James Madison Papers

To James Madison from Jonathan Williams, 1 December 1805

From Jonathan Williams

West-Point, December 1 1805.


with a view to collect and preserve the Military Science, which must still exist among the Veterans of our Revolutionary Contest, and those of our Fellow-Citizens, who may have gathered Scientific Fruits in the course of their Travels, the Corps of Engineers have, under the Auspices of the President of the United States, commenced an Institution for the purpose of establishing and perpetuating a Repository so evidently beneficial to our Country.

As soon as the Constitution of the United States Military Philosophical Society was formed,1 the Plan was submitted to the Chief Magistrate of the Union, who not only honored it with his approbation, but authorized the Society to consider the President of the United States as their perpetual Patron.

The Corps of Engineers feel assured, Sir, that, however feeble this attempt may appear, in the infant state of their own Institution, you will, notwithstanding, take plea sure in granting the aid of your instructive Communications.

The Military Academy of the United States is the permanent place of meeting of the Society, and on the fourth of November you were elected one of its Members. I am, with respect, Sir, Your obedient servant,2

Jon Williams3
President, U. S. M. P. S.

RC and enclosure (DLC: Madison Collection, Rare Book and Special Collections Division). RC is a printed sheet with dates and address inserted in a clerk’s hand, signed by Williams. For enclosure, see n. 2.

1The United States Military Philosophical Society was founded by Jonathan Williams at West Point on 12 Nov. 1802 to promote military science and supplement the activities of the Army Corps of Engineers and of the United States Military Academy. Officers and cadets of the Corps of Engineers were the initial members, but civilians were also eligible for membership. Members presented technical papers at meetings and assembled a library. During the War of 1812 the members were scattered to various military posts, and the society was dissolved after a last meeting on 1 Nov. 1813 (Sidney Forman, “The United States Military Philosophical Society, 1802–1813: Scientia in Bello Pax,” WMQ, description begins William and Mary Quarterly. description ends 3d ser., 2 [1945]: 273–85).

2The enclosure (2 pp.) is a printed copy of the 12 Nov. 1802 letter announcing the establishment of the society together with the society’s constitution.

3Jonathan Williams (1750–1815) was Benjamin Franklin’s great-nephew and joined Franklin in London in 1770 to further his business education. He later accompanied Franklin to France, where he worked as purchasing agent for Congress, returning to Philadelphia with Franklin in 1785. A member of the American Philosophical Society, Williams published scientific papers in the society’s Transactions and was named the first superintendent of the United States Military Academy at West Point at its founding in 1802. Faced with inadequate funding and staffing, Williams struggled to improve and expand the academy. Frustrated in his efforts and unhappy about not having been placed in charge of military fortifications at New York, he resigned from the army in 1812 and joined the New York militia. He was elected to Congress in 1814 but died before he could take his seat.

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