in Virginia * * * to enter into the practice of the law." An additional human touch, which may redound somewhat to historic Fredericksburg, is another Monroe letter, on this occasion written to his preceptor, Thomas Jefferson, dated 1786, in which he announces that "Mrs. Monroe has added a daughter to our society who, tho' noisy, contributes greatly to our amusement."

The Monroe Law Office has been restored by three of the descendants of President Monroe, Mrs. Rose Gouverneur Hoes, and her two sons, Captain Gouverneur Hoes, U.S.A., and Laurence Gouverneur Hoes. In the house is the largest collection of Monroe possessions in existence, including the desk upon which the famous Monroe Doctrine was written; the court dress of Mr. Monroe and that of Mrs. Monroe worn at the court of Napoleon; the silver and china used by them in the White House; Mrs. Monroe's Astor piano and Empire dressing table, and many other priceless historic treasures of that and other administrations.

The garden in the rear of the law office is filled with old-fashioned flowers.

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