James Madison Papers

To James Madison from Benjamin Henry Latrobe, 28 June 1811

From Benjamin Henry Latrobe

Washington, June 28h. 1811.


The considerations which arise out of my engagement with the public in the direction of the public buildings are so interesting to me, and involve so entirely my future residence and the means of supporting my family, that unwilling to occupy more of your time that [sic] I can help, in listening to what I have to suggest on the subject, I take the liberty of submitting to you a wish, that a meeting with the Secretary of the Navy, in whose department the principal part of my services have been lately rendered and yourself may be allowed me, when the whole merits of my case may at once be laid before you & the Secretary, and an ultimate decision had. I will speak to the Secretary on the subject and await the arrangement you may be pleased to make respecting such an interview.1 On the statements I shall then be able to lay before you, you will, I doubt not, be able to form a correct judgement as to what will be due in justice to me, as well as to the public, and it will give me an opportunity of removing such impressions respecting my case, as may have been injurious or explaining circumstances that may have been doubtful. I am with high respect Yrs. &c

B H Latrobe

RC (DLC); FC (MdHi: Latrobe Letterbooks). RC docketed by JM.

1Latrobe sought an interview with JM and Hamilton to discuss the financial problems he was experiencing after Congress had adjourned in March 1811 without making any appropriation to continue work on the Capitol. His salary was at least nine months in arrears, the total amount for labor and other materials owed him exceeded $5,000, and he was relying on work at the Navy Department to tide him over until the next session of Congress. In April 1811 Latrobe sent the navy secretary an account of $2,764.58 for some castings required to build a steam engine in the Washington Navy Yard, but by mid-June he had still not learned whether the account would be paid. Moreover, the architect was troubled by rumors circulating in Washington that he had executed the plan for the Capitol in ways that had displeased Jefferson, and he believed his fears on this score had been confirmed during some of his conversations with JM. At the subsequent interview it was agreed, according to Latrobe’s recollection nine months later, that his annual salary as surveyor of the public buildings would be reduced to $1,500 because of the payments he would receive from the Navy Department and that it would then cease altogether after 1 July 1811 (see Van Horne, Papers of Latrobe description begins John C. Van Horne and Lee W. Formwalt, eds., The Correspondence and Miscellaneous Papers of Benjamin Henry Latrobe (3 vols.; New Haven, 1984–88). description ends , 3:36–37 n. 5, 40, 52–53; Latrobe to Hamilton, 17 June 1811, Papers of Benjamin Henry Latrobe [microfiche ed.], fiche 85; Latrobe to JM, 30 Mar. 1812 [DLC]).

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