link to U.Va. Library homepage James Madison, Unsung Hero of the University

Your old friend Mr. Jefferson still lives, and will close his illustrious career, by bequeathing to his Country a Magnificent Institute for the advancement and diffusion of Knowledge, which is the only Guardian of true liberty, the great cause to which his life has been devoted.
J.M. to George Thomson, 30 June 1825

Thomas Jefferson and James Madison enjoyed a friendship of 50 years, one without "an interruption or diminution of mutual confidence and cordial friendship," according to Madison. It was natural, therefore, for Jefferson to turn to Madison for advice and support at every step along the way toward realizing his dream of establishing the University of Virginia.

Madison was present at the first meeting of the Board of Visitors on 5 May 1817. In August 1818, Madison would ride with Jefferson to the Rockfish Gap for the meeting of the State Commission to select a site for "Central College."

According to Philip Bruce's History of the University of Virginia: 1819 - 1919, Jefferson and Madison "possessed the controlling voice in the selection of professors" and that "Jefferson manifested as much solicitude about the acquisition of a carefully chosen library as he did about the employment of competent professors." Both Jefferson and Madison were ardent bibliophiles, so it was natural for Jefferson to turn to his friend for help in compiling a list of books for the University Library. At Jefferson's urging, Madison composed a list of essential theological works he thought would be necessary purchases for a great library.


Troubled by personal financial difficulties and realizing that his life was near its close, Jefferson wrote to Madison, "…it will be a comfort to leave that institution under your care."



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