James Madison Papers

Lucy Brockenbrough to James Madison, 24 July 1831

University July 24t 31

My Dear Sir

Nothing but an unwillingness to intrude upon your goodness, and to disturb the quiet of your mind has prevented my writing to you some days ago, but seeing the state of my husbands feelings and suffering as I have done for the last week I am compelled to lay before you sir as Rector of this institution the shameful and unjust proceedings of the last board of visitors, with regard to my husband. They met and without assigning any cause, have turned him out of the Proctors Office, and in his stead have put Mr John Carr, a young man without a family,) already in the public pay (and have given him a Salary of 1000 dollars p anun and a house, making his income about 1200 or upwards a year, this for performing the duties which Mr B performed for 500 and afterwards Mr B and Mr Wertenbaker together for 800. But mark me beside this, the only disagreeable duty; the only, one which Mr B ever complained of, Mr Carr also refused to perform,) which is to visit the student Dormitories) in consequence of which they have taken it off; and added 200 more to the Salary you recollect my good sir that these menial services were added to my husbands duties in 1829 and when you gentlemen thought proper to take them off in 1830, 300 hundred dollars was taken off with it, and given to the assistant Proctor, false so called, for in truth he never assisted the Proctor at all—but was assistant Chairman, but be this as it may, is all this compatible with justice—was it too much to expect my dear sir of the visitors that so faithful a discharge of duty should have been differently rewarded, was it too much to expect that the visitors would at least hav[e] made his situation equal by the exchange, even if they thought it a condecension to consult with on the subject—and thereby have soothed his feelings which I assure you have been most deeply wounded, he did not expect such treatment at the hands of the visitors; who ought to have known something of his indefatigable exerti[ons] to promote the interest of this institution, and who ought to know that he has always doubled his own trouble to save the institution expence—You know my good sir who came here in 1819 when this place was almost a wilderness, and struggled with all the difficulties attendant on rearing so many buildings in a country place with so few facilities, who it was that in 1822 almost lost his hearing entirely, on a trip to the [ ] to benefit this institution, but it would take a volume and be too great a tax upon your goodness to enumerate the thousand acti[ons] of a similar nature which he has done at the risk of his own fortune and health, to benefit this institution—This is a strange mysterious proceeding, and one which I am sure would nev[er] have occurred my dear sir had you been present, if as I believe the visitors were led to some chang[e] by some complainant) who has not ventured to com[e] out) and thereby give Mr B an opportunity of vindicating himself, I am sure had you been here you would have taken some other plan for the prosecution of it—it is strange extremely strange that the visitors should complain of the poverty of the institution, when they can give one ma[n] 500 hundred dollars to keep the observatory key and another 200 hundred for writing as their secretary for about ten days—now my dear sir, we are not yet so reduced nor is Mr B so old and infirm as to ask a pension at the hands of the public, all he asks is a just reward for services rendered, but is it not evident that he has had the duties of two men to perform and that for half pay, if Mr Carrs office be necessary, with the additional salary I, do not wish or expect any change in the decision of the board, but I was determined that you as an honest highminded, liberal, and enlighted and benevolent, Virginian should be fully acquainted with the proceedings of these men) for I will not give them a better name), it is true they give him the privilages) a mighty one it is) to set up a book store within the precincts, limiting to 15 p cent—on the cost when now at this very time before Mr B has been Officially informed of the changes—Mr McKenie has taken a list of text books gone to the North to lay in books determining to under sell any one who may set up—making you see my husbands situation here one altogether dependent on chance—is this not too hard after the duties of Proctor have been rendered comparitavely light by his exertion to remove him with a large family of Eight helpless children, and put in his place a young man whose qualifications have at least to be tried, and that with an additional salary, will the legislature, will you sir as Rector of this institution submit to such things, no I trust a liberal and enlighted public will arise and show their indignation by removeing the evil, wherever it may exist—I doubt very much my dear sir if Mr B were allowed keep a book of private transactions, as the Professors do, I doubt if he would not have been the last Officer, here, dismissed; that is upon principles of justice and not family feeling I have no wish to injure any one, far from it my religion teaches me otherwise, but when I recollect that the prime of his life whose duty it is to provide for me and my eight helpls children has been solely devoted to the interest of this institution, and who has ever avoided giving the visitors a moments trouble, but always trusted to their sense of justice and honour, I am overwhelmed I am confound[ed] I do not wish to work upon your feelings by a detail of the many domestic distresses which this decision of the board is likely to produce in a large family like mine—but in conclusion I will you my dear sir it is not likely injure Mr B in his attempts to get into other business, for it cannot be supposed we can support a large family upon the Patrons fees—I know that my husbands integrity stands unimpeachable—but will not the public think there must have been some flagrant fault to have produced such unheard of injustice or will some kind friend come out [ ] the publick and expose the views of some who are concerned with this institution and thereby remove the only draw back to the success and prosperity of it: but rest assured my dear sir, that whilst the honest and noble are prevented by infirmity and other cares from attenindy to its interests, and only the artful, and intriguing, are sent here, we must ever go wrong. I must conclude my venerated and kind sir by asking your forgiveness for long intruding on your patience, and trust you will reflect that I am wife to one of kindest and best of husbands and to see him injured is the greatest anguish I could be called to endure—with sincere wishes for happiness and health, and piece to be yours and Mrs Madis[ons] lot through a long life is the sincere pray[er] of your though unknown friend

Lucy Brockenbroug[h]

RC (DLC). Docketed by JM.

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