American Treasures of the Library of Congress: Memory, Exhibit Object Focus

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Book Collector

Reflections Moral and Political on Great Britain and Her Colonies.
[Matthew Wheelock]
Reflections Moral and Political
on Great Britain and Her Colonies.
Page 1 - Page 2
Page 1 & 2 together
London: 1770, bound with
[Allan Ramsay]
Thoughts on the Origin and
Nature of Government. London: 1769
Rare Book & Special Collections Division

Thomas Jefferson had a passion for books and assembled the finest private library in America. From the Philadelphia book dealer Nicholas G. Dufief, Jefferson acquired several books from the late Benjamin Franklin's personal collection, including two pamphlets, bound together, about taxation of the colonies: Reflections moral and political on Great Britain and her colonies by Matthew Wheelock, and Thoughts on the origin and nature of government by Allan Ramsay. As Jefferson wrote to Dufief, he was especially pleased to receive "the precious reliques of Doctor Franklin," which he valued "not only [for] the intrinsic value of whatever came from him, but [also] my particular affection for him."

Franklin had written lengthy and heated notes in the margins of the pamphlets on nearly every page, beginning in the preface to the first pamphlet where Franklin, reading of the author's hope that "a better mode of election may be established to make the representation more equal," impatiently interjects "why don't you get about it?"

When the British burned the Capitol during the War of 1812, Congress lost its entire book collection in the flames. Jefferson proposed to sell to Congress his own private library, which consisted of more than six thousand volumes including legal tomes, maps and charts, ancient and modern history, some belles lettres, and the seminal works of such political philosophers as John Locke and Montesquieu, who had inspired the Founding Fathers and shaped their political thought.

While some members of Congress objected to the notion of purchasing so many books not directly related to the business of legislating, Jefferson convinced the majority that "there is, in fact, no subject to which a Member of Congress might not have occasion to refer."

So it is that the Library of Congress has grown from the seed of Jefferson's own library, universal in subject matter and format, into a library that serves as Congress's working research collection, as well as a symbol of the central role that free and unfettered access to information plays in our modern democracy.

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