In 1983, the architect Walter M. Macomber designed the James Monroe State Reception Room, together with the James Madison State Dining Room, to form a suite of rooms that might be used for small receptions and dinners. Both Madison and Monroe had been secretaries of state before they were presidents. Both were from Virginia, and the architecture of this room is modeled in the Federal style of Virginia’s plantation mansions that would have been familiar to them.
The fireplace mantel in the Monroe Room is from the early 19th century. It sits in a recess that is framed by paired Doric columns. Above the fireplace, in the place of honor, is a framed oil portrait of Monroe, painted from life by Thomas Sully in 1829. Another Monroe piece in the room is a mahogany box with four lead-glass decanters; Monroe’s name is inscribed in the attached brass plaque.
A special feature of this room is the motif of the American eagle, which can be seen in cabinet work, decorative arts, and the Chinese export porcelain on display. The American bald eagle has been a symbol of the nation since 1782, when it was selected as the central image in the Great Seal of the United States adopted by Congress. The eagle signifies power and authority, with arrows of war in its left talons and the olive branch of peace in its right talons. Because of its association with the Great Seal, the American eagle was a popular patriotic symbol during the Federal period, the years when Monroe was secretary of state and president. Altogether, about 250 eagles can be seen in the furnishings of the James Monroe State Reception Room.
- The patriotic image of the eagle abounds in the furnishings and decorative objects of the James Monroe State Reception Room.
- On either side of the fireplace are carved cabinets displaying rare porcelain from the service owned by James and Dolley Madison.
- The James Monroe State Reception Room prior to its renovation by the architect Walter M. Macomber.