James Madison Papers

To James Madison from William Lambert, 5 December 1809

From William Lambert

City of Washington, Decemr. 5th. 1809.


As the inclosed letter to bishop Madison, contains the principles of an useful method, not generally practised, to promote the geography of the United States, permit me to request that you will be pleased to read it with some attention, before you transmit it to him under your frank.

I take this opportunity of acknowledging with gratitude and respect, the favors I have already received from you; and be assured, Sir, that altho’ I may not often repeat the expression of a due sense of them to you, they have made an impression not easily to be obliterated. I have the honor to be, with great consideration, Sir, Your most obedt. servt:

William Lambert.1


1Lambert, who had been a State Department clerk in the 1790s and was to serve in the same capacity in the War Department, had recently sent Congress a memorial aimed at establishing “a first meridian for the United States of America at the permanent seat of their Government, by which a further dependence on Great Britain … may be entirely removed.” He was to pursue this goal for several years in conjunction with a campaign to build a national observatory in Washington. Congress took little effective action on either project until 1821, when a joint resolution of 3 Mar. directed the president to take measures for ascertaining the longitude of the Capitol. Lambert then established an observatory in his own home and delivered, on 8 Nov. 1821, a lengthy report that established new values for the latitude and longitude of the Capitol (ASP description begins American State Papers: Documents, Legislative and Executive, of the Congress of the United States ... (38 vols.; Washington, 1832-61). description ends , Miscellaneous, 2:53–71, 753–96; Annals of Congress description begins Debates and Proceedings in the Congress of the United States ... (42 vols.; Washington, 1834-56). description ends , 11th Cong., 2d sess., 1660–62; Lambert to JM, 19 Feb. 1810; see also Charles O. Paullin, “Early Movements for a National Observatory, 1802–1842,” Records of the Columbia Historical Society, 25 [1923]: 37, 40–43).

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