James Madison Papers

From James Madison to Jonathan Williams, 15 July 1809

To Jonathan Williams

Washington July 15. 1809

Dear Sir

Your favor of Feby. 23. has remained so long unanswered that I ought to state, in apology, that as I foresaw the Summer Session, would be inattentive to objects not within its particular purview, I did not enter into your idea, of presenting to it, the subject of the Military Academy. To the influence of this consideration at the time, and afterwards to the occupations of a busy period, I must trust for your indulgence.

I now readily accede to your proposal of making such a Report as was made to Mr. Jefferson,1 to be disposed of as occasions may invite. The advantage to the Military Academy, of fixing it a[t] the seat of Govt. seems obvious; yet a different biass with some, seconded by peculiarities of opinion in others, may retard if not prevent the change.2 I shall take pleasure in being considered in the relation to the Society3 which a clause in its Constitution provides for; being strongly impressed with the importance of its objects.

I take this occasion of making my acknowledgments for the Diploma which was confided to the Delivery of Majr. Rogers; and beg leave to trouble you with 25 Dollrs. for the Treasur[er] of the Society; being the full sum called for by his Circular letters to the Members.4 Be pleased to accept assurances of my esteem & friendly wishes.

James Madison

RC (NHi). Docketed by Williams: “President U. S. $25 inclosed sent immediately to Treasurer USMPS.”

1Jonathan Williams, Benjamin Franklin’s grandnephew, was appointed by Jefferson as first superintendent of the U.S. Military Academy. His report “on the progress and present state of the Military Academy” was sent to the president on 14 Mar. 1808. Williams was critical of the regulations and laws that restricted the evolution of the academy and made recommendations for its improvement, but ended on a positive note: “There is nothing more fascinating to youth than excellence in arms, and a little knowledge will create a desire to acquire more” (ASP description begins American State Papers: Documents, Legislative and Executive, of the Congress of the United States … (38 vols.; Washington, 1832–61). description ends , Military Affairs, 1:228–30).

2Both in his report to Jefferson and in his earlier letter to JM, Williams had urged the removal of the academy from West Point to the District of Columbia. “It is in my mind a settled principle, that a military Academy can only flourish at the seat of Government, and if this event is not to take place, it cannot be an object for my ambition to have any concern in it” (Williams to JM, 23 Feb. 1809 [DLC]).

3Late in 1802 Williams organized the U.S. Military Philosophical Society at West Point, hoping to make it “the major scientific society in the country.” Through the superintendent’s efforts it was soon “a center of scientific activity in America.” The civilian members included JM, Jefferson, Monroe, John Marshall, John Quincy Adams, Benjamin Latrobe, and Charles Cotesworth Pinckney (Stephen E. Ambrose, Duty, Honor, Country: A History of West Point [Baltimore, 1966], pp. 30–32).

4W. Popham to JM, 15 Nov. 1808 (DLC: Rare Book Division).

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