Sale of Books to the Library of Congress (1815)

From Thomas Jefferson Encyclopedia

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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 approxametly 3,000 volumes. Upon hearing this, Jefferson writes 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."[1]

Jefferson wrote in that letter and to President Madison on September 24, that he would offer his own collection to replace what was lost.[2]

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 6,700 books.

Jefferson learned about the sale in February 1815. The books were shipped in mid-April in the bookcases which they already occupied, covered with packing paper and wedging paper between every two volumes to reduce movement,then boards nailed over the front of the bookcases. Ten wagons transported them to Washington and they reached Washington in midsummer.

--Bcraig 11:43, 3 April 2007 (EDT)


  1. Jefferson to Samuel H. Smith. September 21, 1814. L&B, 14: 190.
  2. See Jefferson to Madison, September 24, 1814. Ibid, 14: 196.

Further Reading

Malone, Dumas. Thomas Jefferson and the Library of Congress. Washington D.C.: Library of Congress, 1977.
Pitch, Anthony. The Burning of Washington: the British Invastion of 1814. Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 1998.
Sowerby Short Title List.
Wilson, Douglas. [Short Title List| Jefferson's Books]]