James Madison Papers

To James Madison from George Watterston, 4 August 1820

From George Watterston

City of Washington Augt. 4th. 1820

Dr. Sir,

I beg you to accept the accompanying copy of a little work of mine, published a few winters ago.1 With most of the characters delineated in it, you are, I believe, well acquainted & will therefore be enabled to judge of the truth & correctness of the Sketches. I have it in contemplation to undertake a history of your administration, which I conceive to be the most interesting period, except the revolution, of [the] American story. Could I be so fortunate as to obtain your aid in explaining the more obscure events of that time, & in furnishing such other information as might be useful & important; it would not only render me more competant to the task, but the work itself, more interesting. Cotemporary history has been objected to, but I think it is from that source, the future historian is the best enabled to obtain his facts & to select his matter. My respect for your character may indeed make me somewhat too partial; but I shall always endeavour to keep in view the course an impartial historian should ever observe, when he writes for the edification of posterity.

Be so good as to make my respects to your excellent lady; may you both enjoy long life & happiness, as you must enjoy, the gratitude & respect of a generous & enlightened nation. I have the honor to be very respy Yr. obt servt.

Geo Watterston2

RC (DLC). Docketed by JM.

1George Watterston, Letters from Washington, on the Constitution and Laws; With Sketches of Some of the Prominent Public Characters of the United States. Written during the Winter of 1817–18 (Washington, 1818; Shaw and Shoemaker description begins R. R. Shaw and R. H. Shoemaker, comps., American Bibliography: A Preliminary Checklist for 1801–1819 (22 vols.; New York, 1958–66). description ends 46708).

2George Watterston (1783–1854) was a lawyer who practiced for a time in Hagerstown, Maryland. After a tour of the West Indies in 1810, he wrote the poem, The Wanderer in Jamaica (1810), which he dedicated to Dolley Madison. In 1813 he became editor of the Washington City Gazette, and in 1815 JM appointed him librarian of Congress. Watterston served in that position until President Jackson removed him in 1829. During those years he published a number of novels, including The L … Family at Washington; or, A Winter in the Metropolis (1822). After he left the library, Watterston edited the National Journal and wrote newspaper and magazine articles, some of which were published in the Southern Literary Messenger. He helped found the Washington Botanical Society, the Columbian Horticultural Society, and the Washington National Monument Society (Julia E. Kennedy, George Watterston: Novelist, “Metropolitan Author,” and Critic [Washington, 1933], 1, 2–3, 6–7, 8–9, 10, 15, 56–57).

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