April 14, 1999 Library of Congress Announces Worldwide Search for Lost Books of Thomas Jefferson
Dallas Cowboys Owner Jerry Jones to Fund Effort
Contact: Craig D'Ooge (202) 707-9189
The Library of Congress today announced the beginning of a worldwide search to locate duplicates of volumes from the personal library of Thomas Jefferson that were destroyed by a fire in the U.S. Capitol on Christmas eve, 1851. Jerry Jones, owner and general manager of the Dallas Cowboys football team, and his wife, Gene, have given the Library $1 million to purchase the volumes once they are located.
"Thomas Jefferson's contributions to our society were as diverse as they were important," said Jerry Jones. "His influence made an impact on many different aspects of American life, and that is a noble path to follow. Our family--and our organization--have a very strong commitment toward the pursuit of making a difference in people's lives--in a variety of disciplines. Our mission is to be involved, to be a positive factor, and to be a contributor to society on several different levels.
"I am honored that this donation will be able to turn back the pages of time, while also ensuring that a very important part of our country's legacy will be secure, fruitful, and a source of inspiration for hundreds of years to come. My wife, Gene, and I deeply appreciate this opportunity."
The Jefferson library's quest is part of the Gifts to the Nation Bicentennial Project to celebrate the 200th anniversary of the Library of Congress in 2000.
Gifts to the Nation encourages benefactors to donate rare and important materials to the national collection in the Library of Congress. All the found books will be featured in an exhibition about Thomas Jefferson, titled "Genius of Liberty," that will open in April of 2000, the Library's 200th birthday month.
In thanking Jerry and Gene Jones, James H. Billington, Librarian of Congress said, "The generosity of this gift is, in itself remarkable; but, in the heart of Redskin territory, it is particularly appreciated." Billington noted that "The far-reaching universal character of Jefferson's book collecting reflected his remarkable intellectual hunger. The Library hopes to complete once again Thomas Jefferson's efforts. Lovingly gathered and tragically lost, the reconstruction of his library is a fitting gift to the nation on the 200th birthday of the Library of Congress, which he helped found."
Nearly two-thirds of Jefferson's original collection of 6,487 volumes was destroyed in the fire, which originated in a faulty chimney flue in the Capitol, which housed the Library of Congress until 1897. Over the years, the Library has managed to replace many of the volumes, but many titles are still missing. The Library has contacted dealers in rare and antiquarian books throughout the world in an attempt to locate the same edition as Jefferson owned.
Other donors to the search are Mr. and Mrs. James Elkins of Houston, and Mrs. William Cafritz of Washington D.C.
Thomas Jefferson, retired at Monticello, offered his personal library to Congress as a replacement for the books that were destroyed when the British army invaded Washington and burned the Capitol during the War of 1812. After some debate, Congress approved the purchase for $23,950.
In a single stroke, the acquisition of Jefferson's library expanded the scope of the Library of Congress far beyond its original boundaries of a legislative reference collection devoted to legal, economic, and historical works. In addition to English, Jefferson's library contained books in French, Spanish, German, Latin, and Greek on a wide variety of subjects, from architecture to science, literature, engineering, philosophy, wine- making, and geography. Anticipating that Congress might find his collection too comprehensive, Jefferson noted that there was "no subject to which a Member of Congress may not have occasion to refer." Jefferson believed that the American legislature needed ideas and information on all subjects and in many languages in order to govern a democracy, and it was this belief that led to the comprehensive collecting policies the Library of Congress still fulfills today.
The Library of Congress is the world's largest library, with more than 115 million items in nearly every known language and format, from ancient Chinese woodblock prints to microchips. The collections include the papers of 23 presidents, and the manuscripts of many eminent Americans such as Booker T. Washington, Walt Whitman, Alexander Graham Bell, Susan B. Anthony and Irving Berlin. Other treasures include the first book printed in the Western world, the earliest surviving copyrighted film, and millions of maps, atlases, photographs, posters, microfilms, movies, rare books, musical scores, and radio and television broadcasts. Millions of these items are available for viewing on the World Wide Web through the Library's National Digital Library Program.