Message... Communicating a Report of the Surveyor

Thomas JEFFERSON   |   Benjamin LATROBE

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“AN EFFECT OF MAGNIFICENCE… EQUAL TO ANY IN THE WORLD”: A HISTORIC COLLECTION OF FIVE KEY HOUSE DOCUMENTS ON THE COLLABORATION OF JEFFERSON AND BENJAMIN LATROBE IN THE DESIGN AND CONSTRUCTION OF THE CAPITOL

(JEFFERSON, Thomas and LATROBE, Benjamin). Message from the President of the United States, Transmitting a Report of the Surveyor of the Public Buildings. 22nd February 1804. WITH: (LATROBE, B. Henry). Report of the Committee… 6th March, 1804. WITH: (LATROBE, B. Henry). Letter from the Surveyor of the Public Buildings… presented the 9th of January, 1805. [Washington, D.C., 1804-05]. WITH: (JEFFERSON, Thomas and LATROBE, B. Henry). Message from the President of the United States… December 27, 1805. WITH: LATROBE, Benjamin H. Letter and Report… 28th October, 1807. Washington, D.C.: A. & G. Way, 1805-07. Five volumes. Octavo, original printed self-wrappers, disbound: pp: 10; 14; 5 (1); 12; 7. Housed in a custom clamshell box.

First editions of five official House reports (1804-07), a rare and essential collection on the efforts of President Jefferson and Surveyor Benjamin Latrobe to design, finance and construct the nation’s Capitol, “intended to express the glory and power that the new nation would surely acquire.”

From its authorization in the 1790 Residency Act, Washington D.C. was “a city designed as the center of a great enterprise… intended to express the glory and power that the new nation would surely acquire” (Reps, Making of Urban America, 241). After years of delays, in October 1807, Congress assembled “in obedience to the President’s call. An unusually large number of members attended on the opening day, when for the first time the House was installed in a chamber of its own. After seven years of residence at Washington, the government had so far completed the south wing of the Capitol as to open it for use. A covered way of rough boards still connected the Senate Chamber in the north wing with the Chamber of Representatives in the southern extension… but the new chamber gave proof that the task was not hopeless. With extraordinary agreement every one admitted that President Jefferson and Benjamin Latrobe’s combined genius had resulted in the construction of a room equal to any in the world for beauty and size. The oval hall, with its girdle of fluted sandstone columns draped with crimson curtains, its painted ceiling, with alternate squares of glass, produced an effect of magnificence which was long remembered” (Adams, History, 1031).

This striking assemblage of five documents submitted to the House by Jefferson and his appointee Benjamin Latrobe speaks to the artistry and commitment that achieved that momentous effect. Beginning with a February 1804 Report, noting work “in free stone of the south wing” (10), this collection culminates in Latrobe’s Letter of October 28, 1807, printed only two days after the 10th Congress first glimpsed the “magnificence” of Jefferson and Latrobe’s efforts. The President had appointed Latrobe Surveyor of Public Buildings in 1803, assigning him responsibility for “completion of the partially built Capitol… Architecturally and symbolically he and Jefferson altered the Capitol’s original design to express the role of the country’s diverse population within its tripartite governing system” (ANB). The firm of A. & G. Way was the principle printer for the House of Representatives (Powell, 121). Shaw & Shoemaker 7553, 7623, 9561, 9566, 13938. See Sabin 39220.

A fine collection of five primary documents in America’s political and architectural history.

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