On January 30, 1815, President James Madison approved an act of Congress appropriating $23,950 to purchase Thomas Jefferson’s library of 6,487 volumes.
“…there is, in fact, no subject to which a Member of Congress may not have occasion to refer.”
After capturing Washington, D.C. in 1814, the British burned the U.S. Capitol, destroying the Library of Congress and its 3,000-volume collection. Thomas Jefferson, in retirement at Monticello, offered to sell his personal library to the Library Committee of Congress in order to rebuild the collection of the Congressional Library.
Jefferson’s library not only included over twice the number of volumes as had been destroyed, it expanded the scope of the library beyond its previous topics—law, economics, and history—to include a wide variety of subjects in several languages.
Anticipating the objection that his collection might be too comprehensive, he argued, “I do not know that it contains any branch of science which Congress would wish to exclude from their collection; there is, in fact, no subject to which a Member of Congress may not have occasion to refer.”
The Library of Congress, established on April 24, 1800, celebrated its bicentennial during the months from June 1999 through December 2000. The Library’s Bicentennial Commemoration launched a number of new Library initiatives including Local Legacies, a project which documented phenomena that helped to define various U.S. communities at the turn of the Millennium.
- For more information about the Library of Congress and its history, visit the About the Library. In particular, see History of the Library.
- Today, Thomas Jefferson’s library is one of the Library’s “special collections.” For more information, see Rare Books and Special Collections: An Illustrated Guide. Visit the home page of the Rare Books and Special Collections Reading Room, where Thomas Jefferson’s library is currently stored.
- View The act authorizing the purchase of Jefferson’s library in the Statutes at Large January 30, 1815 and Thomas Jefferson’s library : a catalog with the entries in his own order / edited by James Gilreath, Douglas L. Wilson, an online edition of a printed catalog to Thomas Jefferson’s collection that became the nucleus of the Library of Congress.
- Thomas Jefferson arranged his books into three categories: Memory, Reason and Imagination. American Treasures of the Library of Congress, an online exhibition, follows his subject arrangements in organizing its contents, adding a special category for America’s Top Treasures. Among the latter are Jefferson’s original rough draft of the Declaration of Independence.
- Peruse Thomas Jefferson’s correspondence, commonplace books, financial account books, and manuscript writings in the Thomas Jefferson Papers, 1606-1827, a collection which consists of approximately 27,000 documents. An essay by Joseph J. Ellis on Thomas Jefferson and a Time Line of Jefferson’s life are part of the special presentation material which accompany this online collection.
- Search the Today in History Archive on the term library for more information related to the Library of Congress and other libraries, including, the Library Company of Philadelphia and the many libraries endowed by Andrew Carnegie.