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This Day In Founding Fathers History – 30 January 2013
On this day in 1815, President Madison approved an act of Congress appropriating money to purchase Thomas Jefferson’s library. The library consisted of 6,487 volumes, more than double what the Library of Congress held before the fire, and Congress appropriated $23,950 to purchase them. Jefferson’s home in Shadwell had burned in 1770, destroying all of Jefferson’s books, and he went about rebuilding his library. When DC was burned by the British in 1814, the Library of Congress’s 3,000 volumes were destroyed. Jefferson offered to sell his personal library to rebuild the collection. Jefferson stated, “I do not know that it contains any branch of science which Congress would wish to exclude from their collection; there is, in fact, no subject to which a Member of Congress may not have occasion to refer.” Jefferson went on to build his personal library yet again with several thousand books, which eventually were sold to settle his estate. A second fire in 1851 on Christmas Eve destroyed almost two-thirds of the volumes Congress purchased from Jefferson. The Library of Congress has attempted to reassemble those lost volumes. 1
In 1788 on this day, Madison’s Federalist #47 was published in the New York Packet, “The Particular Structure of the New Government and the Distribution of Power Among Its Different Parts.” This paper discusses the separation of powers among the different branches of the government. “Having reviewed the general form of the proposed government and the general mass of power allotted to it, I proceed to examine the particular structure of this government, and the distribution of this mass of power among its constituent parts…The accumulation of all powers, legislative, executive, and judiciary, in the same hands, whether of one, a few, or many, and whether hereditary, selfappointed, or elective, may justly be pronounced the very definition of tyranny…the preservation of liberty requires that the three great departments of power should be separate and distinct.” He goes on to discuss the separation of powers as regards Montesquieu’s view of the British Constitution, as well as Madison’s own view of the constitutions of the several States and the separation of powers delineated within them.
“In citing these cases, in which the legislative, executive, and judiciary departments have not been kept totally separate and distinct, I wish not to be regarded as an advocate for the particular organizations of the several State governments. I am fully aware that among the many excellent principles which they exemplify, they carry strong marks of the haste, and still stronger of the inexperience, under which they were framed. It is but too obvious that in some instances the fundamental principle under consideration has been violated by too great a mixture, and even an actual consolidation, of the different powers; and that in no instance has a competent provision been made for maintaining in practice the separation delineated on paper. What I have wished to evince is, that the charge brought against the proposed Constitution, of violating the sacred maxim of free government, is warranted neither by the real meaning annexed to that maxim by its author, nor by the sense in which it has hitherto been understood in America.” 2
1 “Thomas Jefferson – Jefferson’s Library,” Library of Congress Exhibitions, www.loc.gov/exhibits/jefferson/jefflib.html; “Jefferson’s Library,” Today in History, Library of Congress, lcweb2.loc.gov/ammem/today/jan30.html
2 “The Federalist No. 47,” constitution.org/fed/federa47.htm