Sale of Books to the Library of Congress (1815)

From Thomas Jefferson Encyclopedia

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[[Thomas Jefferson]] was instrumental in rebuilding the Library of Congress when he sold the bulk of his book collection to them in 1815. [[Thomas Jefferson]] was instrumental in rebuilding the Library of Congress when he sold the bulk of his book collection to them in 1815.
-During the War of 1812, British forces entered Washington, D.C., burning the Capitol building and 3,000-volume library inside it. Jefferson expressed his particular distress at this loss to his friend Samuel Smith: "I learn from the newspapers that the vandalism of our enemy has triumphed at Washington over science as well as the arts, by the destruction of the public library with the noble edifice in which it was deposited."<ref>Jefferson to Samuel H. Smith. September 21, 1814. [[Short Title List |''L&B'',]] 14:190. [http://odur.let.rug.nl/~usa/P/tj3/writings/brf/jefl234.htm full text of letter]</ref> Jefferson wrote in that letter and to President [[James Madison]] on September 24, that he would offer his own collection to replace what was lost.<ref>See Jefferson to Madison, September 24, 1814. Ibid, 14:196.</ref> +During the War of 1812, British forces entered Washington, D.C., burning the Capitol building and 3,000-volume library inside it. Jefferson expressed his particular distress at this loss to his friend, Samuel Harrison Smith: "I learn from the newspapers that the vandalism of our enemy has triumphed at Washington over science as well as the arts, by the destruction of the public library with the noble edifice in which it was deposited."<ref>Jefferson to Samuel H. Smith. September 21, 1814. [[Short Title List |''L&B'',]] 14:190. [http://odur.let.rug.nl/~usa/P/tj3/writings/brf/jefl234.htm full text of letter]</ref> Recognizing that it would be difficult for Congress to replace the library that had been lost, given the war and the difficulty of procuring items from Europe, Thomas Jefferson offered up his large personal library to Congress.
 +
 +In his letter to Samuel Harrison Smith dated September 21, 1814, Jefferson indicated that he had intended that his library should eventually become public property and be offered at his death to Congress at whatever price was acceptable. But with the congressional library's destruction and the occurrence of what Jefferson referred to as the "Vandalism of our enemy," Jefferson felt that it was the proper time to offer his library to Congress, "without regard to the small remnant of time, and the barren use of my enjoying it." He agreed to accept any valuation and payment terms Congress decided on (even payment after the war had ended), but insisted if Congress agreed to purchase his library, it should be purchased in its entirety.
 + 
 +Jefferson’s offer was met by warm support from many in the House and Senate, but still, the Bill introduced to authorize the purchase of Jefferson’s library faced congressional opposition, particularly from the Federalists, such as Cyrus King, who argued that Jefferson’s books would help disseminate his “infidel philosophy” and were “good, bad, and indifferent . . . in languages which many can not read, and most ought not.”<ref>Citation needed.</ref> The Bill finally passed with a narrow margin along party lines.
 + 
 +Georgetown bookseller Joseph Milligan, who had been engaged to count the number of books by size in Jefferson’s book catalogue, determined that the library had a total of 6,487 volumes. The terms of the sale were thus fixed at $23,950 for the 6,487 volumes, with deductions to be made if the actual count was less than the number of books recorded in Jefferson’s catalogue. When Jefferson later completed his own physical count of the number of volumes he had in his possession, he found that he had 6,707, or 220 more than had been reported to Congress as he had inadvertently omitted recording some volumes in his catalogue, and were missing others. He did not think it was right to retain the surplus books, nor did he ask for the extra $1,172.50 due to him from Congress. Jefferson did utilize the proceeds of the sale to settle his debts. Of the $23,950, Jefferson arranged to remit $10,500 to settle his debts with William Short, and $4,870 to settle his debts with John Barnes of Georgetown.
 + 
 +On May 8, 1815 as the last wagon-load of books left Monticello, Jefferson remarked in a letter to Samuel Harrison Smith who had been instrumental in the sale, “an interesting treasure is added to . . . [Washington, D.C.], now become the depository of unquestionably the choicest collection of books in the US, and I hope it will not be without some general effect on the literature of our country.”
Congress moved quickly to facilitate the acquisition of the new library. The bills for the purchase of Jefferson's books passed in the Senate on December 3, 1814 and in the House on January 30, 1815. The sale price was $23,950 for 6,487 books. Congress moved quickly to facilitate the acquisition of the new library. The bills for the purchase of Jefferson's books passed in the Senate on December 3, 1814 and in the House on January 30, 1815. The sale price was $23,950 for 6,487 books.
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Jefferson received news of the finalized sale in February 1815. The books were shipped in mid-April in the [[Book Boxes|bookcases]] which they already occupied. Ten wagons transported them to Washington, where they arrived in midsummer. Jefferson received news of the finalized sale in February 1815. The books were shipped in mid-April in the [[Book Boxes|bookcases]] which they already occupied. Ten wagons transported them to Washington, where they arrived in midsummer.
-==Documentation of the Books Sold==+---
- +
-Although Jefferson sent a packing list along with the books to the Library of Congress, it was lost almost immediately. In 1823, Jefferson delegated his grandson-in-law, [[Nicholas Philip Trist]], to go to the Library of Congress and reconstruct the packing list. Unfortunately this document, too, was lost over the years, as were many of the books themselves through fire and other mishaps.+
-E. Millicent Sowerby was commissioned to recreate the list of books Jefferson sold to the Library of Congress to commemorate his 200th birthday in 1943. Although she had to reconstruct the list based primarily on Jefferson's [http://www.monticello.org/library/tjlibraries/librarylist.html#greatlibrary Great Library list] and the [http://tjportal.monticello.org/cgi-bin/Pwebrecon.cgi?BBID=16607 1839 Library of Congress Catalog], her work resulted in a monumental 5-volume extensivelyannotated catalog, known as the [http://tjportal.monticello.org/cgi-bin/Pwebrecon.cgi?BBID=2633 Sowerby Catalogue], which has been invaluable to Jefferson scholars. 
-In the late 1980s, the list that Trist had compiled in 1823 (known as the Trist List) was rediscovered and published by James Gilreath and Douglas Wilson.<ref>Gilreath, James, and Douglas L. Wilson, eds. [http://tjportal.monticello.org/cgi-bin/Pwebrecon.cgi?BBID=3641 ''Thomas Jefferson's Library: A Catalog with the Entries in His Own Order.''] Washington, D.C.: Library of Congress, 1989.</ref> Although this list is not annotated, it is considered a more accurate listing of the books originally sold to the Library of Congress than Sowerby's catalog.  
==Footnotes== ==Footnotes==

