Dr. Billington and Senate leaders welcomed new members of the Senate at a dinner and reception held in the Library's Jefferson Building on March 13.
Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-Miss.) and Sen. Robert C. Byrd (D-W.Va.) welcomed the four new senators in attendance: Michael B. Enzi (R-Wyo.), Tim Johnson (D-S.D.), Jack Reed (D-R.I.) and Pat Roberts (R-Kan.). Three of the four new senators at the dinner -- all but Mr. Enzi -- had also served in the House of Representatives.
The other senators who saw treasures from the Library's collections on display in the Great Hall were: John Ashcroft (R-Mo.), Richard H. Bryan (D-Nev.), Slade Gorton (R-Wash.), Ernest F. Hollings (D-S.C.), Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.), Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.), Frank H. Murkowski (R-Alaska), Charles Robb (D-Va.) and Strom Thurmond (R-S.C.).
The Librarian, the senators, their spouses and guests, dined in the Members' Room. Marshall Coyne, a member of LC's Madison Council, provided funding for the dinner, as he has for the previous two classes of incoming senators in 1993 and 1995. The new Architect of the Capitol, Alan Hantman, and Senate Sergeant at Arms Greg Casey joined the group of senators for dinner.
Senate Chaplain Lloyd J. Ogilvie said a prayer before dinner, and following dinner, Dr. Billington opened the short program by welcoming the guests to the magnificently restored Members' Room. "This room provides a particularly fitting venue for us tonight not only because we have a view of the illuminated Capitol Building itself but also because this room was designed and reserved for use by members of Congress," he said. "It's one of the real jewels of this newly restored Jefferson Building along with the Members' Reading Room, which is adjacent and also open this evening for you to look at.
"Now, as you look around, I think you can sense in this building and in this room in particular the optimism, the pride, the exuberance, the great expectations that Congress incorporated into this glorious building that was dedicated just a hundred years ago. It is really a celebration of the whole uniquely American idea that for democracy to be dynamic on the continental scale, it has to be based on the open access and use of knowledge. This is an exuberant celebration of that fundamental fact of the American system."
Sen. Lott remarked that "we have brought our own library and our own history with us. We have of course the distinguished President Pro Tempore of the Senate [Sen. Thurmond ] ... the junior senator from South Carolina [Sen. Hollings], and Sen. Byrd, who is our historian. Between [Sen. Thurmond and Sen. Byrd], they know more about this Library than probably all the rest of us combined. So we are delighted to be here in their presence.
"On behalf of all our colleagues, particularly our new colleagues that are here, we thank you for this occasion. And Marshall Coyne, we thank you. We know what a wonderful benefactor you are of the Library of Congress. He said in our discussion that he was pleased to do this because he wanted to take advantage of every opportunity, every vehicle to make members of the Congress, and the Senate in particular, aware of what a tremendous treasure we have here in this magnificent building, this facility, this repository of our great republic. And so, we thank you for this occasion. ...
"For new senators ... you know, really getting to know the Library of Congress would take more than one night, would probably take more than a lifetime. It is unfortunate that, with the pace that we have in Congress, we don't find more occasions to come over here and see exactly what you have, enjoy this room.
"For most of us, the Library of Congress is, quite often, the Congressional Research Service -- that is an indispensable source of information for us: data, borrowed books and research -- delivered in impossible detail that we could never find ourselves or our staffs would never have the time to do. So, I think it's appropriate that we express our appreciation to the CRS staff for the tremendous work they do under very hectic circumstances, quite often. But, we know that CRS is only a small part of a great institution. What started out as Thomas Jefferson's personal collection of almost 7,000 books is now the largest repository of recorded knowledge in the world.
"This evening, this all surrounds us. We had just a glimpse of it a few minutes ago. It holds in trust the history of our country, to speak to us about the nation's past and remind us of the part of the past that we are playing now as we live in this time and move into the future. We are able to stand on the shoulders of the past that we have here in this library and build for a greater future.
