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James Madison.

[Detail] James Madison.

Literature: Reading and Collecting

Many of Madison's letters reveal his wide reading; he often discussed a book or pamphlet sent to him by his correspondent. For example, in a letter to Richard Rush written April 21, 1821, Madison mentioned a book by English philosopher William Godwin, which Rush had sent him. In the book Godwin critiqued the work of economist Thomas Malthus regarding overpopulation. In his letter, Madison expressed his own disagreement with Godwin.

In a letter to Edward Everett written March 19, 1823, Madison presents his thinking as to why authors made more money in Great Britain than in the United States.

  • What two explanations does Madison offer as to why authors made more money in England than in the United States? Do you find this argument convincing? Why or why not?
  • According to Madison, what obstacles to reading did Americans face at the time? Do you think those obstacles still exist? Explain your answer.
  • What is the tone of Madison's comment about the "private libraries" in England? Do you think Madison objected to private libraries in principle or to something about the English holders of such libraries?

In August 1814, the British army invaded Washington D.C. and burned a number of public buildings, including the White House and the Capitol, which housed the Library of Congress. Jefferson responded by offering to sell his personal library, the best private collection in the nation, to replace the loss. In a letter to Jefferson written October 10, 1814, Madison writes that the purchase of his library by Congress "will prove a gain to them, if they have the wisdom to replace it by such a Collection as yours."

Why might Madison have felt differently about Jefferson's collection than about the collections of wealthy people in Britain?