Revision as of 12:13, 28 July 2010

View into the Book Room from Jefferson's Cabinet (Study)
View into the Book Room from Jefferson's Cabinet (Study)

Thomas Jefferson was instrumental in rebuilding the Library of Congress when he sold the bulk of his book collection to them in 1815.

During the War of 1812, British forces entered Washington, D.C., burning the Capitol building and 3,000-volume library inside it. Jefferson expressed his particular distress at this loss to his friend, Samuel Harrison Smith: "I learn from the newspapers that the vandalism of our enemy has triumphed at Washington over science as well as the arts, by the destruction of the public library with the noble edifice in which it was deposited."[1] Recognizing that it would be difficult for Congress to replace the library that had been lost, given the war and the difficulty of procuring items from Europe, Thomas Jefferson offered up his large personal library to Congress.

In his letter to Samuel Harrison Smith dated September 21, 1814, Jefferson indicated that he had intended that his library should eventually become public property and be offered at his death to Congress at whatever price was acceptable. But with the congressional library's destruction and the occurrence of what Jefferson referred to as the "Vandalism of our enemy," Jefferson felt that it was the proper time to offer his library to Congress, "without regard to the small remnant of time, and the barren use of my enjoying it." He agreed to accept any valuation and payment terms Congress decided on (even payment after the war had ended), but insisted if Congress agreed to purchase his library, it should be purchased in its entirety.

Jefferson’s offer was met by warm support from many in the House and Senate, but still, the Bill introduced to authorize the purchase of Jefferson’s library faced congressional opposition, particularly from the Federalists, such as Cyrus King, who argued that Jefferson’s books would help disseminate his “infidel philosophy” and were “good, bad, and indifferent . . . in languages which many can not read, and most ought not.”[2] The Bill finally passed with a narrow margin along party lines.

Georgetown bookseller Joseph Milligan, who had been engaged to count the number of books by size in Jefferson’s book catalogue, determined that the library had a total of 6,487 volumes. The terms of the sale were thus fixed at $23,950 for the 6,487 volumes, with deductions to be made if the actual count was less than the number of books recorded in Jefferson’s catalogue. When Jefferson later completed his own physical count of the number of volumes he had in his possession, he found that he had 6,707, or 220 more than had been reported to Congress as he had inadvertently omitted recording some volumes in his catalogue, and were missing others. He did not think it was right to retain the surplus books, nor did he ask for the extra $1,172.50 due to him from Congress. Jefferson did utilize the proceeds of the sale to settle his debts. Of the $23,950, Jefferson arranged to remit $10,500 to settle his debts with William Short, and $4,870 to settle his debts with John Barnes of Georgetown.

On May 8, 1815 as the last wagon-load of books left Monticello, Jefferson remarked in a letter to Samuel Harrison Smith who had been instrumental in the sale, “an interesting treasure is added to . . . [Washington, D.C.], now become the depository of unquestionably the choicest collection of books in the US, and I hope it will not be without some general effect on the literature of our country.”

Congress moved quickly to facilitate the acquisition of the new library. The bills for the purchase of Jefferson's books passed in the Senate on December 3, 1814 and in the House on January 30, 1815. The sale price was $23,950 for 6,487 books.

Jefferson received news of the finalized sale in February 1815. The books were shipped in mid-April in the bookcases which they already occupied. Ten wagons transported them to Washington, where they arrived in midsummer.

---


Footnotes

  1. Jefferson to Samuel H. Smith. September 21, 1814. L&B, 14:190. full text of letter
  2. Citation needed.

Further Sources