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A Rare Book From James Madison’s Library:
A History of the Dutch Republic, 1777-1787
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JAMES MADISON. Signed Book. [Authorship attributed to James Harris, first Earl of Malmesbury]. An Introduction to the History of the Dutch Republic, for the Last Ten Years, Reckoning from the Year 1777 (London: G. Kearsley, 1788). Octavo, period-style full brown tree calf, elaborately gilt-decorated spine, red morocco spine label. In a chemise and half morocco slipcase.

Inventory #24718       Price: $27,500

As biographer Robert Rutland noted, “no other occupant of the White House, not even his distinguished friend [Jefferson], relied so heavily on books to sustain him in his quest for knowledge . . . His books contributed to his fundamental knowledge of the world: how it came into being, what its resources were, and how they might be used to aid mankind.”[1]

This anonymously-published history is attributed to British diplomat James Harris, the first Earl of Malmesbury, a key diplomatic agent of William Pitt the Younger.[2] (The only alternative suggestion is George Ellis, who served as Harris’ secretary on the Hague mission.) Harris served in Spain, Germany, Prussia, and Russia. From 1784 to 1788, he was Britain’s envoy-extraordinary to the Hague in Holland, during the Dutch Patriot Revolution and the aftermath of the fourth Anglo-Dutch war. In 1788, Harris negotiated a treaty that formed a triple alliance of Great Britain, the Netherlands, and Prussia, exerting a significant influence on European affairs.

During the American Revolution, the Dutch provided America with crucial loans and (mostly secret or indirect) aid. The nominally neutral United Provinces also allowed American and French agents to carry on secret negotiations there. In 1782, the Dutch Republic became only the second country to formally recognize the independence of the United States, and that same year signed a treaty of amity and commerce with the new nation.

The effect was not just one-sided. According to this History:

“The example of fortunate resistance in the British colonists in America, had an influence on the tempers and sentiments of men all over Europe, but particularly in the United Provinces. There seems to be something individual in the human mind… [which] sometimes produce very extraordinary and unexpected effects. The American war was one of these, which affected many with the vertigo of resistance to the powers legally established, and led them to desire a retrenchment of everything that bore an aspect of the supreme authority in a single person.”[3]

The Federalist Papers, co-authored by Madison, Alexander Hamilton, and John Jay, was published the same year as this History. The next year, with the inauguration of Washington as president, Madison found himself leading the House of Representatives. Though during that period he is mostly recognized for managing the process of crafting a bill of rights, he also played a major role in the legislation that established the executive departments, including the treasury. When Jefferson returned from France that fall, Madison persuaded his reluctant friend to become Washington’s secretary of state, and then was central to the compromise that allowed passage of Hamilton’s financial plan in return for re-locating the capital.

Madison’s and Jefferson’s lifelong passion for books was evident not only in their attention to their own libraries, but also in their efforts to create a library for the use of Congress. In 1784, when Jefferson served as America’s minister to France, he scoured Paris bookstalls for his own library and for that of Madison, swapping “wish lists.” The books that Jefferson sent followed Madison’s extensive researches into ancient and modern confederacies and constitutional matters.[4] Crates of books arrived at Montpelier, Madison’s Virginia estate.

Madison had his library crated and sent from Montpelier to New York when the Federal Congress was in session, and then to Philadelphia and Georgetown as he went from Congress to the State Department and the White House. On visiting Montpelier in the early 1800s, a visitor marveled at Madison’s many bookshelves, which were placed “not only around the room, but in the middle with just sufficient room to pass between; these cases were well filled with books, pamphlets, papers, all, everything of interest to our country before and since the Revolution.”[5]

Madison bequeathed most of his library to the University of Virginia, reserving for his wife, Dolley “the right to select such books and pamphlets as she would choose, not exceeding three hundred volumes.” But after his death, many of his books were sold by Dolley and her son John Payne Todd, desperate to raise cash to pay his debts.[6] After years of delay, the actually threatened suit. In the end about two thousand volumes went to the university library.[7] However, an 1895 fire destroyed about 40,000 of the library’s nearly 57,000 books, including most of Madison’s books, though a number of his pamphlets survived.

Only six signed books from Madison’s library appear in major auction records in the last four decades, and his books on history and government are particularly desirable.

This title itself is rare; the English Short Title Catalogue (a catalog of works published between 1473 and 1800, mainly in Britain and North America) and the Online Computer Library Center locate only two copies in U.S. libraries and eight copies in U.K. and European libraries.[8]


Small owner signature to lower comer of title page. With laid-in partial leaf (2¾ by 6¼ inches) printed on the recto: “The Autograph Collection of American Historical Interest. Collected by the Late Emil Edward Hurja.” The Hurja collection was auctioned on April 27, 1954. Alfred J. Liebmann acquired it, and included it in an article about his own collection (“Presidents and Books,” in Manuscripts): “[Madison] was a great reader and earnest collector, especially of historical material. My Madison item, A History of the Dutch Republic, belongs in this category.”


Text generally fresh with light scattered foxing, expert restoration to inner margins of half title and title page. An extremely rare and desirable signed association copy.

[1] Robert A. Rutland, James Madison: The Founding Father (New York: Macmillan, 1987), 176.

[2] Ephraim Douglass Adams, The Influence of Grenville on Pitt's Foreign Policy, 1787-1798 (London: Forgotten Books, 2016 reprint), 77.

[3] James Harris, An Introduction to the History of the Dutch Republic, for the Last Ten Years, Reckoning from the Year 1777 (London: G. Kearsley, 1788), 286.

[4] A. London Fell, Origins of Legislative Sovereignty and the Legislative State: Volume Six, American Traditions and Innovation with Contemporary Import and Foreground, Book I: Foundations, to Early 19th Century (Santa Barbara, CA: Praeger, 2004), 180.

[5] Matthew G. Hyland, Montpelier and the Madisons: House, Home, and American Heritage (Mount Pleasant, SC: Arcadia Publishing, 2007), 67.

[6] David B. Mattern and Holly C. Shulman, eds., Selected Letters of Dolley Paine Madison (Charlottesville: The University of Virginia Press, 2003), 324.

[7] John S. Patton, Jefferson, Cabell and the University of Virginia (HardPress Publishing, 2013 reprint), 30; Rutland, James Madison, 189.

[8] Samuel Halkett and John Laing, A Dictionary of Anonymous and Pseudonymous Publications in the English Language [edition unknown], 1245.

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