"In a few years, the Library will observe the bicentennial of its founding year, 1800. ... We, certainly, will look forward to supporting that and helping make sure that we indeed have a national celebration, involving all the American people in our great diversity, for this institution represents us all. It holds the testaments of our faith. It records our country's music. That's important to Sen. John Ashcroft (R-Mo.) and to me. It saves our forefathers' letters and their sermons, Chaplain. Their broadsides that were administered sometime in the halls of Congress, their memorials, their texts and their treatises. If the Smithsonian is rightly called 'the nation's attic,' then the Library of Congress is our family diary, for it preserves the ideas and ideals that define us as a nation and animate us as a people. So, we are delighted to be here tonight to give us a greater appreciation of what we have at our fingertips and to maybe give us a renewed commitment to do the right things in this time, so that our future will be revered and loved as our past has been and as it is held here in this fine building. Thank you very much."
Sen. Byrd spoke next: "We meet here tonight in this magnificent Library in part due to the actions of British troops during the summer of 1814. When the British landed on the shores of the Chesapeake and defeated American forces at the battle of Bladensburg, they marched into Washington and burned down the United States Capitol Building, the White House and other government buildings. This was a terribly humiliating event in our early history, and yet from out of the ashes rose something quite spectacular.
"Congress was adjourned that summer, and when members returned they found the Capitol a smoke-stained ruin, its chambers and furnishings destroyed, and the Library of Congress burned. To replace the lost books, former President Thomas Jefferson offered his own library, which he had spent 50 years collecting. The first Library of Congress had been a law library, but Jefferson's 6,487 volumes also covered politics, history, science, literature, fine arts and philosophy. It seems incredible that some members of Congress objected that Jefferson's collection was 'too philosophical, had too many books in foreign languages, was too costly and was too large for the wants of Congress.'
"Fortunately, on Jan. 26, 1815, Congress authorized $23,950 to purchase the books, which became the nucleus of the present Library of Congress. Today, there is not a subject of human study not included in its vast holdings.
"Until 1897, the Library of Congress was located inside the Capitol building, on the West Front, halfway between the Senate and House Chambers. Senators and representatives could leave the floor and walk to the Library for reading and research. Eventually the collection grew so large that the Library had to move to a separate building across the street. It remains connected to the Capitol by underground tunnels and is still an easy stroll away. But too often one hears senators complain that they are too busy to do much reading.
"Tonight, let me urge all of you to use the Library of Congress to continue your educations, to broaden and deepen your perspectives and to put today's pressing events into historical context. Consider the example of a newly elected Alabama senator by the name of Hugo Black. He arrived in Washington in 1927, months before Congress came into session. Having given up his law practice, Sen. Black decided to make the Library of Congress "his post-graduate school." He read extensively in economics, politics, and government, beginning with Adam Smith's Wealth of Nations and moving through the works of Thomas Jefferson, John Adams and other Founding Fathers. He read Plutarch, Suetonius, Seneca, Cicero and Livy. He studied Montesquieu, Rousseau, Locke, Spencer and Veblen. He read the records of the Constitutional Convention. What an education, and how it showed in Hugo Black's 40-year career in the Senate and on the U.S. Supreme Court.
"He read Cicero and so have I. That great Roman senator wrote that one 'ought to be acquainted with the history of the events of past ages. To be ignorant of what occurred before you were born is to remain always a child. For what is the worth of human life unless it is woven into the life of our ancestors by the records of history.'
"As a senator, I have taken Cicero's words to heart. I have been reading history, ancient history as well as the history of England and American history.
"I have absorbed much of the message of Edward Gibbon's Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. Gibbon tells us that Rome's decline was assured when public virtue and patriotism gave way to immorality and sedition, and when Roman citizens demanded free bread and public shows. The Roman Senate lost its dignity and its honor; corruption and venality were enthroned in high places; laziness and indolence were rewarded; emperors were assassinated; and citizens were massacred in the civil wars fought to benefit tyrants ambitious to secure the throne and wear the purple.
"A lesson to be drawn from the brilliant works of Gibbon is that the enemies of Rome were within her own bosom.
"Do you see any of these symptoms of decay in our own society? I certainly do. In my own book The Senate of the Roman Republic, I argued that Rome declined when the Roman Senate surrendered its powers and prerogatives into the hands of Julius Caesar, making him dictator for life. We as United States senators have a responsibility to support and defend the Constitution, especially the powers and prerogatives that it assigns to the Senate. Future history will depend on how well we do. It is no easy job, but the weapons needed are right here, all around us, in this building. Please take full advantage of them."