Thomas Jefferson Papers

William Lambert to Thomas Jefferson, 19 April 1810

From William Lambert

City of Washington, April 19th 1810.


I inclose two copies of the report of a select commit[tee] of Congress, and of several papers relating to the establishment of a first meridian for the United States, one for your own use, the other for the American philosophical Society at Philadelphia, of which you a[re] President. Several errors and omissions have been corrected with the pen, which may be avoided, should another edition be printed by subscription[.] The uniform friendship with which you have been pleased to favor me on all occasions within my knowledge or belief, requires corresponding testimonials of gratitude and respect from me, with which I have been [lo]ng impressed; and I cannot believe that any occurrence will happen to change the sentiments of perfect esteem with which I am

Sir, Your most obedt servant,

William Lambert.

RC (DLC); edges frayed; at foot of text: “Thomas Jefferson, late President of the U.S.”; endorsed by TJ as received 26 Apr. 1810 and so recorded in SJL. Enclosure: two copies of Report of the Committee to Whom Was Referred, on the Twenty-Fifth of January, 1810. the Memorial of William Lambert, Accompanied with Sundry Papers Relating to the Establishment of a First Meridian for the United States at the Permanent Seat of Their Government. March 28, 1809 [1810]. Ordered to lie on the table (Washington, D.C., 1810; also printed in ASP description begins American State Papers: Documents, Legislative and Executive, of the Congress of the United States, 1832–61, 38 vols. description ends , Misc., 2:53–71), in which the committee recommended that the president be empowered to procure the instruments necessary to ascertain the longitude of Washington City as measured from the observatory at Greenwich, and also containing Lambert’s memorial, Washington, 15 Dec. 1809, seeking legislative support for an American first meridian and providing the following documentation: “Abstract of Calculations To determine the longitude of the Capitol, in the City of Washington, from Greenwich observatory, in England, founded on an occultation of n. Pleiadum (Alcyone) by the moon, which was observed near the president’s house” on 20 Oct. 1804; “Rules And Series For computing the moon’s longitude, latitude, right ascension and declination, and its hourly velocity, at any intermediate time between 0 and 12 hours, having the positions given as stated in the Nautical Almanac, or Connoissance des Temps,” 14 Nov. 1809; Observations and calculations of the moon’s semidiameter for use in determining latitude and longitude, 9 Mar. 1810; and “Concerning the spheroidal form of the earth, and a proper method of reducing the latitude of a place, by observation, and the moon’s horizontal parallax, as referred to the earth’s center, according to any assumed ratio of the equatorial to the polar diameter,” 2 Apr. 1810.

The enclosed pamphlet was presented as a donation at the 4 May 1810 meeting of the american philosophical society (APS description begins American Philosophical Society description ends , Minutes [MS in PPAmP). It was not reprinted by subscription, but the committee report and Lambert’s memorial were published as part of an anonymous, highly unfavorable review article in the Monthly Anthology, and Boston Review 9 (1810): 245–65. Benjamin Vaughan also prepared an unpublished critique of the proposal. Congress never voted on Lambert’s original plan, but in 1821 both Houses adopted a joint resolution authorizing President James Monroe to carry the effort forward (Silvio A. Bedini, The Jefferson Stone: Demarcation of the First Meridian of the United States [1999], 46–8).

Index Entries

  • American Philosophical Society; and W. Lambert search
  • astronomy; and calculations of prime meridian search
  • Capitol, U.S.; longitude measurement search
  • Congress, U.S.; and prime meridian search
  • Garnett, John; Nautical Almanac and Astronomical Ephemeris search
  • Greenwich Observatory, England; and prime meridian search
  • Lambert, William; and prime meridian search
  • Lambert, William; letters from search
  • Monthly Anthology, and Boston Review search
  • moon; calculations of motion, position, and distance of search
  • President’s House; mentioned search
  • prime meridian search
  • The Nautical Almanac and Astronomical Ephemeris (J. Garnett); and W. Lambert search
  • Vaughan, Benjamin search