John James Beckley, first Clerk of the U. S. House of Representatives and first Librarian of Congress, was also a staunch political ally and adviser to Thomas Jefferson. As part of the decade-long celebration of its bicentennial, the Library of Congress has recently published Justifying Jefferson: The Political Writings of John James Beckley, edited by Gerard W. Gawalt, early American history specialist at the Library.
This volume of Beckley's political writings and correspondence is based on the Beckley Family Papers, which were donated to the Library of Congress in 1989 by Beckley's great- great-great grandson, Paxton Davis, of Fincastle, Virginia.
Although John James Beckley (1757-1807) came to Virginia in his youth as an indentured servant, he rose to become a potent force in Virginia politics. At the height of his influence, when Jefferson was President, Beckley served in concurrent positions as the first clerk of the newly created House of Representatives and the first Librarian of Congress from 1802-1807.
It was during the American Revolution that Beckley and Jefferson began their political partnership. Though never close personal friends, Beckley became a key political supporter and adviser to Jefferson. As the first clerk of the House, Beckley prepared the rules for the Office of Clerk, as well as the parliamentary rules for the entire House. He also estalibshed the procedural system for House operations.
As political parties emerged in the new nation, Beckley campaigned in support of the Jefferson-Madison (Republican Party) coalition and in opposition to the Hamilton- Federalist coalition. To promote his candidates and raise funds, Beckley wrote letters, pamphlets, and speeches, often under a pseudonym, many of which appear in this volume. As early as 1790 Beckley became deeply involved in the political quagmire over the payment of Revolutionary War debts and the location of the national capital.
Beckley, known as a master of political polemics, was an early proponent of attack advertising. His supporters credit him with being the first political party manager (in Pennsylvania) and with writing the first campaign biography of Jefferson (in 1800). Critics have accused Beckley of destroying the political career and presidential hopes of Alexander Hamilton.
Although Beckley was unable to provide financial security for his family before his death, after more than 30 years of litigation the Beckley family did obtain clear title to 85,000 acres of what is now the county seat of Raleigh County, West Virginia, where the Beckley homestead, Wildwood, is preserved.
Justifying Jefferson is a soft cover publication of 281 pages and 18 illustrations. It can be ordered for $21 from Superintendent of Documents, P.O. Box 37195, Pittsburgh, PA 15250-7954; fax (202) 512-2250. Cite Stock Number 030-001-00163-6 when ordering.