Sale of Books to the Library of Congress (1815)

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[[Image:library.jpg|right|frame|View into the Book Room from Jefferson's Cabinet (Study)]] [[Image:library.jpg|right|frame|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.+[[Thomas Jefferson]] was instrumental in rebuilding the Library of Congress when he sold the bulk of his book collection to the United States government in 1815.
-During the War of 1812, the British entered Washington D.C. and began to burn buildings by August 24, 1814. British forces burned the Capitol and the Library of Congress with its approximately 3,000 volumes. Upon hearing this, Jefferson wrote in a letter dated September 21, "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> +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: "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, in [[Short Title List |''L&B'',]] 14:190. [http://odur.let.rug.nl/~usa/P/tj3/writings/brf/jefl234.htm Full text of letter] available online.</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, 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."<ref>Ibid.</ref> 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 wrote in that letter and to President [[James Madison|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> +Jefferson’s offer was met by warm support from many in the House and Senate; 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>Quoted in William Dawson Johnston, ''History of the Library of Congress'', (Washington, D.C.:Library of Congress, 1904, 1:86.)</ref> The Bill finally passed with a narrow margin along party lines.<ref>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.</ref>
-Congress moved into action to make the sale. 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.+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; he had inadvertently omitted recording some volumes in his catalogue, and others were missing. 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.
-Jefferson learned about the sale in February 1815. The books were shipped in mid-April in the bookcases which they already occupied. They were covered with packing paper, more paper was wedged between every two volumes to reduce movement, and then boards were nailed over the front of the bookcases. 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 starting in mid-April in the [[Book Boxes|bookcases]] which they already occupied;<ref>See Jefferson's [[http://memory.loc.gov/cgi-bin/ampage?collId=mtj1&fileName=mtj1page047.db&recNum=1184 "Observations on the transportation of the Monticello library,"] February 27, 1815.</ref> they were transported in ten wagons to Washington, and arrived by the middle of May. 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.
-==Documentation of the Books Sold== 
- 
-Although Jefferson sent a packing list along with the books sent 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.<br> 
- 
-E. Millicent Sowerby was commissioned to recreate the list of books Jefferson sold to the Library of Congress to commemorate his 200th birthday. 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 extensively annotated 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 1980's, 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 more authoritative than Sowerby's catalog.  
==Footnotes== ==Footnotes==
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==Further Sources== ==Further Sources==
-*Library of Congress. ''Jefferson's Library.'' http://www.loc.gov/exhibits/jefferson/jefflib.html+*Library of Congress. [http://memory.loc.gov/ammem/amlaw/lawhome.html A Century of Lawmaking for the New Nation]. Contains records of bills and debates relating to the purchase of Jefferson's library.
 +*Library of Congress. [http://www.loc.gov/exhibits/jefferson/jefflib.html Jefferson's Library]. The online companion to an exhibit at the Library of Congress on Jefferson's library.
*Malone, Dumas. [http://tjportal.monticello.org/cgi-bin/Pwebrecon.cgi?BBID=1835 ''Thomas Jefferson and the Library of Congress''.] Washington D.C.: Library of Congress, 1977. *Malone, Dumas. [http://tjportal.monticello.org/cgi-bin/Pwebrecon.cgi?BBID=1835 ''Thomas Jefferson and the Library of Congress''.] Washington D.C.: Library of Congress, 1977.
-*Pitch, Anthony. [http://tjportal.monticello.org/cgi-bin/Pwebrecon.cgi?BBID=5456 ''The Burning of Washington: the British Invastion of 1814''.] Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 1998.+*Pitch, Anthony. [http://tjportal.monticello.org/cgi-bin/Pwebrecon.cgi?BBID=5456 ''The Burning of Washington: the British Invasion of 1814''.] Annapolis, Md.: Naval Institute Press, 1998.
-*[[Short Title List |''Sowerby'']].+*[[Short Title List |''Sowerby'']]
-*Jefferson, Thomas. 27 February 1815. ''Observations on the removal of the Monticello library.'' http://memory.loc.gov/master/mss/mtj/mtj1/047/1100/1185.jpg+*Wilson, Douglas. [[Short Title List| ''Jefferson's Books'']]
-*Wilson, Douglas. [[Short Title List| ''Jefferson's Books''.]]+*[http://tjportal.monticello.org/cgi-bin/Pwebrecon.cgi?DB=local&SL=none&SAB1=thomas+jefferson+library+collection&BOOL1=as+a+phrase&FLD1=Keyword+Anywhere+%28GKEY%29&GRP1=AND+with+next+set&SAB2=library+of+congress&BOOL2=as+a+phrase&FLD2=Keyword+Anywhere+%28GKEY%29&CNT=50 Look for sources in the Thomas Jefferson Portal]
-*[http://tjportal.monticello.org/cgi-bin/Pwebrecon.cgi?DB=local&SL=none&SL=none&SC=Subject&SA=Thomas%20Jefferson%20Library%20Collection%20%28Library%20of%20Congress%29%20History%2E&BROWSE=1&HC=10&SID=9 Find sources in the Thomas Jefferson Portal]+ 
[[Category:Books]] [[Category:Books]]

Current revision

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 the United States government 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: "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, 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."[2] 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; 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.”[3] The Bill finally passed with a narrow margin along party lines.[4]

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; he had inadvertently omitted recording some volumes in his catalogue, and others were missing. 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.

Jefferson received news of the finalized sale in February 1815. The books were shipped starting in mid-April in the bookcases which they already occupied;[5] they were transported in ten wagons to Washington, and arrived by the middle of May. 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.”


Footnotes

  1. Jefferson to Samuel H. Smith, September 21, 1814, in L&B, 14:190. Full text of letter available online.
  2. Ibid.
  3. Quoted in William Dawson Johnston, History of the Library of Congress, (Washington, D.C.:Library of Congress, 1904, 1:86.)
  4. 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.
  5. See Jefferson's ["Observations on the transportation of the Monticello library," February 27, 1815.

Further Sources