James Madison Papers

Jesse Torrey, Jr. to James Madison, 3 March 1833

Philadelphia March 3d 1833 (No. 229 Arch st.)

Esteemed Friend, 

I have forwarded a copy of the first number of the National Library, by mail, and hope you will do me the special favour of reading it entirely, as soon as convenient, if you have not already done so. I presume that your age and state of health are such that you do not read or write much, nor participate much in public concerns.

You may perhaps recollect the conversation respecting free circulating Libraries, when I was at your house in the year 1816. You assented to their importance as the most effectual means of preservation of liberty and the promotion of morality and happiness. You suggested that a board of compilers ought to be appointed by the government to prepare suitable books, and remarked that such libraries would supply an attractive mental stimulus which would be likely to induce the mechanics and labouring population to devote their evenings and leisure hours to reading, instead of resorting to taverns, porter houses, and idle amusements.

I have since published several tracts and books on the this subject, and presented several Memorials to Legislatures, but have but little hope that law makers will adopt the plan of prevention of vice and crimes by the diffusion of knowledge, instead of the retaliatory system of punishment and penalties. I therefore direct my hopes to the co-operation of statesmen and philanthropists, as private citizens. Unless vigorous measures are commenced without delay, for the general instruction of the people, young and old, I consider our experiment of republican government in jeopardy of defeat. Ignorance is the prolific mother of superstition, pride, vice, poverty and misery. Judicious education, on the contrary, is the prolific mother of rational religion, economy, virtue, wealth, and happiness. Impelled by the conviction of these immensely important truths, I am very anxious to devote the residue of my life principally to the diffusion of useful knowledge. To effect this object, I consider the publication of books in periodical numbers, and free circulating libraries, the cheapest and most expeditious means. But my present resources being hardly adequate to the support of my family, I am obliged to appeal to those who are favoured with more abundant funds, for the use of a small amount, in aid of my design, to be refunded in one year, with or without interest, as the lender may require.

Believing that the weight of your example, as a patron to my efforts, cannot fail of turning the scale so as to insure their success, I hope you will be disposed to encourage and aid them by a loan, if it is of but small amount, provided you are satisfied of the utility of my design, as a means of disseminating knowledge and virtue, and consequently of perpetuating and extending our happy system of government, which is the last hope of the world, and for the preservation of which you undoubtedly feel a peculiar paternal solicitude, from your having been one of its principal founders. My former exertions for spreading moral instruction, and establishing free libraries, were patronised by Charles Carrol, De Wit Clinton, James Monroe, William Roatch, Roberts Vaux, Edward P. Livingston, Stephen Van Rensselaer, and other eminent philanthropists.

I have agreed with five or six persons to assist me in writing and compiling for the National Library, who are peculiarly qualified, provided I can raise funds to remunerate them with a moderate compensation, their circumstances being such as to require the avails of their services for support. I have full confidence that the work will sustain itself after a few months. If you should conclude to remit any money to me, I will forward my note for the amount, by mail.

In return for the beautiful cheering compliment in your friendly letter of Jan. 30, 1822, "wishing me success in planting trees of useful knowledge in every neighborhood, as helping to make a paradise," permit me to wish you the reciprocal happiness of living to see the Tree of Liberty,* which you helped to plant, in this city, in the year of my birth (1787) spreading its benignant branches over all nations, and, nurtured by the sun of science, superseding the brambles of despotism, ignorance, delusion, and misery, universally. From your very affectionate friend,

Jesse Torrey, Jun.

*The American Constitution


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