IV. Report of a Committee to Prepare a List of Books for Congress
[In Congress, 24 Jan. 1783.] “The Committee instructed on the motion of Col. Bland to report a list of books proper for the use of Congress, recommend that Superintdt. of Finance and the Secy. of Congress be empowered to take order for procuring the books enumerated below; the same when procured to be under the care of the said Secy.” The list itself, entirely in James Madison’s hand, is headed by the Encyclopédie Méthodique and contains more than 300 other titles classed as follows: Law of Nature and Nations, Treaties and Negociations, General History, Chronology, Geography, Particular History (subdivided by nations), Politics, Law, War, Marine, Languages, America. (The last class, consisting of what would today be called Americana, contains by far the greatest number of titles.) Madison’s list was largely, but not exclusively, based on a much longer book list compiled by TJ, consisting partly of books he owned and partly of books he intended to procure (Brant, Madison, ii, 288–90). This “1783 Catalogue” of TJ’s (MS in MHi) was presumably drawn up, or at least revised, in preparation for TJ’s contemplated mission to Europe; much of the work on it may have been done while he was in Philadelphia in Jan. 1783, and perhaps more on his return to Philadelphia in March of that year, since a preliminary leaf of the list bears the date “1783 Mar. 6.” Madison and TJ roomed in the same house during these months and certainly must have discussed both TJ’s long personal list and Madison’s select list for a proposed congressional library.
MS (DLC: PCC, Miscellany); 3 p. in Madison’s hand, with endorsement by Charles Thomson: “No. 27. Report of Comee List of Books to be imported for the use of Congress Read Jany 24. 1783. Question taken to empower Superint: finance & Secy to import them. Passed in the Negative. Comee. Mr. Madison Mr Williamson Mr Mifflin.” Printed in JCC description begins Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789, ed. W. C. Ford and others, Washington, 1904–1937 description ends , xxiv, 83–92; also by Fulmer Mood in “The Continental Congress and the Plan for a Library of Congress in 1782–1783,” PMHB description begins The Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography description ends , lxxii (1948), 3–24.
Though he does not notice TJ’s collaboration with Madison in compiling this list, Mr. Mood in the article just cited gives an otherwise thorough account of this first proposal of a library for Congress. The motion that a list of books for purchase be drawn up had been made by Theodorick Bland before he left Congress in mid-November 1782; the highly interesting arguments for and against Madison’s Report when submitted were recorded by Madison in his “Notes of Debates” (JCC description begins Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789, ed. W. C. Ford and others, Washington, 1904–1937 description ends , xxv, 858–9); the economy-minded delegates prevailed, and the proposal was defeated, says Madison, “by a substantial majority.” A substitute motion by James Wilson, seconded by Madison, “to confine the purchase to the most essential part of the books” was also negatived.