First Librarian of Congress Takes Office

John James Beckley

John James Beckley

Today in 1802, John J. Beckley became the first Librarian of the U.S. Congress. Beckley is also considered the first political campaign manager in the U.S. The Library of Congress was established less than two years earlier by an act of Congress. In 1996, the Library of Congress published Justifying Jefferson: The Political Writings of John James Beckley, edited by Gerard W. Gawalt, early American history specialist at the Library. From the Library’s website:

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.

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