James Madison Papers

To James Madison from Thomas Law, 28 March 1813

From Thomas Law

March 28th 1813.


What now remains of all the atchievements of Louis the 14th entitled the great, but a few buildings & his palace & gardens at Versailles? When Bonaparte shall have fretted his hour out upon the stage, what will the philanthropist contemplate with so much pleasure as his farm at Ramboulliet? Should you Sir obtain the enclosure of the public grounds containing above 200 Acres for which 25£ per acre have been paid by the public, you will look back with self congratulation, upon an establishment which will be perpetual, & which will annually benefit the United States.1 Printed questions might be given to every Member of Congress & they would in reply inform the City society of the grasses & culinary & medicinal & dying plants in each District, also of the various trees for Ship building furniture &ca. also of the fossils minerals clays &ca. &ca.

Various seeds & plants would be brought from abroad, which would produce more in the public garden & be disseminated over this extensive continent.

A correspondence would naturally take place between the Society here & Botanists all over the world.2 The honey Locust from Spain, the Teak tree from India, in short many gifts of nature might be transplanted into this Country, which in process of time would afford millions.

“All eyes, all hearts a garden must approve / Twas the first gift to innocence & Love.[”]

The stranger visiting this metropolis beholds with a sigh the neglected waste, & utters an exclamation which suffuses the cheeks of Citizens with a blush.

Philosophy would more applaud the enclosure of the public grounds, than the conquest of a province.

Pardon Sir this liberty—an impulse extort its from me. I could dwell upon the future benefits & fill up many pages, but a consciousness of the preciousness of your time restrains me. I remain With much respect & sincere esteem

Thomas Law

RC (DLC). Docketed by JM.

1The agreement that George Washington negotiated in 1791 with the owners of the property on which the national capital would be located specified that they would receive £25 per acre for land dedicated to public use. On 4 May 1812, in response to complaints that some of these former owners were still occupying the property they had sold to the public, Congress passed an act authorizing the corporation of Washington to “occupy and improve for public purposes, by and with the consent of the President of the United States, any part of the public and open spaces or squares” in the city. An act of 5 July 1812 empowered the president to “take possession of the whole of the reservations of public grounds in the city of Washington, and lease them out … on such terms and conditions as in his judgment may best effect the improvement of the said grounds, for public walks, botanic gardens, or other public purposes.” In 1820 the Columbian Institute for the Promotion of Arts and Sciences established a botanical garden on public land near the Capitol (Bryan, History of the National Capital, 1:134, 513–14; U.S. Statutes at Large description begins The Public Statutes at Large of the United States of America … (17 vols.; Boston, 1848–73). description ends , 2:725, 775; Harold T. Pinkett, “Early Agricultural Societies in the District of Columbia,” Records of the Columbia Historical Society … 1951–1952 [1955], 39, 42).

2Law probably referred to the Columbian Agricultural Society, established in 1809 to promote improvement in local farming methods and domestic manufacture. The Society mounted a number of successful exhibitions, several of which JM attended, but it fell victim to the pressures of war after November 1812. In 1816, Law became a charter member of the Columbian Institute for the Promotion of Arts and Sciences, which endorsed proposals on the propagation of domestic plants identical to those he made in this letter (Pinkett, “Early Agricultural Societies in the District of Columbia,” Records of the Columbia Historical Society … 1951–1952 [1955], 33–39; Green, Washington: A History of the Capital, 1:69).

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