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

Learned Institutions ought to be favorite objects with every free people.
J.M. to William T. Barry, 4 August 1822

James Madison's willMadison focused his cash bequests on the education of his great-nephews and support for libraries, not surprising considering he himself had been well-educated at Princeton and had prepared a report about what books should constitute the Library of Congress. In addition, as Rector, he knew firsthand of the paltry support for the University Library. Subscriptions to periodicals, costing $100 annually, dropped from forty-six in 1827-28 to six by the time the Faculty adopted a resolution in April 1829, that each member should order one or more periodicals at his own expense, to be retained by him for three weeks, and then deposited in the library for general use. Funds appropriated by the Board of Visitors for the library dropped from $500 in 1829 to $300 by 1834-35. Madison's bequest of $1,500 provided significant, ongoing support for the Library.

Madison's library at Montpelier has been estimated at over 4,000 volumes and pamphlets, and his library probably reflected the list of books he compiled "proper for the use of Congress." That list included recognized standard authors on the international law, history, geography, and almost every subversive author of contemporary fame. Shown here is the title page of Madison's copy of Sir John Hawles's pamphlet explaining how judges, serving the interests of the Stuart kings, had perverted the jury system by suppressing freedom of speech and press. The Englishman's Right

MontpelierAfter Madison's death, Dolley Madison returned to Washington, D.C., leaving Montpelier to the care of her son, John Payne Todd. Irving Brant, who wrote about James Madison's love of books, suspected that the "profligate Todd" sold much of Madison's library "to fulfill the first obligation of a true gentleman, to pay enough gambling debts and liquor bills to stay out of debtor's prison." After taking legal action, the University recovered only 587 pamphlets of what must have been one of the finest private libraries of its day.

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