Thomas Jefferson Papers

George Watterston to Thomas Jefferson, 26 April 1815

From George Watterston

City of Washington Apl 26th 1815.


You will excuse the liberty I take, as a stranger, in trespassing on your attention—The President has been pleased to appoint me Librarian to Congress. & consiquently superintendent of the books now in your possession. I am solicitous to obtain your opinion, as a gentleman of literary taste, on the subject of arrangement—Your long acquaintance with books & your literary habits have, doubtless, led you to the adoption of some plan of arrangement with respect to libraries, which I should be happy, if you would communicate—If you think the plan you have followed in the arrangement of the present library be the most judicious, you would oblige me, by having the books packed up in boxes, according to that arrangement I have long thought the arrangement of the old library was incorrect & injudicious—& must therefore, be avoided in the present which is considerably larger, & I presume much more select & valuable.

You would oblige me, by advising me, when you think the books will reach this place—I am preparing a room for their reception which I think will be completed in the course of a month—You will not neglect to forward a catalogue—if you have a spare copy as I wish to have it printed as early as possible. I fear the room selected is not quite large enough to contain the books—if so, I will have some artificial stands erected to receive them—

I have the honor to be very respectfully, Sir, Yr obt servt

Geo, Watterston

RC (DLC); at foot of text: “Thos Jefferson Esqe”; endorsed by TJ as received 3 May 1815 and so recorded in SJL.

George Watterston (1783–1854), author, journalist, and librarian of Congress, was born to Scottish immigrants on a ship at New York City. His family moved in 1791 to Washington, D.C. Watterston studied law after completing his studies at Charlotte Hall School, Saint Mary’s County, Maryland. By 1808 he had set up practice in Hagerstown, Maryland. He soon published The Lawyer, or Man as he ought not to be (Pittsburgh, 1808), the first of his many novels, poems, newspaper articles, and nonfiction works. By 1811 Watterston had settled in Washington, and in 1814 he was the editor of the Washington City Gazette, a Republican newspaper. James Madison appointed him librarian of Congress in 1815, a position he held until Andrew Jackson dismissed him in 1829. Watterston was also a founder and longtime secretary of the Washington National Monument Society, which was responsible for the initial phase of construction of the obelisk in the nation’s capital dedicated to George Washington (ANB description begins John A. Garraty and Mark C. Carnes, eds., American National Biography, 1999, 24 vols. description ends ; DAB description begins Allen Johnson and Dumas Malone, eds., Dictionary of American Biography, 1928–36, 20 vols. description ends ; William Matheson, “George Watterston: Advocate of the National Library,” Quarterly Journal of the Library of Congress 32 [1975]: 370–88; Brigham, American Newspapers description begins Clarence S. Brigham, History and Bibliography of American Newspapers, 1690–1820, 1947, 2 vols. description ends , 1:99; William Dawson Johnston, History of the Library of Congress [1904], 1:107–19, 189; Watterston to Madison, 25 Mar. 1815 [DLC: Madison Papers]; Rudolph De Zapp, The Washington Monument [1900], 7–8, 28; Washington Daily National Intelligencer, 6, 7 Feb. 1854).

Watterston was preparing a room under the provisions of a 3 Mar. 1815 “Act to provide a library room, and for transporting the library lately purchased.” The room was located in the post office building (formerly Blodget’s Hotel) on the corner of Seventh and E Streets N.W., which served as the temporary home of Congress (U.S. Statutes at Large description begins Richard Peters, ed., The Public Statutes at Large of the United States … 1789 to March 3, 1845, 1845–67, 8 vols. description ends , 3:225–6; ASP, Miscellaneous, 2:279–80; Johnston, Library of Congress, 1:120–1).

Index Entries

  • An Act to provide a library room, and for transporting the library lately purchased (1815) search
  • Blodget’s Hotel (Washington) search
  • Congress, U.S.; temporary home of search
  • Library of Congress; librarian for search
  • Library of Congress; location of search
  • Library of Congress; TJ sells personal library to search
  • Library of Congress; TJ’s catalogue of books sold to search
  • Washington, D.C.; Blodget’s Hotel search
  • Watterston, George; as librarian of Congress search
  • Watterston, George; identified search
  • Watterston, George; letters from search