About Menu

Patrick Magruder - Previous Librarians of Congress

Back to Previous Librarians of Congress

Patrick Magruder (1768-1819)

2nd Librarian of Congress 1807-1815

Patrick Magruder, a Maryland lawyer and politician, was the second Librarian of Congress, serving from 1807 until 1815.  Like his predecessor John Beckley, he served concurrently as Clerk of the House of Representatives and as Librarian of Congress.  He resigned from his post in 1815 after an investigation of the accounts under his control.

Born in 1768, he was one of the eleven children of Revolutionary War Major and Mrs. Samuel Wade Magruder, all born at the family estate "Locust Grove" in Montgomery County, Maryland.  Patrick attended Princeton College, but returned home before graduation and became a lawyer.  He became active in politics as a Republican, serving between 1797 and 1807 as a member of the Maryland House of Delegates, an associate judge of the county circuit court, and a one-term member of the House of Representatives during the Ninth Congress (1805-1807).

Magruder's term in Congress ended on March 3, 1807.  A month later John Beckley died and in October Magruder was one of eight applicants competing for the vacant post of Clerk of the House.  He won the vote on the fifth ballot in the House of Representatives on October 26, 1807.  Although Beckley had held the two positions concurrently, Magruder's selection as Librarian was not automatic.  After Beckley's death President Jefferson considered separating the two positions, telling his secretary of war that he was "a little puzzled. . .between doubt and inclination" on the matter.  In the end, probably because of potential political problems if he made the change, Jefferson decided to continue the combined post.  He so informed Magruder on November 6, 1807, and on the same day explained to one of the disappointed candidates: "Considering it as the surest course for the performance of my duty in appointing a keeper to the library of Congress, I have conceived the election of Mr. Magruder as successor to Mr. Beckley as designating him also as his successor as Librarian."

Magruder, like Beckley before him, spent more time on the clerkship than on Library matters.  The decisions regarding book selection and Library finances were in the hands of the Joint Congressional Committee on the Library.  It is likely that the 1808 Library catalog and an additional 1809 report were prepared by the committee under the guidance of its learned chairman, Samuel Latham Mitchill of New York.  The same is probably true of the rules and regulations for the Library promulgated in the 1808 catalog and included in revised form in another catalog, this one published in 1812.  Martin Gordon, who has written about the Magruder period in the Library, finds it "impossible" to state what Magruder's role might have been in the compilation and production of these catalogs.  Another factor, Gordon points out, was Magruder's "sporadic ill health."

Patrick Magruder was reelected Clerk of the House when Congress convened in 1809, 1811, and 1813.  On a personal level, he retained his interest in Montgomery County and Washington, D.C. politics and in local Masonic affairs.  He and his wife Martha, the daughter of Virginia Congressman Colonel . Peterson Goodwyn, had two children.  They also maintained an active social life.

The 1812 catalog was the Library's first classified catalog, listing 3,076 volumes and 53 maps, charts, and plans according to 16 subject and two format categories.  The rules published in the catalog make clear the clerical and custodial nature of the Librarian's duties.  His major tasks were "to label and number the books, place them on shelves, and preserve due lists and catalogues of the same."  He also checked books in and out and kept track of circulation and the Library's accounts.

Patrick Magruder's ill health returned in December 1813 and on Dec. 9, 1813, the House of Representatives approved his brother George, his chief clerk in the Office of the Clerk, as acting Clerk of the House.  Magruder left Washington toward the end of July in 1814 and went to the Springs of Virginia for his continued recovery.  On August 14, 1814, the British army captured the city of Washington and burned the U. S. Capitol building, including the Library of Congress.  Magruder's office records were destroyed along with the Library's collections.

President James Madison called Congress into session, convening it on September 19, 1814.  Magruder, who had left the Library in charge of his brother George and two assistants,  asked for a Congressional investigation into the conduct of his office and the handling of the funds for which he was responsible.  The Speaker of the House immediately appointed a select committee, chaired by Joseph Pearson of North Carolina, to carry out the investigation.

The committee reported on December 12, 1814, and while it observed that "due precaution and diligence were not exercised to prevent the destruction and loss which has been sustained," it concentrated on Magruder's financial records.  The destruction of the Library, while regretted, was not of paramount importance to the committee or apparently to the Congress itself.

It appears that Magruder's papers were the only government financial records not saved from the British.  In attempting to reconstruct the records the committee found several discrepancies involving both Patrick and George Magruder, including an apparent shortage of approximately $20,000.  In the accounts concerning Roger Weightman, who held most of the House's printing contracts in this period and had printed the Library's catalog of 1812, the committee found an example of the mixing of governmental and personal accounts.

Patrick Magruder answered these charges five days later, defending his apparent ignorance in certain instances and also asserting that the House Committee on Accounts had approved his expenses.  The committee responded on January 16, 1815, claiming that Magruder had provided no new information and reiterating its charges.  On January 21, 1815, a resolution was introduced that would remove Magruder from his Clerkship, but by a narrow vote its consideration was delayed for a week.  It was never debated, however, because on January 28, 1815, Patrick Magruder resigned the office of Clerk of the House and by inference the office of Librarian of Congress.

A new Clerk of the House was elected on January 30, 1815, and in March President James Madison separated the offices of Clerk of the House and Librarian when he named George Watterston as Librarian of Congress.  Patrick Magruder left Washington to settle on his wife's family plantation "Sweden" near Petersburg, Virginia, and in February 1816 the federal government filed suit to recover approximately $18,000 from the former Clerk and Librarian of Congress.  The case never came to trial and on December 14, 1819, Patrick Magruder died and was buried at "Sweden."  (JYC)

Citations

Gordon, Martin K.  "Patrick Magruder: Citizen, Congressman, Librarian of Congress." The Quarterly Journal of the Library of Congress 32 (July 1975): 155-171.