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.

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During the War of 1812, British forces entered Washington, D.C., burning the Capitol building và the 3,000-volume library inside it. Writing lớn Samuel Harrison Smith in September 1814, 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 lớn replace the library that had been lost, given the war và the difficulty of procuring items from Europe, Thomas Jefferson offered up his large personal library to lớn Congress.

In his letter khổng lồ Smith, Jefferson indicated that he had intended that his library should eventually become public property & be offered at his death to lớn 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 khổng lồ Congress, "without regard lớn the small remnant of time, và the barren use of my enjoying it."2 He agreed lớn accept any valuation và payment terms Congress decided on (even payment after the war had ended), but insisted if Congress agreed khổng lồ purchase his library, it should be purchased in its entirety.

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Podcast: Jefferson và the Library of Congress »

Throughout his lifetime, Thomas Jefferson acquired thousands of books for his own personal collection. The majority of his books, however, would not stay by his side forever. In this episode of Mountaintop History, Guide Kyle Chattleton shares the story of how Jefferson"s collection helped restart the Library of Congress.

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Jefferson"s offer was met by warm support from many in the House và Senate; still, the bill introduced khổng lồ 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" & were "good, bad, và indifferent ... in languages which many can not read, và 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 2trăng tròn more than had been reported to Congress; he had inadvertently omitted recording some volumes in his catalogue, & 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 hyên from Congress. Jefferson did utilize the proceeds of the sale to lớn settle some debts. Of the $23,950, Jefferson arranged to lớn remit $10,500 lớn settle his debts with William Short, & $4,870 lớn settle his debts with John Barnes of Georgetown.

Jefferson received news of the finalized sale in February 1815.5 The books were shipped starting in mid-April in the bookcases that they already occupied;6 they were transported in ten wagons lớn Washington, & arrived by the middle of May. On May 8, 1815, as the last wagon-load of books left, Jefferson remarked in a letter khổng lồ Samuel Harrison Smith, who had been instrumental in the sale, "an interesting treasure is added to ... , now become the depository of unquestionably the choicest collection of books in the US. & I hope it will not be without some general effect on the literature of our country."7