James Madison Papers

To James Madison from Benjamin Henry Latrobe, 10 March 1809

From Benjamin Henry Latrobe

Capitol US. March 10th. 1809


Agreeably to your instructions, I have made arrangements to provide the most necessary articles of furniture required for the President’s house.1 The first and most expensive of these are Looking Glasses of large dimensions. I have already purchased conditionally 3 pair, the largest of which is 8 ft. 6 in in highth, and I have in view one other pair, of very considerable highth & width. The sums at which I have agreed,

should the purchase meet your approbation are: one pair $1.050 .—
do 350 .—
do 750 .—
The 4th. pair which I have in view probably —1.000   
3.150 .—

I have also engaged a quantity of carpetting, bed & table linnen, & on my return to Philadelphia, it will be necessary to order furniture & upholstery for the three principal rooms, on the ground floor. As I shall probably be able to purchase the materials of the Curtains of the drawing room at a greater advantage for ready money, that by agreeing for the hangings when made up, including materials it will be necessary that I should have a fund in hand, on which to draw in such cases.

I therefore respectfully solicit an advance out of the fund appropriated to this object, of 5.000$ to be accounted for by me at the Treasury, as in similar cases has been done.2 I am with the highest respect Yours

B. Henry Latrobe3
Surv. pblic [sic] Bldgs U. States.

RC (DLC). Docketed by JM.

1JM and Dolley Madison moved into the President’s House on 11 Mar. In 1807 Latrobe had proposed extensive interior alterations and the addition of two large porticoes to the mansion, but only the portico foundations had been started. The Madisons planned a complete refurnishing of four of the rooms on the ground floor. Collaborating chiefly with Mrs. Madison, Latrobe acted as purchasing agent and decorator (Ethel S. Arnett, Mrs. James Madison: The Incomparable Dolley [Greensboro, N.C., 1972], pp. 166; Talbot Hamlin, Benjamin Henry Latrobe [New York, 1955], p. 302; R. L. Raley, “Interior Designs by Benjamin Henry Latrobe for the President’s House,” Antiques, 75 [1959]: 568–69). A floor plan of the rooms and a description of the Madison redecorating are in Conover Hunt-Jones, Dolley and the “Great Little Madison” (Washington, 1977). For a contemporary description of the refurnished President’s House, see Claude G. Bowers, ed., Diary of Elbridge Gerry, Jr. (New York, 1927), pp. 179–82.

2“An Act making a further appropriation towards completing the two wings of the Capitol, at the city of Washington, and for other purposes” of 3 Mar. designated $12,000 “for improvements and repairs of the President’s house and square, including a carriage house” (U.S. Statutes at Large description begins The Public Statutes at Large of the United States of America … (17 vols.; Boston, 1848–73). description ends , 2:537; National Intelligencer, 13 Mar. 1809).

3Benjamin Henry Latrobe (1764–1820), the English-born architect, came to the U.S. in 1796. Jefferson appointed him surveyor of public buildings in 1803. Details of his efforts to enhance the executive mansion interior are found in Margaret Brown Klapthor, “Benjamin Latrobe and Dolley Madison Decorate the White House, 1809–1811,” United States National Museum Bulletin 241 (Washington, 1965), paper 49, pp. 153–64.

Index Entries